Butts in the Pews(?)

Photo by Drew Murphy on Unsplash

Over the last month or so, I’ve heard from several family members and friends that their wards are trying to wind down online church. There are variations, of course, everything from announcing that there will be no more Zoom church to making the link available only to people who get approval from the bishop (presumably because of health or familial issues).

I’m not clear on whether these are ward, stake, area, or general church initiatives. But I am clear that this is a terrible idea, made more terrible because nobody has explained the underlying reasons to restrict or eliminate online church.

The most immediate reason it’s a terrible idea is the current omicron wave, which sickened as many as 1 million people Monday alone, is quickly filling up our hospitals, and is just as quickly shutting our schools.

But while the omicron wave is an immediate rebuke to shutting down a widely-available online church option, it’s not the primary reason I think it’s a terrible idea. The current wave will end (with luck, as soon as this month!). At some point, the pandemic will end (though probably with Covid becoming endemic).

But even in a post-pandemic world, I can’t think of a single compelling reason to eliminate an online church option.

Look, for the vast majority of us, in-person church is a better experience. After nearly two years of Zoom, I won’t cry when I can stop using it except on rare occasions. And I think most members will return to in-person church as soon as they feel safe going.[fn1]

But there are people who, for various reasons, find it extremely hard (if not impossible) to go in-person. For some, that’s a temporary state. New mothers, for instance, often stay home for several weeks after having a baby. Plenty of us have had surgery or a cold that keeps us home. A transplant can require someone to stay home for months. But, for the most part, people home for familial or medical reasons will eventually go back. But imagine if they could participate for the time that they’re homebound. It would give them the spiritual and community benefits of worshiping with their wards for that liminal time period.

People travel (or, at least, travelled!) for business, for family, for pleasure. And sure, sometimes they can attend a ward where they are. But they can’t always. The option to attend their home ward online would, again, be a benefit to people who would love to attend but can’t.

And for the elderly and those with limited mobility, immune problems, or other issues that make it hard to arrive at church, sit for long periods of time, or otherwise attend, the choice may be between attending online or not attending at all. And it seems to me that attending online is a far better choice than not attending at all.

Like I said above, I don’t know why the wards that are shutting down online options are doing it. But I can posit a couple reasons.

The first, and I suspect most likely, is inertia and comfort. For all of us who are older than four, the majority of our lives we have had in-person church. Many of us feel comfortable with it. The shift to online was forced by a pandemic and seems like an exception to the norm. And people are often eager to get back to the norm they felt comfortable with.

But if it’s not inertia, maybe it’s because church leaders (at whatever level these decisions are being made) are afraid people will stop attending and shift to online. And on the margins, there may be a handful of people who do that. I suspect, as I said above, that most will prefer an in-person experience to an online experience. But assume that some people decide online for a bad (or, rather, “bad”) reason. So what? It seems to me that attendance online is better than no attendance at all. And it similarly seems likely to me that the person who quits attending in person for “bad” reasons is likely to quit attending sooner or later anyway. But if we believe that church participation is beneficial, it seems like attendance online is better than no participation at all. And preventing some people from shifting to online doesn’t, imho, outweigh the benefits of allowing people who can’t attend (for “good” reasons) to participate.

Or maybe it’s a question of budget. After all, the church bases stake budgets on quarterly sacrament meeting attendance. I assume that that attendance doesn’t include online attendance. But there’s no reason it couldn’t; the church could definitely figure out how to include online attendees when determining how to allocate money.

Maybe the reasoning is something different. And maybe it’s more compelling than the two conjectures I just discussed. If there is a compelling reason to end a general online option for members, though, it seems like the burden is on the party ending the online option to explain the reasoning.

Jesus taught that “[t]he sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” I would argue that, similarly, church meetings were made for us; we weren’t made for church meetings. As such, the church should work hard to meet members’ needs, rather than requiring members to conform to the church’s inertial preferences.

[fn1] And frankly, it’s an indictment of our response that we’re not concerned about people feeling safe. But between the anti-masking and anti-vaxxing rhetoric that has been prevalent among, if not a majority, at least a significant (and loud) minority of our membership, I can understand not feeling safe at church right now.


  1. I agree with you EXCEPT it has been my husband and 16-year-old son who have been running the Zoom meetings for the last year and a half (on top of other callings and responsibilities). Our ward does Zoom sacrament meeting and Zoom EQ and RS and until recently Zoom Youth Firesides, etc. It is a huge, huge hassle and it starts Saturday night with charging all the cameras and electronics and continues through the week as ward members call with suggestions (complaints) and advice. I’m super sick of Zoom just from a logistical standpoint. I want my kid to just go to church again already. Theoretically someone else could be called, but there are certain skills that are required. Kind of like the ward pianist, it’s not so easy to fill competently.

  2. While I sympathize with Rachel, I think the church ought to keep online meetings, especially now that many units have the equipment and know-how to do it. That said, I do know a number of people who hardly come anymore, so I can also understand the leaders who worry about the flock drifting apart. But as you noted, it’s not a one-way street—plenty of others are tuning in that would otherwise not engage at all.

    And FWIW, my stake asks us to track online attendance, so I assume they count it.

  3. Muted Minority says:

    Watching online allows me to take out my frustrations by yelling at the tv, rather than directly at the guy who’s been sitting on the stand without a mask give a talk on the importance of following the prophet without a hint of irony, or at the very least making it interesting by offering an examination of how he’s wrestled with mask/vaccine counsel.

  4. I’m an advocate for permanent Zoom, to expand the number of people who can participate.

    I agree that everybody who can get to church in non-pandemic conditions, whom I know, would choose to attend in person (or drop out completely, but that’s a whole different group).

    For the present, here’s what we’re getting from our county (Summit county):
    “record-breaking transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant”
    “Avoid all large gatherings if they are not vaccinated and (if applicable) boosted.”
    We’ve made sure our local bishop has seen this and he’s thinking about re-opening Zoom for the second hour as well as Sacrament meeting.

  5. I think getting rid of online church was/is a mistake. People who never attend in-person church (for a variety of reasons) have tuned into online church, when it was available. Non-members who are reluctant (for whatever reason) to visit our church in person may visit online out of curiosity or because the cost of entry is so low. There were people who opted for online church because of the convenience (rather than a genuine concern for safety–I know because they admitted as much) while it was an option, but this should make us question what we can do better to make in-person church more attractive. Personally, I didn’t get much out of online church, but I know there are many who haven’t been able to attend (for non-COVID reasons) for years who appreciated being able to participate in services remotely. Now that option has been removed and…they still aren’t attending in person. I have to wonder how much we gain versus how much we lose by insisting people attend in person or not at all.

  6. Not a Cougar says:

    Sam, I think a perhaps an unconscious reason for the reticence is that it gets us closer to oft-ridiculed televangelist-watching style of worship. The Church prides itself on being high demand, and opening an email link to watch sacrament meeting on your phone or laptop just is just too convenient and tempting (or so many would say – not me). This past Sunday, our ward offered Zoom sacrament meeting due to the surge in Covid cases (there was a request from a couple of families for the option), and we wound up with far less than half of our usual attendance in person. Once the Zoom option was provided, a ton of very active folks who had otherwise would have shown up decided to stay home and log on. I’m don’t think that’s bad, but I certainly think a lot of local and general leaders do.

  7. FWIW, I’m only in favor of making online sacrament meeting permanent. I see fewer benefits to Zoom auxiliary meetings (versus the time and effort it takes to plan/coordinate/execute them). That said, I do sympathize with Rachel and the people who have to deal with the logistics. In-person church participation should be the goal/priority, and online sacrament meeting should be an option where possible (without breaking the spirits of the cameramen/women).

  8. I’m the ward clerk and run our ward’s zoom sac meeting. I’ve noticed there are generally 2 types of people who use the zoom link – 1. people who consistently use it who stay home because of health/age/covid reasons and 2. people who are sick or traveling. There is nobody “abusing” it, but I’ve heard quite a few people in the ward grumble that that is the case. I just asked them why they care and its always “church is better when more people attend” to which I reply “better for who? should we be meeting people where they’re at?”

    As for the attendance numbers, we’ve always included people attending on Zoom in our attendance counts and our quarterly reports. This is what we’ve been instructed to do by SLC and the stake.

  9. Not a Cougar, I’d be curious if the halving of attendance is because of my “bad” reasons (laziness or whatever) or because, like you said, Covid was surging in your area. I suspect that the latter was a significant driver though you know your ward members better than I.

    Eric F, thanks for the explanation of budgeting. Needless to say, I’m not a clerk so it’s good to hear that the church is counting online attendees.

    And Rachel, I’m sorry it’s a burden for your husband and son. It shouldn’t be that kind of extreme burden if you just set up a static camera and hit record, but there’s always more to it than that. (That said, what’s up with the complaints? I don’t even have any idea who sets up our camera!)

  10. Wow, thanks for all the sympathy, guys. My point is that we throw around “online church” as if there is zero cost/burden but that is not the case. You’re just not the one paying the cost.

