Robert Kirby: Going to church without actually attending

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Kirby

I attend church most Sundays. I go for the same reason that others stay home: I want to.

It helps that I have a church job/calling I promised to do every Sunday, and that I enjoy the company of most of the adults and all of the kids there.

My church attendance hasn’t always been so consistent. There were times I didn’t go at all, times I went sporadically, and even, during Mormonism’s Dark Ages, when I went twice every Sunday because the Old Man made me.

Dire warnings were expressed over nonattendance, including eventual apostasy, loss of the Holy Spirit, the dubious likelihood of disappointing an omnipotent being, and, of course, the probability of going to hell.

None of those scared me enough to attend when I didn’t want to. I generally behave according to my own needs.

For that reason, I have attended church in all manner of less-than-favorable circumstances, including slightly wounded, badly hurt, barely conscious, even hungover.

But here’s the thing: I have never stayed home from church because attending might kill me. Sure, there were times when I feared I might die of boredom. But that was when I was young and unmedicated. I’m old now. I just go to sleep.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Getting killed by church. I’ve studied the early history of my people. There were times when church attendance posed just such a hazard.

In the early days of the church, sickness cursed the land, vast distances had to be traveled, and in some places there was no legal limit on the number of Mormons one could shoot.

All of those made church attendance problematic. But Sunday services were not canceled. Then came the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, infecting about a third of the world’s population, and killing some 20 million to 50 million people.

It’s impossible to say how many people contracted the deadly flu at church, but the threat was there. Hundreds of Utahns died from it, including entire families.

It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that a certain percentage of the dead in Utah were Latter-day Saints, and that some may have contracted the disease by obeying the commandment to congregate for worship.

Quarantines were imposed on homes where the sickness surfaced. Mail delivery was suspended in some places.

At the peak of the pandemic, Latter-day Saint authorities banned Sunday services, closing church buildings to the public, and telling people to stay away from one another.

Reportedly, quarantined members could partake of the sacrament only by having it passed to them from the street via slingshot. Reportedly.

Now we’re faced with the spread of the coronavirus. Such is the risk that Latter-day Saint services in some countries have been suspended. Members are instructed to hold congregational services with their families in their own homes.

Works for me. I can still attend church by not going.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.