In a move certain to evoke joy in members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide, the First Presidency on Tuesday authorized the resumption of “some Church meetings and activities.”
In a letter addressed to Latter-day Saints, plans were outlined permitting “some meetings and activities to be resumed on a limited basis using a careful, phased approach.”
Almost 10 weeks ago, on March 12, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced that all public Church gatherings were temporarily suspended worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, Church members have limited their Sabbath-day worship to their homes. Other public gatherings have been canceled.
Tuesday’s letter notes that Area Presidencies will work with their assigned members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presidency of the Seventy in deciding when and where meetings can begin in their respective area.
Using caution and adhering to local regulations, the Area Presidencies will then inform stake and ward leaders when to allow public Church gatherings of their respective units by utilizing a graduated “phase” system described in an enclosure included in Tuesday’s letter.
The process to safely resume Church meetings and activities may be adjusted by Area Presidencies, as conditions require. Meanwhile, each stake president will determine the specific timing for resuming ward and stake meetings and activities, acting within guidelines provided by their Area Presidency and in counsel with bishops.
“We are grateful for the faith of our members as they have worshipped at home,” the First Presidency stated in the letter, “and are grateful for the blessings that will come as we gather for worship and activities.”
Gladys Toscano of Edmonton, Canada, reacted to Tuesday’s news regarding the resumption of Church gatherings with an elated blend of gratitude and hope.
“This announcement makes me so happy,” said Toscano. “I fully trust my Heavenly Father and I know that He is guiding our prophet. I also know this storm will pass — and I’ll be waiting for instruction from our local leaders.”
Guidance for a safe return
The enclosure attached to the First Presidency letter included detailed instruction on members incrementally resuming Church meetings and activities.
The guidelines emphasize that the Brethren are authorizing a phased return of meetings and activities when in accordance with local civic regulations and under the leadership of Area Presidencies: “When such permission is granted for your location, please proceed in a cautious, carefully planned and coordinated manner based on local government regulations.”
The enclosure includes several other administrative principles and guidelines for local priesthood leaders:
- Use an abundance of caution in protecting the health and safety of members. Pay particular attention to members whose health or age puts them at high risk.
- Advise individuals who do not feel well, or who have been asked to self-quarantine, or who exhibit any of the following symptoms that they should not attend meetings: fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, runny nose or sore throat.
- Follow social distancing, handwashing and other virus-preventive practices.
- Follow government regulations in each location regarding public gatherings, including meeting size, frequency and duration.
- Return slowly to regular practices for in-person gatherings, giving priority to meetings where ordinances are performed, such as baptisms and sacrament meetings. Continue to utilize technology to function remotely, when appropriate.
An incremental, safe return to public worship and social activities
The enclosure also details the “phased approach” to be implemented by Area Presidencies, who will inform stake and ward leaders when to function using Phase 1 or Phase 2, and when to return to standard practices.
Phase 1 for Sabbath-day meetings will feature shortened meetings at the meetinghouse with up to 99 individuals, following local government regulations.
Meanwhile, all other meetings and activities — including funerals and weddings — will feature shortened meetings, again following local government regulations, or may be held remotely using technology.
Phase 2 for Sabbath-day meetings will feature meetings at the meetinghouse with 100 or more individuals, following local government regulations. All other meetings — including funerals and weddings — may be held following local government regulations.
Additional direction in the enclosure includes meeting guidance on:
Social distancing: Consider ways to maintain appropriate distance during meetings and classes and when entering and exiting the chapel and classrooms.
Individuals from the same household may sit together, but others should sit with appropriate distance. It is recommended that choirs be temporarily suspended.
When more members desire to attend: When more members desire to attend than guidelines allow, leaders may hold multiple meetings during the day or invite members to attend on alternate weeks.
Multiple units in a meetinghouse: When more than one ward or branch attends in one meetinghouse, stake presidents should temporarily adjust meeting times to avoid overlapping schedules.
Areas with large wards: Wards with large attendance at meetings may need to wait to begin holding meetings at the phase 2 level.
These wards may also need to alternate weeks of attendance to accommodate all members.
On Sundays when members are not participating at the meetinghouse, they can hold home worship services and, when authorized by the bishop, have the sacrament administered at home by a worthy priesthood holder.