  11. Julianne Gray says:

    We are still doing virtual sacrament meeting, and I’m the Relief Society President and we are still broadcasting our RS meeting every other week via Zoom. It’s a little extra work, but not much–and if even one person joins that wouldn’t have been able to attend, then I think it is worth it. And we have a number of older individuals in our ward including several who are shut ins. And several of them has said, while they are very sad about the covid pandemic, there have been some positive things including being able to participate virtually. They said it has helped them feel more connected to their ward than they have in years.

    In addition, we’ve had some weeks where we have been sick and didn’t want to bring it to church, and the virtual meeting has allowed us to still listen and be involved in church.

    Finally, as I’ve been working with a number of individuals who are less active or not active, it has been nice to offer the virtual meetings as a less intimidating and an entry point to attending church. I’m a firm believer in invite people and give people opportunities to feel the Spirit and let the Spirit do the work on them. Our responsibility is to meet people where they are and just be willing to invite.

    So we are still doing it. And as long as I’m on the ward council, I will be an advocate for continuing it.

  12. There is a history and tradition of strong-arming people into attendance. We see this with respect to Stake-level meetings more often than any other. Also note the temple recommend question. The idea that people will attend because you command them to attend seems almost anachronistic to me, in the 21st century, but I suspect it persists in a lot of church leader minds. From my little window on the LDS world, I think the effectiveness of that approach was dying out before the pandemic and may be gone for good. (FWIW, I am very cautious about COVID but genuinely interested in attending in person when it’s safe. My reasons have nothing to do with commands or demands by the institution.)

  13. Not a Cougar says:

    Sam, I was one of those who stayed home out of convenience, and I know for a fact many of the families who stayed home were vocally not worried about Covid as they were vaccinated and were out at New Year’s parties two nights before so if they really are worried about Covid, their words and actions suggest otherwise. I also suspect that this being the first Sunday right after the holiday break played a part in many wanting to stay home.

  14. Ah. The day after a holiday may be a special circumstance; again, I’m not convinced that a huge number of people who stay home and attend church online would have gone in-person had there not been a choice. (I forgot to mention others who would benefit in the OP, including people who work nights and work Sundays.)

  15. I also think canceling zoom church is a mistake and personally, it is the only church I have attended in 10 years. I am one who quit attending in person long before Covid and yet, when my husband tuned into on line church, I participated with him. He can’t drag me to in person church, yet I am right there watching zoom church with him. (But neither of us “signed in” because my otherwise active believing husband didn’t want to get counted for some reason. I don’t question him on things like this, but he seems to want to keep his own distance now that I am inactive) I also watch conference with him when he turns it on and every Sunday, we always watch the MoTab (I know, now they are calling it something stupid like the choir on temple square, but it will always be MoTab)

    So, my point is that in many part member, semi active, or other kinds of fringe families, one person would go to in person church, but other family members might watch zoom church or whatever on line church there is when it is turned on.

  16. Rachel, I think your argument is the most compelling against offering online church, so it’s interesting to me that people never bring that up when they talk about why they stopped/want to stop broadcasting sacrament meeting. It’s one thing to serve as the ward tech person, but it’s another thing to be the ward tech person *forever*. (I would happily be a piano player forever, but I know plenty of other piano players who hate that they’re always put in music callings and never get to do anything else.)

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that despite the widespread belief that using a technology (whether it be a VCR or the church wireless network or whatever) shouldn’t be a significant burden (or require a substantial amount of technical education), our meetinghouses seem to be hotbeds of technical malfunction. It’s almost like someone is trying to send us a message, but who?

  17. If online church is off the table (as it is in many places), are there other ideas for ministering to people who were tuning in to sacrament meeting but now have no regular interaction with church? I think we often assume that people aren’t attending church because they a) have zero interest or b) don’t have enough interest to overcome inertia (or “laziness”). But there are also people who work nights/weekends, people with social anxiety or depression, people who have been hurt by other ward members, people who want to come back but don’t want to deal with the “drama” of returning–the list goes on. What else can we offer them, as a ward, aside from ministering brothers/sisters (who may or may not connect with them on a regular basis or at all)?

    There are people who just found online church way too convenient not to take advantage of it as long as it was an option. I think a great many active, believing members discovered that they enjoyed a break from church. I think the vast majority of them would have eventually returned on their own (especially if you extended a calling that required their in-person participation). But if it really is a large number who would forego attending in person so long as there was an online option, maybe we need to examine why in-person attendance is such a burden for so many.

  18. Thanks Rebecca. I think that’s entirely right. Part of the problem is that nobody that I know of who is shutting down Zoom church has explained why they’re shutting it down; I’m skeptical that there’s a good reason but a compelling explanation could certainly prove me wrong.

    But, as you insightfully point out, just providing an insightful explanation is insufficient. If people are substituting online for in-person church, they presumably have a good reason. And either in-person church needs to do something better to draw them in or we need to figure out how to connect with people whose needs aren’t met. The OP focused on the first question, but the second is just as critical.

  19. My Utah grandmother benefited from online church for many years prior to the pandemic. I do think it is a good way to serve the homebound. Currently, my stake president claims that the area authority told him to limit the broadcast (but I have family in 8 different stakes in the area, some of whom are also in stake presidencies and no one else has heard of the area policy).
    However, as for the statement, “I can’t think of a single compelling reason to eliminate an online church option.” My top contender would be wifi access. Our teachers cannot show church videos currently as the building wifi is turned off to support another ward’s sacrament broadcast.

  20. EP, that strikes me as a not-super-compelling reason. Primarily because (and I just checked to make sure) you can download church videos to your device. That may take a little forethought, but it doesn’t require a ton.

    But if bandwidth is really a problem, you could ask all of the members browsing Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to stay off the wifi and instead use their cellular service. Or change the password so that it’s only available to teachers and the broadcaster. Or we could actually invest in church wifi that can support whatever the traffic it gets is.

  21. Stonetwig3 says:

    Allow me to provide a rebuttal.

    Your 2 main assertions for eliminating online learning (after covid) are Inertia/Habit and Fear. I think those are both wrong and the #1 reason for the push to get back to in-person church is simply that online church is not a viable replacement for in-person connection, learning, growth, and cohesion. The Church will always push the ideal, as best they can figure it, and the ideal they are pushing is in-person church. Online meetings are a private matter, and while you can participate, it is easy not to. Participation is difficult, connection to others is not as robust, and it’s easy to become isolated.

    Church leaders are going to favor in-person interactions for the inherent benefits. Going back to normal does not justify explanation beyond “we are going back to normal because things are normalizing”.

  22. Stonetwig3, I think I addressed that in the OP. Even if it is the ideal, there are people for whom it doesn’t work. And, while broadcasting is not costless, it’s at least very low-cost. And I suspect, based on experience and talking to people, that very few people who can go will not choose to.

    The church certainly can choose not to provide an online option. But to the extent it does, it should (a) explain why and (b) try to ameliorate whatever problems make it hard (or impossible) for those who prefer online to attend.

  23. From the Church Handbook – 29.7

    Streaming Meetings and Holding Virtual Meetings
    When possible, Church members should strive to attend meetings in person. However, sometimes this is not possible. Streaming and holding virtual meetings make it possible to reach those who otherwise would not be able to attend. These people may include (but are not limited to) those who:

    Live in remote locations or have limited ability to travel.

    Have physical, mental, or emotional health challenges.

    Are immunocompromised or in a care facility or hospital.

    Are essential workers or otherwise are required to work on the Sabbath.

    Care for someone who is homebound and cannot be left alone.

    Need sign-language interpretation.

    Have allergies that put their health at risk in a meeting.

    For the benefit of these members and others, the bishop may, as an exception, authorize a livestream of sacrament meetings and of funerals and weddings held in the meetinghouse. Streams allow others to see and hear a meeting remotely but not participate directly.

    A livestream of a sacrament meeting should not include the administration of the sacrament. The stream should be paused during the sacrament and restarted afterward. Or the bishop may move the administration of the sacrament to the end of the meeting after the livestream has ended. The meeting would then close with a hymn and prayer.

    The bishop may authorize a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to administer the sacrament in person to those who cannot attend the meeting (see 18.9.1).

    For some meetings, the bishop or stake president may authorize members who cannot attend in person to participate virtually. These meetings may include:

    Leadership meetings, such as presidency or council meetings.

    Quorum, Relief Society, and Young Women meetings.

    Sunday School classes.

    Primary classes and singing time.

    Unlike streams, virtual meetings are interactive. Those who join remotely can contribute by asking questions, making comments, and participating in other ways.

    The stake president may authorize a livestream of stake conference to other locations in the stake, including to members’ homes when needed. He may also authorize stake leaders to join leadership meetings virtually when they cannot attend in person (for example, for the reasons listed earlier in this section).

    Streams and virtual meetings are not meant for the convenience of those who could reasonably attend in person. For example, the bishop does not authorize streaming of sacrament meeting for ward members who are traveling and could attend another ward.

    Ward and stake technology specialists can help leaders set up streams and virtual meetings (see 33.10). These individuals can also help members access these meetings.

    Streams and virtual meetings should not distract from the Spirit. Generally, only one device should be used to capture the meeting. Both the device and the person using it should be inconspicuous.

    Stream recordings of ward and stake meetings should be deleted within one day after the meeting.

