What I miss about home church—and why I need to go back to sacrament meeting

I’ve heard multiple people say how much they’ve enjoyed the last five months of home church (and these are auxiliary presidents and bishopric members, the kind of people you can count on to substitute teach a Primary class in a pinch). Studying the scriptures however they want, and worshiping each Sunday as a family? More, please. Now that my ward has resumed meeting (masked, in every other bench, without congregational hymns, for a 25-minute sacrament service with spiritual thought), there’s a lot to miss about home church. Ranked:

  1. Homemade sacrament bread
  2. Only the good hymns
  3. “Fast Sunday”-sized sacrament bread and water
  4. Starting time: Least common denominator
  5. Couches instead of padded pews
  6. Lessons that start with, “Let’s go for a walk.”
  7. Wearing pants to church isn’t an act of protest; it’s the one absolute rule everyone must follow.

So there’s a lot to miss. We could sing together at home, unmasked. We could take as much time as we wanted, or as little as we needed. And it turns out that convincing everyone to wake up, get ready, and leave the house on time is not actually the best way to prepare ourselves for worship.

* * *

But now that we can, this life boat from the Good Ship Zion needs to redock with the mother ship. Maybe you’ll get to do home church for a while longer (and I’m expecting we’ll get a few more opportunities here too before all is said and done), but eventually you’ll need to go back, too.

The problem with home church is that it means licking the frosting off the cake, week after week. It’s fantastic, but we also need spiritual fiber, fresh vegetables and whole grains. It’s too easy for me as an individual or us as a family to focus on our favorite topics and avoid what we don’t want to hear. Eventually, even the best intentioned of us will start to drift into our own favored side currents. Home church doesn’t challenge us with the gospel of Jesus Christ as filtered through the experience and perception of another human being.

For example:

At the last regular sacrament meeting the Sunday before everything stopped, the visiting high council member was giving a deeply moving account of his conversion story and how his baptism impacted his personal life and his work in a professional medical field. I noticed that the Youngest Deacon was fiddling with his phone, so I nudged him and said, “Put your phone down and listen, this is important”—just in time for the Youngest Deacon to hear the speaker to say, “…because Darwinism is a tool of the Devil, and always will be.” I tried to ask what he thought at the end of the meeting, but the Youngest Deacon wasn’t talking and still looked troubled when he left the chapel for his next class.

On the drive home, I asked how everyone had enjoyed church. The K-Drama Expert said, “I liked the high councilor’s talk, although I think what he meant was that an atheistic worldview isn’t compatible with the gospel.” Everyone’s Best Friend added, “I could see that his experience was important to him.” And the Youngest Deacon explained that after sacrament meeting, he decided to read Genesis 1 and 2, and he saw that the progression from water to land to plants to animals matches what we know about the formation of the earth and evolution pretty well. That’s pretty good for the Youngest Deacon, I think, certainly good enough for now. More importantly, he found that when he heard something troubling, he could study, read the scriptures, and find answers. And that’s an experience he couldn’t have had without listening to a visiting high council speaker.

We flatter ourselves that a challenging sacrament meeting talk is a bit of sermonizing whose politics just happen to agree with our own, while making our neighbors in the pews squirm, but usually the things we find most irritating are precisely what we most need to hear. Sometimes it’s because those things are a part of the good word of God that we’d prefer to overlook. But the truly challenging talks are often ones that force us to think, to search for meaning, to sort out correct and incorrect, and to double-check what the scriptures say and the prophets teach. And that’s what I can’t get at home church.

16 comments for “What I miss about home church—and why I need to go back to sacrament meeting

  1. Have to disagree – I don’t think that kind of talk or challenging experience is useful church. I can consider evolution (and any other seemingly gospel-opposition topic) in daily life, multiple times per day. I would like to come out of church each week feeling more hope, renewal, and feeling more love for God and His love for me. I want to come out of that meeting more confident that Jesus is with me and I am with Him. I wish that was the goal of every sentence in a sacrament talk. It’s the kind of experience that would make me want to go back. I’ve got a few more weeks of home church, and it’s been the best. Grateful.