Primary: During Phases 1 and 2, leaders may determine whether to have nursery and some younger Primary classes. They may also determine whether to hold both singing time and classes.
Sanitary procedures: Leaders should ensure that buildings are thoroughly cleaned after each set of meetings, especially areas that are touched, such as doorknobs, light switches, water fountains, microphones and pulpits.
Wards may post signs in restrooms as a reminder to wash hands. Where available, hand sanitizer should be provided in meetinghouse foyers.
According to local government regulations, members may be encouraged to wear face masks. Wards may consider discontinuing printed programs until conditions return to normal.
Blessing of children: The bishop may authorize blessings to be performed either at the family’s home or at the meetinghouse.
Baptism and confirmation: Baptism and confirmation requires approval of priesthood leaders with the appropriate keys.
Baptismal services may be held with as few as four people, or more where allowed. Others can view the baptism using remote technology.
Until sacrament meetings return to normal schedules, converts may be confirmed immediately after their baptism rather than in a sacrament meeting.
The Aaronic Priesthood may also be conferred upon males of the appropriate age immediately following their baptism and confirmation, under the direction of the bishop.
Administering the sacrament
The enclosure also provides direction regarding the preparation and passing of the sacrament to help keep members healthy and safe:
- Priesthood holders who do not feel well should remain at home.
- Where available, priesthood holders may wear face masks while preparing, blessing and passing the sacrament.
- Before preparing, blessing or passing the sacrament, priesthood holders should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If hand washing is not available, they should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. They should then avoid shaking hands or touching their eyes, nose, or mouth before preparing, blessing or passing the sacrament.
- All should cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue. They should then throw the tissue in the trash and wash or sanitize their hands. Surfaces on sacrament trays, including handles, should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
Administering the sacrament in homes: Some members may not be able to gather for a time and should be ministered to individually.
Where needed, bishops may continue to authorize worthy priesthood holders to prepare and administer the sacrament at home. If there are no worthy priesthood holders in the home, the bishop may authorize other worthy priesthood holders in the ward to prepare and administer the sacrament in the homes of members who request it.
Administering the sacrament in meetinghouses: Bishops may consider adjustments in passing the sacrament.
For example, they might ask members to sit in every other bench or have chairs spaced so that priesthood holders can offer the trays to all members, rather than having individuals pass trays down the row.
The enclosure also included a thorough explanation of “Administrative Principles in Challenging Times,” from an April 16 First Presidency letter. Included are directions for essential ordinances, blessings and other functions to guide leaders through the current crisis.
Gratitude for home-centered gospel learning
Like legions of Latter-day Saints, Julie Clark of South Jordan, Utah, is excited to again worship alongside her fellow ward members when circumstances allow.
“There is strength,” she said, “that we gain from each other.”
But Clark is equally grateful for the past few months of home-centered gospel learning where she and her family could focus “on the simplicity of the gospel” of Christ.
“It has been a real blessing in my life,” she said. “My hope is that I can personally take what I have learned from this experience at home and now combine it with the blessing of meeting with my ward family again.”
Marcelo Lopez of Nuevo León, Mexico, said he and his family were beginning to return to Church activity when the pandemic hit, temporarily halting ward gatherings.
“Being away from Church was difficult because it provided us direction,” he said. “Now we have learned to value all that the gospel offers us. We feel very blessed today.”
Tuesday’s announcement “is great news,” said Carolina Gonzalez Muñoz of Cali, Colombia.
But she’s equally pleased that local Church leaders will utilize common sense and direction from civic authorities in her community to keep members safe and healthy.
Mick Wetzel of Los Angeles, California, has missed the weekly association of gathering with his fellow ward members in recent months. But he’s also witnessed inspired mentoring as the bishop and other ward leaders found innovative ways to care for people.
“This has kept us connected as a ward and has helped us to know where and how to minister to each other,” he said. “I know that the Lord has prepared us for this moment with so many new things — including the new home-centered, church-supported curriculum.”
Wetzel added he and his wife, Stacy, and their returned missionary son, Minor, have grown closer worshipping together each Sunday. Both Mick and Minor have blessed the sacrament in their mission languages, French and Mandarin.
“It has been a sacred experience for the three of us.”