As COVID-19 raged across the globe, governments took decisive action to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Lockdowns were mandated, protocols implemented and a "new normal" became the word of the day. Among those impacted most by the government mandates were churches, with many being forced to move their services online. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' missionary program, one of the church's most recognized characteristics of faith, missionaries replaced the practice of door to door and street to street proselytizing across many of North Dakota's smaller communities with a social media approach.
Related to COVID-19, beginning immediately, all public gatherings of Church members are temporarily suspended worldwide until further notice. https://t.co/4Ep7a4nIhI— The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (@Ch_JesusChrist) March 12, 2020
Elders Logan Homer and Andrew Thomas, two of the 67,000 full-time missionaries following the New Testament pattern of serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ, spent the early part of the pandemic supplying parishioners with the necessary materials needed to conduct services in their homes. Though a bit different than the usual, for Homer and Thomas the novel changes echoed with the familiarity of the church's founding.
“Everybody was doing a kind of modified church at home. We had study material and that’s what we did for a bit,” Thomas said.
Under the mandated closures services harkened to the days of old. Each Sunday the congregation leader, known by the title of Bishop, elected members from the congregation to give a talk — similar to sermons in other faiths.
As COVID restrictions have eased, meetings have returned to normalcy.
Every Sunday morning at the local LDS church, located at 510 Museum Drive in Dickinson, members gather to sing hymns, listen to talks from members of the congregation and gather in fellowship and service.
With spiritual programs for every age and stage of life, the church services are held from 9 to 11 a.m., followed by a break and then from Noon until 1 p.m.
The church's first hour serves as an opportunity to worship, associate with others who are seeking betterment and spiritually recharge for the week ahead. After the first hour of service, which is a general service, members split up into smaller men, women and youth groups for their own corresponding spiritual lessons during the second hour.
Thomas said those unable attend for any reason, join services via Zoom.
Caring for the Community
Church for members of the LDS faith isn’t just a place to worship God; it’s also a place to serve Him. One of the best ways they seek this service to by taking care of the people around them — the communities they live in. Thomas and Homer are in Dickinson for their two year mission.
After turning 18 years of age, being upstanding members of the church and seeking to care for their fellow man, both requested to serve on missions and received notification from Salt Lake City, Utah, detailing their assigned mission. Both were assigned to the Bismarck region, and from there to Dickinson.
With the pandemic, Thomas and Homer have adapted when it comes to their typical missionary services, which currently restricts knocking on community doors and sharing the message of Jesus Christ. Instead, the two missionaries spread their message using social media, particularly Facebook.
“Through Facebook and Instagram, we have pages that we run where missionaries make content, that have uplifting messages...we’ll be making content every other week,” Homer said.
Homer and Thomas both said that despite the pandemic, they have sought for ways to serve their neighbors.
Throughout the Church, members are encouraged to fast on the first Sunday of every month. That means going without two meals’ worth of food and drink. In so doing members donate the cost of the meals skipped to a fund that goes to care for members of the congregation in need a little help. Local Bishops also seek out members of the community in most need —confidentially. Additionally, fill church-sponsored storehouses maintain food and other essential supplies for moments when community members lives have been turned inside out by natural disasters or other catastrophic events.
Whether they’re cleaning up after disasters, helping pick up litter or sharing their message with the communities they live in, missionaries are always eager to serve. In fact, following their interview with The Dickinson Press, the missionaries were off to help build a chicken coop for a member of the community.
Homer and Thomas both hope to return to normal activities, especially when community service is involved, but were grateful for the opportunities that the digital age has afforded them to continue to serve their mission.
“We’ve started going back out, recently. A lot of members as well, they wanna try and get back to community service...we're really big on looking out for each other. We try to reach out and do service for our neighbors and not just try and stay secluded with our members,” Homer said.
Thomas said he invites those curious, or even critical, of the LDS church to attend service and see first hand what the church is all about.
For more information about the LDS Church in Dickinson, call (701) 690-7512 and request a free copy of the Bible and Book of Mormon.