  2. I think Church should challenge us, but not all “challenge” is equally useful or productive.
    It’s clear, though, that if we self-select, we do not encounter people significantly different than us, and for that reason (echoing Eugene England), we need to be at our ward, not merely our own home bubble.
    “Home church doesn’t challenge us with the gospel of Jesus Christ as filtered through the experience and perception of another human being.”

  3. Is it possible for me to agree with each of the points you make, and then disagree with your conclusion? Yes, going to Church is like eating your vegetables. Some people are Vegan, and that suits them. Others can get enough fiber in other ways (lots of pastries with refined flour and sugar, please!). There’s this sense that we need to suffer through the nonsense of other people in order to progress. Unfortunately, there’s some truth to that. It’s also pretty sad that Sunday Church consistently offers that opportunity. Some people would say that’s a feature, and not a bug. I’m enjoying this respite from the nonsense. After a lifetime of eating my fiber, a few months of frosting isn’t enough, and I don’t think it’s selfish to want it to last longer. I’m confident that I’ll get back, but am in no rush. I’m going to eat my weight in frosting.

  4. No intention to derail, here.
    “the progression from water to land to plants to animals matches what we know about the formation of the earth and evolution pretty well.”
    Concordist readings are deeply rooted in Mormonism, both on the pro- and anti-evolution side. There is strong argument to be made against such concordist assumptions, though.

  5. Great post, Jonathan. Thank you. I’m someone who enjoys reading good scriptural commentaries, other translations of scripture, and deep dives into church history. My personal studies are rich–far richer in “knowledge” than most things I hear in a typical Sunday meeting–and benefit from the solitude that modern home life affords. And if book-knowledge and “being close to God” were the only goals of church, I’d agree that home church is a great long-term solution. But I’m also convinced that it’s the habits of virtue we learn only in community–love, patience, attention, empathy, care, forgiveness, service, sympathy–and enacting those virtues toward real, physical people with all the nuance that physical proximity affords, that’s most important.

    I miss seeing Joy’s bright smile while walking down the hall and hearing about her son’s football prospects; Ben’s loud (sometimes too loud) but earnest laughter; Giesla’s comments in Sunday School, sometimes sharing her overly-doctrinaire and literal interpretation (in my view), but sometimes about her powerful, spiritual ministering experiences where the spirit worked through her. I miss cleaning the church with Beth, the older lady who asked if I really believed in evolution (after I gave a talk earlier) or if I’d ever read “Man, His Origin and Destiny”–and then–while applying windex to a door–having a halting-but-fruitful conversation with her about creation, family, and her kids. I miss having to discern when to speak up, and when to stay quiet–learning that my comment, while it’d make me sound smart, would also interfere with the overall lesson that is for all of us, not just me; and when it’s right to speak up. And because of a few carefully chosen comments, honest but also sensitive, that I had a mother come to me and ask if I could talk to her son, who was struggling with seeing his friends leave the church.

    These people are the very people Christ died to save, nonsense and all: people who would never frequent the bloggernacle, or feature in books by Biblical scholars–who are so different from me, but equal in God’s eyes. I did not choose them, and they did not choose me, but God put us together. And from them, I’ve received the best education: the education of the heart. So +1 to this post. Assembly in a church is something God ordained, and has blessed me so much.

  6. Thank you for this post, Jonathan. I haven’t been back to Church yet (our ward meets only once a month and I’ve missed both opportunities so far due to various reasons). I appreciate the perspective that by rubbing up against each other, even when we disagree and see things differently, it’s still something that can refine us. Sometimes I find that those experiences do get more exhausting than helpful after a while (especially if they become far more common than the more directly uplifting experiences), but I suppose that’s part of the growth process too. It’s been a nice respite to have my Church community be focused on my family, but it will be a good thing to get back to the ward.

