Every time our family goes to a new post, our church community gets smaller and smaller and smaller. In Cairo we attended a lovely little ex-pat branch that met in a villa seven or eight blocks away from our apartment. The ex-pat community was big enough that we had between sixty and ninety members, enough to have a regular three-hour block complete with primary, Relief Society, Priesthood, and youth meetings. The branch was active and supportive and an important key to surviving two years of Cairo with my sanity intact.
In Baku we also had a branch, but this one was smaller and met next door, at the branch president's house. We didn't have enough members (anywhere from six to thirty, depending on the time of year and assignments) for a full three-hour block so church was between ninety minutes and two hours.
Now we're on our third assignment in a Muslim country, where the LDS church is not recognized, and so church is, again, a fully ex-pat affair. Only this time the ex-pats are us - just us. I feel like we've spent our Foreign Service career trying to find the country with the smallest LDS presence in the entire world and we've pretty much gone as far as we can go. Anywhere we go can't have a unit smaller than this one - especially if we have more children.
When I was contemplating our impending move to Dushanbe while enjoying the crowd of fellow-worshipers in Falls Church, I was somewhat nervous. We had tried our hand at home-churching in Baku and it hadn't worked out very well. And there's something really, really nice about just having to show up and have lessons prepared, talks given, and children taken care of without any effort of mine past getting everyone dressed and in the car.
On our first Sunday in Dushanbe, four days after landing, we got up and cooked breakfast, bathed everyone, and I supervised dressing while Brandon got our church room ready. We had discussed various locations that would be conducive to children sitting and behaving themselves (the couch, the dining room table) and settled on our study with chairs set up in two rows. There's something about having chairs in rows that helps small children stay in their own space and sit facing forwards. Couches are anti-reverence devices.
We have another LDS family coming to post in January, but until they come, Brandon and I decided to have the ultra-super condensed version of church. We sing a song (a cappella because the piano is... somewhere between Dushanbe and Belgium), somebody prays. We sing another song and Brandon blesses the sacrament. Then he passes it (this takes about thirty seconds. Not much time for reflection so I'd better sin a lot less so that I can fit everything in). Then we pull out the Gospel Principles manual and our scriptures and read through a lesson in the manual. We're starting at the beginning and working our way through. After reading and discussing the lesson, we sing a song, someone prays, and church is done. It usually takes an hour (the lesson discussions over wander all over the place).
Then everyone changes out of their church clothes and we have the rest of our day to take naps, eat dinner, read stories, and hang out together. It's fantastic. I've gone from a four-hour commitment to a one-hour commitment and I actually have a decent chance of having a day where there's some actual rest involved. I've also found that the discussions we have are really good - Brandon and I have the opportunity to go through the basic principles of the Gospel in a very systematic method and add our own propagandistic spin pointed at specific children (see, this is why fighting is not good) to everything we teach.
I don't have to wrangle anyone into the car in order to wrangle them out of it and then wrangle them into a pew and keep them there without fighting for an hour and a half. I don't have to collect said children at the end of three hours and then wrangle them in reverse order so that I can undress all of the children before getting some sort of hasty dinner together. If a child is having difficulties with behaving themselves, I can take them out to any other room in the house and deal with them. If we get up and get ready in a reasonable fashion we can be done by ten in the morning. And best of all, Eleanor can sleep through the whole thing if she wants to.
Of course I miss the fellowship and support that comes with a normal ward. I miss the wonderful talks and lessons and three full hours of being spiritually fed. I also miss having more than thirty seconds to contemplate my baptismal covenants. But I don't miss all of the crazy logistics that go along with that.
And in the end it doesn't really matter what I do and don't miss about church back in America - we are here and this is what church is - our family alone in the wilds. It's just gravy that I get to enjoy it, too. I wonder what remote country we can hide in next?