Shelter-In-Place and the Sacrament

Just over a week ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve announced that the church was (temporarily) suspending meetings throughout the world as a response to the novel coronavirus. In the announcement, we’re asked to continue to care and watch out for each other. The letter also tells bishops and stake presidents to figure out how to allow members to take the sacrament at least once a month.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but the idea of taking the sacrament at least monthly, while nice in theory, could be a significant problem in reality. A couple days ago, a well-meaning member of my mother-in-law’s ward came to visit her. The visitor was, apparently, unaware of the risks of coronavirus, but my mother-in-law is in a high-risk demographic (older than 65 with some underlying health issues).

My mother-in-law lives by herself; she doesn’t have a priesthood holder in her household. Under current church policy, then, the bishop can’t authorize her to bless her own sacrament. For her to take the sacrament, somebody would have to bless it and bring it to her. (I’ve heard stories from and about other zealous—and caring—members working to ensure that single women, including older women, get sacrament, so my mother-in-law’s experience appears not to be unique.) But the person who brings it to her could be a carrier; after all, it appears pretty clear that asymptomatic individuals are a not-insignificant source of community spread. Imagine if an asymptomatic member of a ward brought the sacrament to a number of older women in a ward, infecting a number of those? That would be tragic. (And if any lived in an assisted-living facility? That would be terrible.)

But, in many locations, that would also be impossible. This afternoon, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order[fn1] for state residents, the third statewide order (after California and New York). While it allows for certain movement, I sincerely doubt that delivering the sacrament would qualify for those movements. In those cities and states with shelter-in-place orders, delivering the sacrament is not only a terrible idea, it isn’t possible.

So what do we do about the sacrament? One idea is just not to worry about it. After all, early in church history, members took the sacrament irregularly. It wasn’t a weekly (or even necessarily a monthly) occurrence.

If it is critical that members have access at least monthly to the sacrament, Jared has clearly explained that there’s no reason we couldn’t remotely bless the sacrament. (And what about the fact that some homes won’t have a teacher+ to prepare the sacrament? Well, preparing the sacrament doesn’t require priesthood, so that’s not a problem.)

It’s worth noting that the coronavirus underscores the disadvantages that face women in the church. Sure, we’ve shifted our rhetoric to assert that women have (or have access to) priesthood (in some undefined form). But priesthood without ordination, it turns out, is basically meaningless. We’re a social people, and we’re more than willing to go out of our way to help, whether it is giving a blessing or delivering sacrament. And most of the time, that can more or less make up for women’s lack of ordination.

But with social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, those makeshift corrections don’t work. If women can’t use their priesthood to bless the sacrament, and priesthood holders can’t bring blessed priesthood to their homes,[fn2] the priesthood that we claim women have, which we claim obviates the need for women to be ordained, is functionally useless. In a time when we need to stay away from other people, women don’t have access to the tangible benefits of priesthood unless they have male priesthood holders in their household.

For now, we really need to deemphasize the need for regularly taking the sacrament. After this pandemic has passed, though, we need to think seriously about the role that priesthood plays in our church, and how women and girls fit into that paradigm.


[fn1] Yes, I know New York Gov. Cuomo objects to using “shelter-in-place.” I also don’t particularly care.

[fn2] And I can’t emphasize enough: DON’T BRING THE SACRAMENT TO WOMEN WHO ARE IN HIGH-RISK DEMOGRAPHICS!!!!!1!

Comments

  1. I would promote FN2 to the headline!

    Within current Church practice I don’t see any reason not to follow Jared Cook’s suggestion. I am aware of more creative or out-of-the-box approaches being taken, but in those cases I doubt authorization has been asked or given.

    I agree that this experience should and likely will cause a re-evaluation of practices. (Probably repeating myself) I’m guessing there will be a small backlash against the idea of once a month, and the culture will instead move in the direction of finding ways for everybody who desires to participate.

  2. Blanche Beechwood says:

    See also: priesthood blessings of either healing or comfort during a time of sickness and stress

  3. Ordain women, obviously. This is a very acute example of the problem (where lives are literally at stake), but so many other problems would be alleviated by extending priesthood ordination to women and otherwise loosening the reins a bit on authority and worship. Good heavens, we are adults here, and the Church is treating us like children.

