Recently on a very orthodox online LDS Forum (so orthodox that my comments are usually removed), somebody posted about having church at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The title of his post was “At-home church is tough, but going back to normal church will be even tougher”. In the post he talks about what a struggle it is to get his family all ready for church, the callings, etc. He says that “Taking all that away has really been nice, and made Sundays a bit more pleasant for the family”
First thing I thought was, oh man, this post won’t last long, it will get moderated into outer darkness! But lo and behold, it didn’t, probably because of the 81 comments, almost all of them agreed with the guy! The few that disagreed were single people that longed for the companionship they got at church. One comment said “I haven’t had a bad Come Follow Me lesson all month, no one’s said anything racist or preached false doctrine over the pulpit….”
So what does this say for the church? Is there a problem when in the privacy of an anonymous internet forum 90% of the comments agreed, they like home church better? These are the same group that rejoiced from the rooftops when church was shortened to two hours.
Now this isn’t a good sample of members, because I believe these internet forums probably draw a higher than average population of introverts (yes, I’m looking at you dear reader). For introverts, not having to interact with people is a blessing.
But now lets get the the heart of this. What about the 10% of comments that miss church? Like the single sister that says she misses her ward family, misses being greeted and hugged by them, misses hearing all their perspectives on lessons and talks. Do we go to church for the least of these?
Is church really unnecessary for most, but is required of all so that the few that need it can be edified? Or could the LDS church change it’s meeting format to make it more engaging for everybody, while keeping the companionship for the few that desperately need it?
At first I thought home church was great. With three kids, 6 and under, sacrament meetings were short and even primary style lessons too. However, I quickly started to miss the social aspects of church with adults. Even though I usually disagree with at least one thing each Sunday school lesson, and would love church to be more engaging, I’m definitely looking forward to going back to church.
It is going to be REALLY hard for me to go back. I might do it for my wife, but no church has been the best part of lockdown. My missionary son is allowed to jump on a video call with all his siblings and that is absolutely great.
I actually thought I was handling going to church until I found how much better I felt not going for a few weeks. My entire life I don’t think I ever missed 2 Sundays in a row until now.
We haven’t needed an excuse (and a clear conscience) to not attend. Yes, we miss the contact with people. But the truth be told, so much of what normally goes on is too predictable and not all the relevant to our lives.
Not a scientifically sound opinion in any way, but I find that normally the people I talk to who enjoy Church the most aren’t really aware internet forums for Church members exist in the first place, so it would be interesting, albeit nearly impossible, to find out what the actual numbers really are. I like the mention of introverts, but I know of plenty of extroverts who spend large amounts of time online as well.
I’ve really enjoyed home Church. I feel like I could do it indefinitely. I feel there is an efficiency in it that allows spirituality to branch out it ways it wouldn’t normally when confined to normal Church. At the same time, there some things I miss.
1. Diversity of background. The Sunday school teachers of my twelve year old son are both converts, one of which was an atheist prior to joining the Church. They’ve give my son perspectives and food for thought that I simply cannot give him as a life long member. I miss seeing the Spirit turn the wheels in his head in the first hour or two following the block.
2. Having the Spirt speak to me by testifying of the words of others. Sure, I can get a lot out of the scriptures, maybe most of what I need. I can also talk to people outside of Church. But there is something about sitting in a pew or listening in a Sunday School class or quorum when someone says something that really strikes a chord, which allows the Spirit to reverberate that chord even further. I miss that.
3. I’m not one who thinks highly of myself (I actually struggle with the opposite more often), or that everything I have to say is important. I also try to comment in moderation or less, but I’ve had enough people of various backgrounds, political persuasions, and levels of faith come up to me after a lesson and sincerely thank me for my words that I’m forced to believe I’m at least somewhat of service. I miss being able to help others in such a convenient setting.
Again, I could do home church indefinitely, but those reasons would probably be enough to bring me back.
For me, community is one of the most (if not *the* most) important components of organized religion. I don’t really think there’s much point to organized religion otherwise. I happen to be in a ward with a lot of really wonderful people who I learn from, look up to, and enjoy seeing—even though we may have super different perspectives on the gospel / politics / life, and even though there are probably some people who I wouldn’t associate with if it were up to me. There are also a lot of people who care about my kids, and I’m burned out on my husband and I being the only ones talking to them. I also do feel happier when I focus on and serve others through my callings, which is harder to do right now.
In addition, I really struggle with (could probably use the word “hate”) most of what the Q15 says and does right now. I usually manage this by focusing on my local experience and not paying much attention to the edicts coming out of Salt Lake. So this has been hard because right now I only get the bad stuff (conference was pretty awful) without the weekly reminders of the parts about this church that I actually enjoy.
