Beyond the serious loss of jobs and income, as well as the shortages and limitations in procuring necessities, everyone has suffered, to varying degrees, significant loss and deprivation during quarantine. It is a stressful time to be a healthcare worker and we must also acknowledge the efforts of scientists and doctors in searching for a vaccine. Of course, the most affected are those who have become infected or have suffered with infected family members, but a plethora of smaller implications also warrant examination. As with much of life, the COVID-19 restrictions have burdened a significant number of women in additional, different, or disproportionate ways than they have men. During the COVID-19 freeze, women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have faced typical burdens and losses in practical terms, but more importantly, many women have faced barriers to religious observance. Although not limited to them, this has been particularly felt by single sisters. Women’s experience in religion is a significant issue. More than half of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are female, [1] more than half of adult females are single, [2] and approximately 80% of active single members (in certain age groups) are female. [3]

Practical Burdens

Although not universally true, women in the Latter-day Saint community are more likely than men to bear the responsibility for shopping and cooking. Shopping has become more difficult with masks and gloves, and essential shortages (as well as the pressure to stock up or hoard) can be quite taxing. Families like mine without someone who likes to cook—who had previously provided booming business to local restaurants—have been stuck with home cooking, typically prepared by women. Women seem to be the ones making masks for their family, for sale, and for various welfare projects. Our stake asked the Relief Society to make 500 masks in May; no similar assignment was issued to men. Additionally, homemakers are expected to double their efforts to entertain, discipline, and clean up after children who are usually in school. Because husbands are more likely to be providers in Latter-day Saint communities, [4] women of all different preferences, talents, and limitations have become pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school teachers, in addition to technical service providers for perhaps a half dozen computers and Wi-Fi routers.

The fact that men are more likely than women to work outside the home also suggests that women under lockdown have fewer social and adult interactions than before. Some men have returned to their workplaces; others work in home offices (sometimes safely sequestered from children and pets). While lack of in-person office greetings and banter is regrettable, at least conducting and participating in meetings on Zoom, sending and receiving important email and other communications, and cloud project collaboration are all interactive and in many ways interpersonal. For many women, adult communication and interactions outside of the home may have been based on taking kids to the park, going to the movies, and attending sporting events, as well as going to the gym or book club, doing casual shopping, visiting grandkids, and lunching with friends. Women who do not have the option of working outside the home during quarantine are cut off from many of the activities that previously broke up their day and expanded their horizons beyond menial tasks, bringing them into contact with other adults. Of course, some women, especially younger ones, are engaged in social media, but even this is frequently a source of discouragement and envy unless limited only to those who are real friends. Those who do not engage in social media or who are unfamiliar with the internet may not find much of a replacement for social interactions online.

Religious Restrictions

Religion-specific issues have arisen during quarantine. Elder Bednar lamented the lack of group worship in his speech, “And When He Came to Himself (Luke 15:17)”:

One key realization [during quarantine] is that for most faith communities, gathering for worship, ritual, and fellowship is essential; it is not merely an enjoyable social activity.
For example, gathering is an especially powerful element in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A central mission of the Church is to gather together the scattered family of Abraham—and indeed all who are willing—to the ordinances and covenants of the Savior’s gospel.
...This vision of gathering has been a driving motivation for the Latter-day Saints since the Church’s earliest days and inspired our members to assemble first in Ohio and then in Missouri and Illinois.
...And this vision continues to inspire Latter-day Saints to gather together in their local congregations to worship God and His Son Jesus Christ, partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and strengthen, serve, and fellowship each other.
...Being in each other’s presence is a unique and irreplaceable experience. [5]

This kind of loss is experienced by all members. Women, however, may have a different relationship with established worship communities from that of men. As discussed above, women are more likely than men to depend on social interaction provided by church meetings and other in-person activities. Some women are grateful for the opportunity to interact with children and youth through ward callings when they do not have family members in these age groups. Sometimes, church meetings on Sunday are the only occasions for homemakers to put on decent clothes and mascara, assuming other adults will see them.

