Home-centered, Church-unsupported #CopingWithCOVID19
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the blessing of the gift of true prophecy and the cursing of being universally disbelieved. When “home-centered, church-supported” became a buzzword, and gospel instruction began to be pushed toward families and away from the wards and stakes, I said that this move would destroy community and would harm people on the margins – the teenage convert who attended church alone, the single people who live alone or with non-LDS roommates, the children who attend church with extended family members but not with their parents. People said I was getting worked up over nothing.
It turns out, I was Cassandra.
I didn’t want to write this post. I like writing happy things. Or unhappy things that have a happy ending. I was taught in the business world never to bring up a problem if I didn’t have a proposed solution. And at church, we’re taught never to bring up problems. Period. But there’s an entire book of scripture called Lamentations. And if lamenting is sacred enough to be part of our canon, I’m going to offer my sacred lamentation here today.
Many people have written about the harm that a lack of equal access to the sacrament has heaped on those who don’t have an adjacent man. They’ve said it better than I can. I’m going to focus on the loss of church meetings and the double-loss that being forgotten about can bring.
I’m the only church member in my household. I rent out two rooms in my house to other people who are not LDS. I attended church alone for most of my teenage years as well, so being the only church participant at home is nothing new to me. What is new to me is being cut off from the church.
The church isn’t a building. The church is a gathering. Jesus teaches “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20. I have no one to gather with. Home church might work well for people who are in homes where there can be a church. But two or three are not gathered in my home. It’s just one. In ordinary times, I would invite people over and make my own gathering. But my state is under a stay at home order, so I can’t.
And Salt Lake doesn’t have anything useful to say about that. I’m an “unusual circumstance”. Even if that were true (and it’s not – there are many saints who are in situations like mine), Jesus taught “If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” Matthew 18:12-13
Jesus cares about the “unusual circumstances”. He cares so much that he leaves those for whom the church is working well to go after and find those for whom there is no church. I find it instructive that Jesus finds the sheep on the mountains. In scripture, mountains are where people go to meet God.
When I’ve expressed my sorrow at being denied church during this pandemic, people are quick to remind me that I can still pray and read the scriptures and commune with God. It’s true. I can do that. But even Jesus showed that we need the church. He found the sheep who was communing with God and brought that sheep to the church.
Maybe that sheep needed the church. And maybe the church needed that sheep – to tell the church what the sheep learned about God on the mountain.
I don’t know the solution. Maybe there isn’t one right now. But I would welcome at least an acknowledgement that this situation doesn’t work for people like me. We can’t be hand-waved away as some lesser form of church member who failed to get with the program and are now reaping the just rewards of our singleness. We can’t be written off as less than ideal aberrations who can be safely ignored because we’re few in numbers. We are part of the flock, too, and we’ve been separated from it.
I’m going to make the most of my time grazing in the mountains alone with God, but I really look forward to the day when the Good Shepherd picks me up and carries me on His shoulders back to where I can gather with the saints again. I’m tired of being home-centered, church-unsupported.