  24. The physical danger of gathering in groups is one reason for the current drop in attendance. Another reason—related but different—is broken trust in our neighbors and fellow ward members. Continuing the opportunity for remote attendance at sacrament meetings is one way to hold things together. Distrust takes time to heal. If we cut people off from our meetings in the middle of the crisis, we give each other less reason to mend our ruptures together. Strong-arming people, as christiankimball puts it, won’t encourage trust. The crisis of disease is not over, but the crisis of confidence is likely to continue even after the disease subsides. We should use every tool we can find, including online meetings, to deal with both crises.

  25. A couple months ago our stake presidency wanted youTube sacrament meetings to end. Saturday they sent an email to members including this paragraph:

    “There are many in our congregations that have health concerns or have family members who are more susceptible to illness. We want to do our part to keep everyone safe and healthy, and create an environment of love and peace where we worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ together. This is one way we can live the second great commandment to “love thy neighbor” (Matthew 22:37–39).”

    We have members that stopped attending because we were asked to wear masks, families who recently stopped wearing masks, and people who have health issues that stopped attending because of lax social distancing.

    Eliminating on line services will.make a bad situation worse.

  26. “And it seems to me that attending online is a far better choice than not attending at all.” This is really all that needs to be said. But I’m going to say more =).

    My wife is on ward council and we were told this came from the Area Authorities. Knowing our SP as I do, I’m sure he did not want to stop zoom church. He’s been a big proponent of it and told us that he would be very liberal in giving out the link to anyone who asked for it. Now seeing this thread, I think it came from above the Area Authorities, seeing how many areas are stopping zoom church.

    Firstly, I think it’s extremely rude to assume we know anything about why people choose to zoom church. Who cares if someone went to a NYE party? Maybe that party required vaccinations, negative tests, masks, social distancing, and only involved people your fellow church members knew. Contrast that to church, where no one is masked, vaccination status is unknown, etc. We all know pre-pandemic the obligation to attend church and fill your calling meant coming sick. I see no good reason to judge anyone’s decision to zoom church, even if they did attend a party the night before.

    Second, a few hypotheticals: Mom just gave birth. Isn’t zoom church better than no church? The social structure of church gives some people anxiety. Isn’t zoom church better than no church? Anna’s example above. Isn’t zoom church better than no church?

    The reality is, if even one of our church leaders wasn’t over the age of 50, we could as an organization see how zoom church is a good thing. But alas. We only zoom sacrament meeting and we do turn off the wifi for the general members during that time.

    Lastly, Rachel, I feel for you. As a professional auditor, I have now been a stake auditor for 4 years on top of my ward calling. I’m also my kid’s school PTA auditor. One of my new year resolutions is to resign from my stake auditor position this year. While I’m happy to serve were able, sometimes enough is enough.

  27. The sad reality is that the church is a top-down, control-driven church. Leaders (1P, Q12, AA, SPs, etc. have authority and they will use it even when not needed).
    Eliminating the option to hear gospel messages remotely is beyond pathetic. I will say it is anti-Christ. “If you are too lazy to get your rear end over to this mount then you aren’t worthy to hear the sermon!” It appears to me that the leaders simply don’t trust the members. They see declining numbers and are working in panic mode. I don’t care what the leaders think is best. What they think doesn’t matter. I don’t care if they are inspired. They should provide every possible opportunity for everyone to hear gospel messages as often as possible and let each person make their own decision on how to hear the message. Any policy that says you must be in the building to hear the words of Christ is just, well, sad.

  28. As a general policy, I believe we should make it as easy as possible to do the right thing, whether that is voting, getting mental health help, forsaking a criminal past, or (in this case) attending worship services. Making good choices harder just seems unnecessarily cruel.

  29. Timothy Birt says:

    I think it is a control issue and a concern that people have just gotten used to the break and are not coming back or at least doing so with less vigilance.

    Giving options came as a necessity. Remember at the beginning of the pandemic that wards doing online on their own were prohibited but quickly they realized that they had to do something to keep the members attached to
    the church and not enjoying their second Saturday too much.

    Local wards are given central direction and innovation is not generally rewarded.

    There are all kinds of reasons to continue online options. We will see if it is allowed in the long run. Local wards probably won’t get to decide what works for them as Mormonism is largely a one size fits all MLM religion.

  30. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s perspectives regarding the continuance of “Zoom church.” I agree that online church should always be an option, no questions asked. If it only helps one person, it is worth the effort. To worry over “abuse” of online options due to “laziness” etc. is a waste of energy. Zoom church blessed many lives and continues to do so.

    Something that hasn’t been mentioned in relation to streaming church from home is the Sacrament ordinance. Online church during COVID was great . . . unless you were a woman who didn’t have a priesthood holder in the home. For me and my family, it was painful to go for months without being able to partake of the sacrament. When in-person attendance started back up, we were lucky to have a ward that is still 100% compliant with masking (I’m so proud of my ward!). We went back to “in-person” church because we desperately missed taking the sacrament.

    It was difficult for me to watch online church meetings because I felt like if I couldn’t have the sacrament, what was the point? I actually stopped streaming church during the shut-down when only the bishopric and speakers attended in-person. It’s been very difficult to reconcile the pain of going without the sacrament for so long just because I’m a woman. I heard from siblings and friends about their experiences with the sacrament in their homes and talk about how wonderful/faith affirming/spiritual it was watching their husband/father/son prepare and bless the sacrament. Meanwhile in Womanville, there was no sacrament because there was no priesthood holding man.

    I’m mad. It’s not fair. It’s not right. COVID has shown me, with glaring clarity, that I don’t matter in this church. I know I matter to God, but I don’t matter in the patriarchal structure of this church.

  31. My ward is still broadcasting Sacrament Meeting via YouTube. I don’t think the other ward that meets in our building is doing so, however. Our Stake Presidency has … mixed feelings about it but I think has left it up to the individual bishops. Ours is quite tech savvy and it’s not a problem for him to keep it going. My husband is ward clerk and keeps count of how many are tuning in – it’s usually around a dozen or so. Related to concerns about how to reach people once remote church ends, when I was RS President several years ago, I discovered that some of the sisters would like to attend church but had mental or physical health problems that prevented them. Some worked during church. There were also several men in the same situation. In one of the few times I felt certain that I was receiving revelation related to my calling, I was impressed that I should start taking notes of sacrament talks and emailing the notes. It’s not perfect and it didn’t cover everyone because some, especially elderly people, did not use email. However, I regularly was able to reach several ward members who had had minimal contact and few gospel messages outside of whatever personal study they were able to do for years. After I was released, the new RS President said, “That’s a great idea, why don’t you keep doing it.” So I did, and I have continued to do it throughout the pandemic too. A few of my regulars are able to see the YouTube broadcasts, but the video and audio are not always clear. It’s kind of a pain to do it on my own, to be honest, but this task could be rotated among people in a ward if a bishop or RS or EQ president – or anyone, really – took the initiative.

  32. Natalie, I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that (though I’m thrilled to hear that your ward is 100% mask compliant!). The way we limit the sacrament is a real problem that demands a real solution and I don’t know what that solution is (or, at least, I don’t know what it is within the parameters that church leaders are apparently comfortable with).

    Villate, thanks for that; what you did (and do) for your ward members is incredible!

  33. Stephen Fleming says:

    We were told to end Zoom Jan 1, and that the direction came from the Area leadership who seem worried that lack of attendance will lead to people drifting away. We had been able to count Zoom attendees on our attendance so it’s not about our overall attendance. I’m pretty sure the feeling is that Zoom is allowing less participation among members and people may drift away as a result.

    Our stake passed on the message but also noted that handbook exceptions and our SP really stressed that he didn’t want to offend anyone. In our ward council this Sunday, I went over all this and said that I’d been checking the Zoom attendees each week and felt quite sure that shutting down Zoom wouldn’t get any of the Zoom to attend in person: old ladies, sick people, people who can’t make it. We don’t have anybody that just finds staying home easier. People who CAN make it to church come. So I told them I want to leave it open. I think what I’ll do is instead of sending out the link in our weekly email, we’ll just sent the message, “if you’d like the link, contact the bishop.” That way I’ll have “oversight,” but I’m pretty sure I’ll give it out to whoever asks.

  34. Stephenchardy says:

    Doesn’t all of this sound a bit Zoramite-ish? Alma 32:9…”What shall we do? —for we are cast out of synagogues, so that we cannot worship our God.”

    I know, I know… people aren’t being thrown out, and certainly not for being “poor”. But still, part of the Zoramite teachers were that one could only worship in the synagogue.

    Because I find it easy to draw parallels between the Zoramite culture and our own church today, this strikes a nerve. We can only worship in person, when alternatives exist?

  35. Aussie Mormon says:

    They have to go through the Bishop for approval for administering the sacrament at home, it makes sense to go through the Bishop for a link to the sacrament if their reason is the same as they would use for sacrament at home.

  36. Aussie Mormon – I have to disagree with your assessment (respectfully). The sacrament is an ordinance which requires leadership authorization. We can argue whether or not that is appropriate, but it is the standard. Bishop approval to simply watch or listen to a sermon/talk/testimony/lesson remotely is absurd and smells of authoritarian control fear. Give people the choice on how they choose to worship (let them worship how, where, or what they may).

