When the COVID-19 lockdown happened in March 2020 it took everyone by surprise. Suddenly we could not attend our Sunday sacrament services, Sunday School meetings, weekly activities, and firesides. All Church-based activities we were used to doing had stopped.
Wards, branches and stakes across the UK started to implement new ways for members to stay in touch with one another. This included internet-enabled messages sent by local leaders and online Sunday School groups. Local leaders also saw an opportunity to organise digital firesides, but would it be possible to successfully organise them?
In the Sunderland Stake they were quick to organise monthly Stake Presidency broadcasts but wanted to do more. Stake Leaders saw an opportunity. They found they could connect with popular Church speakers in the United States, who would otherwise be occupied with their own busy schedules. They set dates with them for hosting virtual firesides for UK Church members to watch live via Facebook and YouTube.
The virtual firesides were well received and enjoyed by those who attended. 1st Counsellor in the Stake Presidency, John Deacon said, “We had a desire to have our members and their friends look forward to an inspiring evening on a weekly basis. We are delighted to host the guest speakers and they have provided wonderful insight, doctrine and inspiration to more people than we imagined. We have been conscious that our members have felt Church-supported during this time and those without families still felt connected.”
Choosing the right digital tool and accessibility to the fireside were also keys to success, as Assistant Stake Communication Director, Kenneth Jørgensen explains, “It was an intense challenge to find the right tool. I tested six different solutions and scored them on how easy it was for the producer, the presenter, the participants and audience, as well as quality of the online output.”
The Sunday evening firesides at 7pm, included popular Latter-day Saint speakers Sheri Dew, Patrick Q Mason, Tad R Callister, John Bytheway, Wendy Ulrich, Jennifer Roach, Brent L Top, Robert Millet, Brad Wilcox, Terryl & Fiona Givens and Tom Christofferson.
The positive response and comments from those who attended was overwhelming; it was humbling to read many messages from members of the Stake expressing how each fireside has helped them to answer questions they have had for years.
Kenneth continued, “While the firesides were intended for the Saints in the Sunderland Stake, clearly social media has helped spread the message of these firesides to thousands of members across the world as members have shared them with their friends and the message has spread like rings in the water. What was particularly interesting was to read many people commenting that their church experience has gone up since lockdown, not down.”
In addition to the firesides the Stake also held a virtual temple week. Instead of attending the temple the Saints took part in home-based daily activities and messages about the temple and family history. They also participated in Temple Firesides: one by Preston Temple President and Sister Rigby, and another by Richard E Bennett, professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU.
Most of the firesides are still available for members to watch on Facebook and YouTube.