    To be honest I’ve found the direction here from the Church on how to worship in my own home to be a bit off-putting. We got a message today from our Bishop that we are not to be having “sacrament meeting” in our homes – i.e., don’t do a meeting with a song, prayer, talks, and the sacrament. First of all – what? Why? I am genuinely curious for the rationale and open to hearing it. But second of all – no thanks to the Church telling me how to worship in my own home.

    I will also say this: if I didn’t have an ordained priesthood holder in my home, and I felt it was important to take the sacrament weekly, I would 100% be comfortable blessing it myself and fully believe God would be cool with that too.

  4. Our stake has received guidance that no visits should be made to administer the sacrament (or for any other reason), until further notice. From what I hear from relatives in Utah, there are far fewer guidelines and directives in place.

  5. Elisa, I also got an email saying not to have a sacrament meeting in my home. My bishop explained: “Holding a sacrament meeting requires a presiding authority.” By that rationale, only the three households in the ward with a member of the bishopric as the husband/father can have a sacrament meeting.

    I don’t see any reason you couldn’t have a prayer, song and a lesson and just call it Sunday School.

  6. Olde Skool says:

    Elisa: as someone without an ordained Priesthood holder in my home, I am prepared to bless it for myself in the coming weeks/months.

  7. My 70+ year old FIL with several underlying conditions was asked to go to several neighboring houses in Utah to administer sacrament. Luckily, those houses said no need. bishops aren’t doctors, they shouldn’t be making these decisions. my FIL is not inclined to say no, even though it puts both his as my diabetic MIL’s health at risk. It’s infuriating.

  8. AnonMomofGirls says:

    My husband was out of town and unreachable this last weekend. His family set up a sacrament meeting on Google Hangouts and did it virtually. My daughters prepared the sacrament and my nephew blessed it over the tv. My daughters and I took the sacrament after my nephew blessed it. I’m 100% comfortable with that. We are doing the best we can. My husband is essential personnel at a hospital and will likely be gone a lot the next few months, and I thought our system for tv sacrament blessing worked great.

  9. Anybody else remember this post? I’ve thought of it often the last week.
    https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2006/02/marthas-sacrament/

  10. Our stake has eliminated the gender issue by making things even worse: Nobody is authorized to bless the sacrament in their own home, only as a ministering brother in another home. Which creates pressure on people trying to follow social distancing directives to visit their ministering families, since they have to report whether they provided the sacrament.

    So we’re just going without sacrament for a while in our home, as is much of the stake, I’m guessing.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Strange how the directions change depending on your ward. My husband was given permission immediately to bless the sacrament in our home. Whether or not it is part of a “sacrament” meeting wasn’t even mentioned. We held SS by zoom meeting.

  12. The differences in direction from bishops is fascinating. My bishop not only didn’t forbid a sacrament meeting, but encouraged us to have a full blown sacrament meeting with family business, prayers, hymns, talks, and the sacrament.

  13. Yes. This is something I’ve been bothered about for years, after living in a country where there was no church presence and knowing women who almost never have access to the sacrament, after 15 years of church membership. Men can bless the sacrament for themselves and women cannot. Either the sacrament matters, or it doesn’t. If it really is an important ordinance for all of us to participate in every week, it can’t only be available to men, and to women who happen to live with a man or boy who can bless it for them. Or then it simply feels like a way to pressure me into showing up for church.

    I’d love to see the sacrament done virtually (and I know some mission presidents have tried to do it). I’m appalled that so many bishops and stake presidents have instructed people to not do the sacrament at home at all. Homechurching is normal in places that are isolated from the church, and we’ve easily gotten permission from the area presidency to bless the sacrament. One email, no personal contact, and my husband is authorized. The sacrament isn’t respected by restricting it, but by making it available to those who need and want it.

  14. Melinda, we do it like a semi Sunday school, as you mentioned. Opening/family prayer. Take sacrament. Finish with come follow me lesson. I can bless it weekly if I want. No preconditions. No needed visitors or assignments. I do offer it to bring it to those I minister to who do not have a priesthood holder in the home. I don’t understand the need for preconditions or extra scrutiny from those above outside of doing something undignified or non doctrinal. We enjoyed a sweet feeling of the Spirit on the first Sunday. I feel that when the time comes to resume congregational meetings many of us will realize we worked may have been overly concerned with the administration of programs and missed the true spirit of love and ministering. I believe it will strengthen many in a way the programmed congregational unit did not

  15. The other chad says:

    The directive from our bishop is that only those dressed in their “Sunday best” should bless or receive the sacrament.