  37. Aussie Mormon says:

    There are lots of ways that people might want to worship.

    Should the bishop of my english language ward be forced to provide translation services so that chinese people can worship in chinese?

    Should the church be forced to create language-based wards just because some people that speak that language want them? (There has been at last one lawsuit over this)

  38. Aussie Mormon, probably. I’ve lived in plenty of stakes where there are either specific language wards or a ward designated to provide translations (or, sometimes, both). To the extent we’re trying to facilitate people’s worship, it makes sense to provide them with things that will help them do that.

  39. The Other Brother Jones says:

    It was a ways back but I want to comment on the wifi bandwidth problem from 3:15PM. I run the zoom mtg in my ward and I run an ethernet cable from the podium. I have direct cabled access and the bandwidth has never been a problem. I assume that all buildings in the US have an ethernet connection on the podium.
    I ran cables for AC, ethernet and audio output and secured the bundle below the partition then back to the 4th row where I set up. Covered it with a mat. Has been working great.

  40. Bro. Jones says:

    I have a family member wirh special needs who requires supervision. For years before covid, I had asked that either 1) my wife be excused from callings so we could alternate attending church and supervising our son; or 2) someone at church receive a dedicated calling to supervise him and only him during the last 2 hours (now one hour) or church. I saw #2 happen for another family in a much smaller ward than ours and presented both a nice opportunity for people to serve this family and to allow them to serve others.

    In our current ward? Zilch. Best they offered was having the primary presidency “keep an eye on him while conducting sharing time and we tried that but had…an incident due to the primary presidency being disreacted. Our son was safe but it was not a good situation. At that point I informed the bishop that I would be staying home with my son unless and until my wife was without a calling. Again, no movement or response until covid hit.

    So I’d been hoping for some kind of online outreach for years before covid. Anything: streamed services or classes, outreach from teachers, an online chat feature, heck even a weekly announcements email with something more spiritual than a list of callings/releases. Nope, zero attempts to innovate or make worship available to me.

    Funny thing: Community of Christ has been experimenting with this for years because their congregations (wards) are so spread out. Since I’ve been visiting them over the past year, online and (when covid numbers were better) in person, they’ve made sure to include me and anyone else unable to attend in person. It’s absolutely possible to do, but LDS leadership doesn’t see it as a priority.

  41. Recent covid outbreak at MTC – Sundance Film Festival cancels in-person attendance – but damn the torpedoes TCOJCOLDS is moving forward…makes no sense to me…

  42. So, so done in Salt Lake City says:

    Chet (1/6/2022, 8:03 am) Amen to that. I’m in Utah too and have been waiting for an official announcement from downtown about, at least, using extreme caution in church meetings at this time of exponential Covid growth. I don’t attend, either in person or zoom, but my ward is headed by a trio of M.D.s, including an epidemiologist at the top, so I know they’ve been super careful. No talk of withhold zoom. They even have multiple cameras as i was able to observe the Sunday after Christmas when I tuned in because several friends were performing musical numbers. Leave zoom alone. It’s all about controlling members’ lives and behaviors. Mandated underwear anyone?

  43. I live in a very conservative section of Arizona, and my stake (and surrounding stakes) continues to offer the online version (probably because the members are so blatantly refusing to mask up at meetings).
    I think online is a good option and I agree with the sentiment above that “abuse” of the webcast situation is rare or not likely to continue.

    For me, a highlight of church is physically seeing and interacting with my fellow ward members. The unscheduled chats in the hallway and off-the-cuff interactions are so much more beneficial than a lot of what we do. I like going to Church to check in with my ward friends, which is why I don’t like staying home to watch the online broadcast. But removing the option to force these interactions seems like it could generate as much negativity as benefit and is counterproductive.

  44. Thank you, Natalie. I, too, went for months on end without the sacrament. Our leaders in SLC encouraged us to use the time to think prayerfully about it instead but nobody could possibly think that’s an adequate substitute. Or even a substitute at all. (Yes, I have ministering brothers but for various reasons, including one being immunocompromised and the other reluctant to do anything, having them come over wasn’t workable.) Having been made to feel cut off and marginalized in that way, I would hate to see people who rely on Zoom church cut off as well. Hello – you don’t matter!

    FWIW, my bishop is an MD and one of his counsellors is a physician’s assistant; our ward is currently 100 percent masked; and I have no doubt the bishop would approve sending the Sacrament meeting link to anybody who asks for it. I don’t know how many other people have that assurance, though.

  45. Antonio Parr says:

    Mormonism is not a spectator religion. Its cultural lifeblood is a combination of service and a lay clergy for which there are no employment applications. This “I lift thee, and thee lift me, and we both ascend together” model is remarkably effective.

    However, as a mere spectator sport, the content of our meetings often falls well below the offerings of other Christian denominations. If one limits one’s engagement with the Church to a video of a typical Sacrament Meeting, interest is likely to wane rather quickly. On the other hand, if we engage face-to-face/mask-to-mask, then we lift and are lifted to a place that is so appealing that we can’t help but want to come back for more.

  46. I disagree Antonio. I mean, I don’t disagree (and I don’t think anybody does) that in-person is a better and fuller experience than online. But online engagement is better than no engagement. And frankly, for most of us most of the time, Sacrament Meeting is a fairly passive engagement. As thor said, most of the active engagement is before and after. And most of us crave that active engagement, and most of us will seek it out when it is safe and possible.

    But for many members, either it’s not safe or possible or, for other reasons, they don’t want that active engagement at the current moment. And shutting off their ability to engage on other terms will not, in most cases, make them attend in-person (because if that’s what they wanted to do, they’d already be doing it). So the vast majority of the time, I suspect that cutting off an online option won’t create more engagement, but rather less.

  47. pconnornc says:

    Two comments… I think the calculus that is being figured is what will strengthen Zion the most? 10 people attending via Zoom or 5 people attending in person and 5 who do not attend at all? I don’t claim to know the figure, but sense that is part of what leaders are trying to dial in.

    I also refer to Josia as he consolidated temple worship in the OT. I may be stretching the comparison, but clearly shutting down the temples in remote locations had a negative impact on some spiritual worship, while the combination of sacrifice (for the travel) and more orthodox worship had a net increase in impact.

  48. Antonio Parr says:

    Hi Sam –

    I am not suggesting that broadcasts should be discontinued; instead, I meant to communicate that I understand why some leaders are concerned about continuing this option.

    I am aware of specific instances where broadcasts have been a lifeline to members who are (genuinely) unable to attend meetings for a variety of reasons. That seems reason enough to continue to offer these broadcasts as an option.

    On the other hand, I also know of quite a few members who have drifted away from activity in the Church because the broadcasting option was both too easy and too unengaging to sustain them. The only antidote that I see to uneven meetings (which is a Churchwide problem) is the consistent uplift that comes from face-to-face engagement. My guess is that some leaders are concerned that if you take away this latter benefit, they are going to see an exodus that might not be reversed any time soon.

  49. Antonio Parr: “On the other hand, I also know of quite a few members who have drifted away from activity in the Church because the broadcasting option was both too easy and too unengaging to sustain them.”

    Did they actually tell you this, or did you deduce this on your own? Because from the people that I have actually engaged on the topic, these members drifted away for all sorts of reasons, none of which had to do with zoom. Zoom gave them a legitimate opportunity to quietly change their level of activity with the church without making a big to-do. Because publicly leaving is simply not an option in a high-demand religion for most people. And even with their quiet exit, there always appear to be the cohorts, including commenters here on this thread, that just can’t help themselves from being a busybody.

    I have read all the comments and I still cannot find one compelling reason to stop Zoom church in the middle of the omicron wave.

  50. Antonio Parr says:

    Chadwick – I am about as far away from being a “busybody” as one can imagine. All who wander are not lost, etc.

    In response to your question, my conclusions about the drift are born in part by conversations, in part by general observation. And, to be clear, I am not at all opposed to making Zoom church available. But I do think that a breakdown occurs in faith communities when religion is reduced to a spectator sport, especially in our case, where meetings are so uniquely uneven in terms of the quality and content of our talks.

    (Of course, like all of you, I am sure, there are times when my brothers and sisters inspire me with talks that are life-changing, and, for me at least, it is worth going back to the well just for the possibility that I might find myself at an unexpected spiritual feast.)

  51. Perhaps another fast.

  52. One more shot at a logic. Admittedly not satisfying or sufficient for me, but maybe persuasive as a logic.

    First, we know there is a part of the country (U.S. for this purpose) who downplay and disregard COVID and argue for life to go on without restrictions. I believe the U.S. church leadership is disproportionately represented in that group. Second, we know the LDS Church is heavily invested in the “one and only” principle. But (I believe) excluding people from the Sacrament and not getting them into the pews on Sunday significantly increases the chance they will look around and find options. There are some wonderful uplifting services on the web every Sunday, including some that are Mormon flavored if not authorized or official (and some that are not so much). Without physical tokens to distinguish and make special, what’s to distinguish?

    If you’re downplaying the risks in the first place, then see that Zoom meetings are not unique and not likely to win a head-to-head popularity contest, and recognize that you’ve long since failed on inclusive delivery of Sacrament tokens, the logical conclusion is that you’ve got nothing left but to force people back into the building.

