I’ll never forget the first Sunday in March 2020. It was a fast and testimony meeting in our home ward and the very last testimony of the meeting was shared by a young mom with children still at home. She spoke of the feelings of melancholy and aloneness as she worked so hard to raise her children. Yet, she also shared deep gratitude for her associations with others and the support and love she felt from Christ, through them. She ended her testimony by emphatically saying, “Oh, how we need each other!”
It struck me powerfully as I considered how much I value my interactions with others and the great impact so many wonderful people have had on me personally, and on our family. I left that meeting feeling resolved to improve and to be a better neighbour.
Not even two weeks later, the world essentially “shut down” with the COVID-19 pandemic and everyone was thrown into a state of uncertainty, isolation and a lack of connection that would stretch into a two-year-plus time span. Associations that had been so normal and central to life had to be reinvented, redesigned and drastically altered.
My friend's statement, “Oh, how we need each other!” seemed like an unfair truth that could no longer be realized. Our opportunity to gather was indefinitely suspended.
Our exemplar of a gatherer is Jesus Christ
The Saviour was a gatherer. Many times, He would encourage others to come together and to learn together. He cared for them, taught them, and even fed them as they met together and learned truth from Him. He celebrated with them at wedding ceremonies and mourned with them at the passing of loved ones. He shared His love with each and every person who came into His circle.
He drew people into his space and brought them together with the purpose to help them recognize their connection as sons and daughters of God. He was the greatest gatherer.
In scripture we read of how it pains Him when we don’t gather, or come unto Him. “O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:24).
The real purpose for gathering as followers of Christ is to remind everyone of who we are and that we belong. That is what the Saviour taught best through His example as a gatherer.
Each person in the crowd - young or old, male or female, tall or short, married or single, educated or uneducated, clean shaven or bedraggled, belonged. Their connection was because of Him. Through Him, each had a place. That has not changed.
Still today, He is our ally and through His grace we are linked to heaven and brought to the knowledge that we are children of God.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson described this connection in a recent general conference as “the doctrine of belonging.” He said, “A sense of belonging is important to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being” (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Belonging,” Liahona, November 2022).
Gathering together took on a new format for most people during the two years of COVID. Zoom calls with our children and extended family made visiting together quite simple and enriching. Online meetings for church assignments made it easier for those who lived far away or were ill. Personally, we even started a group zoom yoga class with some friends. A new type of connection had allowed us to “gather.”
Zoom and YouTube meetings allowed us to peek into gatherings when in-person attendance was not possible. What a blessing that was for so many reasons! It became possible to “attend” a home sacrament meeting, two missionary farewells, a niece’s baby blessing and a choir concert all in the same day from the comfort of home! (Yes, we have done that!)
Gathering for the Lord’s puposes
Ironically, the concept of “gathering” is the greatest concern of President Russell M. Nelson. He has expressed the need for each of us to help gather Israel and bring everyone to a knowledge of Christ.
President Nelson has taught, “The Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. It may even require some changes in your life. It will definitely take some of your time and energy and your God-given talents. You were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing” (Russell M. Nelson and Wendy W. Nelson, “Hope of Israel” [worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018]).
We do need each other. But we mostly need Jesus Christ. With all the blessings, gifts and modern resources of this era, we can use our time and energy to look up, reach out, and gather in all its aspects. In the end, gathering with and to our Saviour is our greatest opportunity and blessing.