Pandemic Faith: My Churches, My Faith, My Hope
Submitted By: Anonymous
Location: United States
Dear Post-Pandemic World: I am making this special effort to save my COVID-19 experience for you all so that in the future you can make sense of this time in ways that people living through it just cannot right now. This is a collection about what it’s like to be in the Restoration tradition during the pandemic, and I have been a member of two Restoration churches. I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then converted to Community of Christ in my mid-twenties. Some parts of this experience have been healing while other parts have been difficult. I was once curious enough about this type of faith swapping that I asked people who have converted either way the question: how ask being a member of two Restoration churches been a blessing in your life? How people answered that question told me a lot about themselves. No answer was the same. Both churches have been in my life during the pandemic, so I’m also going to try to answer that question myself as I explain my experience.
Where was I when the COVID-19 pandemic began? College! I had the (oh so unlucky) experience of being an undergraduate senior when the pandemic first hit the United States. Canceled events. No in-person classes. Closed library. Remote campus job. Learning Zoom. Churches closed. Church on Zoom or Facebook. Restaurants takeout only. Wear masks inside. Once I was done in the semester, I decided that I didn’t want to make any big decisions, so I moved back in with my parents. At first, I thought I could wait it out.
What has your church life been like during the pandemic? This has probably been the most “passive” time I’ve had with church activity in my life. My university city Community of Christ congregation started using Zoom for their worship services as soon as the pandemic closed congregations. There were also a variety of other Community of Christ groups having online services as well as activities like Reunion. In October 2020, Community of Christ leadership approved doing the different sacraments over the internet, and I’ve witnessed a lot of online communion services and even one confirmation where no one was in the same room. I also did church with my parents when the LDS Church was having home church (description next). Back at home my Latter-day Saint dad was enthusiastic about keeping church going when “home church” was announced. He scheduled our small family living room Sunday service exactly like a ward sacrament meeting: three hymns (opening, sacrament, closing), opening and closing prayer, the sacrament, and a talk by one of us on a subject. We played the music off YouTube and sang with our personal hymn books. My dad already owned white plastic sacrament tray, and he’d prepare and bless the sacrament on his walker while sitting in his lounge chair. In retrospect, I could have let reservations go and just participated more with my family. Sometimes I complained to my dad that our family service went on unnecessarily long or I didn’t want to do the work of opening myself up and giving my opinions during discussion. My dad was always happy when I participated.
What have been your most meaningful church experiences during the pandemic? My father passed away in May 2021. It was a lot for my mom, older sister, and I. My dad had medical problems including PTSD for several decades, but he had a fall in a parking lot a year before the pandemic which led to his health declining more. My parents have been living in the same area for over twenty years, and the ward I grew up in was on top of helping us. The bishop and another ward friend met us at the hospital when we got the news. Another ward member helped my mom break down what she needed to do next and was there was a resource. Several women from Relief Society helped clean and organize our crowded home before out-of-town family came in. There was food after the funeral service. People I grew up with reached out to us with cards and flowers and messages.
My Community of Christ experience has been more long distance. I’ve made friends in the church that live in different states, and I have been able to sometimes watch them give sermons or other ministry because of all the online outreach from different churches. I have spent more time reaching out to people which led to me making a friend.
How has your faith changed during the pandemic? I have come to two realizations. One is that I seriously needed some identity and faith grounding. Not necessarily the pandemic made me realize this but being able to stay at home for a year made it obvious. I had taken in these new ideas about faith, and I had all these new experiences at college and with Community of Christ that helped me grow personally over the past several years. That’s caused my sense of self in flux a lot, and I’ve realized that I need to get a clearer picture of myself to move forward. Second, I needed to build the kind of faith that is able react to crisis. People have always helped me while I was in crisis, but it’s been scary to me to think I could support people in their crisis when it delt with their spiritual needs. That’s one thing that the world is going to need from me right now: help in crisis.
What does it mean to be in the Restoration tradition during COVID-19? I almost think this is a better research question to ask a couple years down the road because we’re all still trying to figure that out. All churches have structures, and it’s becoming more obvious which of our structures are strong and which have their weak points. In my experience, some people are pushing their structures for help while other people are thinking more about a personal response and taking it upon themselves to act outside those structures. We need to both give what we have and look for more because we need help from every direction. It’s been painful to me to watch weaker church structures strain more where there was already strain. I think it’s going to be my challenge in life to get through feelings of powerlessness and to figure out what change I can make in the world.