In response to growing global concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced major changes Wednesday to the April 2020 general conference, other large Latter-day Saint gatherings and missionary work and training.
In three letters addressed to all Church members, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced:
- The public will not be admitted to the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City for the Church’s April 2020 general conference.
- Missionaries scheduled to enter missionary training centers in Provo, Utah, or Preston, England, will be trained remotely by video conference. Other missionary training centers will continue to function as usual, but they will not receive any missionaries from regions where government officials are restricting activity.
- Stake and leadership conferences and other large gatherings will be postponed in Church Areas where illness caused by COVID-19 is a challenge — including Asia, Europe and North America.
“We are deeply concerned about the global spreading of illness caused by COVID-19,” the senior Church leaders wrote. “We have counseled with worldwide governmental, ecclesiastical, and medical leaders and have prayerfully considered the current circumstances. We want to be good global citizens and do what we can to control this contagious illness. We are most grateful for the many who are working tirelessly to address this health hazard. We pray for them and for all who may be suffering.”
April 2020 general conference
To help control this problem, Church leaders “feel it wise to limit attendance at the upcoming April 2020 General Conference.”
The Church will conduct all five sessions of the conference at the Conference Center. General authorities, general officers and their spouses, musicians, choirs, technicians, and others will participate as assigned. “But, proceedings of the conference will be distributed throughout the world via technology only.”
“We live in a remarkable age,” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated. “The Lord has blessed us with the technology and capacity to participate in and receive messages from Church leaders in all parts of the world. This special conference will commemorate the bicentennial of the First Vision and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days.”
Church leaders wrote in the letter that they believe the “temporary virtual training program will help to prepare missionaries for the field while minimizing risks related to communicable disease.
“Each missionary will receive specific information regarding the length of training, schedules, and other logistics as his or her starting date approaches. Once missionaries complete their online training, they will travel directly to their mission assignments.”
Latter-day Saints react as more details unfold about changes to missionary training, general conference
Church leaders will continue to follow developments closely and make any needed further adjustments.
“We love our missionaries and their families and are grateful for their willingness to serve the Lord. We hope they will take advantage of this unique training experience to prepare for a wonderful period of Christlike service.”
Stake conferences and other gatherings
Church leaders also provided guidance related to large gatherings of Church members.
“After considering the counsel of governmental, ecclesiastical, and medical leaders around the world and our own prayerful reflection, we will postpone stake and leadership conferences and other large gatherings in Church Areas where illness caused by COVID-19 is a challenge, including Asia, Asia North, Europe, Europe East, and all areas in the United States and Canada.”
The temporary adjustments will take effect March 16. “Large gatherings in other areas of the world may continue as usual unless directed otherwise by Area Presidencies, who counsel with their leaders,” wrote the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“In relation to weekly worship services, activities and other meetings, members should follow the guidance of their local leaders, who will receive direction in the usual manner.”
A historical perspective
The work of the Church has been impacted by epidemics several times in history. For example, the April 1919 general conference was postponed due to a nationwide influenza epidemic; the conference was held the first weekend in June, according to the Church Almanac. The October 1957 general conference was also canceled due to a flu epidemic.
In recent years, missionary work in Hong Kong was affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003. And following an outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, missionaries were moved out of the West African nation in August 2014. Young missionaries returned in September 2015. Elder David A. Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, traveled to Liberia in November that year. Missionary work was also disrupted in Madagascar following an outbreak of the plague in October 2017.
In June 2009, the spread of swine flu prompted Church leaders to change MTC drop-off protocols. In addition, a suspected stomach flu/norovirus impacted 250 Latter-day Saint missionaries in the Provo Missionary Training Center in January 2013.
Read the complete letters from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Newsroom: