Why the Radio Silence From On Top?

There has been a rare sort of radio silence in my ward and stake since the Covid19 pandemic began in March. I haven’t been very bothered by this. I’m married with three kids. No church meant less arguing with kids on Sunday morning and no mutual activities meant one less Tuesday night activity to keep track of on my calendar. Like other busy families, I missed the many things that shut down simultaneously, but it was also very refreshing to have so much less to do. 

I’ve received a handful of emails from my bishopric and noticed the primary chorister posted some songs on the ward Facebook page a couple times, but other than that, we’ve mostly been on our own during this quarantine. That was fine by me. 

However, last week I went out with a longtime friend from my ward and she shared with me her perspective over the past few months as a single mom. She and I moved onto the street as newlyweds in 2003. We’ve each had three kids, and she went through a painful divorce about 7 years ago when her husband left her. Since then she’s survived on her own and stayed very active in the church, even as her ex-husband left the church and their oldest son followed. She attended every week with her two younger boys, and when the world shut down she found herself alone with her three boys – the oldest no longer a member and the younger two not old enough to bless the sacrament.

Among the other stressors in her life during these past few months, she tearfully told me how incredibly abandoned she felt by the church. Other families were having home church and posting photos on social media, saying how special and spiritual it was to have their husbands and sons perform that sacred ordinance and the blessing they felt partaking of it. 

Meanwhile in her home, she had no ordinances. There was not only the lack of the sacrament each week, there was no ability to receive priesthood blessings and even meeting with the bishop to ask for help became too complicated. As we sat in her car and she cried, it became clear that not only did she feel left completely on her own at the ward level, she felt like the top leadership of the church didn’t notice she was suffering either. The message from top to bottom was that everybody else was fine with home church, and those rare exceptions where a woman didn’t live with a priesthood holder were few and far between, and not a big deal. 

Only a few days later, I read an online post from the family member of a top female church leader. The author explained that the topic of single women (like my friend) was in reality a major topic of concern at every single meeting of the first presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Unlike the feeling of being forgotten that my friend was experiencing, quite the opposite was true – according to this source they are very aware and very concerned about women like her. She’s the topic of prayer and discussion and deep compassion. But if that’s the case, why hasn’t church leadership expressed this to the church membership so that she’d know they haven’t forgotten her?

I obviously can’t know for sure, but I have a theory. Throughout my entire life, I’ve been told consistently that women don’t need to hold the priesthood. In primary, they used an umbrella as an example. It doesn’t matter who holds the umbrella up, because everyone can stand under it and be protected. In general conference they said it doesn’t matter who opens the curtains, because the light comes in and warms everyone up equally. I heard a sacrament meeting talk that likened priesthood power to a river, and the priesthood holders were the rocks on the banks of the river that guided the power where it needed to go. All the plants (the women, I guess?) get the water they need to grow and thrive because the rocks (the men?) directed the water right to them. 

Whatever the analogy, I was taught frequently that holding the priesthood in no way benefited men over women. There are plenty arguments to be made against that idea, but the basic premise was that it didn’t matter a bit who specifically held the priesthood, as everybody was equally blessed by it.

But in this current pandemic, that’s not the case at all anymore. Plenty of people aren’t being blessed by the priesthood, and it kind of does matter who’s holding the umbrella. What would happen if church leadership spoke out publicly and loudly about their concern for the single women of the church during a time when they can’t access something as basic and supposedly important as the sacrament? Would addressing the problem of women lacking access to this ordinance open them up to criticism about women’s real life disadvantages in the church? Is that why they’ve been so quiet about the whole thing? 

I believe it is. I think they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their compassion calls them to loudly address the single sisters in the church during this time, but their need to protect themselves from criticism demands silence. I don’t know what changes these unprecedented circumstances will lead to, but I hope these months of constant prayer, discussion and concern for women with no priesthood access will give them a new empathy. I also hope it leads to new revelation, better understanding, and substantial changes moving forward in the way women are prioritized and acknowledged in this church. Because if this moment in history doesn’t significantly change things for Latter-day Saint women moving forward, I don’t know if anything ever will. 

