On a Sabbath day like no other in Church history, Latter-day Saints across the globe gathered with loved ones in living rooms — both actual and virtual — to pray, worship, sing hymns and study the gospel together.
Those small gatherings brought measures of peace and clarity at a moment defined by worldwide fear and uncertainty as nations struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 12, Church leaders announced that all Sunday gatherings would be temporarily on hold.
Many Latter-day Saints found added comfort during their home-centered Sunday services listening to the counsel of a special “visitor” to their meetings — a video message of hope delivered by President Russell M. Nelson.
Several families and individuals from different parts of the world took a moment from a never-to-be forgotten Sunday, March 15, to share their Sabbath day experiences with the Church News:
A day after the Spanish government declared a national state of emergency, the Garcia-Campos family enjoyed a hardy pancake breakfast at their Tarragona home in northeastern Spain before dressing in their Sunday best for sacrament meeting in their living room.
Their Sabbath day congregation was much smaller than usual: Jose Garcia and his wife, Carmen Campos, and their teenage daughter, Marta.
But despite the worries being felt across Spain, “a special calm defined the day,” reported Carmen Campos.
The Garcia-Campos family had permission to administer the sacrament in their home, so Garcia reverently blessed and passed the bread and water to his small family.
With Marta accompanying on the piano, they sang hymns before watching President Nelson’s video message. The Church president’s words “left us comforted, unafraid and grateful,” said Campos. “We believe in the Church, and we pray for our beloved prophet who keeps us in tune with the Lord.”
After sharing testimonies, the family spent the rest of the day watching talks from Church leaders, listening to hymns and ministering to friends and loved ones in their community via text messages and video conferencing.
“We have set many goals for the week ahead — the first being to continue with seminary using video conferencing,” said Campos.
Salt Lake Valley, Utah
Thousands of miles away in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley, Christa Woodall and her roommate, Christina Davis, hosted a Sabbath day gathering on Facebook Live.
Their virtual worship service was both lively and welcoming.
“I greeted people as they popped into the Live, and by the end of nearly an hour’s discussion, the video had 90 views,” said Woodall. “Among the viewers were friends not of our faith, and I felt like this is a wonderful opportunity to not only discuss the gospel with fellow Saints but to share its message with anyone in my Facebook network.”
During their “Come, Follow Me” discussion, Christa and Christina made sure to add context to their discussion of the Book of Jacob so fellow online congregants of all backgrounds could better understand its meaning.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, a General Authority Seventy and a counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency, said today’s Sabbath marked “a very solemn Sunday.”
For General Authorities such as Elder Alvarado, Sundays are typically filled with stake and district gatherings replete with hundreds of fellow Latter-day Saints.
But today, Elder Alvarado’s sacrament service was held in the living room of his Santo Domingo home with his wife, Sister Cari Lu Alvarado, and their 16-year-old son, Jorge Daniel.
The Alvarados first tuned in to the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast before Jorge Daniel blessed and administered the sacrament to his parents and himself.
On this unforgettable day, Elder Alvarado told the Church News he was uplifted by the words of the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”
“We cried together and shared messages, as we were asked to do,” he said. “We know that there are challenges, but we have peace because of Jesus Christ and the Atonement.”
President Nelson’s video message offered the Alvarados added comfort. They have watched it repeatedly.
“[The prophet] offered a loving, steady message: if we are obedient, the Lord will take care of.”
The Trochez family enjoyed its home Sabbath-day service in Cali, Colombia, with relatives of all ages.
“It was a very spiritual experience to partake of the sacrament together and we are grateful to have a prophet who guides us,” wrote Argemiro Trochez in an email. “I feel that our Heavenly Father will not abandon us in moments of trouble, and I appreciate having the power of the priesthood in my home.
“I felt the love of my Savior on this unforgettable day of rest.”
Studying “Come, Follow Me” together added priceless guidance for the Trochez family.
“We also set goals as a family to be servants working alongside the Lord in His vineyard, even amid the crisis. I feel immensely blessed to have the tools to strengthen my spirit and my family.”
San Clemente, California
For the Harline family, worshipping at home was both “better and worse than anticipated.” Cherilyn Harline and her husband, Bishop Darren Harline, who serves as the bishop of the Cristianitos Ward, San Clemente California Stake, missed the association with and perspective of other members. The lack of a formal structure made it slightly difficult for their six children to fully appreciate the “sanctity of the moment,” Cherilyn Harline explained.
On the other hand, the intimate setting also made it meaningful. “The sacrament was administered by their father and brother, in representation of their Heavenly Father and Brother, who know them just as well and care for them even more,” she said.
All of the children prepared short talks and songs, and the older children infused their messages with lessons from their own lives. “It was sweet as a parent to help them learn one by one how to find resources and organize thoughts.”
The experience caused her and her husband to marvel at the wisdom and foresight of Church leaders. “We have been practicing for this moment for over a year — adding the sacramental element to our regular ‘home church’ felt much more natural than it would have if we hadn’t already been gathering and studying as a family on Sundays,” Harline said.