  16. Church meetings will resume at some point. The sacrament will be partaken of. Right now there are a lot of other very pressing matters to attend to. I guess the focus on the sacrament just gives bishops an opportunity to engage and involve the ward members somehow.

  17. Dr Cocoa says:

    For kicks, I went back and read this post (and the comments) by Sam again:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/01/08/soon-we-can-no-longer-meet-in-public/#more-107969

    A year later, I’m wondering if you all still feel the same way?

  18. Dr. Cocoa, 100%.

  19. AnonMomofGirls : I love the idea of getting the sacrament blessed virtually. makes a lot of sense in this online world. And it could apply in the future to people who live too far away, are too sick to visit, etc etc.

  20. 2 Chronicles 6:18 But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!

    I think this scripture captures the sentiment I feel. Can a sacrament prayer, offered up to heaven only apply to that one room? Who can contain God?

    Secondly, the sacrament prayer is scripture. It has deep meaning and test we consider it an ordinance- but it is a scripture. Who can prevent a woman from reading a scripture and eating/drinking emblems of the sacrament when her intent is to do JUST what Christ asked: do this in remembrance of me.

    The whole point of the sacrament is to remember Christ, the point is not to put limits on where, when, who can eat, bless, pass, which gender is “authorized”, who is “worthy” enough (hint: none of us are), how they dress, whether they have the right priesthood. All those seem like stumbling blocks to my worship with Christ.

  21. May 9, 2019, Official Communication Library (emphasis added):

    “Members may provide their own allergen-free
    bread or another ***broken*** bread-like substitute in a sealed plastic bag and give it to a
    priesthood holder to place on a separate tray.”

    If a pre-broken bread is acceptable for the sacrament, it seems to me that holding a priesthood office is not necessary to breaking the bread. Or at least, is something that can be exempted in extenuating circumstances.

  22. Dee Carlile says:

    Isn’t it great we belong to a Church were individual unit leaders receive inspirations specific to their congregations unique needs!! Different Wards/Branches will do things differently, gotta support the Bishops/Presidents to help them make sure individuals get what ordinances and support they need!! Stay strong!!

  23. Responding to Dee Carlile at 9:14am: I recognize the celebration of individual inspiration but I take a different lesson. In part, that our Bishops are individuals with all sorts of backgrounds, desires, interests, biases, understandings. With very little training for the job.

    But more than that, what I’m seeing is very low correlation between the styles and understandings and inspiration of individual Bishops, and the needs of their Wards as reported by members. From the outside observer point of view, the differences in administration look like scattershot.

  24. christiankimball,
    Is that an argument for something, or just an observation?

  25. UTManMI: An observation. But of course an observation that amounts to “the evidence does not fit the claim” or “empirical ideal” turns into an argument in some hands.

  26. “empirical {is not the same as} ideal”

  27. christiankimball,
    Thanks for the clarification. I agree that in some hands it could be an argument. And I also agree with Dee Carlile that we shouldn’t necessarily hope for “one size fits all” revelations for all situations, nor should we expect them from a God who expressly created a world that required an atonement because all of us (bishops and even prophets included) might mess things up from time to time.

  28. While congregations vary and vary widely — e.g. from rural Utah to Berkeley, CA –, in my experience needs within any one congregation also vary so widely that even an ideally inspired bishop cannot meet or address them all. And in more than 70 years I’ve never seen a consistently ideally inspired bishop. One of my bishop friends remarked to me in his first year that 5 years had become something of a norm because one could nearly count on offending 20% of the ward each year! :) He lasted almost 5 years.

  29. To be honest, getting permission to bless the Sacrament in my own home was so far down on our priority list it didn’t even surface. It wasn’t until after we had a very spiritual sacrament and devotional that we received the email not to do it! How odd. I cannot imagine by-passing the most important and accessible ordinance of the Gospel for any reason. But that is just my opinion.

  30. OK, I will make the argument. When we talk about inspiration and guidance and miracles and prophets and right person at the right time, I have two considerations or directions to take the conversation.

    One is the existence question. Does it happen? Is it real? Are there miracles in the 21st century? Can we recognize the work of an interventionist God? For these questions, despite my personal near universal skepticism and general agnosticism, I have no problem allowing for others to recognize and celebrate the existence of the miraculous and the numinous, and wanting a piece of that for myself.

