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YSA wards begin in-person attendance amidst the pandemic, while taking the necessary precautions

Photo of three women wearing masks and church dresses walking outside the stake building

As Young Single Adult wards begin to reopen on campus, students said they are looking forward to the social aspects they have missed out on due to a lack of in-person meetings.

Six months after returning home from his mission early due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ephraim Uyehara, a freshman from Laie majoring in biology, said he has been unable to attend his home ward and has instead been meeting with the Hale La’a YSA ward.

“When I first came back, they were doing [sacrament meetings], but then they stopped again. This is the second time now that they’ve opened back up, which is nice,” Uyehara said.

Bishop Pili Lafaele, bishop of the Hale La’a YSA Ward, said once the stake authorities approved gatherings on Sept. 17, they immediately planned to meet the next Sunday. Being able to go to YSA wards has been enjoyable, he said, because he has been able to meet other students who are living the same experience as him.

As the state allows more gatherings to happen, it also opens the doors to more socialization, something Uyehara said was missing from his life. “There’s that social aspect to the gospel as well as the spiritual... and it felt like [there] was a piece that was missing that was there that day,” he said.

This missing piece was also noticed by Amber Lorenc, a freshman from Utah majoring in cultural anthropology. “[Home church] was good. I liked it. But it’s nice being with more people. I enjoy going back and seeing people.”

Lorenc said her ward keeps growing after the initial 35 attendees the first week. Uyehara said he was also pleasantly surprised by the number of attendees. “It was cool to see there were a lot more students there… than anticipated.” Lafaele said there were about 75 students in the congregation.

Hale La’a is one of the biggest YSA wards associated with the school, but due to the coronavirus pandemic the average attendance of 140 students per meeting dropped, according to Lafaele. He said it is due to students remaining at home and doing classes remotely.

Lafaele, a former student of BYUH and now a bishop, said he has noticed the changes in bishopric responsibilities during the pandemic.

“We don't really have much to do as a bishopric in running the ward… but the one part that’s been added onto our plate as bishops is the mental and emotional status of the ward members,” he said.

According to Lafaele there has been an increase in depression and relationship problems due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns. These lockdowns have led to concern for his congregation as young adults, he said.

“Young single adults with nothing to do; no work, no school, a lot of free time on their hands … it’s a good formula for disaster for a bishop,” he said.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has established guidelines for bishops and wards to follow. Lafaele said his ward is doing its best to obey the rules.

He said he believes the Church is already starting to resume its normal patterns, especially after General Conference weekend. On Oct. 11, the Hale La’a Ward will resume a two-hour church, with the same restrictions the Church is requiring of everyone wearing masks, limiting the number of people who attend, sanitizing between wards and more.