  53. In my Canadian ward we had to go back to only having 25 people at church and the rest are on zoom. It’s the law and the Church isn’t about to break any laws. We were only doing zoom for Sacrament mtgs and then omicron hit and the province legislated us back to this. It was a blessing though as it’s negative 31 and no one wants to go to church at 10am with that kind of weather or any time really!

  54. Antonio Parr,
    For a good many of us, attending church meetings was already a spectator sport. It’s not like many of us have a voice in the proceedings. I know there is a lot of hand-wringing about grown adults potentially leaving the church because time in the old cinder-block chapel is currently limited, but I doubt that is true.

    We need to get away from the idea that our spirituality or spiritual value is determined by attendance of MEETINGS. Where we cease being mere spectators is rarely in church. There are now so few callings in our ward and so many active adults that only one-third of the members have any callings of substance. For most members our service, our ministering, takes place outside of of formal meetings and programs. It takes place in our own families and out there among the masses.

    As for the sacrament, the most spiritual experience I have had with the sacrament was administering it to my family during a long shutdown. Now of course this begs the question: Are church meetings as valuable as you propose? Do you have any evidence that formal church meetings is really where gospel participation occurs?

  55. Here is a fascinating question: Are church meetings more important/beneficial in 1.) increasing a spiritual relationship with God, or 2.) increasing a commitment to the church institution?
    They need not be mutually exclusive and clearly physical attendance can support both. But, what do you think is dominant?
    Years ago I was shocked when I heard a bishop proclaim that our relationship with God is measured by our church attendance. I’m not saying that is the official church position, but it is a widely pervasive attitude in the church. It saddens me to think that so many people do judge and measure each other based on physical attendance in meetings.

  56. Sam asked the question I have had for weeks now. I am someone with a health condition that has been approved to continue on Zoom, but if I had not been I would just be missing church. The community response to the pandemic has been too split and I trust very few in my area/state to attend any gathering indoors. I know how important physical health is and I am not willing to risk it.

    I don’t understand why we don’t give others the option to join each week especially as the pandemic continues. I know some ward members who wanted to join as the change was taking place (because the felt unwell, had sick kids, etc.) but were now cut off. I don’t get it. Do we care about others’ health, with omicron that means everybody, or do we just want things to appear normal? If we aren’t worried about our own physical health what about our overtaxed hospital system?

    As to the responses about missing out on the social connection/benefit, in my world that is slowly improving while being away physically. As an introvert with a somewhat demanding calling Sunday’s were exhausting. I like the slower pace without all of the interaction (which was not always positive or uplifting). I find the ward members who do engage with us now to be more genuine and authentic in their friendship. Whereas everything in church was quick, small talk where a lot of figurative masks are up.

  57. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I had a thought while reading these last several comments:
    For those that feel a great benefit from the talks in a zoom sac mtg, we can provide that. A single feed for all who need it in the stake. No need to reproduce that in every ward and branch. This would require individual units to provide announcements/callings/releases/etc in an email or something similar.
    For those who need in person face to face contact, they can come to church in person, (subject to local laws and constraints).
    For me, I need in person contact. But if I am sick (for a few days) I am staying home in bed, not attending by zoom. For the immunocompromised, a consistent meeting is available. For those traveling, you need a local meeting.

  58. Stephen Hardy says:

    Brother Jones:

    How do you know what I need?

  59. Thank you Old Man and Bob&Anna. Beautiful comments and said in a much more charitable way than I could say. What a beautiful reminder that living the gospel does not take place during the two-hour block. It takes place before and after that.

    I’m exhausted from the many and varied ways our culture finds to judge others, and it seems that relegating members attending on zoom to the less valiant status is the new “they aren’t wearing their temple garments” and I’m just so over it. And I agree that for many of us who don’t have a consistent voice at church because we aren’t asked to serve in that way, church is a spectator sport regardless.

  60. The Other Brother Jones, we could even have Salt Lake provide a single feed. That, though, strikes me as suboptimal (as does a single Stake feed, though that would be better than nothing). As several people have indicated, part of church involves our relationships with our fellow congregants. And getting to hear people in our ward on Zoom at least provides us with some kind of connection to the people we would otherwise attend church with.

    And it may be that you wouldn’t attend Zoom church when you were sick. But plenty of people would; I’ve known people who actually go to church sick because they want the spiritual uplift and the community. And if you didn’t want to attend on Zoom, you absolutely wouldn’t have to. But for those who want to, it would be a blessing.

    Finally, you baldly assert that if you’re travelling you need to find a local meeting. Why? It’s not immediately obvious. And it’s not always even possible. Not every traveler has a car when they travel and not every city has meetinghouses easily accessible without a car. And sometimes on Sundays you’re driving or in the airport. So while going to a meeting where you are is good, having the option of attending your own meeting is also good.

  61. Antonio Parr says:

    Old Man . . .

    Take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you . . .

    (Sorry – I couldn’t help myself!)

    I don’t have a problem with Zoom meetings. They allow the bedridden and those separated for other reasons to stay connected, and I see great value in that.

    Notwithstanding the above, I understand completely why others might have a different perspective, i.e., wariness that members who are barely hanging on will loose their grip if their only LDS sustenance is watching our uneven meetings. Leaders want members to connect in person because the Church’s strength is in community, and interaction with that community is what gives many the sustenance to carry on as active members.

    As to those of you who feel you don’t have a voice, you do. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out the best way to find the right listening ear, but if we approach those in positions of authority with love unfeigned and humility and sincerity and, as trite as it might sound, an awareness of their “love language”, each/any of us most certainly can influence the influencers. (In my experience, some of the influencers surprise me by influencing me right back and giving me a new perspective that I had not had before I approached them.)

    Not all of us will connect equally with every person in authority. But, if not the Stake President, then once of his counselors. If not the Bishop, then one of his counselors. If none of the above, then someone on the High Council or Stake Council. Eventually you find a kindred spirit (or at least someone who can empathize with you), and then your voice becomes one that is both heard and (hopefully) magnified by your new friend/ally.

    Although I follow BCC with interest, I don’t contribute very much, and probably won’t be back for a while. But if expressions of good will from an anonymous presence count for anything, I sure do hope for all of you the deep peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.

  62. It seems to me that this comes down to a paradox of faithfulness vs orthodoxy. Is it possible to be faithful without being fully orthodox? Think of white shirts and ties for men, the tacit disapproval of denim dresses for women. Those are manifestations of orthodoxy., but not necessarily measures of faithfulness. If we truly believe Christ meets us where we are, can’t that be at home via Zoom? The Zoramite comparison here has a lot of validity.

  63. I’m highly ambivalent. Or at least I will be when it’s safe to go back. As it stands, I think webcast is a no-brainer, but when COVID finally dissipates, I just don’t know.

    On the one hand, I can see from our stream who is dialing in, and there are people I know we would never see on an average pre-COVID Sunday (judging by the moniker they type in). And that’s really fantastic.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a reason we’re asked to meet oft and I think a lot of the comments here have been a little blase about the benefits–easier association, easier and usually better teaching, getting to know one another, better training for youth, a much easier time mourning with those who mourn (or even knowing you need to mourn with them), an ability to really get to know new people, a much better sacrament disbursal system, a much more cohesive community, etc.

    I guess I feel about online church the same as I feel for my kids’ online school: it’s been a real blessing for the pinch we’re in, but it’s unquestionably ersatz, and as such I’m leery of making it permanent.

  64. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’ve had virtual meetings for work for years – well before the pandemic. I have felt like they’ve been productive and I have been able to make meaningful connections and professional relationships with many colleagues in many places. But I’m not interested in that for Church. So much of the value I derived from Church attendance came from the interactions that occurred before, in-between, or after the formal meetings on Sundays. Those don’t happen in the virtual setting, and are rare in the current situation with limited in-person attendance and distancing requirements. But that’s OK, because I haven’t been missing Church so much. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Ward and will be attending again when I’m comfortable doing so – but I’m rather enjoying this extended break. I’m sympathetic to those who find it to be a meaningful alternative (hopefully a temporary one). I’m glad it’s an option for those who want/need it. It’s not for me. I’m also very troubled (annoyed/disturbed/concerned) that virtual attendance is often tracked by leadership and that my absence on these calls is noted and is used as a metric in evaluating my commitment and worthiness.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    Sam, I agree that zoom church should continue post-pandemic for various reasons, one being personal to me. Due to my glaucoma I have decided not to drive anymore and have sold my car. And my wife stopped attending some years ago. Zoom church keeps me engaged in a way that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

  66. Very valid points in many of the comments – thank you! However, I can’t help but think we’re discussing this issue without discussing the most important purpose of gathering together often. It’s not to listen to talks and announcements and sing hymns (what happens at Zoom church) which is not to say that spiritual nourishment can’t come from those activities – it certainly can and does! The most important reason we gather together often is to renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament.

    Because the availability of Priesthood holders to administer the sacrament in homes during pandemics is limited, shouldn’t the availability of the sacrament be our first priority, even more so than streaming the benedictions/ hymns/ announcements/ talks?

