To say that the global pandemic has changed the world would be an understatement. With “stay-at-home” and “shelter-in-place” orders across the country and stringent global travel restrictions, it’s fair to say the people of this planet now live in a world of isolation. Many long to gather.
One year ago we focused on one such gathering, writing: “This weekend Temple Square in Salt Lake City will be filled with throngs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” we wrote. “They are gathering for the church’s general conference. Overflow crowds of 21,000 will assemble for each of the five sessions, thousands more will wander the grounds and millions around the world will assemble in remote chapels or around screens to be part of this unique gathering. Gathering is a good thing — for all people.”
American chef and author Alice Waters has said, “This is the power of gathering: It inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.”
Humans have a need to gather.
This year the Conference Center sits silent. Temple Square is empty. Yet, a historic gathering is about to begin. It will be different this year, to be sure, but a gathering it will be.
The need to gather, even across time and space, leads to ingenuity. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, people have creatively deployed technology to bring each other together in meaningful ways.
Businesses convene teams through video conferencing services. Grandparents create regular story time with their cooped-up grandchildren. A group of teenage boys had an “ice cream social-distance,” with the boys all jumping on a video chat after one young man had dropped off ice cream on each of their porches.
Some Nashville studio singers created a cellphone choir and performed a powerful and connecting rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul.”
There are countless other examples of how the longing to belong is drawing physically distant and disconnected people together.
The entire membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will experience this weekend’s general conference in precisely the same way. For the past two years, the faith has pointed its members toward a more home-centered, church-supported approach to following Jesus Christ.
This general conference will be a home-centered global gathering.
President Russell M. Nelson, the faith’s 17th prophet, has gone to extraordinary lengths to gather and be with members of the Church of Jesus Christ around the world. The 95-year old has traveled to the ends of the earth, at a breathtaking pace, prior to the onset of the coronavirus.
President Nelson seems to be following a charge found in the faith’s canonized scripture, to “go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world.”
For a season, gathering will be different. Sent by means of technology instead of in person, the invitation to come together in good will, faith, fasting and prayer will still be the same.
As a world religious leader, President Nelson is demonstrating a principle shared by poet and priest John O’Donohue, “The work of holiness in not about perfection or niceness; it is about belonging.” This weekend is another such moment of belonging.