Guest Post: They Saw This Coming and Gave us a Manual to Study at Home? #CopingWithCOVID19
by Wendy Chapman
As we were quarantined during the Covid-19 crisis, our ward had a sacrament meeting via Zoom, and I listened to the testimonies of my fellow ward members. There were a few comments about the Savior providing hope in a time of challenge and of renewed appreciation for the cycle in the Book of Mormon of prosperity followed by descent into wickedness, great challenge and despair, a turn to faith, then prosperity again. Those comments resonate with me.
But the most frequent message I heard was being grateful for our prophet and his prescience in knowing this was coming and preparing the church with the Come Follow Me manual so that we could study the gospel at home during quarantine.
A New York Times article told the story of a young ED doctor, Andres Maldonado, who contracted the virus and was admitted to the hospital in abject terror and fear as he struggled to breathe. After 6 days, he left the hospital with his life and newfound empathy for being a patient. A nurse who worked with him and initiated his care “stepped out, weeping and also cursing. ‘I felt incredible anger,’ she said — at America’s lack of preparation for the virus, at shortages of protective equipment, at official dithering that had left Maldonado and other medical workers at risk.”
If our prophets knew what was coming, it’s really too bad they didn’t help prepare for the devastation by purchasing, storing, and distributing personal protective equipment.
Back when the Relief Society had an independent budget, they sent aid to the world through their preparations. Emmeline B. Wells organized a wheat storage program among the women of the church. They eventually bought their own fields and built their own granaries. As this church article states,
Women would watch the wheat market and buy when prices were low and sell when they were high. Tips about combating pests and when to buy or sell were discussed at various Relief Society meetings.
The Relief Society used the wheat and its proceeds to help the poor. In 1906 the Relief Society donated train cars of flour milled from Relief Society wheat to both the survivors of the San Francisco earthquake and those experiencing famine in China. In 1918 all 200,000 bushels of Relief Society wheat were sold to the United States government to meet the food emergency caused by World War I. The proceeds from the wheat sale were used to support maternity hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley.*
Veneration of the Come Follow Me manual as the zenith of the prophet’s revelation from God in relation to a global pandemic reminds me of Wm. Pepperell Montague’s statements in the opening chapter of Belief Unbound. He speaks of authoritarianism as a threat to religion: “The other evil product of the authoritarian spirit is its implicit yet thoroughgoing subordination of what ought to be to what is, of value to fact, of right to might, of ethics to religion…The result of this phase of authoritarianism is to put all values on one dead level, those that are enduringly important, along with those that are trivial, transitory, or totally irrelevant.”
Lowell Bennion paraphrased Montague: “Religion is the faith that the things that matter most in life are not ultimately at the mercy of the things that matter least.”
It’s great to have home worship (one other testimony said, “this opportunity to become more spiritually independent is inspired.”) I guess the Zoom developers and the inventors of the internet also played a hand in our being able to remain more socially connected during this trying time, and I’m grateful for that. But before we give too much praise for a home study manual, let’s not forget about the things that matter even more—protecting our families, community, and frontline health providers from getting sick. There wasn’t enough preparation from anyone for that, including our prophet and our prosperous church.
*While the wheat program stands as a testament to the industry, organization, and foresight of the Relief Society, this 1918 sale of wheat was in one sense a dark moment for the Relief Society organization, as it was the President of the Church who agreed to sell the Relief Society wheat to the government, without consulting the Relief Society. Relief Society leaders were understandably upset to not be consulted about the sale of their own property, and this moment stands as one of many in the twentieth century in which the Relief Society began to lose autonomy and power over its own organization. See Women of Covenant: The History of Relief Society by Jill Derr, Janath Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, p. 211-213.
Wendy Chapman loves skiing, mountain biking, and cooking–especially for guests. She served a mission in Hong Kong and has lived in Salt Lake City, Utah; Madison, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California. She moved to Australia with her husband and youngest of three children last September for her new job at the University of Melbourne.