One thing that is very unique about bush life is how we attend church. When we first looked into coming out here, this was a main concern. Church attendance is a huge priority for us and we knew we couldn’t/wouldn’t live in the bush without access to church!
Luckily, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints loves all its members and wants everyone to be able to attend church! It’s just in a very non-traditional way.
So…how we attend church…
Drum roll, please…
Is in our very own home!
On our verykool phone!
There is only one cell company that gets service in Bush Alaska, so when we came out, we got ourselves one of these bad boys! It has the best kind of texting–where you have to press the 7 key FOUR times to get an ‘S.’ Takes me right back to 2004! Needless to say, we don’t use that guy very much 🙂 but we sure are glad we have it on Sundays!
Anyhow, back to church…
Ben’s pretty lucky, because when he came out the first time, he was in Anchorage over a Sunday, so he’s seen the bush branch operation on both ends.
The Branch President lives in Anchorage and he has a small office in one of the stake centers there. He meets there every Sunday with his wife and anyone who might be traveling and in town for the weekend.
Everyone meets up on a conference call line (via phone) that requires a passcode.
Jaeger dog loves being able to attend church for once.
Especially the extra snoozing time…(yes…he’s an absolute fluff ball right now…)
Priesthood meeting is first. Ben calls in for that at 9. It usually ends a little early and they’ll just play some interlude music while they wait until 10 for sacrament meeting to start-and for everyone to join (you know…by calling in). The Branch President is able to see all the numbers that call in, but he doesn’t know how many people are calling in at each number. Since they can’t take attendance visually, we do roll call! President goes down the list of members and calls names and members will say, “We’ve got 5 here in Igiagig!” And when president says, “Do we have the Brown family?” Ben hops on and says, “Two here in Pilot Point!” He’ll also ask if there are any visitors and lots of the time-there are! When Ben was here without me, I would call in so that we could “go to church together.” It was magical 😉
During all of church, you are supposed to have your phone on mute because if your dog is barking or if your kids are fighting…everyone can hear you, which can be pretty fun. But during the sacrament they turn the conference call to silent mode-so nobody can be heard.
Worthy priesthood holders can be authorized by the Branch President to administer the emblems of the sacrament to themselves and their family. I’m so grateful that Ben has been authorized to do this each week! The conference call is switched out of silent mode and then they have speakers, just like regular.
A couple weeks ago, Ben and I had to opportunity to give talks!
That’s my cute husband while he gave his excellent talk^
It was WEIRD giving talks on the phone! I practiced my talk with my phone up to my ear and I was so nervous! Luckily, it wasn’t so bad when I actually gave the talk, but it was still a different experience…you have no way of knowing how the members are responding! And since everyone’s phone is on mute, any jokes you make are responded to with crickets! Ha-it was fun! But I guess a pretty sweet part was that my Mom and sister Leslie were able to join the call and listen to our talks-all the way down in Utah!
After Sacrament meeting, they split lines. Kids and anyone called to help in Primary join a conference call on a different line. Sunday School stays on the main line. It’s very much like regular church-there’s a teacher and the teacher expects participation. My first time attending the Sunday School via phone, I was really apprehensive during pauses in the conversations. They seemed long and a little more uncomfortable since I couldn’t see if someone was getting ready to respond or if the teacher was preparing something. The vibe in the Bush Branch is definitely more lax and I think I’m getting used to it.
Relief Society is last, so Ben leaves at this point. They do roll call again and have a regular lesson-teacher led discussion. And that’s that! They end with a prayer and a “have a good week, sisters!” And we all hang up!
Church for me is about 30 minutes shorter than the normal 3 hour block. The branch covers all of rural Alaska. When you call in, it will say how many other lines are called in and there are usually around 30-40 other callers (although, like I said, some lines have one person and some lines have 5 people). We do dress up for church, although I admit that I don’t dress quite as nicely…I only brought 1 dress and 1 skirt, so I don’t have much variety. And…since I’m not seeing anyone…I usually go without make-up! Ha! Cause I’m lazy 🙂
It’s definitely a different experience, but I am so grateful that we have access to the Church even way out here where we are the only members (and as far as I can tell, the only people who are religious). When Ben and I lived in China, we skyped into church…and just for comparison sake-I like calling in better. The connection is much more reliable! We love Sundays!