    Two is the pragmatic or reliance question. Does it do any good? Is there anything I can rely on? Where does it make a difference? For these questions, the low correlation and lack of predictability that I see argue strongly against reliance.

    I end up wanting to acknowledge and celebrate the good that I see. After the fact. But make forward looking decisions as though there is nothing out there and it’s all up to our very human capabilities and frailties.

  31. This sounds like an argument/discussion I had with a antagonizing member of another faith. We were talking about the importance of taking the Sacrament weekly, and then he pulled out his ace(?) and replied that we don’t take the Sacrament on General Conference weeks; therefore it must not be important. The response is that God won’t punish you for not taking it when it’s not available.
    I also am very okay with the church policy of only doing Sacrament on your own with your Bishops permission. We’ve certainly had enough splinter groups in the church. Allowing any priesthood officer to do it whenever would be an enabler for more splintering.

  32. Jader3d I think if I were at the point of starting a splinter group I wouldn’t care whether or not I had permission from the bishop to do the sacrament.

    I understand why from an administrative / delegation of authority perspective this is the process and I also understand why different areas are handling differently (although some of the approaches outlined above seem really silly). My issues with this go more fundamentally to questions about priesthood office and authority and, to be honest, authoritarianism. I’m just not super into hierarchies, I’m not into people telling me how to worship in my own home, and I’m very into letting the best idea win rather than letting an idea win because the highest ranking person said it. Too often in the church we see the latter and this is one example of that.

  33. Wondering says:

    I was surprised to see that the idea of remote blessing of the sacrament had actually been discussed by some local leaders. From a bishop’s emailed FAQ:

    “- I have family members who want to join our family Sunday service over the Internet. Can they partake of the sacrament using a video connection?
    In a word, No. They are certainly welcome to listen and watch (and my own family does this), but if they desire to partake of the sacrament with you, it must be separately prepared, blessed and administered by a Priesthood holder in their immediate presence. No Bishop has authority to approve the sacrament in any location outside the boundaries of his ward, and per discussion between the Stake Presidency and the Bishops, we don’t perform & partake of the sacrament over a video connection even within the boundaries of a single ward.”

    I wonder if they though “administered” was something different from “prepared” and “blessed.”

  34. anonymous says:

    In our area the e-mail from the bishop said that in order to bless the sacrament the priesthood holder needed to have a current temple recommend. In our family this is not a problem, however I don’t recall this being a requirement before now. I also could not find this requirement anywhere else including the handbook of instructions. Was this just something I was not aware of, is it common practice?

  35. Blessing the Sacrament has never been tied to temple worthiness. That sounds more like a Bishop on a power trip.

  36. We now have the General Handbook (online and in the Library app). On the one hand, I don’t find any reference even to “worthiness” related to preparing, blessing and passing the sacrament. See 18.9.2. On the other hand, “The bishop holds the priesthood keys for administering the sacrament in the ward. All who participate in preparing, blessing, and passing the sacrament must receive approval from him or someone under his direction.” [18.9.1] The “keys” reference is usually accorded near plenary authority, meaning that almost every Church official almost all the time will take the bishop’s side–“whatever the bishop says govens in his ward.”

  37. Geoff-Aus says:

    Is the carona virus crocheted? Look at the picture with this article.
    We recently had a discussion in our priesthood class about how often we recieved revelation/powerful inspiration. With a number of ex bishops in the group, the consensus was about 3 per lifetime. The rest of the time you do your best and follow the handbook, or advice from higher up the chain of authority.

  38. Geoff-Aus: I’m envious. I’ve been trying to spark such a discussion for decades, with no takers. My current ward would have interesting answers, if we could get people talking. (14 or 15 current and former bishops, several mission presidents, several GAs.)

    My own answer would be about once-per-decade on my own, but closer to once a year as a bishop thinking about others and scraping for any help available. (Measuring by events powerful enough to occur as a story 10 years later.)

  39. How about restoring the practice of women being able to administer healing blessings because many women do not have a priesthood office holder in their homes? Laying on of the hands can’t be done via Zoom.

  40. Anonymous today says:

    Either my son or I will bless the sacrament. My daughter will definitely be preparing and passing it. Try to stop us!

  41. Jon miranda says:

    Anonymous today
    Careful. When you presume authority you run the risk of what you do on Earth not being recognized in Heaven.

