Utah Area Presidency updates COVID-19 safety measures, returns to September 2020 guidelines

In compliance with recent state public health orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is returning to guidelines on meetings and activities in the area that were given in September 2020 and moving from the more restrictive adjustments made in November 2020.

In short, attendance limitations at Sunday worship services as well as funerals, baptisms and weddings are being lessened; activities for youth and children can again be held with group-size limitations; young single adult wards in YSA stakes can return to in-person second-hour meetings on Sundays; and presidencies, bishoprics and councils may again conduct in-person meetings.

In a Feb. 3 letter sent to Church leaders in the Utah Area, the area presidency — comprised of Elder Craig C. ChristensenElder Evan A Schmutz and Elder Walter F. González — acknowledged consulting with senior Church leaders in the decision.

The letter highlighted five key points in clarifying information provided to stake presidents in the Utah Area:

  • Stakes are to develop and implement a plan for returning to Church meetings and activities consistent with information provided last September by the area presidency. Leaders and members are to follow established safety protocols, including appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitation of surfaces, and limitations on the number of people attending Church meetings and activities.
  • Attendance at Sunday worship services should continue to be limited, with services broadcast for those participating at home. Second-hour classes are to be held virtually, unless safe exceptions can be made. Activities for children and youth are to be limited in size to maintain safety protocols. And all activities are to have a religious purpose.
  • Young single adult wards may hold in-person second-hour meetings if facilities are large enough to allow social distancing and steps are taken to avoid excessive mingling between meetings. YSA ward bishoprics may also be allowed to meet with small groups of members outside of regular Church meetings.
  • Plans for funeral services, baptisms and wedding receptions can be conducted with appropriate limits to the number of people invited, with safety protocols to be followed.
  • Technology, such as video-conferencing, is encouraged for stake and ward conferences and other leadership meetings, although presidency, bishopric and council meetings may be conducted in person with safety protocols.

In its Nov. 12, 2020, letter with tightened limitations, the Utah Area Presidency made four temporary adjustments to Church meetings and activities, due to rising COVID-19 cases in the state:

  • Temporarily suspending in-person second-hour meetings in the young single adult wards and stakes. However, second-hour meetings could be held virtually.
  • Limiting in-person youth gatherings to activities with a religious purpose.
  • Limiting in-person attendance at baptisms, funerals, weddings and receptions to immediate family and those who officiate. Others could participate virtually.
  • Holding stake and ward council meetings, coordination meetings and other large leadership meetings via technology.

Those November 2020 adjustments are being replaced with a return to the September 2020 guidelines, along with the aforementioned February 2021 areas of emphasis.

Last September, the Utah Area Presidency issued an updated area-specific supplement to the First Presidency’s Sept. 11 letter, “Safely Engaging in Church Meetings and Activities.”

Following the Church’s early pandemic move to suspend all in-person meetings and activities and a gradual returning to Sunday worship meetings with attendance restrictions and schedule rotations, the measures detailed in the updated Utah Area supplement then included:

  • Wards and branches could return to first-hour Sunday worship services at normal times, with in-person attendance limited to 150 persons and live-streaming broadcasts to be provided for those participating from home. The broadcasts were not to include the administration of the sacrament.
  • Wards and branches could conduct second-hour meetings over the internet, although Primary meetings were not to be held during the second hour.
  • Individual Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Young Women classes could begin holding activities in person or through technology, but large gatherings and combined activities were discouraged.
  • Young single adult wards within YSA stakes could begin holding in-person second-hour meetings on Sundays.
  • Funerals, baptisms and weddings were to be planned with caution and sensitivity regarding attendance limitations, with an emphasis on social distancing and other safety measures.

In its entirety, the Utah Area Presidency’s Feb. 3 letter to Church leaders in the area reads:

Dear Brethren:

We again express our sincere appreciation for the leadership of Area Seventies, stake presidents, bishops, and other local leaders during the current pandemic. As you know, infection rates in Utah remain high, slowing our ability to return to normal Church meetings and activities.

On January 22, 2021, the Utah Department of Heath issued an additional Public Health Order (2021-3) which is in effect through February 22, 2021. The Order “does not apply to a religious service.” However, religious organizations “are strongly encouraged to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of federal and state officials to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to the public; however, this phased approach will take time to reduce transmissions. Given that conditions vary throughout Utah, we ask stake presidents to maintain awareness of COVID-19 transmission rates in their local communities.

In consultation with senior Church leaders, we now replace our November 12, 2020 guidelines with direction previously outlined in the September 11, 2020 letter from the First Presidency and the (Updated) Utah Area Supplement. Additionally, we provide the following clarifying information to stake presidents:

  • In consultation with your Area Seventy and with leaders in your stake, we ask that you develop and implement a plan for returning to Church meetings and activities consistent with information provided herein, while exercising care to follow established safety protocols (e.g., appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitation of surfaces, limitations on the number of people attending Church meetings and activities).
  • Your plan should limit the number of people attending Sunday worship services and continue to broadcast services for those who participate from home. Second hour classes should be held virtually, unless specific exceptions can be made safely, and activities for children and youth should be limited in size to maintain safety protocols. All activities should have a religious purpose.
  • YSA stake presidents may hold in-person second hour meetings if Church facilities are large enough to allow for social distancing and steps are taken to avoid excessive mingling between meetings. YSA stake plans may also allow bishoprics to meet with small groups of members outside regular Church meetings.
  • Plans for funeral services, baptisms and wedding receptions should allow for these tender and sensitive gatherings to be conducted with appropriate limits as to the number of people invited and should follow safety protocols.
  • Technology is encouraged for stake and ward conferences and other leadership meetings; however, presidency, bishopric and council meetings may be conducted in person with safety protocols.

Thank you for your inspired leadership in these challenging times.

The Utah Area Presidency