Not saying I enjoy wrestling the kids every week to go or that I always have a great experience. But I’ve realized that most of what makes belonging to this church worthwhile to me is missing when we don’t have the community component.
My guess is church attendance will dip. Members, like HH above, who rarely missed 2 weeks in a row will be more likely to skip a week or two or three in favor of home church and other uplifting activities on Sunday. Many won’t go inactive but their Sunday attendance will slip.
I’m in a Bishopric and really enjoy home church. I’m still in the “virtual” loop with many ward members so I don’t feel so isolated during this time. But, I am loathe to get up early for what I now see are largely pointless Bishopric meetings at 0-dark thirty followed by an unnecessary ward council (at least more than once a month, if that) before I even get to sacrament meeting. It will be an act/test of faith for me to find the energy and drive to go back to those administrative meetings again. Perhaps it’s time for a release for me.
Based on our ward’s experience (solid middle class with lots of professionals and pockets of poverty in the mid-Atlantic) we can get along pretty well in a home church environment. I would go through t the CHI and, as a minimum, cut half of the recommended administrative meetings. I don’t even need to open the CHI to now know that easily 50% are a waste of valuable time. Of the 50% (Or less) that remain, I would reduce their frequency by half or 3/4, e.g. monthly becomes quarterly, quarterly becomes semi-annual and semi-annual becomes annual or probably scrapped altogether.
This home church experiment has, to my mind, demonstrated the absolute futility of those administrative meetings.
Once I’m released from the Bishopric, I can easily see myself slipping to a couple of times a month at church and the other Sundays being home church. I really enjoy my ward and the relationships and service opportunities from communion with my ward members. But, I do not need it on a weekly basis. And, those pointless administrative meetings really have to go. If I had to guess, it’s those types of Church meetings that the people on the orthodox blog are really railing against or find they don’t miss. I may also just be projecting b/c to me they’ve become almost a breaking point in my relationship to Church attendance. Home church has taught me that much.
I’m an introvert, but I only look to the internet for ideas, not fellowship. Christianity is demonstrated in fellowship. It’s a practical day-to-day religion that manifests in human-to-human contact. Mormonism adds a strong aspect of physicality. We communicate through a lot more than sentences, and much more empathy and understanding can be transmitted through body language and facial expression than most of us can do with our writing.
I’m sure a lot of people who go to church out of habit have now had their habits broken. I’ve been in a lot of “worthless” meetings, and wrestled a lot of children through sacrament meetings that did nothing to nourish my soul. But looking back, I’ve gained so much from the repeated association with my ward, the assigned friendships, and the obligation to care about people I’d otherwise never meet.
When the ward did a drive-by caravan to welcome my son home from his abbreviated mission and I saw all those families with primary kids’ heads poking out their sunroofs, my son’s friends yelling at him from their open windows, and all those men and women I’ve served with grinning at me through their windshields… I was surprised how emotional I got.
I’m an introvert and I haven’t suffered at all during the lockdown — well, other than the mountain biking trails and parks being closed. But I really am looking forward to going back to church. Feeling close to those people makes me feel close to God.
@RB, that makes a ton of sense. The only church meetings I’m talking about are two-hour church and youth activities (both for me as a leader and for my kids). 100% wouldn’t miss that other stuff and hope they learn from this that most of that should go away.
In assessing a post-reopening attendance drop, it will be hard to distinguish those who stay away because of being in a high-risk group and not wanting to mingle, and those who stay away because they discovered Home Church is better than Chapel Church.
My husband is the only one of the two of us that is active, but we are in the high risk age group, both with other conditions that make us more vulnerable. So, even when church opens back up, he has misgivings about going back. But we are also planning on permanently giving up movies, cruise ships, airplane flight and anything else that continues to pose a risk. The experts are starting to come out and say that a vaccine is unlikely given the nature of this virus, so our social isolating will most likely become permanent. Which probably means church is also out unless the church makes some changes to make attending less of a risk, so changes to not expect handshakes, change to keep the sacrament more sanitary, and something about large groups breathing the same air. I really can’t see a way for it to be enough safer that he will be willing to risk it. We have to make changes somewhere to lower the risks we face, and between church attendance and the grandchildren, the grandchildren win.
I have talked to others in our age group who are also considering not returning. One is a single sister friend that was frustrated that the church made no allowance for her to take the sacrament and has decided that obviously the church doesn’t consider it that important, therefore, she is unwilling to risk her life for something the church doesn’t see as valuable for *everyone.* Another is a couple with kind of an opposite reason. She is immune compromised and has not considered the sacrament as safe to take even when she does attend church, but the big group is enough risk that they are not sure if they will attend.
