Sarah Jane Weaver: Why gathering matters — in places familiar or places new

One way to access the joy of the gospel is by gathering weekly with other Latter-day Saints — whether in an amphitheater in Yellowstone or other locations that all feel like home

As my family drove through Yellowstone National Park on a Sunday afternoon this month, a small sign caught our attention: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sacrament meeting 4:30.”

The sign had an arrow, so we turned.

There, in an outdoor amphitheater, we watched a Latter-day Saint couple prepare for sacrament meeting. A member of the Old Faithful Branch presidency, Dennis W. Rogers, and his wife, Collette, drive two and a half hours each way from Ashton, Idaho, to make the weekly services available.

We were not dressed for church, but the Rogerses insisted services were “come as we are.” They had applied for a permit to gather, and the services were for everyone, they said.

A mechanic who worked at a gas station across the road slipped in. Others began to gather. With recorded accompaniment, we sang our beautiful hymns.

I recall only a handful of other moments when music felt sweeter.

One by one members rose and shared their testimonies of God’s love and peace. Many, like us, spoke of being filled with gratitude for the special blessing to partake of the sacrament with other Church members.

As a Brigham Young University student completing an internship in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, I found myself experiencing a similar serendipitous blessing.

Traveling with other students to an event in West Virginia, we passed a familiar-looking Latter-day Saint meetinghouse on the side of a country road while returning to Washington on a Sunday afternoon. We stopped just as local members gathered for sacrament meeting. Not dressed as we would have liked, we still slipped inside and sat on the back row. Immediately we were greeted by local members; one invited us over for a spaghetti dinner.

The sound of organ music playing a familiar hymn took me home. As the Saints sang that day, I cried.

Almost two and a half decades later, while on a Church News assignment, I slipped into a local Latter-day Saint Sacrament meeting service early one Sunday in Vietnam. Gathered with a few dozen local Church members — almost all in their 20s — I again had the opportunity to listen to and feel our sacred hymns. I don’t speak Vietnamese and didn’t know how to sing that day. Still, as I listened to local Latter-day Saints sing hymns familiar to me, I felt a powerful love for and connection with all who allowed me to worship with them that day.

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, joins with Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, his wife Sister Nancy Duncan, to lead media members on a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, recently shared a similar experience with the Church News.

Eager to pursue formal art studies, Kristin finished high school early and moved from her home in Burley, Idaho, to San Francisco, California, as she turned 17. Living in a large house with other young women from around the globe, she felt directed one week to seek out things that mattered most to her. Looking up the Church in the Yellow Pages, she walked three blocks to a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.

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As she entered the building and heard the organ music she was filled with peace — and light.

“What I learned was that I needed the Lord. It was a pivotal moment in my life. With everything going on around me, I knew I needed light — and He was that light.”

As we gather, we feel that light — finding each time something familiar and something new.

President Russell M. Nelson spoke about the importance of Sunday worship during the 2019 Mission Leadership Seminar sacrament meeting address.

“A thought has occurred to me that my making a covenant today is a lot more important than the message that I have prepared,” he said. “I made a covenant as I partook of the sacrament that I would be willing to take upon me the name of Jesus Christ and that I am willing to obey His commandments. Often, I hear the expression that we partake of the sacrament to renew covenants made at baptism. While that’s true, it’s much more than that. I’ve made a new covenant. You have made new covenants. ... Now in return for which He makes the statement that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. What a blessing!”

As I sat in Yellowstone National Park, attending Church services made possible because a couple drove two and a half hours, one way, I thought again of President Nelson’s words.

The gospel is joy. One way we access that joy is by gathering weekly with other Latter-day Saints around the globe — in San Francisco, West Virginia, Vietnam, an amphitheater in Yellowstone National Park or in thousands of other locations that all feel like home.

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News.

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