Monday, October 26, 2020

Church meetings and Primary, in the midst of a pandemic

 


When covid-19 swept onto the scene in mid-March, everything came to a screeching halt - especially where church was concerned. Church abruptly stopped.  Meetings were cancelled.  Schools shut down and took to the internet. Businesses closed, hoping to weather the storm.

I live in a township with 11 people per square mile. We are living a socially distanced life! We home-school and live a half hour from the nearest town (population 3,000) where we can shop for groceries and attend church.

My bishop (leader of our local congregation) was on top of things! We were up and running with leadership meetings online without skipping a beat. Throughout the previous months of life affected by covid, we have turned to the Lord and sought His guidance.  We have reached out to many, we met needs as best as possible as they presented themselves, and we reported back.

I am the Primary president in our ward. Our Primary presidency decided to DO the following.

1. ask and encourage teachers to reach out to the children in their classes on a regular (weekly if possible) basis. (Calls, texts, letters, but not lesson material, just fellowship. - "Family centered, church supported")

2. ask the activity leaders to make contact to express love and encourage goal setting

3. to keep in contact, and check up on the families with primary aged children as a presidency. (Our secretary made assignments and we rotated every couple of months or so.)

All contact was intended to express love, grow and continue to build relationships, to encourage daily immersion in the scriptures and use of the Come Follow Me program.

That's it. Super simple.




PRIMARY MUSIC WITH SUNDAY HOME/FAMILY WORSHIP:

I am also the Primary music leader. 
(This could be an entire series of posts - Music leader was not my choice,  I am practically tone deaf.  I am by far the weakest singing link in my family.  Yet the Holy Ghost appointed me.  I am EXTREMELY self conscious about my lack of singing ability.)

Each week, I sent out an email with the songs we would have been singing in Primary along with some ideas of how to "teach it" at home. This gave me weekly communication with the parents of the Primary children, and an chance to communicate any announcements, changes, or spiritual thoughts I felt impressed to share.  It also provided a weekly reminder to listen to gospel music.

Teacher contact and music continued even after we were meeting online for Sunday worship.




Then.....
I found myself thinking about the possibility of a Primary Program.


A PRIMARY PROGRAM?

We counseled as a Primary presidency and came up with the idea to have families present the songs followed by the Primary aged children sharing a few words with the congregation. This met the social distancing guidelines and followed the Primary Sacrament meeting Presentation guidelines.  And it would allow us to move forward whether we were meeting online or in person. We presented it to the bishopric and it was approved.

You can read the initial letter I sent to the parents here.




MEETING IN PERSON:

We received authorization to meet in person in September. The councilor in the bishopric over Primary asked me for a plan (with back-ups) to return to church, full church, including Primary. I initially looked to others and asked others for ideas in order to formulate some ideas.

NOTHING.

I did not find anything online. I didn't (and still don't) know anyone personally who is meeting in person for both hours of church. Many people I know are attending Sacrament meeting and a shortened version at that. And some have recently started other Sunday meetings online.



We pondered and discussed as a presidency, and came up with the best way we thought would work for our Primary to meet when considering the covid guidelines for resuming in person meetings at church. We decided it was best to separate the children by family rather than by age. We contacted the teachers and leaders to see who would be joining us and consolidated classes which required fewer teachers while still maintaining 2 deep leadership, utilizing the Primary presidency. 

Our back up plan was to group children by family and use the classrooms as before,  switching between music time and lesson time.  That meant more rooms, more staff, more movement, and cleaning in between.



I strongly believe that no one should have to choose between their health concerns and serving in a calling at church.  Health and concerns about personal or family health come first!  I made it clear to each teacher that their health came first, and that if there were any concerns, that they should not be in Primary on Sunday.

You can read the portion of the letter sent out to parents about returning to Primary here. The teachers also received a similar letter.