Of course, there are those who listen to Fox News and still think the whole thing is a hoax or that people are just over reacting. I expect they will be back.
There appears to be growing divisions in US society (which aren’t along ideological or party lines either) over how to react to the coronavirus. Most Americans appear to take the virus seriously and will likely impose their own forms of social distancing (with varying degrees) even after social distancing measures are relaxed. While others seem to downplay the threat that experts are saying that the virus poses and generally consider social distancing an overkill. A number of people will go back to church. My brother-in-law, for one, who believes that the virus is not much more serious than the seasonal flu, will be first in line to go back to church. Others simply won’t. I’m very hesitant to back to church.
We are doing church over the internet with my extended family. We all love it. I’m worshipping with the people I love. It’s amazing and the Spirit is there. I want this to last forever.
My ward has had a lovely culture of Sunday virtual meetings that have been meaningful and provide community for members, until this week we heard that our Stake Presidency considers them inappropriate, and we should just read Come, Follow Me, and share inspirational messages that were pre-recorded, or content from the church website. I had loved that community on Sundays during the pandemic, but if community isn’t important to leaders, I’m not sure I’ll find my way back when church re-opens. A combination of home church and visiting other denominations will be more meaningful to me.
Idle question: Why should anyone care whether a stake presidency considers Sunday virtual meetings inappropriate? Is there anything in the handbook or the scriptures that provides for the stake presidency to have any authority over such things?
I think they care when it’s done and set up using Church channels and advertised somewhat as a Church function. Our Sunday School President more or less tried to have Sunday School via Zoom and announced it on the Ward FB page. The Stake wobbled a bit for a couple of weeks but finally said no.
In general, I think the Church as a whole and the Stake used to stop this in order to avoid any potential paths to apostasy, but that seems less of a concern now that the Church seems to be allowing or even encouraging study groups (pre Coronavirus). In the case of our own stake, however, I got the vibe that they wanted it stopped because they wanted families to be fully functional on their own. To a lesser extent, I feel like I’ve gotten a similar vibe from the Church. I really don’t think they’re as worried about people not coming back as many believe. Rather, I think they want members to use this time to develop the confidence and skills to be able to swim in both the waters of Church and No Church whenever it allows and however long it takes. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, but I have a feeling the Church will be one of the last organizations to allow large congregations to come back together even when this virus starts to subside.
“because they wanted families to be fully functional on their own”
I doubt that, though your experience is likely different than mine. It seems more likely that they want to maintain control in a hierarchical authority and want the people and wards to wait to be commanded in all things. (Implicit logic — if not directed from SLC, it must be wrong.) 🙂
Reminds me of a former stake RS president who called to SLC to find out if it was OK for a RS chorus in stake conference to wear something other than white blouses and black skirts! Of course, many of you may be too young to remember the Relief Society Singing Mothers’ pseudo-uniform, but that call was decades later.
Anna, I think you are interpreting statements on the possibility of a vaccine far too pessimistically. It is is absolutely the case that there is no guarantee that an adequate vaccine will be generated. Certainly that has been the experience with HIV despite many years of work. But because SARS-CoV2 mutates much more slowly than HIV, and appears to share a lot in common with SARS-CoV1 in terms of targetability, I think a majority of scientists working on the problem still believe a vaccine is possible. What seems unlikely is that a vaccine would be ready in less than 18 months. A time frame of 3 years seems much more likely. So many more waves of Covid19 first. Certainly seems like long enough that we are going to need to think about what parts of in person church are most important and what can be jettisoned. I for one have enjoyed the Dialogue Come Follow Me lessons far more than the ones I teach. I think the notion that SLC seems to be projecting out to SPs that wards can’t meet virtually for sacrament meeting or sunday school is silly and highly counter-productive. But that is what I have thought about most edicts from the institutional church for the past several years. Since my wife is immunocompromised, I probably won’t go back to in person church unless strict protocols are in place so as not to put her at risk.
I want to like Elisa’s comment a whole bunch of times. I’m in so much a similar place. I find what the Q15 says to be largely mean and out of touch with reality. But I do often enjoy the community of my local ward. So I miss that.
There are a number of us who have experienced church-related trauma over the years, including unrighteous dominion. This causes us to sometimes have PTSD flashbacks at church. (See Danna Hartline’s mormontraumamama blog). Yet we still attend church out of a sense of duty, covenants, family heritage, etc. Yes, I know the atonement of Jesus Christ is supposed to heal us of all this pain, but that healing will not come until the afterlife for some of us. Anyway, home church and Come Follow Me are welcome respites. Actually, I am currently in a ward with a kindhearted bishop and a likewise benevolent stake president. Our ward has been holding Sunday devotionals via Zoom, which are going well. This format is healthier for my psyche. But I respect those who benefit from and yearn for face-to-face interaction in the traditional, analog church meeting sense.
