At Yale, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — colloquially referred to as Mormons — have grappled with restricted religious gatherings and community events, which are an important part of their faith, due to COVID-19.
In March, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the overarching body for Mormon congregations worldwide — called for a halt to all in-person services. In light of this, the New Haven congregation of the church moved religious and social events online to maintain a sense of normalcy despite the circumstances. The New Haven congregation consists of two units: one for young, unmarried people — which includes most Mormon Yale students — and one for families.
Brother Randy LaRose, a chaplain with Yale Religious Ministries and the director of the New Haven Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the News that “having high expectations but high love” has been a useful strategy in working to navigate the new public health landscape.
“In our mind, I guess, heavenly Father has been masterfully teaching virtually for thousands of years, I think, so we are … trying to learn from how he does that so effectively,” LaRose said.
Religious services in the church typically consist of the Holy Communion — where people eat bread and drink water in communion — and a Sunday school meeting, where church members study religious texts. During the pandemic, small groups of people held sacrament meetings virtually or in their homes. However, in the past month the New Haven congregation has begun hosting abbreviated in-person meetings with social distancing measures in place.
Connor Peck SPH ’22 noted how careful the congregation has been in following social distancing protocols.
“I haven’t seen COVID restrictions more radically followed than I did at church,” Peck said. “When I go to campus, I’ve never seen anyone that’s been more strict and I think it’s because honestly religious institutions know we have an eye on our back, kind of like a target for super spreading events.”
The Yale Latter-Day Saint Student Association, or LDSSA, is an undergraduate organization that holds community events in New Haven. Though it is technically a part of Yale College, LDSSA is open to all Mormon and non-Mormon students, whether they are undergraduates or graduate and professional students. LDSSA typically holds larger events once a month and smaller ones weekly.
For many Mormons at Yale, a sense of community, which has been largely lost due to restrictions, is a key part of the faith. At this time of the year, the congregation would normally be hosting its annual chili cookoff, and throughout the year, LDSSA would hold events such as Sunday dinners and conferences to build relationships with Mormons at Yale and other institutions.
“Religion and faith, at least in my opinion, is something that’s best experienced as part of a community,” Caroleine James ’22 told the News. She described Yale’s community of Latter-day Saints as “very small but very strong.”
Chunie Johnson MED ’21, a student in the Physician Associate Program, told the News that she feels similarly.
“I wasn’t expecting to miss it that much,” Johnson said. “I’m used to having my Sundays be a pick-me-up and so, feeling a little more down than usual, I think, was something I noticed.”
She added that Sunday sacrament meetings served as a “weekly check-in” and a time to “think about where you’re at personally and spiritually, emotionally, physically.”
Still, according to multiple church members, the pandemic has forced them to engage in more self-reflection, which has proven beneficial to their faith.
“Being isolated like that does make you kind of turn inward,” Liz McGuire GRD ’21 told the News. “And it forces you to examine … what does your faith actually mean to you.”
Mission trips — an extended period of travel during which Mormons spread the ministry of the church — are also an integral part of the faith, especially for young people. Johnson told the News that on her own mission trip, she had to step out of her comfort zone and “really forget about myself.”
Still, the pandemic has added new challenges to this aspect of the faith as well. Johnson noted that serving virtually and with pandemic restrictions would make the process much more difficult.
“You know you’re not really getting the same experience,” Johnson said.
Her brother, who is currently serving on his mission trip, has been relocated three times.
The events of this year have also led some to reevaluate their relationships with their faith.
“This whole summer, what with pandemic and civil rights movement,” James told the News, “I think it’s been difficult in terms of faith, because, I mean if you believe in a God that’s present in your daily life, that’s really listening to you and attuned to you and trying to help you out … where is that God when someone’s getting murdered by police … or when people are getting killed en masse by this virus?” She has used the pandemic to explore such questions.
The New Haven branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is located on Trumbull Street.
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