Women who do not work outside the home may find enormous validation and purpose in their church responsibilities and labors, as well as significant sisterhood with other members of committees or presidencies. The positions held by many women in the Church are no longer functioning in a world where we do not have meetings and events. Some wards are apparently still functioning in fairly normal ways, other than by gathering together physically. The congregations to which my children, siblings, and many friends belong have not been in that category. One primary president was told not to arrange for more than a minimum of drive-by, drop-off, or outside (and sufficiently social-distanced) activities for children as their parents—in addition to their primary leaders and teachers—are already swamped with the various impacts of the lockdown. I receive a short but lovely message from our Relief Society president on email each week. Few committees are functioning, and the members of some committees that have been asked to function—without meeting in person—are resisting. One family history committee is stuck trying to figure out how to teach people to use Family Search when they cannot go to their homes. Over time, we may learn wonderful, new ways to teach and interact, but changes are slow.

Although there may have been exceptions, most members were not given any opportunity to attend any kind of meeting by Zoom until mid-September 2020. Even then, Zoom meetings either do not show or include the audience, whether in person or online, and it is difficult to have spontaneous interaction and live responses and comments without risking chaos. And of course, Zoom meetings never include a hug or a personal whisper of reassurance or friendship.

Another consequencce of the lack of meetings and activities for primary children, young women, and young men is the increased burden placed on parents. Of course, The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints has moved dramatically toward centering gospel teaching on the home. Nonetheless, with the rhetoric on the refocus, the local Church organization is always included as a support and resource, much like the role of public schools in teaching civics. Church teachers and leaders have always helped bear the burdens of raising and teaching children to accept a faith-based lifestyle, gain understanding of doctrine, and have spiritual experiences, such as those available at girls’ camp. All parents are affected, but none so much as single parents, who are more likely to be mothers. [6] They now have a significantly smaller active support system. Single mothers have relied on the ward to help teach their children skills that they may not personally have, as well as to provide examples of positive, religious, male role models.

Beyond the social and support services that come with typical church activities, other adjustments in core religiosity may affect women. In all religions, women are more likely to be religious in heart and to be actively engaged in participating in religious ceremonies and events, even in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [7] Women are more likely to worship by themselves. Women wishing to worship in most religions are free to go to a sanctuary by themselves, even to receive the sacrament or other ordinances from clergy available there. In some Christian religions, worship may require particular preachers or clergy to direct and create a worship space, as well as a particular place, such as a chapel or synagogue. The lockdown has changed that availability in all religions. The Restored Church of Jesus Christ has been required to limit, and mostly prohibit, the use of chapels and temples. As it relates to doctrine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is particularly approving of the idea that any person can worship God on their own in any location (i.e., closet) and at any time (i.e., while hunting). Individuals are encouraged to receive personal divine revelation.

Notwithstanding the concept of self-directed worship, in quarantine, female members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may experience particular hardships in their religious observance. Being deprived of gathering with the accepting, familiar faces of a ward may prove impoverishing for women. When small group sacrament meetings were made available in our ward on a rotation basis (those with last names from A to L one week and so forth), a faithful single sister in our ward stood to bear her testimony and said how much she appreciated the bishop for not kicking her out if she came when it was not her turn—in other words with the K to Z folks. She tearfully reported how much she needed to see others and feel “gathered.” This also applies to anyone who lives alone (most often women [8]), who can suffer from the lack of companionable interchange and feedback in their Come Follow Me and scripture study. In some areas study groups are provided online by local members known to the sister, but not always. Lots of study materials and posts are available online, but some single sisters do not know how to find them or use the technology to access them. More importantly, there is something fundamentally lacking in a religious study group where there is none of the unspoken “sharing” often experienced in religious gatherings with members of one’s ward family. Impersonal online study offers no meaningful interactions, no opportunity to personally share testimony, and absolutely no personal, on-point feedback to a participant’s personal questions, explorations, and insights.

In addition, the lack of joint worship with others may affect the accessibility of the spirit. Of course, we can access the Spirit whether we are many or are one. But as is often said in sacrament meetings, the presence of the spirit may be particularly strong when many are seeking it as one. Elder Bednar observed, “Latter-day Saints gather together in their local congregations to … strengthen, serve, and fellowship each other [among other things] … Being in each other’s presence is a unique and irreplaceable experience.” [9] “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [10]

The most obvious quarantine challenge for single women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to find a priesthood holder to administer the sacrament every week. [11] This was especially true in the early days of the shutdown when local leaders overtly discouraged going into others’ homes for this purpose. Even when risks are being downplayed, entering another person’s home and handling dishes and food is a risk many are uncomfortable assuming. Every single woman I know is very uncomfortable with the necessity of calling a male neighbor or an already swamped member of the bishopric to change his schedule, leave his family, and come to her house to administer the sacrament to her, simply because she is single.