Will anyone come when Church opens back up? Some will, some won’t. They will make their decision based on their own cost-benefit analysis, and their own personal situation. I miss a good ward with caring members and an exceptional Bishop and counselors. We have a good Stake President (we have not always been so lucky). The big issue for me is that my wife has a weakened immune system, and I am not anxious to go back to communal bread and water trays—carriers of infection, they are. I hope someone in Church leadership is considering different ways to bless and pass the Sacrament. And, different seating arrangements. Our current leadership dislikes overflow into the cultural hall. If they are not, I don’t think they are coming to grips with our new reality.
The longer this goes on, the more that some people will look around and say, “Not missing it much. Church on Sunday really wasn’t doing anything for us.” Or even, “Wow, I don’t miss it at all. Things are better.” And the longer this goes on with no church attendance, the more some people will say, “What am I paying tithing for if I’m not going to church?”
But it doesn’t look like things are going to resume for at least a couple of more months. Leadership is in a real bind here: Open too early and some people will get sick and maybe die. Wait too long and too many people will start thinking like the first paragraph.
Restaurants and theaters will figure out how to space their customers and reopen. But airlines (that pack you in like sardines and need full planes to be profitable), sports venues, and churches all have real problems going forward. Even people who want to go to LDS church when it reopens may decline because they in a risky group. And hey, if everyone over say 65 declines to attend, LDS attendance goes down like 30%.
There are many unspoken secrets out there in the LDS community. One of them is that almost all of us dislike meetings and love Sunday’s at home. Some people feel guilty admitting it but we all know it’s true. On the other hand, the LDS culture includes a strong sense of guilt and duty. Many of us do many things based on those two. So here’s what’s going to happen:
You’ll have many members who don’t want to go back to Sunday meetings. But they will feel duty-bound to return unless…they can come up with any plausible excuse to skip. I predict that many people who are not otherwise concerned about health will find justifications for staying home. Anybody over 65 has a built-in excuse already. The stigma of staying home will diminish and when that happens, the numbers will go down because we (LDS) pay attention to negative stigmas. I predict an attendance of 66% pre-Corona levels.
Over the past few years I’ve really felt that Jesus would not approve of all the meetings (after my Bishopric stint this became especially poignant). So we’ve been doing home Church differently. No Come Follow Me. Yesterday for church we made cards for Grandma since Mother’s Day is next Sunday. The week before our kids made cards for their primary teachers. The week before, we wrote a letter to a widow in our ward. We’ve also done zoom calls with folks to say hi and look forward to the day when we could add some small group personal service back into the mix. We are making it more practical and for us it’s been a success. I recognize this won’t work for everyone. Of course I wouldn’t even know all these wonderful people if not for Church, so I do recognize that fact.
I suppose I’ll go back to church someday since I play the piano in primary in a ward with very little musical talent. But I’ll probably find church even more boring that I did before all of this.
Reasons “almost all of us dislike meetings and love Sundays at home [or other places not at church]” may include the fact that we have “meetings” with an “audience” rather than “worship services” with a “congregation” — a community of believers — or that we do not regularly find inspiration or spiritual rejuvenation in those meetings — for lack of inspiring speakers or messages and for lack of inspiring music. I wonder if there will be any thought given to making resumed “meetings” worth attending. There could be lessons learned from other Christian denominations rather than merely mimicking our own entrenched examples. Many decades ago the Mutual Improvement Association attempted, with some intermittent success, to teach and practice speaking skills. The Sunday School and Relief Society attempted, with some intermittent success, to teach and practice choral singing skills. I doubt such programs could be revived — for lack of will to organize, teach, or participate. I wonder if there’s some other way to make church meetings worth attending for their value rather than for mere habit or fear.
Mormons have.meetings to plan the next meeting to discuss.the prior meetings.
The 14th Article of Faith:
We believe in all the meetings that have ever been held, we believe in all the meetings that are now being held, and we believe that there will be many great and important meetings yet to be held. If there be any meetings to be held, we seek after them.
This is such a great point! I’m the EQP in my ward and Sundays have been so much better without Church. Let’s be honest, our meetings are typically pretty boring, not particularly uplifting, and a huge hassle with 4 kids. Usually I have meetings before/after and our Church is 35 min drive. No one in my house is anxious to get back…