Members in Catalina Island, California, Have a Unique Setting for Their Worship
Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer
- The Catalina group is home to five adult members, but with visiting tourists the attendance can be unpredictable.
- The group is experiencing many “firsts,” including the first baby blessing to be had soon.
“All of our five adult island members participate in our meetings every week in giving prayers, teaching lessons, and speaking in sacrament meeting.” —Sister Carol Thomas, senior missionary
CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA
Every Sunday morning for the last two years, Elder Robert Thomas and his wife, Sister Carol Thomas, have caught a boat from their home in Long Beach, California, to Catalina Island at 10:00 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., they set up the chairs and tables required for a sacrament meeting in an upstairs conference room in the U.S. Bank in Avalon. They bring their own bottled water since the building has no drinking fountains. They also bring a couple slices of bread—more than enough for the typical attendance of seven or eight people, including themselves.
The few members who live on Catalina Island are part of the Catalina group of the Long Beach 1st Ward, Long Beach California Stake. They come from a variety of walks of life. One sister is a high school P.E. teacher; another sister is a mother of three boys and runs a health spa; a young couple with a new baby run a scuba shop and drive nearly an hour and a half to come to church; a mother of three recently moved to the island from Hawaii, bringing the total adult attendance to five.
“All of our five adult island members participate in our meetings every week in giving prayers, teaching lessons, and speaking in sacrament meeting,” said Sister Thomas.
Assignments for prayers, talks, and lessons are made based on who is attending that day. “Everybody participates,” Elder Thomas said. While small, the Catalina group holds sacrament meeting, Sunday School, priesthood meeting, and Relief Society meeting in a two-hour block starting at 12:30 p.m. No matter the attendance, sacrament meeting is still held. “One Sunday,” Sister Thomas said, “we had one member and us.”
Elder Thomas prays for the same thing every Sunday morning: “That members visiting will be able to find the sign” giving the time and information for their meeting. Since the Catalina group isn’t listed officially on LDS.org, tourists have no way of knowing ahead of time that there even is a meeting on the island. Tourists and members find out about it when they reach the island and read the sign in Avalon.
“We get tourists every once in a while,” said Sister Thomas. With Catalina Island being a popular destination for vacationers and honeymooners, the attendance each Sunday can vary from 10 to 20. “One time we even had 32 at church.”
On the first Sunday of 2015, a cruise ship carrying a company from St. George, Utah’s, Tuacahn amphitheater stopped at Catalina Island. One of the members spotted the sign informing the group of the 12:30 meeting. She then brought 35 to 40 others off the boat, including a group of 10 Catholic nuns in powder blue robes. “They looked like angels coming down the hall,” Sister Thomas said of them. Combined with the members who live on the island as well as two honeymooning couples and two families visiting from Idaho and Colorado, the sacrament meeting attendance came to a record-breaking 75.
In a room that typically holds only about 25 people, visitors literally packed every free space. “Women sat, men stood around the walls, and children and teens sat on the floor. We even had visitors sitting on tables, and they filled down the entire hallway,” said Sister Thomas.
“Every time tourists come, we take a picture with them,” Sister Thomas said. But on the day when they had 75 in their congregation, it was so packed, I couldn’t reach my camera,” she said. “The only thing I’m sorry about is … we were so shocked, we didn’t take a picture.”
But as tourists leave, the members living on the island remain. Like any other Church unit, the Thomases have given the support a bishop and Relief Society president provide to the members in an area. While they can’t go to the island more than once a week, they give of their time, lend a supporting hand, and have a listening ear for each of the members. Additionally, members of the group have shown their desire to be united. “Every two to three months, two of our members serve dinner as a group activity,” said Sister Thomas.
Before their arrival, not all the members were attending Church regularly. Over the last two years, however, the members have seen miracles as they have become active in the Church. Michelle Bray, who runs a health spa on the island, said that after she decided to close the spa on Sundays to attend meetings, her business increased to overflowing on the other days of the week. She has since taken the temple preparation class, received her endowment, and goes to the temple on the mainland whenever she can.
This next year will see a few “firsts” for the Catalina group. Jessica and Joshua Scofield’s baby will be blessed soon. “It will be the island’s first baby blessing,” Elder Thomas said. Additionally, there will be a group conference on May 31.
“Our stake president truly had a vision that the island would become a ‘Miracle Island,’ and that is happening,” Sister Thomas said.
“It’s a special calling serving on the island,” Elder Thomas said. The Thomases, who are service missionaries, have extended their mission for a third year.