The following was originally published by Jared Halverson on his personal Facebook page. It is republished here with permission.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I’ve missed you. My Sundays just aren’t the same without you—your talks and testimonies in sacrament meeting, your comments and insights in Gospel Doctrine, listening to the children sing in Primary and the youth teach in Young Men and Young Women, seeing the service rendered by the Relief Society and the Elders Quorum—all the meaningful moments and simple interactions that happen at church. As an Institute teacher, every day “feels like church” in a way (students ribbing me about always being in a white shirt and tie aren’t far off!). But even still, I’ve felt the difference when church itself can’t be a part of my week—when you can’t be a part of my worship.
And all this is coming from an introvert (who has to flex to be an extrovert in public)! I’m the type of person who loves the solitude of scripture study, the quiet of private pondering, the empty seats on either side of me during a temple session (the guys know what I’m talking about!).
Academically I study secularization, and professionally I work with lots of people who struggle in their faith, and I often hear the phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I get that! Being spiritual is about connecting with God. It’s the vertical dimension of our discipleship, the first great commandment (loving God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength).
But not being able to “go to church” has shown me even more clearly the importance of being “religious” as well. And that doesn’t mean just making my meetings; it means making meaningful connections while I’m there—with others, and with God through others—the serving-God-while-serving-others kinds of connections that King Benjamin had in mind. It’s the horizontal dimension of our discipleship, the second great commandment (loving our neighbor as ourselves). And those two elements—the spiritual and the social—are both essential. Although we don’t use the cross in our symbolism, it’s a beautiful metaphor for what it looks like when those two elements are firmly attached—the vertical and the horizontal—crossbeams meant to manifest the ultimate love of God.
It’s interesting—when I sat down to write this message, I intended to write something celebrating the spiritually self-reliant things we’re able to do on our own: worshiping privately in the home, being “active in the gospel” even when we can’t be “active in the Church,” anticipating the time when the Church, as Elder Maxwell put it, will “come down like so much scaffolding” to allow the Eternal Family to stand alone.
But that’s not what came out of my keyboard.
Instead, ironically, I’m here to celebrate the scaffolding—rusty metal, weathered boards, and all. I’m grateful for handshakes and high-fives, for fist-bumps in the foyer and quick conversations in the hall, for moments of connection during a temple recommend interview or when setting someone apart. I miss all that. I miss crying babies and restless children in sacrament meeting, parents bartering fruit snacks for reverence, and teenagers struggling unsuccessfully to stay awake. I miss callings that force me outside myself, classes that require real connection, meetings that make me aware of the needs all around me. Down deep, I guess I miss people. Imperfect but trying. People who demand and deserve all the time that Christ’s Church bids me make for them—and all the love for them that time helps me develop. At church, strangers become fellow-citizens, neighbors become friends, and brothers become their brothers’ keepers—fellow travelers, even when it feels like we’re just trudging along the trail.
I think the message I intended to write—the one extoling the “spiritual” life during our forced absence from the “religious” life—came more quickly to mind because that’s how I’m wired. The introvert in me prefers the monastery to the meetinghouse, and quarantine can feel like a welcome respite from the social demands of a regular Sabbath. Here, my discipleship becomes purely vertical, and I’m free to nestle into the cozy comfort zone of being alone with God.
But as I snuggle into my solitude, something inside me knows something’s off. The monastic life comes so naturally that it doesn’t quite cure me of the natural man. My cross is missing its crossbeam, leaving my post, however upright, unable to bear the Son of God. In this less-demanding discipleship, I’m neither “denying myself” nor “taking up the cross daily” (Luke 9:23), and Jesus told me that if I wanted to truly follow Him, both would be required.
Perhaps a more extroverted member needs to write a sister sermon for this one, calling the extroverted hands that so reflexively stretch horizontally into a vertical reaching for God. Theirs might be a cross consisting only of crossbeam, good for bearing burdens, but unable to independently rise above the ground. I’m guessing they miss church more sincerely, more naturally than I do, at least the social side of Sundays. Perhaps the twinges of guilt they feel are the mirror images of mine, knowing they ought to miss more than the feeling of fellowship. Perhaps they share my sense that an “effectual struggle” is yet to be made—theirs to seek God in their solitude, mine to find God in the group.
I can’t write that sermon. But if both are necessary, I suppose my incapacity is only further proof of how much we need each other. The Apostle Paul stressed both “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), which suggests a quiet contemplation, and “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27), by which he meant our fellow members. Maybe that’s why we build both temples and churches, and install the most movable of walls between the chapel and the cultural hall. When a ward reaches full bloom, both rooms are required for everyone to find a seat. Those sitting on the stand may see the pulpit right before them, but the basketball hoop, try as it might to be inconspicuous, can’t quite keep itself hidden from view.
So whether it’s the spiritual or the social we most naturally miss, chances are we can all find better balance. Between upward and outward, between God and neighbor, between who we already are and who God and His Church are helping us become. For that, both “home-church” and “church-church” will be needed. Hopefully, even after the chapel doors reopen, we’ll maintain an active membership in both.
In the meantime—and this is fortunate for me—quarantining calls for social and not spiritual distancing, leaving me free to preach sermons from my home-centered personal pulpit. But if I’m honest about my less-developed dimension of discipleship, mine is a narrower heaven, and my solitary sermons leave an echo when members aren’t present to absorb and then answer the sound. No, heaven includes “sociality,” as Joseph Smith excitedly said. How else can we imagine our Parents’ all-encompassing embrace?
With that celestial scene in mind—equal parts social and spiritual—I must admit that I miss the aching muscles from a good group “work-out” at church. Empty chapels can’t keep me from filling my home with heaven, but I know I’m missing something without the people in the pews.
Learn more from Jared Halverson in the videos below: