This year everyone left for Christmas vacation. Not everyone left, because if they all did the whole city would be empty and I'd have a hard time getting food or someone to clean my house. But a lot of people who work at the embassy left. Baku is a two-year post with two R&Rs so a lot of people use that second R&R to leave over Christmas.
We didn't. The children were sad about not having a Christmas break from school (and a neighbor child questioned my judgment about keeping them in school during the holiday - he was relieved to hear that we didn't actually have school on Christmas), but they were mollified when I drew attention to our six-week break from school in February.
Everyone else in the branch, however, left town. And so for the last four Sundays we've been the Baku Azerbaijan branch of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The program has been fairly similar for the last three Sundays: I've played the piano, Kathleen, Brandon and I have sung the hymn (I always feel like someone out of a Jane Austen movie ((only with less singing ability)) every time I sing to my own accompaniment, but cutting a third of the voices doesn't work too well for church. I'm looking forward to Sophia reading well enough to sing along), Brandon has blessed and passed the sacrament, and the girls have taken turns with opening and closing prayers.
I've been very thankful for our good internet connection as we've watched the Christmas devotional, the Saturday afternoon session of conference, nativity videos, and a talk from brother Hales for the speaker part of our church. I've had grand plans about our church schedule when we reach Dushanbe, but none of them have panned out in our little practice session. Primary we've still got to work on.
Brandon was very excited about flexible start times - he figured if we started by eight we could be done with church by nine - but the only time we actually started by ten, our regular church time, was today when we had one more member join us. Somehow the urgency to get out of bed is diminished when you don't have anybody else to meet up with. But at least everyone has been bathed, combed, and dressed in church clothes for the service, even if it does happen on our own couches.
And so I would say over all, our first go at home-churching has been fairly successful, something that surprised me after our attempt at home primary this summer. Everyone sat without too much coercion, we actually held church, we got dressed, and it did feel like church, not everyone dressed up on the couches on a regular day.
I suppose we Mormons are a little odd about church congregations. We had friends at a previous post who weren't able to find a congregation of their denomination, so they just attended an international church instead. We have friends here who would like to attend church but can't find a congregation that fits their need. If a Mormon can't find a congregation, however, they just form one wherever they are. We have a friend who spent two years on an unaccompanied tour in a city without any LDS presence, so he spent two years of Sundays singing songs to himself, opening the meeting by praying to himself, blessing the sacrament for himself, and then passing it to himself. Then he would read a conference talk to himself.
So even though it's nice - really, really nice - to be able to attend a full-size functioning ward (can I tell you how excited I am about nursery in three weeks?) and have lessons prepared by someone else and whole congregations joining together in hymns sung to a well-played organ and friends to meet each week, it's nice to know that none of that is necessary to worship on Sunday. Because wherever we go in the world, we bring our church with us. And that's pretty nice.