I have a confession to make…wait for it.
As you know, for most of us, we haven’t been attending normal church meetings at the chapel for months now. Instead, we have had our own home church meetings, with the sacrament in our home, and our kid’s homes.
Here’s the confession: I’ve loved it! In fact, I liked it enough that I’m in no hurry to go back to return to “normal.” Something about the simplicity and intimacy of having the sacrament and studying the gospel in my own home has really appealed to me.
Last week our ward began having limited-attendance sacrament meetings. We haven’t been yet – and I’m okay with that.
You know what all this means, don’t you?
It means that I need to repent.
Here is the simple truth: If I am content living the gospel in isolation, I simply don’t understand a significant aspect of the gospel.
Take a breath, hang on. I’m some of you are probably asking, “Are you trying to say that if we don’t want to go back to church, we don’t understand the gospel, and we need to repent?”
Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying. (And yes, I already said that – this is just repetition to make a point.)
Jesus has had plenty to say about this idea when he said we need to be “In the world, but not of it.” (John 17: 15-18) As far as I can find, there are no other translations of those verses that say we can just hang out in “our own little world,”
Alma taught that if we are “to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn, yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:8-9)
Now I’m sure some of you have still been serving up a storm, sharing the gospel and comforting your fellow saints during this pandemic – but I am pretty sure there are a lot of us who have hunkered down in this hermit mentality and just slowed it all down.
Christ clearly instructed the Nephites, “And behold, ye shall meet together oft,” (3 Nephi 18:22) so there must be a purpose behind it.
Elder Jospeh B. Wirthlin amplified this idea saying, “Ours is the commandment and the blessing to “meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of our souls.” In general conferences and in other Church meetings around the world, we come together seeking companionship—the good company of brothers and sisters in the gospel and the comfort of sweet communion with the Spirit of God. In our worship services, the presence of that Spirit fills our hearts with love for God and for our fellow Saints.” (link)
What an effective trick Satan has managed to pull: isolate us from each other, and manipulate the governments to forbid us to meet, unless we are in an airplane, a casino, or a riot.
Elder David Bednar recently raised a warning voice against government overreach when it involves limiting church attendance. He warned:
“While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”
His reasoning: “Gathering, in short, is at the core of faith and religion. Indeed, if the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later they will begin to scatter. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.” (link)
We need to gather to maintain our unity. There are also people who are alone and need the interaction they get from attending church. Some thrive on it. Trimming our meetings by a third already made that more difficult, but now?
It’s been over four months since we’ve taught out Primary class. That’s over a third of the year! I have a calling to teach and testify about the gospel to those kids which I am not currently magnifying.
Ironically, a few months before the pandemic hit, I made a statement to some friends of mine which was something like this:
“All I need from the church are priesthood keys so that the saving ordinances can be performed, and prophetic counsel. The rest is dispensable.”
Looking more closely at that brash statement, there are two possibilities: It is true, or it is false.
Here’s how it would be false: No man is an island, and no family is an island. No matter how good, fulfilling, spiritual and enlightening our private religious services are, we have a singular problem:
It’s not just about me, or our own immediate clan.
Focus on “self” is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His gospel is about serving others; caring for others; feeding and clothing others; teaching and testifying to others; bearing burdens and mourning with others.
Most of those things cannot be done in isolation. We do not live in a spiritual vacuum…
…even though it is tempting and, at times, refreshing to clock out for a bit.
Our calling is to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” not hunkered down with Netflix. (D&C 58:27)
The part that is true is that I DO need the church to provide priesthood keys, saving ordinances and prophetic guidance. The gospel is powerless and pointless without those things.
We should note that we can receive much enlightenment, learning and growth as we are hunkered down in isolation with our families. I know it has been a fulfilling and an almost revolutionary experience for many.
That part can continue – and should – continue, but the rest of living the gospel requires us to engage with our brothers and sisters, and those who are not of our faith.
I do miss the talks, the lessons, the music, the formality of religious services.
But mostly, I miss seeing and interacting with my fellow saints. They are people whom I love, have served with, mourned with, and shared burdens with. I have taught and been taught by these good people.
I need them in my life, and, perhaps, some of them might need me in theirs. (Cuz it ain’t always about ME, ME, ME.)
The time will eventually get here when we can all resume attending our meetings, and we need to be wise in determining when that is. But, we need to be able to embrace that opportunity when it returns.
Back to my previous confession: I am not in a hurry to go back to normal church services. That said, I acknowledge that I am in the midst of repenting for feeling that way. Feel free to join me, if needed.
One other thing: I also miss the saint’s smiles – but I guess that will have to wait.