WARD LOGISTICS:

We are utilizing our church building rather differently than we have in the past


Sacrament meeting: chapel and cultural hall

1st and 3rd
Sunday School - chapel
youth classes (3 classes with about 12 youth per class)
    Relief Society room
    Cultural hall
    Large "scout" room
Primary - Primary room


2nd and 4th
Relief Society - chapel
Elder's Quorum - cultural hall
Young Women - Relief Society room
Young men - various larger rooms
Primary - Primary room



I am in a relatively small Primary. We have just under 30 children attending. We have a plan to split the Primary and use the Young Women's room and have 2 music leaders and have 4  classes rather than our current 3. The Primary room is at capacity, but we have a plan if attendance increases. Every organization is where they are based on adequate space to accommodate them.

It is not my ideal, but we are making it work. The teachers are being super flexible, teaching lessons to greatly varied ages. The ward counsel reports on how things are going each week and we discuss solutions as needs arise. We are coming up with creative ideas to make meeting in person a continued possibility for our ward.

I know not all wards can do this because of numbers and space limitations, local covid guidelines, and other circumstances. Many other solutions are being implemented. I am just sharing my situation.




PRIMARY SACRAMENT MEETING PRESENTATION:

The Primary presidency decided on guidelines for talk content and length. We asked for a copy of each talk to assist in creating an order to follow and an idea for time. Turning in the talk was a requirement for participation. You can read the letter sent out here.


Notes:
Of the families not singing, none of the children or families elected to share a talk.

We based the talk guidelines on the number of children in each age group participating and also what an appropriate expectation would be. 
 
We offered a single practice after church the Sunday prior to the program for families to practice with the piano. Some chose to practice, some did not.

I also provided a flip chart of the words to the families that needed/wanted the words.

I have a friend who is also a Primary President. I shared my idea with her. She took it to her ward and they decided to have 2 to 3 families sing and share talks spread over a few weeks throughout the last quarter of the year.

I made some mistakes, a couple of really big ones.  Things did not go "perfectly."  And I learned a lot about myself and others in the process.  




PRIMARY PROGRAM REFLECTIONS

I LOVED IT!

One of my counselors spoke about our year in general, shared what we had been doing in Primary while not meeting in person, and introduced our Program. Then the families got up one by one.

I enjoyed seeing the dynamics and varying personalities in the different families.

My heart melted and emotions surged as these families, probably less comfortable than myself, got up and sang a song in front of the entire congregation. 

A mom whose husband was out of town picked up not one, but two of her little boys so they could be seen while singing.  

One family sings daily and their love of the song they sang was evident, The youngest boy was jumping and so excited about God! Another of their boys sang out loudly on his favorite part. They added sign language. The enthusiasm was awesome! I witnessed another boy in this family really struggle during the Primary program a couple of years ago. This year he was smiling, singing, and got right up to the mic and said his part. Wonderful!

A couple of families were a bit timid.  I can certainly relate to that.  The Primary children sang out and knew the words.

A family who is in the process of moving and doesn't have a permanent address even participated.

Another family filled the rostrum with youth and Primary children. It was a beautiful sight.  I could barely see one child.  Another experimented with the mic.  Others sang so nicely.  They did sign language too.  It was a real team effort.


The whole experience was truly inspiring: it was a showcase of how different families go about teaching and living the gospel in their own unique way - all different, striving for the same goal.  
So often we look to others for answers, or how to do things the "right way."  I tend to do this a lot.  However, I was reminded that when I turn to the Lord, He will guide me in what is right for my situation.  
It's not about the "right way."  It's not about what you think it should look like.  It's not about how things have been done in the past. 


As Elder Holland said:
“We are witnessing an ever greater movement toward polarity. The middle-ground options will be removed from us as Latter-day Saints. The middle of the road will be withdrawn.
“If you are treading water in the current of a river, you will go somewhere. You simply will go wherever the current takes you. Going with the stream, following the tide, drifting in the current will not do.
“Choices have to be made. Not making a choice is a choice. Learn to choose now.”


I choose the gospel of Jesus Christ. I choose worshiping my God. I choose sincere prayer and acting on the revelation (the ideas, thoughts and feelings that come as answers) that I receive when I ask.  I choose repentance and forgiveness.  I choose the harder right, rather than the easier wrong.  



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