Isaac Ernsten pulls on a pair of rubber gloves while one of the other young men in the quorum helps tie a hospital gown over his white shirt and tie. They all put on surgical masks and make sure they have both the sacrament trays before they walk into the hospital room. The man in the bed is one of many who has requested that the young men bring the sacrament to him.
Each Sunday, patients in the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center who can’t make it to church have church brought to them by the young men from the Salt Lake Emigration Stake. During the months of January and July, it’s the responsibility of the young men from the 21st North Ward.
“In church, some people take the sacrament just because it’s a part of the sacrament meeting,” says Isaac, a priest who helps bring the sacrament to hospital patients. “These people have to request that the sacrament be brought to them. I think it means a lot to them. Some of them are so happy to see us when we get there. I can tell that they really want the sacrament.”
Most of the young men will admit that sometimes it makes them a bit nervous to be around people who are seriously injured or dying, but they feel it is their duty, and they enjoy doing it. And even though the man in the hospital bed does not feel well, he is happy to see them come in.
The stained glass windows around the small chapel glow with the bright light from outside. The hospital branch uses a chapel that was built by the Catholic Church when the hospital was known as Holy Cross Hospital. More than half the congregation is made up of the young men from the 21st North Ward, and there are fewer than a dozen of them. Others in attendance include the branch presidency, Relief Society presidency, a few patients who feel well enough to leave their beds, and some hospital staff.
It takes one deacon only a few minutes to pass the sacrament to everyone. Then the young men put on the sacrament meeting program. They give the talks, offer the prayers, and fill in wherever else they are needed.
“In our home ward, preparing the sacrament can sometimes become routine,” says Abe Daris, a priest who has helped prepare, bless, or pass the sacrament at the hospital since he was a deacon. “Not that it should be routine, but here it is something more. It makes me realize how important the sacrament is. Even if there are only one or two members who show up, it’s still important enough for a whole quorum to help out a branch president and conduct a sacrament meeting. It’s important that members renew their covenants every week and feel the Spirit.”
After the meeting, the young men visit the individual rooms of people who have requested the sacrament. “That’s my favorite part,” Abe says. “It makes me realize how important the sacrament is to people. When we come with the sacrament, they just light up, and they’re so excited.”
All of the priesthood holders can remember specific people and experiences in the hospital that strengthened their testimonies. Abe remembers a woman who was very ill. “She had a lot of trouble breathing,” he said. “She couldn’t talk at all and could barely move. Even though we couldn’t communicate verbally, we could see in her eyes that she was happy to receive the sacrament. We smiled at her, and she smiled back. We could feel the Spirit and knew she appreciated it. It’s hard to explain. You had to be there.”
One of Abe’s brothers, Jeremiah, a teacher, remembers helping a woman who couldn’t move to take the sacrament. “I had to hold the sacrament water out and pour it into her mouth,” he says. “That was probably one of the more memorable experiences. I was helping someone who couldn’t do it for herself. She was really happy to get the sacrament. I’m sure she was glad I was there.”
Before they bless the sacrament and pass it to the patients, Simon Williams, one of the teachers, enjoys visiting. “There are all sorts of people there. Sometimes we visit new mothers, and sometimes we visit older people,” he says. “When you are in a hospital, I think you have a lot of time to think about life. People start thinking about what they’ve done in the past and start thinking more about Heavenly Father and the gospel. I think taking the sacrament for the people in the hospital can mean more for them than for many people because a lot of the people in the hospital are going to have some pretty big changes in their lives.”
Each week as the young men give service in the hospital, they receive something themselves. One thing they all agree on is that their assignment has given them a greater understanding of the importance of the sacrament. “A lot of times in my home ward I don’t really take the chance to think about what the sacrament means because I’m focused on passing it,” Simon says. “Sometimes we take the sacrament for granted. But it really stands for something amazing.”
The youth feel it is their duty to serve others. But no matter how much they give, they say they are the ones who are rewarded most. “We have such a good time doing it that it’s not really like it’s a sacrifice,” Abe says. “When you’ve been given so much, you have to serve and help other people. This has just been another way for us to give back, and not only to help other people, but to grow ourselves. Our duty to God is to serve Him by serving other people.”