Seven different members of the ward (congregation) called or emailed yesterday with the news: church has been canceled. An unusually severe snow storm has made travel too risky. As I marvel at the Narnian wonderland out our windows, my imagination is spurred, and I remember….
Growing up, my whole family rarely attended church, but I personally longed for something more of community, instruction, and spirituality. When old enough to receive permission to walk the five blocks myself (about 8) I frequently did so, and my little girl’s heart rejoiced in the sense of belonging and purpose I found at church. There I learned doctrine. There I received ordinances and made covenants essential to my budding faith. There I accepted opportunities to serve, expanding my awareness of others and capacity for charity. There I found friendship among peers who strengthened my values and standards. And there, kind men and women of devotion nurtured my talents and character. My family at home continued to be central to my mental and physical development, but my ward family raised me to spiritual maturity.
My love for church activity never wavered, though as a young mother it was tested. With two babies (one of whom was severely disabled) church services strained me to the max. I usually returned from meetings wondering why I had gone in the first place. Since my husband had to temporarily work on Sundays at that time, my two arms and hands were all I had to calm my fussy infants. There was little chance of hearing sermons or class discussions, interacting with members, or serving in some capacity myself. I was wholly preoccupied with creating as little disturbance as possible. To complicate things even more, we had no car. Getting my little family to church involved a baby seat attached to a bicycle and a baby carrier attached to my chest. Parking the bike, removing the babies, and changing out of my pants and into a skirt at the chapel doors, must have been a sight for the members waiting inside.
One Sunday morning several weeks into this ritual, my tears mingled with the babies’ bath water, and I surrendered all ambition to attend services. Then, from the steeple of a little church in the center of our little town came the peeling of Sabbath bells. Their cheerful song called to me, raised my feeble spirit, and replaced weakness with resolve. The babies and I went to church.
Today I will miss sitting in church with my husband of thirty-one years and our grown children who are home visiting for Christmas. I would have looked down the pew and admired my beautiful family. I would have watched my son put his arm around bride of three months, and my youngest put her arm around her older sister. Together, we would have listened attentively to the speakers and sang the hymns with zest. We would have partook of ordinances and silently reviewed our spiritual progress. Studying scripture with our friends in class would have helped us commit to helping others during the week. Spirits and priorities renewed, we would have returned home glad and in love, looking forward to sitting in the chapel and the classroom next Sunday, just as we had for over two decades.
As I gaze out the window, I can see though, that the driveway and sidewalks forbid us from venturing past the front door. Taking church for granted is not possible today. Instead, my reflections cause me to analyze what it is we gain from going to church. Two particular qualities, obviously necessary to individual and familial progress, come to mind: Stability and Strength. These are found in consistent, meaningful church attendance. Beyond the winter forest that is my yard, all the world will be busy buying and selling on this Sabbath just before Christmas. I have a sudden urge to sing out to the whole world, like the bells which inspired me long ago: Gather your family and go to church!