    Ben, I know this is continuing the derailment of the main topic (sorry Jonathan), but I’m curious to hear more about what you have in mind about rejecting concordist assumptions. I’ve see a lot that can be used to support the view and a lot that can be used to refute it in Mormonism. I suppose if it’s too big of a derailment, I can reach out to you via email. I’m considering doing a post about the subject in a few months, and it is one of great interest to me as someone whose profession is in the life sciences.

  7. Oof, where to start, Chad? If you work through this series of posts, you’ll get a lot of my views. How LDS came to interpret scripture the way they did is the general topic of my dissertation. Probably the most direct is the listed video of my conference presentation “The Scientific Deformation and Reformation of Genesis: How Science Messed it up but Also Fixes It,” the fireside video “Science Falsely So-called’: How Latter-day Saints Came to Read Scripture as Science,” and the posts “Reading Scripture Literally: Why We Need MORE” and the genre podcast with LDS Perspectives.

    All organized and linked at
    https://benspackman.com/syllabus/

  8. Among those whom you identify as reluctant to go back to Church are those whose “worship” includes far too many administrative meetings and tasks, most often done before the true Sabbath “worship” begins. A ward that starts at 9 am typically means bishopric at 6-6:30 am; ward council at 7:30-7:45 am; and, then finally! on to worship at 9. Add In the additional meetings after the 2-hr block and you have a major time sink, most of which is not the type of worship you accurately describe. (nice you get to ride home from church with your family Brother Green and chat about lessons learned; that’s an indulgence most leaders (men and women) at any level in a ward don’t typically enjoy.).

    In my experience, those types you describe who want to continue home church are probably saying the pandemic has shown how utterly pointless many of those administrative meetings are and have no desire to return to that model of “worship” when the alternative is home church. If the question were “would you like to return to church with your family and only have to attend sac mtg and the second hour?” the responses would be very different, and for some of the reasons you identify. Those administrative and made up meetings and/or made up callings really drain the life out of regular church worship. The Pandemic has taught us that.

    When leadership acknowledges the Pandemic is an opportunity to revisit how things are done and to make changes going forward, more people will be inclined to get on board. IMO, the Pandemic will cost the church 10-20% of the type of people you describe (leaders) who will find other ways to worship.

    As to your OP, there are definite, tangible benefits to worshipping together and in person.

  9. Thanks for the link, Ben. It didn’t click in my mind for some reason that you were the Ben talking until just a few minutes ago. I’ve read some of your writing on the topic, but I look forward to digging into more.

  10. I agree with rb, if it were just the opportunity to go back to sacrament meeting and the second hour I would look forward to it. But as someone who has to go to the seemingly endless administrative meetings before worship begins and after it ends, these 4 months of pandemic have been wonderful. Unfortunately I see no sign that the church is going to change. In fact, given the instructions we’ve received lately about emphasizing, organizing and staffing missionary and temple committees, including dragging our older YW and YM into them, it seems like the brethren are doubling down on the corporate model.

    As someone who works in a large multinational corporation, sometimes church seems more like work than work.

  11. I have to say that since I have been attending the Dialogue Sunday School meetings I have been thoroughly challenged and feel that their is not much to Sunday Church meetings that I miss.

  12. All the talks and the priesthood lessons are regurgitated conference talks in my ward, and the SS lesson A sanitized reading of scripture. Each of these I have done in preperation for church, and formed my understanding/ opinions. There is little uplifting or even original, presented in the live church version. The most uplifting is when someone is brave enough to say what I think instead of the sanitized/authorized version in the book.
    Being in my 70s I have an excuse to hold off attending a bit longer. We have had an email that they may be starting up in a couple of weeks.
    In Australia we are much more conservative about the virus. The borders of our state are closed, to neighbouring states, and overseas, except returning locals who have to quarintine in a hotel for 2 weeks. The only new cases have come from other states or overseas.
    In our state which has a population of 5 million, 18,500 test in last 24 hours, no positives, 12 active cases, 2 in hospital, a total of 6 deaths, none recently.

