In October 2013, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton of the Seventy spoke during LDS general conference about the blessings that come from weekly church attendance — even while on vacation or traveling.
“Our family has committed to attend all of our Sunday meetings," Elder Hamilton said in his talk, “Continually Holding Fast.” "We have found that this strengthens our faith and deepens our understanding of the gospel. We even attend all of our Sunday meetings when we are on vacation or traveling. One of our daughters recently wrote to say that she had attended church in a city where she was traveling and then added, ‘Yes, Dad, I did attend all three of the Sunday meetings.’ We know she was blessed for this righteous decision.”
With the summer season in full swing, Latter-day Saints who are traveling have access to digital tools that can help them find church meetings while on the road. Meetinghouse locators on lds.org, Mormon.org and the LDS Tools mobile app allow users to find nearby chapels and meeting times. For several church members, making the effort has resulted in not only the blessings that Elder Hamilton spoke of but also positive experiences for the whole family.
Church around the world
Brian and Janese Mickelson of Tremonton, Box Elder County, have attended church meetings from California to Boston. In each case, they’ve received a warm, friendly greeting from ward members.
They could also write a book with all the interesting things they’ve seen along the way.
For example, while at meetings near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, they saw a bear wander onto church property.
In Stanley, Idaho, near Sun Valley, sacrament meeting was held outside with the Sawtooth Mountains as a backdrop. The first year they attended that branch, the Mickelsons said, they witnessed a plane crash. Ward members hustled out of the meeting to help the victims.
“Some of the Boy Scouts left to go help, then came back to pass the sacrament,” Brian Mickelson said.
Because visitors are so frequent, the branch president will occasionally walk up to four or five people and ask if they would give a short talk.
“They gave great talks,” Brian Mickelson said.
The Mickelsons were especially impressed when visiting a ward in Winnemucca, Nevada. After sacrament meeting, the ward mission leader, who had already introduced himself, asked the Mickelsons if he could check their oil and tire pressure before they continued their journey. He also asked if he and his wife could run home and make some sandwiches for the Mickelsons' children.
“They were fabulous, super friendly," Brian Mickelson said. " I was bishop (of my ward) at the time and realized we are just off the freeway in Tremonton. Maybe we need to be a little better at ‘How can we help you?' It got me thinking about our reception of visitors.”
Ryan and Staci Sorensen of Garland, Box Elder County, recently traveled with their four kids and Staci’s parents to Kauai, Hawaii, where they attended a ward in Lihue with at least 25 other visitors. Each one walked away with a warm “aloha” and a traditional Hawaiian lei.
"I'm guessing they have a lot of visitors each week," Staci Sorensen said. "They plan for it and they love it. The kids thought it was so cool. They will remember it forever."
Syracuse resident Jeff Thomson qualified for a national academic competition while in high school and traveled to Cleveland with a small group of students. On Sunday, the group found a local chapel but arrived late and discovered the meeting was almost over. Thomson was touched when the bishop granted permission for the sacrament to be blessed and passed a second time.
“For us, that was a memorable experience because the ward took time to show they appreciated that these high school students would go to church,” Thomson said.
Sometimes, despite every effort, going to church on vacation doesn't work out.
Two years ago, Kevin and Tara Bake, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, traveled to Cancun, Mexico. They found a local ward and meeting time, but when they arrived, they found out it was stake conference and the meeting was taking place in another town.
“It did give us a great opportunity to talk to our cab driver about our church, so it wasn’t a completely lost cause,” Tara Bake said.
A few days later, the Bakes were on an excursion with a tour guide who turned out to be the stake president.
“We had a good laugh about it with him,” Kevin Bake said.
A few months ago, the couple scoped out a ward in Puerto Rico, but their cruise ship ran into a delay with the port authorities, and the Bakes missed out on church again. In fact, they were lucky to catch their flight home.
“Needless to say, we haven’t had the best of luck,” Tara Bake said.
Bishop David Smith oversees the Nauvoo 3rd Ward in Nauvoo, Illinois, which meets each Sunday at 10 a.m. The ward consists of around 200 local members but balloons to as many as 1,300 during the summer tourist season. It became necessary to put in additional parking, he said.
“During the month of the Nauvoo Pageant, sacrament meeting looks like stake conference," Bishop Smith said. "We fill to the back of the cultural hall."
The biggest challenge is passing the sacrament, he said. A second sacrament table was added in the cultural hall to accommodate the larger crowd. Bishop Smith is often impressed with how efficient the young men are in passing the bread and water to so many people.
“We invite visitors to stay for the three-hour block, but most don’t," Bishop Smith said. "The Primary handles it well, but sometimes the nursery can’t accommodate.”
One Sunday, the ward choir director prepared a fairly simple three-hymn medley and invited visitors to sing with the choir.
“We had standing room only in the choir seats with the visitors singing,” Bishop Smith said. “That was really enjoyable.”
Sometimes during fast and testimony meeting, visitors from all over the globe step up to the pulpit.
“We meet people from all over the world,” Bishop Smith said. “This is pretty much a routine for us now. We know it will start in May and end in September. After that, it drops off dramatically.”
Bishop Smith has two suggestions for those who are attending church while on vacation with family.
First, get there early. And second, stay the entire three hours.
“Do yourself a favor and get there early, then stay for the whole block,” Bishop Smith said. “You will benefit a lot more than if you are checking off a box that you went to church.”
The Mickelsons aren’t perfect in their vacation church attendance, but they believe it benefits their family in many ways.
“There are times when it’s impossible, but you don’t take a vacation from being a covenant-keeper," Brian Mickelson said. "We want our kids to know that church is always important. It’s good for them to go and introduce themselves and be friendly.”
The Mickelsons suggest telling kids ahead of time so it’s not a surprise.
“Make it a stress-free experience,” Janese Mickelson said. “When on vacation, you can feel rushed going from thing to thing. Going to church gives you a chance to slow down and relax.”
Also, don’t wait for ward members to come shake your hand. Go and introduce yourself, Brian Mickelson suggested.
“This is a great time to practice befriending others," he said. "If you can show up in some random ward and do it, you can do it at home when you see people who are new. You know how they feel. It’s good to practice reaching out to others.”
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