Saturday, August 22, 2009

Going to Church by Telephone

I ran across a very intriguing post called Church in the Bush on the Cold Hands, Warm Heart blog. Sister Colleen Marie Shishmaref explains that it is so isolated in parts of the bush in Alaska that they have church by teleconference. I have lived in some remote parts of the world but not this remote.

Sister S. describes her experience as:

When the Russians took over Alaska, they brought the Russian Orthodox church with them. As time passed and most of the Russians left the state, there was room for other schools of theological thought. Small missions sprung up in in the larger areas. When the time came to spread the word to the rest of the state, it was decided that it would be best just to divvy up the smaller town, as places like Shishmaref aren't big enough to support two churches.

I'm not sure how it happened, but Shishmaref ended up Lutheran. I don't think the LDS were invited to the meeting, as I have not seen a single town that is all Mormon. Along with the English Language, stove oil, and frozen waffles, the Lutheran church has a big white church, and graves with white crosses on them, and a pastor who has to write "For Church Use" all over the box of wine (more on that in another post).

When I first moved here, I had a roommate, Darcy. She was religious, and went to church every Sunday. I asked her if she minded going to a different church than the one she was raised in, and she said they were all about the same. Some of us, however, are highly attached to our religions, and don't want to leave them behind just because we move to the middle of nowhere. Enter the joy that is teleconferencing.

My little congregation out here consists of people from little villages across the state. There are usually 15-20 families that call in on Sunday morning for Sacrament meeting. By the time we get to Relief Society, there's maybe nine women.

Our branch presidency is based in Anchorage, and the rest of us just call in on teleconference.
We can mute ourselves individually, so no one hears us anything going on on our ends. The presidency can also mute all of us, just in case. Prayers and talks are done over the phone, the passing of the sacrament is done in every little town that has a priesthood member. Songs are a little tricky, as there is a bit of a delay over the phones. If we all tried to sing in tune with everyone else, we'd really be behind, and they would hear us even after that. So songs are played at one place, and we all just listen, or sing along with-out sound on our end.

It's awkward sometimes. I don't ever know if I'm being heard. Maybe I'm just talking to myself here, and everyone else is wondering where I am. I know it doesn't sound like "Mute off" and "Mute on" could be confusing, but it's true, it's sometimes hard to tell them apart.
Can you imagine how often they must talk over each other if church is conducted by phone. I guess we have it lucky in places like South Carolina and anywhere else where we can gather together on weekly basis. Check out her blog it is fascinating to see what happens in the sticks. Missionaries must have a hard time converting people who only go to church by phone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a minor correction: Shishmaref is the name of the Native village this sister lives in, not her last name. I used to live in this branch myself, years and years before the teleconferences meetings started up. They sure have it nice these days!

As a side note, the village of "Shish" (as it is affectionately called) may soon fall into the ocean. Google it, it's a fascinating story of just how "on the edge of civilization" some of these remote places are.