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15 Responses

  1. Suzanne Reed says:

    I know a priesthood holder who is not receiving sacrament anymore, himself. He is confined to a nursing home following a stroke and after giving up his expensive cancer meds to go into a Hospice program. He has delivered sacrament himself in his younger, more capable days but he could no longer do it without prompting. I have asked the brethren to virtually visit him on Sundays and prompt him through the prayers while the facility provides the bread and water, but no one has stepped up to my request.
    I do not mean to minimize the authors message, but instead to show yet another way the umbrella does not cover all members.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      You’re totally correct! There are a lot of people being left out right now, and with the miracle of the internet (that I was told in Institute classes was specifically created by God to forward to work of the gospel), you’d think they’d have figured out a better way to get Sunday ordinances to everyone out there equally.

  2. Hogarth says:

    These are valid points. I’ve enjoyed a home-centered Sabbath, but I’m surprised the Church has not been more pro-active about setting up an internet sacrament meeting every Sunday with current talks by global and local leaders. I also do not fully understand why a sacrament prayer could not be said during the internet meeting that blessed bread and water prepared in the home. I’m not aware of a scripture that requires the bread and water to be prepared by a priesthood holder or that the sacrament prayer must be said by a person in the same room as the sacrament victuals.

    This all seems a reasonable accommodation — given the unique circumstances of the day — for all who would like to participate in a church service and receive the sacrament but are unable due to age or situation.

    As Jesus taught, it is appropriate to make accommodations to priesthood ritual under extreme circumstances:

    Matt. 12: 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.

    3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;

    4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

    . . .

    7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

  3. Nancy Ross says:

    I agree. I am surprised by the silence from the church and by their unwillingness to use this experience to try online sacrament, to try and reach more people through the internet or phone. Other churches are doing this and finding a way to create connection through online ritual.

  4. Em says:

    I’ve heard quite a few members in my ward feeling abandoned. I feel abandoned, and my husband has the priesthood. Quite aside from ordinances, we need spiritual food and fellowship, but permission or organization to give that is missing. I finally started a ward newsletter (which I write) to try to remind people that we all exist, soliciting updates and spiritual thoughts from various people. I also talked to a few friends and we’ve organized S.O.S. — Sisters Online Socializing. We realized, months in, that theree would be no Relief Society, so we needed to organize something for the sisters who feel isolated and spiritually hungry.

    I try not to blame my local leaders — I mean could I have taken on organizing an online community on top of the pandemic and my job and my children? I don’t think so. But the result has been a serious form of isolation. I’ve talked to a few sisters who feel really angry and wonder whether it is worth coming back — in our hour of greatest need, where was the church? And again, I’m not even talking about ordinances (which is a perfectly valid concern). But where is the spiritual connection? Where is the community? Where is the uplift and encouragement and commiseration? We can decry people who come to church for the society, but humans are social beings and without that we really suffer.

    I also think all this has exposed the holes in the “have priesthood in the home” fallacy. My husband has the priesthood and is active and believes. And I’ve had the sacrament twice since March, and then only because I asked for it. Not everyone who has the priesthood is naturally inclined to spiritual leadership in the home, and I am already exhausted by taking care of teaching kids the scriptures and overseeing prayers and organizing what Sunday worship we have, and I don’t have the emotional energy to ask for the Sacrament.

    The silver lining (if you can call it that) is I think I’ve been cured of expecting or wanting a) my leaders to take care of me or b) permission from them to do things. We don’t have Relief Society meetings? Fine, we’ll organize our own women’s society. We don’t get any spiritual food from our leaders? Fine, I’ll make up my own newspaper to give people what I wish I had. I didn’t ask permission for the newsletter or S.O.S, and I think there’s a lesson in that.

  5. Anna says:

    So, the top leadership is concerned and praying about the single women and others without the sacrament. Hmmm, just like with gun legislation, “thoughts and prayers” are not enough when something needs to be done.

    Talking *about* the women doesn’t cut it when they really need the top leadership to talk *to* the women. Even if just to acknowledge the problem as real.

    This reminds me also about the lack of any explanation with the changes to the endowment or lack of an apology with the changes in temple access and priesthood given to blacks. People need their pain acknowledged and we get nothing but radio silence.

    My husband also has the priesthood and is eligible to administer the sacrament but chooses not to because he was taught that it takes at least two priesthood holders to administer the sacrament and since there is just him, he feels it would be improper. So, he is without the sacrament. I have been inactive, so I really shouldn’t complain, but the sacrament is the only thing I miss about church. Although I don’t believe in Mormonism, I do believe in Christ and would like to be able to worship, sacrament and all.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      You know what, I remember learning that it takes two priesthood holders to do the sacrament too, now that I think about it! How come that rule went out the window with the pandemic, but blessing the sacrament remotely over the phone is still off limits?