    Prolonged absence from the sacrament ordinance was experienced by MANY members throughout the pandemic, including myself and my children. Yet little energy or creativity has been expended to fix the dilemma. Advice to women and others who couldn’t have the sacrament in their homes to “read the prayers and think about them” is insulting. We are denied the emblems of the Sacrament not because we’re unworthy, but because we aren’t in proximity to Priesthood (which means men). It flies in the face of men being “punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”

  67. I was just thinking about how our normal church services, with their formality as well as the emphasis on in-person attendance likely developed due to the influence of extroverted leaders who were used to dealing with people in a business atmosphere. We ended up with worship services mandated at inconvenient times of the day (for the working class) based upon geographic location of one’s home (for efficiency). Interactions with local leaders is by appointment and formal dress and mannerisms are often observed. But is that really spiritual? Is it the most edifying practice? Does worship occur in a group setting? Could technology help introverts and others who benefit from less formal practices?

  68. There’s another good reason online church could benefit wards:
    It’s easier to invite non-Mormon friends when speaking or singing. Inviting them to church is intimidating and in Covid-era can be dangerous if they are immune-compromised. But sending my friends a Zoom link is easy and I have a higher acceptance rate too. They know they can just ignore or mute the boring stuff if they really want to, so they are less afraid of being trapped in a meeting they can’t escape from.

    I’ve regularly invited friends when I speak at church and the bishopric noted that there were always new people on Zoom when I spoke. I feel a lot less self-conscious inviting friends through Zoom than in-person.

  69. Natalie:

    I hear you, and I’m so sorry. In 2020 I had a ministering assignment that included several single women. I begged and pleaded for my EQP to approve me blessing the sacrament over the phone for her, and to his credit, he did ask our SP, but the answer was no. Could I do it over again, I wouldn’t ask would have just done it my way. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission. It made me so upset that I told my wife I would not administer the sacrament in our house either. Not sure that did anyone any good but at least I felt better knowing I was trying to empathize.

    I don’t get it. I just can’t see Jesus, had he come in the technology age, not embracing all it has to offer.

  70. Bottom line: The LDS Church is for healthy, young people. Otherwise, they don’t give a damn about you.

  71. Chadwick – it does my heart good to hear of your experience and feel validation. Thank you!

  72. nobody, really says:

    The last time I tried to do a broadcast, the stake shut down the building internet. Nothing could be more clear to signal their intentions.

    We’ve got legitimately home-bound people, but it’s better that they go without church altogether than to risk a ward full of retired people not being there in person.

  73. Our Stake in Minnesota just canceled all in-person meetings for the 2nd week in a row because of the COVID surge. SP and one of his counselors are both physicians. All wards/branches will have Zoom only Sacrament Meeting.

  74. pconnornc says:

    Nobody, really – out of curiosity, what were you trying to broadcast? I don’t know what is harder for me to imagine in our stake – cancelling the broadcast of sacrament meeting or finding someone who could shut down the building internet – we struggle to even find the router! If the SP dispatched Brother Jones as an emergency assignment on a Sunday morning to shut down the First Ward’s internet, I think the loudest cries would be for those who couldn’t post on social media or browse pinterest ;-)

  75. nobody, really says:

    The high counselor over technology shut it down remotely. So, we’re in a genuine COVID hotspot right now, and the stake has made it clear that nothing is to be broadcast.

    We ran sacrament meeting broadcasts seamlessly for about 12 months. The ordinance portion got moved to the end of the meeting so we weren’t putting that out on Zoom. We had bishop’s training last summer where the Stake President, a physician, was the only unmasked person in the room, and he told us “The Brethren want everything back to normal as quickly as possible.” It seems “The Brethren” have vastly different instructions for different stakes.

  76. That is a great point, Laurel. I know some nonmembers and inactive members who would watch a family member or friend speaking, etc. over Zoom but would decline if they had to attend in person.

  77. Californian says:

    @Natalie – Thank you for sharing your very valid thoughts and feelings as you and your family endured month after month without the Sacrament.

    In mid-March 2020, my family contemplated how many members were being excluded from the Sacrament. Not only did it distress us, it motivated us to make a decision.

    Since others were blatantly denied, we decided we would not have the Sacrament at home during online church. Not even once.

    I do recognize we had a choice that you and your family did not have; however, it was our offering to mourn with those who mourned for the ordinance; to walk beside you, @Cate, and thousands of others.

    Why not bless it over the phone as @Chadwick pleaded? Why not allow Zoom participants to actually listen to the Sacrament prayers and partake at home? Why?

    Your candid descriptions of exclusion should pierce hearts: use technology and make the Christ-like decision to include all members who participate remotely to be able to take the Sacrament.

  78. My Arkansas stake removed all covid restrictions over a month ago because of “low numbers” of covid cases. Thankfully, they still broadcast sacrament meeting, but we haven’t been able to do at home sacrament for a very long time. Right now the cases are eight times higher than they’ve been and several people in the ward have covid, at least one seriously in the hospital. Result: not a peep about covid, but hey we’re having a lingering this Sunday with refreshments! We’ve temporarily moved out of the area, but when we return, we’re not coming back to that Stake. If it means not going back to church at all, so be it. I simply can’t ignore such blatant disregard for others and science.

  79. I assume the video feed ended several months ago in my stake because somebody told them that “only wussies are scared to go to church because of this made-up kungflu thing. Look folks, we need a tough church membership that is ready for *end times, not some weak-sauce SJW keyboard warriors who strain over every perceived insult & cry at germs! The strongest Saints will prevail! The weak among us will die, truly, but their sacrifice will be the foundation of Zion! Gather the armies of Israel!”

    To be clear, I think we should be building bridges to transmit inspired messages using any technological channel possible. Always & forever. Considering the technology available, I’d support full-haptic VR endowments ceremonies for living people, if the Church actually invested to create a seamless experience.

  80. @ceej@y. Agred. And everyday they limit online services is “the worst day of my life. What do you think?” :)

  81. Just wondering says:

    Back in 1998, my Relief Society president asked me if I’d accept the responsibility of tape recording the RS meeting each week and typing up a summary of the announcements and the lessons to distribute to the sisters in our ward who were unable to attend. These women included not just the homebound, but those who served in primary and young women. The tape recording was made available to any that requested it, although not a huge number did. The year 1998 was before email was generally popular. Fortunately, I live in Utah County and the geographic boundaries of our ward were small enough to allow me to easily walk and distribute the printed summaries of our weekly RS meetings to the homes of the women who couldn’t attend. The communication that we established with the women in our ward was important and valued.
    Years later I was called as president of the RS. Email was used by almost everyone at that point and we made it our policy to send out a weekly summary of our meetings to everyone. For a time we also recorded the meetings, but no one really asked for the recording, so we weren’t as diligent in making that happen. When I was released, my next calling was primary pianist. I was happy to be serving in primary, but I really missed my RS sisters. I asked the new presidency if they’d record the lessons for me. There was some hesitation, but they did end up going along with it at first. But as time went on, I felt more and more that my requests for a recording were an imposition. (Since no one else in the ward expressed interest in a recording, I provided my own small digital recorder. I gave it to a member of the presidency and all they had to do was turn it on to record.) Eventually, The RS president told me that even though the handbook said that recording the lessons was approved, it was mentioned in the context of sisters with “special needs.” I apparently didn’t fall in that category. It seemed odd to me that they would have provided a recording to a homebound sister had she expressed interest in it; but they wouldn’t provide a recording for me, even though I was extremely interested in it, because I wasn’t homebound. The RS presidency also mentioned that they felt that some people didn’t like the fact that they were being recorded. So ultimately they said they weren’t going to provide the recordings any longer. I was saddened by the decision and felt distanced from the sisters in my ward.
    My feeling is that the technology is a blessing and we can and should use it to reach as many people as possible. I understand that there are problems that arise with making the technology function in our meetings, but bless those members who have the knowhow to facilitate the streaming of our meetings.

  82. Update from Salt Lake County – received an email from our stake presidency three hours ago in light of new county mask mandate, summarized as follows and they said it was from the Utah Area presidency-

    1- review and consider the 1st presidency message from August about masks and vaccines
    2-be nice to each other at church
    3-ensure that Sunday meetings are available via broadcast
    4-area presidency has not authorized at-home administration of the sacrament

  83. Sam, I agree. Wifi is not a compelling reason. It’s just the only downside I’ve found to the broadcast so far. My fellow ward members didn’t stop attending because they could watch at home. Indeed, some stopped attending when everyone was compelled to come whether sick or not.

  84. Totally fair, EP. And I suspect you’re right.

  85. One really interesting thing re:sacrament that I’m noticing is some people choosing not to partake since others couldn’t. Our family felt the same way. I felt gross participating in something that was supposed to be an ordinance for all, but somehow because I have a PH in my home I get it and others don’t?
    Well if the brethren really believe that it’s enough for some to just think and pray about the sacrament, then it must be enough for me too. (I felt the same about the policy change in 2015. If it’s NBD to wait until 18 to be baptized in a universal ordinance, then why does anyone need to get baptized at 8?)