    Outside the church there is a lot of talk about what should be changed before we go back. Should the new normal be better than the pre covid normal? Less casual work, higher unemployment payment etc. Our minimum wage is already $21. Not in church except for social distancing, sacrament more sanitary, and 45 minute meeting.

  13. Rb, since I’m also an auxiliary leader, I have nothing but sympathy for people who are looking for fewer Sunday meetings. It’s a pain to have ward council before church. I was thoroughly content with home church for quite a while, with short online ward council meetings to confirm that yes, everyone’s still okay and no, nothing needed to be done.

    But eventually I recognized a few things. I, and the other people in ward council, actually enjoyed the weekly check-in, the moments of conversation, and a bit of spiritual uplift. And while I had everything I needed in home church, there were a lot of ward members who might not be getting what they needed, and might not have any contact with other church members at all. And I had both an obligation to address that issue, and the means to do so.

    So, with ward council input and bishopric approval, I created an online Sunday “Come Follow Me” discussion for any interested ward member. That worked well for a while, and then eventually each ward auxiliary took a turn holding a monthly online meeting.

    All of this requires coordination at the ward level and a certain degree of leadership and coordination. That’s just the cost of attending to the spiritual needs of people outside my immediate family. My Sundays would have been easier without it, but accepting a calling involves weighing the needs of other people against my desire for additional personal time. I think I found an appropriate balance.

    None of this is make-work or inessential or corporate busywork. There are people who need a chance for community and worship or participation in some form who won’t get it without a few coordination meetings.

  14. Rb – at first when I was Bishop the demands of Sunday did feel like you described. Sundays were almost always 12-hour grinds that left me exhausted, which was hard on my wife and little children. President Packer’s painting of “The Bishop’s Team” was her reality.

    That being said, I quickly learned as I fell in love with my people that administrative meetings were just a different kind of worship. As I cared for and watched over the other leaders in my Ward Council I was ministering every bit as much as if I were visiting a member in the hospital or helping a grieving husband plan a funeral. Administration, and more specifically the gift thereof, is all about supporting every individual member in their search and work for Grace. There is no collective aspect.

    I still went home exhausted, but my heart was newly overflowing with gratitude as I saw so many very different people with so many different gifts and flaws working so hard to unite themselves in the cause of Christ.

    If I did it right, with a prayerful and forgiving heart, not one of those meetings was a waste.

  15. My 22 year old daughter (inactive) sent me this link this morning and I was happy she found it interesting to think about gospel concepts outside of church and in her regular life. https://www.reddit.com/r/latterdaysaints/comments/i8517n/what_if_our_assumptions_about_good_and_evil_in/
    Some of us seek out and discuss the gospel even if we aren’t going to sacrament meeting in the building. Some of us read lds blogs and think about the gospel and engage over the internet. Some of us have older children or other family members who have different opinions that our own and that can be interesting to discuss at home.
    Our ward has the tech luxury of sacrament meeting on the internet every week, so we still get to hear cringe-worthy talks that my younger two children don’t pay attention to (cuz ADD) but give me a chance to give grace and allow that other people’s experiences are what they have learned, which is different than what I may have learned. Whether it is a ward member, my own child, or a stranger on the internet, we can choose what we think about and what we might learn each day.

    Where I live, I doubt we will have in person church for at least another 9 months, or a vaccine that is available. We’ll see. For now, I can appreciate there are pros and cons to in person and at home church. But, like I said, we have internet sacrament meeting and we also have consistent YW weekly zoom activities, weekly YW zoom lessons, RS zoom lessons and zoom activities 3 times per month, and even Deacon zoom activities or lessons here and there….so many zoom ward meetings! I had to get one of my children a smart phone because it was so much and I was sick of giving away my phone and my computer every Wednesday night, or mad scramble to copy links from my text message to send to someone’s email all the time. School is online this fall. I think I will go ahead and get my last child a smartphone. It is so much quicker on a phone.

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