Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.Hebrews 10:25
I’ve been blessed with a number of different callings in my home ward of 25 years, and cursed with a few others. When people ask what my favorite calling has been, there is no contest: Primary pianist. That surprises some folks, and when they ask for an explanation I always tell them the same thing: “All of the blessings of inactivity without any of the guilt.”
“Or,” my oldest daughter adds with a note of reproof, “the cookies.”
I feel much the same way about COVID-19’s impact on my Sabbath worship. While our stake has embraced “virtual classes” on Sundays (nothing new for me, because I’ve always considered the foyer to be “virtual” attendance at my second-hour meetings), this is still pretty low-level activity. I have yet to wear shoes in any Ward Council meetings or Sunday School classes. Button up shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops are my new dress code (it’s a Joseph Smith meets Jimmy Buffett kind of thing). I wore a tie once, but decided that I was overachieving. I can participate by video or turn it off and just let my Rob-and-a-parrot avatar stand in for me. The Three Nephites have made more cameo appearances in the last four months than I have.
The trouble is, Casual Sundays can get kind of…well, casual. I started off my quarantine (I’m one of those catch-it-and-die people who can’t risk being around the rest of you) with really good intentions. I was reading my scriptures more often. We were holding regular, structured Sacrament meetings at home. I started this blog. I was determined to show that what I always secretly hoped was true: I could do this Latter-day Saint thing without the need of actually going to Church. I could be a stalwart Mormon (sorry for the M-word…more on that in a later blog) without weekly walking the Green Mile from the parking lot to the chapel.
The beauty of it was that I could run this experiment without any fear of people showing up with reactivation treats at my front door (keep your coronacookies to yourselves, brethren) or giving me the “prodigal handshake” at the chapel door (two hands around yours for way too long, a sincere gaze into your eyes, and a softly spoken, “It is SO good to see you here”). I literally cannot go to meetings, so no one can treat me like the wayward child that I have so long threatened to be, but could never quite pull off.
The “less actively active” experiment was going fine, until it didn’t. Turns out that I don’t really have the religious chops to do things independently. Sunday services at home gradually were replaced by me asking my wife at 10pm, “Hey, was this Sunday?” Scripture reading went back to the inconsistent levels I exhibited before. I went from feeling a spiritual boost at the beginning of the pandemic to wondering what is going wrong.
Well, I can tell you what is going wrong. Our Heavenly Father is the one who set up this whole idea of gathering together and worshiping side-by-side, and God is consistently smarter than me. It would appear that I need those second hour classes that I typically find any excuse to avoid (including completely fictitious trips to the bathroom). Those talks in Sacrament meeting must have been doing me some good after all, because I am less firmly fixed in the gospel without them. Heaven help me, I need to put on a tie and go to Church.
Mostly, however, what I miss are my fellow travelers, the wonderfully flawed, imperfect, struggling, striving, and overcoming people who call themselves, with no apparent appreciation for irony, “Latter-day Saints.” I miss their sincere efforts to understand God’s will and implement it in their lives. I miss their stumbling efforts obey God’s great two commandments, and their ability to pull it off better than I do I miss the solid soundness of their testimonies, the fire of their faith, and the compassion of their hearts. I miss their companionship and their willingness to climb the mountains of mortality alongside me.
I love these people. I know that with almost all of them, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find gold Like me, they aren’t perfect. But they are trying their level best, and for 46 years of my life, I have been a better person as a result of rubbing shoulders with the Saints.
Curse this plague. I trained all of my life for this level of isolation, but I really need to be back among my family of the faithful.
Because I’m starting forget what those blessings of inactivity were supposed to be.
And I’m getting sick of store-bought cookies.
God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness” of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”Todd D. Christofferson