  42. Anonymous today says:

    No authority needed for preparing or blessing. My daughter passes it down the row every week, and often supplies the sacrament bread, as well, out of the goodness of her heart. Not concerned in the least.

  43. This is a fantastic time to do as my daughter has done which is to prepare and pass the sacrament (but not administer per D&C 20:58).

    My favorite Sam Brunson quote:

    “Which is to say, whatever the reason for the two-hour block, it wasn’t to get us ready for a day in which the government banned church attendance.”

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/01/08/soon-we-can-no-longer-meet-in-public

  44. Jon miranda says:

    Anonymous today
    Okay then inform your Bishop and Stake President what you’re doing.

  45. Anonymous today says:

    Why would I inform my Bishop, Jon? As a worthy priesthood holder, I have received authorization, under the keys my Bishop holds, to bless the sacrament. I will do do so, and will be sure to read the sacrament prayers, verbatim, as instructed. The other things do not fall under his jurisdiction. I am also not informing him about what kind of bread we use for the sacrament, or whether we are using bottled or tap water.

  46. Anonymous today says:

    …or even which hand each of us will be using to partake of the sacrament.

  47. Jon miranda says:

    Bishop
    There have been some questionss as to what I’m doing or thinking of doing. I want my daughter to prepare and pass the sacrament. Just wondering if this is okay.
    I actually would be interested in what he has to say.

  48. Kristine says:

    ^This is how women lost the privilege of giving healing blessings. Asking for permission for everything falls into the category of “being commanded in all things”–we know what the scriptures say about people who require that.

  49. Jon miranda says:

    Kristine
    Nothing wrong with checking with the providing authorities.

  50. it's a series of tubes says:

    Okay then inform your Bishop and Stake President what you’re doing.

    Jon, you planning on informing either of yours about the time you are spending on a blog telling other people what to do?

  51. Jon, hopefully the bishops and stake presidents are focusing their efforts on how to meet the physical and financial needs of their members instead of obsessing over trivial ‘authority’ issues. Taking up their time by asking for permission is selfish.

  52. This kind of playing fast and loose with ordinances is exactly what stake presidents are concerned with. The ordinances within your homes are still taking place under the authority of the bishop, and you have no more authority to designate an unauthorized person to participate at home than you do in a regular sacrament meeting. These are the kinds of things that will lead a bishop or Stake President to say: Sorry, we cannot authorize ordinances outside the regular sacrament meeting at this time. Would you invent your own favorite treatment for Coronavirus and tell your friends it’s perfectly okay? Ignore the CDC because they’re encroaching on your personal freedoms? Of course not. But that’s the equivalent of what you’re doing with the church’s priesthood ordinances.

  53. nobody, really says:

    Pete – agreed. Bishops are also getting bombarded with calls from people who frankly know better. We’re dealing with “Can you send the EQ over to load up a U-Haul for us on Friday? No, we’re not members, but we thought you’d help”, “The missionaries aren’t allowed to leave their apartment, so bring us food and things to do”, “All my bills are due tomorrow, so I need checks today right now”, “I need a ride to the CBD store”, and “My home teacher isn’t worthy to bless the sacrament for us. Can you come do it yourself?” Self-sufficiency also means being able to make your own decisions based on the information you have.

  54. Here’s a potential conflict: My bishop authorized me to administer the sacrament in my home only to my family. My single mother-in-law, who is practically self-quarantined, said her bishop instructed her to have her family administer the sacrament to her. We do not live in her ward. I chose to follow her bishop I suppose in opposition to mine and serve her the sacrament. I suppose I’m choosing mercy over legalism. I’m giving it a second thought here, but neither my wife nor her have.

  55. Aussie Mormon says:

    Bro. B,
    There’s no conflict that I can see. Your Bishop doesn’t have authority over administration of the sacrament outside his ward boundaries. If your MIL’s Bishop says it’s ok for you to administer her the sacrament, then it’s ok.

    Now as far as government imposed travel restrictions are concerned, that might be a different story if/when they happen at local levels.

  56. I just got a call from our elders quorum presidency saying the stake presidency has authorised Melchizedek priesthood holders to bless sacrament over the phone during the 4 week lockdown here in New Zealand.

  57. Judy Cheney says:

    yes over the phone is something that has entered my mind before i read this