When the time comes, Harline said she will have a new appreciation at the opportunity to fellowship with friends and neighbors again. However, “I’m also grateful for this chance to step away from our routines and make Sabbath worship our own. Now our family really knows that we can ‘pay [our] devotions unto the Most High’ (Doctrine and Covenants 59:10) anywhere, even from the lowly setting of our imperfect home. What a gift!”
In Gilbert, Arizona, Dustin and DeLynne Brown and their six children dressed in their Sunday clothes and shared testimony and instruction in their home.
“We received counsel from our stake president and bishop to create a reverent atmosphere in our home,” reported DeLynne Brown. “In following that counsel, we tidied our home and had piano music of the hymns provided by one of our sons.”
The young family also discussed how they can still feel joy and peace during times of uncertainty.
“Our Heavenly Father is aware of us and what we are experiencing. We can look to our prophet for guidance and preparation. The gift of knowledge and power of the Priesthood will bless, strengthen and sustain us through all things.”
Just as the Browns were settling in for their Sunday home-worship service, the Brocks (Michael, Nanda and Jessica) were gathering for their approved sacrament service in their Henderson, Nevada, home.
“We were able to administer the sacrament, and we all felt the Holy Spirit as we participated in the sacrament together,” wrote Michael Brock.
Fourteen-year-old Jessica then shared this week’s lesson from the “Come, Follow Me” manual.
“We discussed the allegory of the olive trees and how the Lord is merciful to His children, with His arm extended continually toward us.”
The Brock’s eldest son, Mike, lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area and couldn’t join his family for today’s home Sabbath service. But he was able to watch the recently-released Church-produced #HearHim video about Christ and read the scriptures, “reflecting on the spiritual experiences and promptings I had throughout the week.”
Diego Escobar spent the Sabbath day by himself in his Wiesbaden, Germany, home — but he was not alone.
After putting on his Sunday suit, he answered a video call from three men and a woman from his ward. Together, those five friends enjoyed a Sunday service together via technology.
“The brother who organized the video call was the bishop’s first counselor, and he presided and led the meeting,” said Escobard. “We sang a hymn, said a prayer…. and then the presiding brother shared some scriptures and closed with his testimony. He then encouraged us to share our testimonies.”
Even after the video call ended, Escobar remained in his Sunday clothes — “ready to fulfill any assignment given to me.”
Texas San Antonio Mission
The March 15 Sabbath day for Elder Kevin Christensen and his wife, Sister Geri Christensen, was spent performing their duties as a senior missionary couple assigned to the Texas San Antonio Mission.
They spent a quiet morning studying “Come, Follow Me” together and listening to the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, along with recent messages from the Brethren. Then they hustled off to a teaching appointment.
“We look forward to future Sabbath day worship,” they wrote in an email. “We feel we will have special spiritual experiences as we pray and are guided by the Spirit.”
Richard and Tara Mickelsen enjoyed Sunday’s sacrament meeting in their Alpine, Utah, home with a few relatives and four women from their ward.
A member of the Primary General Board, Sister Mickelsen said the outside events of the day left her grateful for a living prophet and the power of gospel-centered homes.
“It was a sweet experience for me to see my husband and son-in-law worthily bless and pass the sacrament to each of us,” she wrote. “ It was also reassuring to know that despite what may happen beyond our control, [the sacrament] can always be a blessing we can experience.
“As we discussed the scriptures, each individual contributed personal experiences and thoughts which enriched us all. We also enjoyed the opportunity to visit with each other — something that does not always happen with our rushed schedule at church.
“We were also grateful to be able to watch Pres. Nelson’s recent message which was reassuring and helped put things in proper perspective.”
Sister Mickelsen said she missed associating with her fellow ward members on Sunday. But worshipping at home, “reminded us of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about — ordinances, covenants and sweet associations with family and friends.”
Sunday was a busy day for Thomas and Carole Raymond and their three young children in their home outside of Limoges, France. But the family made sure to make time to renew sacred covenants and worship together.
“I reminded the children in a few words about the importance of the sacrament and what we were doing,” wrote Thomas Raymond.
San Clemente, California
Sunday’s home-based Sabbath services allowed Russ and Barbara Bell from San Clemente, California, to share their Sunday worship service with their immediate family — including full-time missionary son, Elder Joe Bell, who is serving in the Taiwan Taipei Mission.
The Bells have become accustomed to studying “Come, Follow Me” with Elder Bell during his weekly phone calls home.
Sunday’s unusual sacrament meeting at home reminded the family that the home can be a sacred place of worship and refuge where the Spirit resides.
“Our two kids from BYU arrived late last night, and it was really wonderful to have all but our missionary physically in the same room,” wrote Barbara Bell. “Technology and permission to talk to missionaries every week have made it possible for all of us to be together and to be strengthened by each other.
“This change has made me consider more on ministering, and how to magnify my calling minus the familiarity of going to the church building to do so.”