Sherrie L. M. Gavin is a guest writer to Meridian Magazine. She is a writer, wife and mother who enjoys cooking, eating and travel.
If you would have told me about “home church” was when I was a YSA in Utah, I likely would have scrunched up my face and thought people who shared the sacrament at home were odd, even possibly spiritually unstable. Certainly not normal. Sure, my own father was baptised in a YMCA pool and saw the branch of my upbringing go from a mission area, to a branch, to a ward and now a stake. But as a child, we always met in a proper chapel, with other families. Never at home, just us.
But then I scored a sweet international internship in Australia. And on the second day of that internship, I met a guy who I couldn’t get out of my mind. Within weeks, we knew we wanted to be married to each other, and with faith, we took the leap!
“Who would’ve thought that your Mr. Right was on the other side of the earth?” said a friend when we announced our engagement. Certainly not me! But my Mr. Right lived in another hemisphere, so with faith, I moved. We spent the first few of years of our marriage in Sydney, and attended a moderate-sized ward. But suddenly, my husband’s work had an unannounced restructure that eliminated his job, and his entire department. Just months before this, we felt prompted that we were to prepare to move rurally. Though we were shocked at first, the job offer that came within two weeks of the redundancy reminded us that location is relative in the grand scheme of things. Now with two daughters, and relying heavily on faith, we moved.
Our little town of less than 1,800 residents is surrounded by bushland. Proper Australian bushland. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and not much else are between us and the next town….which is also of similar size. And like our small town, the next small town also does not have a ward, or a branch, or even another church member. So, for the first time my life, I lived in an area too far from a church branch or ward to attend regularly. We live in a district in a mission, not a ward in a stake. Thus, the District President communicated with us via email, giving us direction and permission to have church at home.
And suddenly, I was one of those people I thought might be odd, possibly spiritually unstable who had church at home.
At first, I wasn’t sure what I needed to do. Should I buy a white tablecloth for the sacrament? Would it be irreverent to sit in the living room? Should we dress up? Should we send a report of what we are doing to someone? But soon and with faith, we gravitated into a routine. Some people have “Family Home Evening” revolving job charts. But we have rotating “Home Church” job chart. My husband, Bruce does the sacrament, and I do a dessert. We have four other tasks we take turns performing: music choice, prayers (opening and closing), a craft, and the lesson.
Most often, we gather at the bare dining table mid-morning on Sunday, after breakfast. Bruce breaks a single piece of bread into chunks, then blesses it. As he is also the presiding priesthood authority, he partakes of the bread first, then passes the bread to me, and our daughters. He does the same for the water, but with 4 large plastic cups and a single bottle of water. The sacrament only takes us a handful few minutes, but for those minutes, our dining room is transformed into an ordinance room. The change in atmosphere is striking, and we are uniformly reverent and focused. At times when we have visited larger wards, my daughters have struggled to be patient with the sacrament as it can take up to twenty minutes. But the brevity and intensity of sharing the sacrament at home is spiritually palpable in a way unlike any large ward I have previously attended; there is no struggle, only reverence and peace.
In case you wondered, leftover sacrament bread is somehow tastier than any other kind of bread, so my daughters readily gobble up the remaining bites of sacrament bread as we begin the lesson.
Having our daughters participate in home church has been one of the most beautiful things I have experienced as a parent. We allow them full reign to choose a lesson or share a story from our ever-growing stack of Friend magazines. Giving them this freedom to explore and share the gospel on their level has given us insights into what they are experiencing and processing spiritually, as well as temporally. This has also opened up conversations about their thoughts and feelings dealing with situations at home, school, and with friends, thereby improving our communication as a family.
The craft section of our “home church,” has also been a blessing. I originally intended it to reflect something from the lesson of that week, but it quickly developed into its own thing. In truth, often we don’t actually do a craft, but rather, we work on a project. Sometimes that means we discuss or enact service in our community. Other times it means we play a board game to share in laughter and quality time. Or sometimes, like last week, my 8 year old assigned us each to write a note to every member of the family expressing our love for each other. The note my husband wrote to me reminded me why it was so easy to fall in love with him in the first place. It is now framed on my bedside table.
Home church is not always easy. Sometimes I worry about my daughters not learning enough about the gospel, and wonder if having outside primary teachers would be better than just us. Sometimes it can feel like a chore to start home church. Sometimes the twelve hours it takes to drive to the temple seems impossibly, heartbreakingly far away, especially when I am seeking the answer to a problem. And, quite frankly, it also feels lonely. Very lonely. I don’t have a Relief Society to attend, or Visiting Teachers who bring a meal when I’m unwell. It’s just me, perhaps like Sariah, from the Book of Mormon.
Nephi said that his mother Sariah “truly mourned,” and “complained against my father” when Nephi and his brothers were gone (1 Nephi 5:1-3) After living here, I can’t help but wonder if Sariah’s anxieties might have been soothed if she had a female friend to confide in; someone who would listen to her, provide a meal for her, and pray for her and her sons. I also can’t help but wonder if she was also sometimes tired of “home church.” I wonder if she, in her lonely location, longed for the female-only lessons in Relief Society, or if she questioned if she did enough to spiritually prepare her sons.
In the end, I have learned that it is about faith. The faith of taking on a new and different job, internship, or studying at a different school than anticipated. The faith to leave home. The faith to try out a new country. The faith to marry someone with a different background. The faith to try living in a new place.
Mostly, it is about having the faith to maintain one’s religion even when no one is watching. As I’ve learned, there is nothing odd or spiritually unstable about that.