There is another deeper challenge for some women who are married or who have a son who holds the priesthood. If the priesthood holder in the home lacks the discipline, desire, and motivation to make sacrament worship a central part of the day, women are directly impacted by that decision. Their priesthood holder, for all outside intents and purposes, may appear to be a model of religious duty. In some situations, what happens inside the home is different from public performance. A man who regularly attends Church meetings, fulfills the duties of a calling, and is temple-worthy may be less motivated at home where there is no particular time schedule or deadline and where no one he wants to impress is watching. Every teacher and leader knows that human nature leads most of us to procrastination or to avoid interruptions in the pleasant flow of our days. The lack of formal Church meetings may at some level imply a lack of accountability. With more time, we all are tempted by new distractions. Every woman who supervises home-schooling knows this to be true. A woman who highly values the sacrament may remind her priesthood holder that Sunday is the day for administration of the sacrament and other religious study. She may ask for at least a definite time to expect sacrament service. But after raising the issue two or three times, she may give up on pressuring him. Some Sundays slip by, notwithstanding the desire of a woman to partake of the sacrament. Previously, a woman who could attend meetings and the temple by herself is now tied to the religious behavior of a man. The ward leaders are not going to question her access to the sacrament and she is not going to involve them.

In more extreme circumstances, some men may use their role in the family in destructive ways, such as withholding the administration of the sacrament or using the schedule as a means to exert control or manipulate. We must consider that gendered power imbalances may still exist in some households, even within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [12] In such families, COVID-19 restrictions have made power disparities, unrighteous dominion, abuse, and other interpersonal ills increasingly visible. Characterizing women as powerless or victimized has its risks, but reality requires that we do not deny the experiences of women in these situations.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, women cannot simply choose to go to church at a prescheduled time where everyone is offered the sacrament and religious study. During lockdown, women are dependent on one particular man and his schedule for the opportunity of receiving the sacrament. Losing the option of participating in group religious worship and ordinances without making demands on the man in the house may raise complex issues.

In addition, a wife may know of behaviors that make her priesthood holder less worthy to exercise priesthood authority, and she may feel uncomfortable participating in an ordinance that he administers. In a group, institutional context where many priesthood holders are presiding, it may be easier to think the Lord is working through an imperfect vessel when you know that the particular priest who is blessing the sacrament may be unworthy. It may be the comfort of this organized setting with a wealth of worthy priesthood holders. It may be that the particular priest speaking the words of the prayer is not your responsibility to monitor and is of little personal connection or consequence. But knowing in an experiential, soul-deafening way that this single officiator is not worthy is different.

I am not advocating for a radical change to the male-only priesthood. It is reasonable to acknowledge difficulties and explore available solutions without attacking doctrine. I am simply observing and reporting on some of the perspectives of women’s experiences during this quarantine. I certainly am not encouraging the return to public gatherings while there continues to be a health risk. I am not suggesting a complete or monumental solution. However, some other options may be available.

For instance, it may help to arrange a set time when anyone with a mask can come to a neighbor’s yard or other open space and, while observing social-distancing, participate in the administration of the sacrament without having to call and request a special, individual home visit. It may help to encourage those who are healthy and who otherwise interact together to gather to hold mini-group sacrament meetings and scripture study, with masks and social distancing. This would provide a set time and more than one priesthood holder available. It would not hurt to have more stated emphasis on the added responsibility of priesthood holders during this time to assure that they are worthy, especially in their home life, to administer this sacred ordinance. Likewise, it would be good to encourage priesthood holders to make sure the sacrament is available at a convenient time every week for family members, neighbors, and single sisters.

We have no clue how long restrictions on religious gatherings will continue or how they will be framed in the near or far future. Hopefully, congregations and the full array of places of worship will be available soon and these issues will go away. Nonetheless, quarantine does raise some issues about how best to facilitate the religious experience of all members, including that of women.


