Moments after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake rattled Utah in March, Andrea Wilson and her husband, Ron, sent a message to their ward using the Circles feature of the Gospel Living app.
The message was quick and simple: “Did anyone else feel that? Is everyone OK?” Within minutes, several dozen responded.
“It was such a fast way to get a question out and get responses back, especially with something like that when people might have needed help,” said Andrea Wilson, who lives in the Highland 17th Ward, Highland Utah Stake.
“It was faster than having to go in and create a text string or something like that. We already had it. It was already there.”
The first release of the Gospel Living app was launched globally earlier this year. One of the app’s features is a safe text-messaging platform with automatically created Circles (groups) based on an individual’s account and calling.
Though the app’s content is currently focused on youth, the Circles feature has recently been expanded to include groups for the bishopric, ward council, Relief Society and elders quorum — with more to come.
As the second counselor in the Young Women presidency in her ward, Andrea Wilson said the Gospel Living app is also a convenient way to keep in touch with young women and their parents — especially as Church meetings are temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 concerns.
When world conditions prevent meeting in person, “many of the normal ways that we lift and care for members have to be adjusted and adapted,” said Elder Michael T. Ringwood in a video presentation on Church member and leader responsibilities. “This is a time to do more and do better, just differently.”
The Circles feature in the Gospel Living app is one of many ways leaders and members are continuing their responsibilities and staying connected through technology during the present pandemic.
Read more: How bishops and branch presidents are using technology to continue their duties during COVID-19
Travis Jordan, elders quorum president in the Summerhill Ward in Saratoga Springs, Utah, said he frequently uses Circles to communicate with his quorum. “I found a lot of people aren’t at their computers to do email … but everyone has their phones on them,” he said.
One way he uses the messaging tool is to send out inspirational messages. “The key is to try to send something out at least once a week that helps to build their faith and to strengthen their testimonies in Christ,” he said.
When a missionary from his ward returned due to the pandemic, Jordan said he used Circles to welcome him home. “I just said, ‘Hey everyone, welcome home this new elder from his mission. He just got back from Brazil’ and ‘Thank him for his service’ type of thing. Little things like that I’ll try to send out to bring the quorum together,” he said.
Josh Schulmire, second counselor in the Magnolia 1st Ward bishopric, Tomball Texas Stake, said Circles has allowed for more effective communication within the bishopric and ward council.
In comparison to the dozens of emails that often pile up, “people tend to look at those kind of short, burst messages (in Circles) a little more instinctively, and they’re less maybe overwhelming.”
Already bracing for hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, Schulmire said Circles will be an additional tool for communicating with ward members in times of emergency. It’s a quick way to check in and report back, while having different preset groups simultaneously address needs.
“To me, it’s a lot less work,” Schulmire said. “There’s a lot more organization to it and a lot greater ease.”
Stephanie Thomas, Young Women president in the Cedar Hills 8th Ward, Cedar Hills Utah West Stake, said her ward has been using Circles to share announcements of such things as drive-by homecomings for returned missionaries, a neighborhood clean-up or where to get masks.
Thomas said some of her young women have been using Circles, and she hopes more will catch on. “Some of the classes were using GroupMe and some were using WhatsApp and some were using texting, so I do love that it’s all condensed and all in one pretty, little package.”
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As a mother of six, she also likes getting notifications from her children’s groups. “I love that I can be in all of the Circles so I can see what my kids are seeing on theirs, and then I make sure they’re doing the activities and stuff like that.”
Holly White, a Relief Society president in the Highland Valley Ward, Poway California Stake, prefers using the Gospel Living app to coordinate with her presidency because of challenges with group texts between iPhones and Android phones.
“Circles has really helped with that. It’s easier for us to communicate that way,” she said.
White said her presidency is encouraging Relief Society sisters to download the app so they can use the Relief Society Circle. The benefit, she said, is that Circles is “a dedicated portal” to keep track of important messages.
“We look forward to it being more widely recognized, and I think it really will be a great way to not have communications get lost in the shuffle,” she said.
Reflecting on the use of technology during the pandemic, Schulmire said, “I think we’ve seen some great and amazing miracles thus far under the current circumstances, but I can only imagine what Gospel Living in its future interactions are going to bring and do for the Saints. It’s a wonderful blessing for sure.”