We went to church today, the monthly meeting of our ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of COVID-19, and in order to keep proper physical distance, the congregation was split in two groups, one meeting at 10 am and one at noon. We went at noon.
There were around 25-30 people, all wearing masks and keeping social distance. There were less than 10% of those who would normally attend before the pandemic.
Everything proceeded smoothly, including the singing, the passing of the sacrament, and the few testimonies offered by members of the congregation.
While in the past months we have been blessed with the opportunity of preparing and partaking of the sacrament at home, as families, there is always a special sweet spirit in the chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially during the Sacrament meeting, that makes it worthwhile to attend.
It is also always good to see some of the brothers and sisters that we haven’t seen in months and feel their spirit, even if at a distance.
The meeting was short, it only lasted 40 minutes. The reduced length of the meeting almost reminded me of the catholic mass I used to attend when I was a teenager, in Italy, before becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and being introduced to the 3 hours Sunday meetings.
Stopping to talk to each other at the end of the meeting was discouraged, but a few couldn’t resist anyway.
Despite all of these positive aspects of meeting at church again, even during the pandemic, I need to say that it was a little “socially depressing”. For us to go to church is important not only for the spiritual aspect, but also for the social one, and to have to keep at a distance, not talk to each other, and wear masks, create an almost surreal experience.
The church has been often compared to an hospital for the souls, but today it really seemed like being in an hospital, or in some “end of the world” movie. It wasn’t the same joyful environment to which we were used before the pandemic, and while all of those precautions are necessary, I am glad that this will eventually pass, and things will go back to normal… hopefully!
But for the time being, this is the way things are at church, on Sunday, and in many other public places, even if many people then meet in other settings without all of those precautions, partially defeating their purpose.
This behavior is somewhat ironic, but also understandable. COVID-19 is dangerous, but life cannot stop for too long without creating even bigger problems, and in the US, among other countries, the problem is not being resolved fast.
While social distancing is important for preventing the spread of the virus, when adopted for long periods of time, it may end up exacerbating other problems, like, for example, for the more than one of four adults ages 50 to 80 who said they felt isolated even before the COVID-19 outbreak and it may increase the risk of loneliness for others, especially the 35.7 million Americans living alone.
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to many physical and mental health problems including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. The health damage caused by isolation and loneliness is estimated to increase the risk of early death by 26 percent, and it has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Unfortunately, those most at risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19 are the same ones who report high rates of social isolation: older adults and people with underlying medical conditions. (See The Point for more details).
It will be interesting to see what will change permanently and what will revert to “normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, both at church and in other situations and environments. But the pandemic has made even more evident that while technology is powerful, and can really help in difficult circumstances, like the one we are living now, we still need real people around us, at least some of the time, to be mentally healthy and happy (and it’s even better when they don’t have to wear masks).