  86. never forget says:

    Over the last two years I’ve been working in areas overseas in the Middle East that don’t either have a group or services were shutdown for months and months due to local COVID restrictions, none of which was with my family who are back in the States. At my first spot, I was ‘authorized’ to give myself the sacrament since I was the only member on the compound. I did that for a few months. Then I had a break to get back home for a bit in the States and restrictions there had everyone meeting as a families only. I did the service with my own family (three young kids) and with my parents occasionally joining, had some of the best experiences I can remember in a long time at Church. Came back to a different spot here overseas, we have a small group (2-8 will show up), and do the sacrament and a small group discussion for an hour. A wonderful service when I can get to it, which is most weeks. But I went home for a break this last holiday season, and really messed the option to just do church with my family or a very small handful of members. Our stake in the PNW is good about the COVID restrictions, everyone masks up, every other pew, and it’s broadcast without any issues. But what a stark contrast coming back to a ‘normal ward’ after a couple years away. It was a struggle to attend and psych myself up to try and feel after the Spirit the few times we did go with holiday trips/kids colds/etc.

    Anyway, to the point I wanted to express, I’m as TBM, raised in the church, grateful I served a mission, always done my callings (which for the last 6 years were as a Sunday School teachers to 11-14 year olds in a couple different wards, so glad to have that calling then just about anything else, but that’s a different posting), generally follow the brethren on everything kind of guy because it made sense and the Spirit confirms it. But honestly, this sacrament policy and needing ‘authorization to do it’ might be what trips me up. I remember having the sacrament in Philmont with crackers hiking as a 15 year old and loving the experience outdoors with a service with my dad and friends on the literal top of a mountain. I had a couple experiences in similar quality at home with my own family these last few years. It’s literally years between having comparable ones at normal sacrament meetings. I’d much rather have home based church any week of the year. Being so transient in my line of work, we never stay in the same area more than three years at a stretch, so it’s tough to put deep Mormon social roots down in each new ward. I find it inane that a worthy temple recommend holder needs ‘authorization’ to do the sacrament at home for his family or to do so at the homes of shut-ins his assigned to ‘minister to’. There is nothing permanent about it, nothing is recorded like a baptism or other similar ordinance. It’s a blessing.

    And for the final thought on all this, it was reading over the last few postings on this topic here and at Wheatandtares that pushed me over the edge on supporting ordaining women. I’ve read these blogs for probably about 10 years now. I kept thinking of all the so many single women in the Church who at home couldn’t do this ordinance for themselves or their families. Relying on ‘ministring brothers’ or home teachers to do it is stupid. I know, I used to be one but haven’t had that calling in six years (again due to my family’s transient nature). They are unreliable. Why shouldn’t women be able to do the sacrament and therefore hold the priesthood? If we are appointed to become priests and priestesses, what’s the doctrinal basis for not doing so on Earth? And I couldn’t think of one. I actually sat down for a few hours and thought about it, racking my brain. There is no basis as revealed why we couldn’t and shouldn’t do it. So, Bycommonconsent/wheatandtares communities, you have an Ordain Women convert thanks to your sharing your experiences.

    All the best to everyone trying to figure out how to get through their lives in these trying times.

  87. Bro. Jones says:

    Stephen Hardy: how do you mean? If your question was directed at me, that is.

  88. Sara B Snarr says:

    Rachel, I’m with you. My husband and I are our ward’s zoom admins and I’m so over it. We do breakout rooms for the second hour and there’s always at least one person at home who nags to be put in the right breakout room when it’s set up so she can do it herself. Ugh. Each auxiliary is supposed to bring their own device, but someone always forgets and then they’re scrambling to find a phone to use. That said, we have had people participating who wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s been so lovely to see names on the zoom screen of people we haven’t seen in person in years. And in our older ward, we have members who hesitate to drive the long distance to church in inclement weather (western NY) and that affects their participation even in non-COVID years. I think it’s a brilliant innovation and I hope we continue to be able to broadcast meetings. I just hope someone else takes over the tech side.

  89. Female here, no PH in home. I started observing the sacrament service with my kids sometime in the pandemic’s first year. It was lovely and bound us together and filled our home with the spirit during a period of profound isolation and lack of support. Not sure I care any longer what gets “authorized” by folks outside the sphere of my own stewardship.

  90. just a member says:

    @Sara B Snarr and @Rachel
    I can see how the responsibility to manage tech for the remote broadcasts could, over time, just become too much. An argument could be made for this to become a paid position. It could be similar to the property management people who handle more technical building upkeep. I would vote for paid tech services to provide remote meeting availability and paid custodians for building upkeep. A generation of members cleaning the buildings has shown that to be unsustainable and I can see that would be the case with tech services as well.

  91. No name today says:

    So, I put my butt in the pew yesterday. My Bishop traveled over the holidays to an area that isn’t taking things as seriously as we are here (it starts with a “U”), and gathered with extended family from all over. He returned during the past week. Had a meeting with him yesterday, and he just informed me that he tested positive. We were both masked, and I’m vaxxed and boosted, but guidelines are that I should now mask around…everyone…including others in my home for at least 5 days until I return a negative test. Do I think I’ll have complications? No, I don’t. Still, the exposure will be extremely disruptive as I work in healthcare and need to reorganize my schedule and cancel some activities our family was going to do (fun things that they will be sad to miss). More than a little peeved that he would put me (and others he had meetings with throughout the day) in this position. To his credit, he let me know it happened. He could have just kept his mouth shut and hoped for the best (which is actually the most likely outcome). But both counselors were there and, honestly, his presence wasn’t necessary. The potential for spreading disease is serious. But the potential disruption (at best) of exposure should also be taken seriously. This butt won’t be in a pew for the foreseeable future.

  92. eastofthemississippi says:

    What I’d give to have my tired old butt in just a pew… I’ve been on the stand for more years then I care to remember, or directly reporting to someone who is, and maneuvering through Covid times at church has only made it a more wearisome journey. It would be wonderful just to sit in the back and enjoy the meeting, Covid or no Covid, vaccinated or not vaccinated, mask or no mask.. be grateful you have an option.

  93. Anonymous says:

    An LDS friend from Florida texted me this week. She said that their ward held a big Christmas party the Monday before Christmas, with everyone sitting across from each other on long tables. No masks. then they all gathered around the piano and sang Christmas carols. No masks. Then they all came to church the next two Sundays, with no masks. No surprise now — EVERYONE in their ward that was at that party has covid, including the entire bishopric and leaders from all the different organizations. There was no one to conduct the meeting last Sunday, so a member of the Stake presidency had to come and do it, for the few people well enough to come to church (still not wearing masks.) Thank heavens my ward cancelled our Christmas party, and insists that everyone wear masks. And last week they encouraged anyone who had concerns to watch via Zoom, and they cancelled the second hour of church as well. It’s the old “bishop” or “stake president” roulette all over.

  94. Not related to COVID, but I stopped attending church on a regular basis when I could no longer handle going to church (without my then-spouse) with my then-two young children. It was so stressful just getting there, and then we usually only lasted 10 minutes, at the most, in sacrament meetings. It was just too hard mentally and physically. I haven’t returned, for different reasons, but online church during that time would have been very uplifting to me.

  95. Bill Lund says:

    Frankly, I think they are worried about people getting used to sitting in front of their TV or computer in their PJs and bathrobe, drinking a Diet Pepsi. Oops, that sounds like me.

  96. @slc, one thing that drives me nuts is all these people – Church apologists justifying the exclusion of women from priesthood ordination claiming we are still “equal” – talking about how women really do hold the priesthood via the endowment and therefore we need to stop worrying our pretty heads about ordination. A common argument I hear is that ordination is about church administration but that in our homes none of that matters and the familial not Church administrative priesthood order is what matters in the eternities.

    Well, this Covid thing really exposed that for the gaslighting lie that it is. It makes me crazy that the Church thinks it gets to tell me what I can and can’t do within the walls of my own home. If I felt a desire to take the sacrament and didn’t have anyone to bless it at home, I for sure would have done it myself and would have felt totally comfortable doing so. Besides it’s just a prayer!!! I thought it was absolutely insulting the way the Church handled that.

  97. @chet, there is no consistency in Utah. Some stakes are doing all-virtual. Some stakes aren’t offering virtual. Some stakes are offering both. It makes zero sense that adjacent stakes are handling differently when the risks are the same for everyone. Failure of leadership.

  98. Kristine N says:

    Australian data point here: in South Australia we stopped having zoom meetings several months ago because there was no COVID in the community. Everyone still wore masks and social distanced during meetings, and our ward Christmas party (which I skipped) was outside (benefits of living in Oz, I know!).

    With SA opening borders just in time for the omicron surge we’ve gone back to holding only sacrament and there’s an option for zoom. Only SS is happening over zoom because the teacher is tech-savvy.

    Rachel (and other tech people), you have my sympathy. It always *seems* like technology should make things easier, and should be easy to implement, but it never, ever ends up that way.

  99. thegenaboveme says:

    I am a gerontologist, and I support (as resources allow*) accommodations for people who cannot attend in person.

    *About resources: Until a saint has a challenge with attendance, it’s VERY EASY for able bodied people with easy access to transportation and M-F 8 to 5 jobs to take Sacrament meeting attendance for granted. It can be a big hurdle for some who get dismissed as “faithless” or “lazy” or “not having their priorities straight” by those who do not have as many challenges to address.