    • Anna says:

      Being in the military, there are situations that come up when deployed or aboard a ship where there might be one or two priesthood and maybe some without priesthood, and they were specifically taught that one priesthood holder was not to administer the sacrament by himself, no matter how long he was isolated with one or two other members who also wished to partake of the sacrament. This was pounded pretty hard, so now that he finds himself as an isolated priesthood holder, he just feels that doing the sacrament for just himself is forbidden. So, he has been without because of the specific teachings of the church as he understands them.

      So, why did they magically suspend this rule, while others like not doing it remotely over Skype or the phone or letting the women prepare it with a man with priesthood on her front porch to say the prayer are now molded in concrete, because the general authorities would themselves be without the sacrament if they didn’t suspend this rule? What is good enough for the military at war isn’t good enough for the GAs during a pandemic?

  6. Teresa Hart says:

    I am 65 and a single sister. No one seems to remember I exist. I have been reaching out to another elderly sister with cancer in her 70s, she seems to be forgot by the church authorities also. It is sad.

  7. My experience as a “part-member” family was that if you or your family didn’t fit the mold, you were left out. Prayed about, sure. Discussed in meetings, probably. But in actual life, left out.

  8. bmcarson says:

    Thank you for this. I have found that the lack of access to the Sacrament is far less painful than the messaging around it. Being told in the First Presidency message to read the sacrament prayers and pray for the day I have access to the ordinance felt incredibly dismissive. And April General Conference messages that repeated the old messaging that we all have equal access to priesthood blessings at the very moment I KNEW I would be denied this particular blessing for months to come felt like an actual slap in the face. My connection to the institutional church has been fraying for other reasons than the lack of the Sacrament in my life, but if our leaders are really praying about and discussing the needs of those of us who are unmarried (and not mothers) they need to exercise enough compassion to realize that their actual actions might as well be 50-point font messages saying that they do not value us.

  9. Maren Chen says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head regarding why there has been so little communication about the sacrament and single sisters. I guess the brethren are concerned, in their way, but not enough to actually DO something about it, so their concern is basically meaningless. It’s like “thoughts and prayers” with no legislation, or like when someone apologizes without changing their behavior so that they continue to hurt the person they apologized to over and over again. It’s just empty words.

  10. SisterStacey says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m single, never married, and I complained about this several months ago on Facebook, how I felt abandoned by the Church and how my local Catholic church was blessing communion over Youtube (they broadcast their services every Sunday, not all the usual services, but they do Mass in English and in Spanish.)… and priests are baptising babies with squirt guns, but our church, the Church with the priesthood power, can’t bless the sacrament over Skype?
    The result was a visit from the RS president and my minstering brother invites me over to his house every week. So I have to go spend time with people outside my bubble and possibly risk infection to get the Sacrament. I really want to take the Sacrament, but I feel so anxious about being there, with people not quite 6ft apart… no one wearing masks and there was an incident last time, in discussing people in “crisis” with the Church… that left me feeling even more outcast. So I haven’t had the sacrament since June. I make excuses every week not to go. And it angers me that my only choice to partake of a saving ordinance is to risk my health.

  11. Trudy says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been thinking on it all week while formulating what to say about it. The lack of access to the sacrament was challenging to me (though now I have a ward member who is bringing it to me weekly, much to my gratitude), but the messaging from the top was even worse. When the directive for single women to meditate on the sacrament prayers and pray for the opportunity to take it again was given, it made me so angry. It felt like we were being sent to our rooms to think about what we had done. (And what we had done was that awful Mormon sin of failing to get married.) We were being punished with the same punishment as grievous sinners.

    Even a “we’re sorry; we don’t know the answer” would have been better than “no big deal, just wait until church starts up again”. The sacrament can’t simultaneously be the most important part of the Sabbath – the reason we meet together, and also something that it’s totally okay to deny single women (and unordained men and women married to unordained men) when it’s inconvenient.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      You’re right – when someone commits a grievous sin, part of their retribution is to forego taking the sacrament for awhile. It’s supposed to be hard for them. But with single women (and others) right now, they’re acting like it’s not a big deal. (It’s like how a man is punished by losing his priesthood when he’s repenting, and it’s humbling to him because he’s temporarily restricted to the role of being a woman in the church.)

      Either it’s a big deal to miss the sacrament and it’s reserved for repenting sinners, or it’s no biggie and who cares if you actually partake of it or not. It can’t be both ways.

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