How 19,000 Tri-State Area Latter-day Saints are Finding New Ways to Worship – Church Donates 150,000 lbs. of Food to Area Food Banks and Shelters

Story by Holly Lesan, Loveland resident and Director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cincinnati East area

NOTE: Edited for publication: By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (June 14, 2020) – Amid global spread of the coronavirus pandemic, religious leaders across the world have urged people of faith to refrain from gathering to worship.

Members of Tri-State Church of Latter-dayt Saints worship from home (Courtesy Knight family) 

Emphasizing a desire to be “good global citizens,” Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced on March 12 all church gatherings would be suspended for their more than sixteen million members worldwide.

In the greater Cincinnati/Dayton area, the suspension of church gatherings has affected more than 19,000 of their faithful.  But, like people of all faiths, Latter-day Saints found new ways to continue their Sunday worship, including holding church services at home. 

Since January 2019, Latter-day Saints have used a “home-centered, church-supported” curriculum of religious study, in which members study the same lesson each week on their own or in small groups, and Sunday services support the at-home study. 

“We are used to having a religious devotional time as a family a few times a week,” says President Robert Lesan, who, as “stake president”, is responsible for eight congregations in the greater Cincinnati area, “so having that habit in place has eased the transition into having Sunday services at home rather than as a whole congregation.”

The Knight family of Maineville has found this time to be unique.

“Worshipping at home with our family each Sunday has been a very special experience,” says Michelle Knight. “It has brought a peaceful feeling into our home during an uncertain time.”

The Knight family of Maineville, Ohio (Courtesy Michelle Knight)

The Knight family singing hymns during service at home (Courtesy Michelle Knight)

Local bishops, lay leaders who head congregations, have found creative ways to keep children and teenagers engaged in the faith.  Bishop Ken Tynes, who leads a congregation that includes Maineville, Lebanon and Butlerville, says he has used video conferencing to bring teenagers together to discuss the challenges they are facing. 

“We were able to share a spiritual thought and encourage them to read the scriptures and strengthen their relationships with the Savior,” Tynes noted.

Leaders of the children’s organization in Tynes’ congregation have asked children to read a different scripture verse each week, and then write about how that particular verse has impacted their lives that week.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, thousands of Latter-day Saint volunteer missionaries serving internationally had to return early from their service.  Friends and family could not welcome them home with hugs and celebrations.  Bishop Jason Randall, who leads a congregation in the Eastgate area, says he invited members of his congregation to have a drive-by parade.

“We invited members of the congregation to drive by [the missionaries’] houses with signs and horns, waving as we drove to each of their houses and welcomed them home as they stayed on their lawns,” Randall explained. “It was different and fun.” 

The leaders of the women’s Relief Society organization in his congregation hosted a video meeting. 

“We found that many Relief Society members hungered for the contact,” said Randall. “Many said it was just so nice to see each other and hear each other’s voices.” 

The Nissen family watches the semi-annual live broadcast of General Conference on April 5. The conference brings together all 16 million members of the Church via streaming platforms and TV broadcast. (Courtesy Jared Nissen)

Bishops have organized video meetings with the entire congregation joining in to learn and discuss together.  At least one congregation will hold Easter Sunday services this way.  Some bishops send weekly email devotional messages to congregants.  All members are encouraged to meet as a family for a Sunday service at home that includes the basic elements of a traditional Sunday worship meeting – singing hymns, partaking of the sacrament (communion), and sermons.  Where congregants traditionally take turns preparing sermons for the Sunday service, family members, including children, are now taking on that role. 

The Church has also partnered with Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio to support their Food for All mobile food pantry program. Earlier this month, Latter-day Saint Welfare and Self-Reliance Services delivered a humanitarian donation of 13 pallets (nearly 20,000 lbs.) of shelf-stable food. 

Nowland family continues to worship from home (Provided) 

In total, the Church will donate a total of more than 150,000 lbs. of food to area food banks and shelters.

Like other people of faith in Cincinnati, local Latter-day Saints hope that regular worship services resume as soon as feasible.  In the meantime, there are unique lessons to be learned.  M. Russell Ballard, one of the Church’s apostles with global responsibility, summed up the experience in a recent interview.

 “We are coming to realize how precious our families are, how precious our neighbors are, how precious our fellow Church members are,” observed Ballard. “There are lessons we are learning now that will make us better people.”