    This is a principle of UNIVERSAL DESIGN. That’s the idea that if we improve access for those with disabilities (mobility, sight, hearing, cognition), then other people also benefit. For example, when cities put in “cuts” in sidewalks for wheelchairs, this also improves access for parents pushing strollers.

    Maybe each STAKE can even just designate one Sacrament meeting as the Zoom meeting for all units in the stake, and all units can provide the ZMID (Zoom Meeting ID) to their members who would like to listen to talk (who would otherwise not attend in person). Virtual attendance is better than no attendance at all.

    That way, an array of people can attend: immunocompromised, those without transportation, those who have agoraphobia and other mental health conditions that make attending a challenge, parents of children who are too young to stay home alone when they are sick, people who just got off a night shift and can barely stand up but could listen to a sermon via Zoom, ETC!

    Right now, I listen to our ward’s sacrament meeting via Zoom while I am in the meetinghouse!

    I am called to serve in the nursery, and I do a very deep clean (tangent warning) of the nursery room while I listen to sacrament talks / music. I take the sacrament in the foyer; otherwise, I am wiping down chairs, tables, door handles, light switches, and floors (but not toys because I bring puzzles, toys, and books from home to avoid having to wipe down every item used by two other wards. These items in the nursey are also used during the week by children of parents serving in youth programs and children of investigators; dozens of sticky fingers have touched these items, and young children mouth objects to explore their properties. *Shutter*).

  100. Alright this is a week late but I need to vent my feelings: part of the reason I’ve been mostly doing Zoom church for the past two years (besides not wanting COVID) is just because of the inconvenient schedule! I have a very active and highly sensitive 2 year old and nap times are SACROSANCT. Our church moved from 12 to 1:30, both of which are really hard for lunch and nap time. I know other parents are better than me bc they go to church anyway and deal with their kids better but goodness I wish we could pick our schedules. Zoom church has been awesome for this reason.

  101. While I agree with Sam on this article I dislike how he writes. His writing has a negative tone. Things are always being done wrong in his eyes.

  102. Gary Clark says:

    I think a bigger point is missed here. It should not be easy to participate in this Church. It should be a struggle, a sacrifice. If we have learned anything in this pandemic it’s that we have given up reason and freedom to feel safe. I am all for public safety when the data support it. However when the narrative is in direct opposition to the data and falsehoods only move in one direction, its time to say no. It’s time to get back to normal. That means taking a leap of faith and overcoming our fears about the unknown. The Church has had to adapt and cater to public safety which is understandable. That said, this is not a remote Church. We have to get in the trenches and interact with one another. That’s how the spirit strengthens us collectively. Your testimony one week may make the difference in some one else’s life. It may help them to continue in the church, or go on a mission. You may have answered prayer by interacting with someone at Church. This cannot happen remotely. Joseph Smith said “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” I don’t think it’s much of a sacrifice to got to in person church. But if it is to some, I believe that Heavenly Father will more than make up for it in blessings.

  103. Gary Clark, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I fundamentally disagree with you. You’re making a lot of leaps and assumptions that are unwarranted. Is it time to get back to normal? Two responses: first, probably not. But second, if you define “normal” as “pre-2020,” the answer is we’ll probably never get back to normal. Instead, we’re headed into a new normal.

    You talk about the necessity of sacrifice. But why in your mind is returning to church sacrificing and not staying home to protect the safety and health of people who are at risk of disease? Why is giving up a personal interaction not sacrifice? It strikes me, at least, as being a huge sacrifice.

    And, while I love interacting with people, it’s absolutely not the case that we can’t strengthen or be strengthened online. It’s just a different mode of interaction.

    But more critically, no matter how much you want it, some people can’t go to church in person. For some (the ill, the elderly), that may be a permanent state of affairs. For others (mothers with small children, people who have a cold or just had surgery or are travelling), it may be temporary. But for all of them (us), if we believe that the church is beneficial, they (we) will benefit from having a remote action. And Heavenly father will more than make up for any downsides people who are comfortable and able to go in person miss in blessings.

  104. A distinction that might prove useful. Albert Borgmann once talked about two kinds of troubles in life: those we accept in practice but reject in principle, and those we accept in practice and principle. In the first group are things we would solve if we could: COVID, cancer, car crashes, poverty, seeking shalom or Zion in this world. But the second group is a little trickier to define: what troubles do we accept in practice *and* principle? What’s the “desirable friction” in life? I’m still trying to sort out what’s in this group, but for me: cooking food; eating food with others; handwritten notes; not having social media on my phone; the difficulties of learning an instrument. These are the things that a lot of tech companies try to make more convenient, but the inconvenience is the point. These are troubles that ADD to life, rather than take away from it. Importantly, I do not always write handwritten notes, and I don’t always cook my food. Sometimes I’m lazy; sometimes I’m busy; sometimes other “goods” are competing. But I hope for a life where I can do those things regularly.

    Now, I happen to think that in-person church is superior. I think it ties back to the theology of our embodied existence. John says it well: “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face” (3 John 1:13-14). He knows the joy of embodied, person-to-person communication! But notice: John will also write when he has to. And some members just can’t go to church. I work in design, and Microsoft’s inclusive design toolkit has a nice taxonomy for thinking about these disabilities: there are permanent, temporary, and situational handicaps that keep us from doing things. Sam outlined some of those above: being a parent of a newborn, or having an injury that keeps us away, those are temporary handicaps. Being paralyzed and immobile: that was my father-in-law’s handicap before he passed, and so he never went to church. These handicaps exist and if we can include more people in our Sunday worship, in my view, it’s better than nothing.

    I think Gary’s fear is valid, and relates to a piece called “Tinned Fruit in Times of Famine.” The author quotes C.S. Lewis, who writes that “Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported, and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have actually learned to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh.” The author (and myself) think remote church is a tinned fruit good. But it’s necessary for some: my wife and I just had our kid turn three months old, and we finally feel safe going in person, which is great because I didn’t like remote church (though I was grateful for it). But, like Lewis says, some people will develop a preference for it. That’s inevitable, and “a cause for caution and wisdom.” But it’s a reality.

    So in the end, I’m glad for remote church, and where possible, I think it should be implemented as a technology of Zion, one used for inclusion for those where “cultural conditions, illness, disability, imprisonment, age, even geography – make social distance a norm, in peacetime and pandemic alike.” And at the same time, I do think we could do better, in our sermons, theologizing, and ministering, at helping others realize the real benefits and joy that come from “speaking face to face.”

  105. I think Gary is right. We should definitely make church harder for people to attend. I heard the Church is negotiating with a supplier who offers pews that are 20% harder, and also tilted a little forward so that you always have the feeling that you’re sliding out of your seat. Also, I’m expecting that an announcement will be made in April Conference that unit assignments to buildings will be shuffled so that no member in the entire Church is attending the building nearest to them. This may be logistically difficult in countries where Church members are few, as some may need to spend as much as ten hours commuting to and from church each Sunday, but with sufficient faith, we will be able to make it work! Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven, after all!

  106. Is Gary Clark’s comment serious? Have the Latter-day Saints adopted the practice of mortification of the flesh?

    Ziff, I think the pews in my ward could serve as models for your proposal!

    I think we should include everyone possible in our congregational worship. Technology is simply a tool to help us accomplish that. The sense of community that we could build could profoundly affect lives.

  107. Justagirl says:

    Gary, put you shoulder to the wheel! Sound the charge for the re-entrenchment program! As for me and my house, we choose our own personal reason and freedom. I’d tap out of your program.

  108. it's a series of tubes says:

    Ziff, I believe the model pews for your proposal should be the old pews in the SLC tabernacle. Those things were pure punishment.

  109. My mission president once had to dedicate his talk in a round of zone conferences to fighting the idea that we can just choose an outcome we want and then get it by “exercising faith.” (“The first principle of the gospel is not faith. It’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”) Of course he was focused on missionary work, but I’m quite sure he’d put “If I exercise faith, I’ll be protected from COVID-19 even if I ignore common sense precautions” in the same category–especially since he was a doctor.

    If President Nelson were saying it was time to take a leap of faith and ignore the pandemic that would be one thing. But he’s not. He has consistently said just the opposite. He made the call to shut down church meetings early on. He says to get vaccinated, wear masks, and socially distance. He put strict protocols in place in the temple. Granted, there’s been mixed messages on in-person Sunday meetings vs. online because it’s been left to local leadership–I never thought I’d be wishing for more control from SLC!

    I’ve heard it suggested that this is only because the Church is under some sort of political pressure. But we know what that would look like–read Official Declaration 1 and the accompanying materials. There’s been nothing remotely similar in any of the Church’s statements on vaccines, masking, and social distancing. In fact, unlike Reynolds vs. US, the current Supreme Court has bent over backwards to exempt churches from COVID-19 restrictions. The Church’s response has been “That’s nice, but we won’t be exercising the right to be stupid.”

    I do share Gary’s concerns about fellowshipping and community building without in-person interactions. It’s hard! I have a hard time building a learning community and keeping people engaged when I teach online for work, and those are graduate students! Hopefully with Omicron starting to fade in-person meetings will be much safer soon. But telling people who are at risk if they get COVID-19 that they should ignore that fact and “sacrifice” by going to Church anyway is reckless and contrary to everything the Lord has said through his prophet in this pandemic.

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