[1] Merrill, Ray M.; Sloan, Arielle A.; and Merrill, J. Grant (2014) "Gender Distribution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Worldwide," BYU Studies Quarterly, 53 :1, 141, 144 https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol53/iss1/10 (“The total Church membership consisted of 90 males for every 100 females in 2011.”). “If this theory holds true, then of the church’s total membership of 16,313,735 (as reported by church statisticians in April 2019), approximately 52% or 8,585,917 of them are women.” Katie Lambert, Sister Stevens Recognizes Over Half the Women in the Church Are Single, Shares One Thing We Should Never Do If Our Family Doesn't Meet the Ideal, Mar. 28, 2017, https://www.ldsliving.com/Sister-Stevens-Shares-51-Percent-of-the-Women-in-the-Church-Are-Single-How-This-Affects-the-Ideal-Family/s/84962
--- [Back to manuscript].

[2] Lambert, supra note 1, (quoting Carole M. Stevens, Mormon Channel When Life Is Less Than Ideal, (citing 2016 Pew Research study) ("Women in Relief Society 18 years and older, just about 51 percent are single."). [Back to manuscript].

[3] Kathleen Lubeck, Singles and Marrieds – Together in the Faith, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1987/04/singles-and-marrieds-together-in-the-faith?lang=eng (“For every 100 active single women thirty years or older in the Church, there are only 19 active single men.”). [Back to manuscript].

[4] See, Pew Research center, Mormons in America – Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society, Jan. 12, 2012 (“Nearly six-in-ten Mormons (58%) say that the more satisfying kind of marriage is one where the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the house and children.”). This may be the stated “preference” of many of the polled participants even though the reality in their own family is that the mother must work, so 58% is not representative of families’ practices.
[Back to manuscript].

[5] Elder David A. Bednar, 2020 BYU Law School Religious Freedom Annual Review (June 17, 2020), https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/bednar-byu-religious-freedom-review-speech --- [Back to manuscript].

[6] David S. Baxter, Faith, Fortitude, Fulfillment: A Message to Single Parents, Ensign (Mar. 2012) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2012/04/faith-fortitude-fulfillment-a-message-to-single-parents?lang=eng, (reporting that a majority of the single parent in the church are mothers). Statistics in the church are likely to reflect national trends, but with a higher percentage of single parents not co-habitating. Pew Research found that of single parents who are not married or cohabitating. 88% are single moms [Back to manuscript].

[7] “For example, a 2009 American poll showed that women were more likely than men to pray daily, affiliate themselves with a religion, say that religion is very important in their lives, attend services at least weekly, have an absolute certainty that God exists, and believe in a personal God.” Merrill, Ray M.; Sloan, Arielle A.; and Merrill, J. Grant, "Gender Distribution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Worldwide," BYU STUDIES QUARTERLY, 53 :1, 141, 146 https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol53/iss1/10;. “According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 82% of all women say religion is very important or somewhat important in their life. When the study was completed in 2007, that number was 87%. For women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, those numbers are slightly higher. According to the same 2011 Pew study, 73% of women of the Church of Jesus Christ exhibit a high level of religious commitment. Comparatively, just 36% of women nationwide and 65% of males within the LDS faith exhibit this same level of commitment.” Pew 2014. A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S., Pew Research Center, Oct. 8, 2013 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/08/big-majority-of-mormons-oppose-women-in-priesthood-including-women/ (“A majority of Mormons are women (56%).”) [Back to manuscript].

[8] See, supra, n. 2. [Back to manuscript].

[9] Supra note 5. [Back to manuscript].

[10] Matthew 18:20. [Back to manuscript].

[11] See, n. 3 supra on percentages of female members. The Church does keep statistics on the number of households without priesthood members, but the data is not publicly available. [Back to manuscript].

[12] This is not the place for a full discussion of the extensive research on gendered disparities in the home generated by subtle differentials in access to a paycheck, control of the family finances, allocation of menial work, and traditional language constructs. Most families operate happily and in harmony notwithstanding these differentials, but they create the opportunity for abuse. [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Preston, Cheryl B. (2020) "Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Covid-19 Freeze," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 3 (Fall 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticlePrestonLDSCovidFreeze.html, accessed <give access date>.

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