First Presidency announces first 4 temples moving to Phase 3, reopening for proxy work

Four temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will soon open for proxy work for the dead, nine months after all temples were closed in late March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the First Presidency announced Monday, Dec. 7.

The Apia Samoa Temple, Brisbane Australia Temple, Nuku’aolfa Tonga Temple and Taipei Taiwan Temple will be the first of the Church’s 168 dedicated temples to advance to Phase 3 of the Church’s four-phase reopening plan. They will reopen for proxy work as soon as Dec. 21.

In a Facebook post Monday morning, President Russell M. Nelson wrote that he was “thrilled” to share the news of reopening selected temples for proxy work. “As opportunities present themselves for temple attendance in coming months, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment with the Lord — to be in His holy house — then keep that appointment with exactness and joy,” he wrote.

“I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples.”

Three members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Dale G. Renlund — explained the principles, adjusted procedures and protocols surrounding the Phase 3 reopening in three videos that accompanied Monday’s announcement.

“A global pandemic has changed many aspects of our world, and as a result, for many months our ability to attend the temple and participate in the sacred work performed in the house of the Lord has been limited,” Elder Bednar said.

“Returning to the temples is something we have prayed for and looked forward to with great anticipation. We rejoice in the opportunity to again serve and worship in holy temples, even if our experience will be different, because of constraining circumstances and additional sacrifices we are asked to make.”

Phase 1 allows for limited living husband-and-wife sealings by appointment, while Phase 2 allows for those sealing as well as all other living ordinances, also by appointment. Phase 3 includes everything from the first two phases and the performance of temple ordinances for deceased individuals.

Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple.
Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Also announced Monday, Dec. 7, were other temples reopening in the first two phases, planned for Dec. 14.

The following will reopen for the first time, in Phase 1:

  • Panama City Panama Temple

And four temples will move to Phase 2:

  • Melbourne Australia Temple
  • Mérida Mexico Temple
  • Tampico Mexico Temple
  • Villahermosa Mexico Temple

Temple reopening status tracker — through Dec. 14

While all temple ordinances will be available under Phase 3, there will be fewer patrons participating in each ordinance and fewer ordinance workers in the temple, Elder Stevenson said.

“We have carefully adjusted temple procedures to enhance learning and to keep our temple patrons and workers safe,” he added.

Elder Renlund said Church leaders are carefully expanding temporal operations based on criteria that indicates it is safe to do so. “We will begin with a handful of temples located in areas where the incidence of COVID-19 is low and local public health guidelines can be met. This will be done in consultation with temple leadership and area presidencies.”

Elder Bednar: Principles, privileges of temple worship

In his six-minute video message, Elder Bednar focused on the principles and privileges of temple worship. He emphasized Latter-day Saints’ fundamental responsibility to assist in the gathering of Israel by inviting all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receiving the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy and qualify for eternal life.

“The essence of the Lord’s work is changing, turning and purifying hearts to gospel covenants, and priesthood ordinances,” he said. “As we become anxiously engaged in this sacred work, we are obeying the commandments to love and serve God and our neighbors. And such selfless service helps us truly to hear him and come unto the Savior.”

He quoted President Russell M. Nelson, who in October 2018 general conference offered both an invitation and promise regarding temple worship and service. 

“I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord to be in his holy house,” President Nelson said. “Then keep that appointment with exactness and joy. I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles he knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in his temples.”

Elder Bednar also cited the late President Thomas S. Monson, who acknowledged sacrifice as being a part of temple work since the Church’s building of its first temple in Kirtland in 1833.

“Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple, know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings,” taught President Monson in 2011. “There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to overcome, or too much discomfort to endure.

“They understand that the saving ordinances received in the temple that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship, and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high, are worth every sacrifice and every effort.”

In preparing to enter Phase 3 of temple reopening, the Church is committed to reopening each temple in careful, cautious ways to avoid the spread of the virus and to protect both patrons and temple workers, Elder Bednar said.

“Because of our desire to follow the Savior, we’re learning to do things in new and sometimes better ways,” he said.

The return to performing proxy ordinances for deceased individuals begins with smaller numbers of both patrons and temple workers, with ordinances done by appointment only. Also, a patron’s appointment will be limited to a single, specific ordinance because of restrictions on the number of people who can be accommodated safely in a temple’s various ordinance rooms.

Brisbane Australia Temple
Brisbane Australia Temple Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Elder Bednar invited every youth and adult Church member to obtain and hold a current temple recommend — even those who reside a great distance from the temple or who cannot attend frequently because of present limitations.

Elder Bednar acknowledged Latter-day Saints may not be able to attend the temple at first with the same frequency as before. “However, we will be blessed in remarkable ways, as we honor and cherish the covenant relationship we have with our Heavenly Father and his beloved Son Jesus Christ, and as we apply in our homes the principles we have learned and the patterns we have observed in the Lord’s holy house.”

“Our participation in temple worship is a sacred privilege, not an entitlement, or simply part of our established routine,” the Apostle said. “We do not come to the temple to hide from or escape the evils of the world. Rather we come to the temple to receive the power of godliness through priesthood ordinances that enable us to confront and conquer the world of evil.”

He added: “I promise that truth and righteousness always have prevailed and always will prevail in our individual lives, in our families, and in the Savior’s true and living and restored Church. I joyfully declare my witness of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ and rejoice with you in the reopening of his holy house.”

Elder Stevenson: Introducing Phase 3 adjustments

In his video presentation, Elder Stevenson introduced the Phase 3 adjustments, saying “your time in the temple in this new phase of temple reopening will feel both familiar and different as you participate in proxy ordinances.”

  • Scheduling appointments online: A new online option — to be used only for temples in Phase 3 — can be used to schedule appointments by those residing within that temple’s district. The reservation tool is found at each temple’s information page at temples.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, with online reservations to be made before members arrive at the temple. Also, scheduling priority will be given to those needing living ordinances. For those areas where the online tool is not available, appointments can still be made via email or a phone call to the temple.
  • Symptom screening: Patrons will be asked three times about possible COVID-19 symptoms — when scheduling the appointment, in an email sent 24 hours prior to appointment, and again upon arrival. “You will be greeted by a temple worker who will verify you have been free from any symptoms of COVID-19 during the past five days and have not been recently exposed to COVID-19,” Elder Stevenson said. “You’ll be asked to confirm your willingness to wear a face covering throughout your time in the temple, followed by a final health screening protocol, including a temperature check.”
  • Face masks: Those unwilling or unable to wear a mask while in the temple will be invited to reschedule the appointment and returned at a late time, as will those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Additional safety precautions: Regular cleaning and sanitizing will occur in the temple throughout each day, with hand-sanitizing stations found in many locations.
  • Baptistry: Groups cannot be larger than 16 persons. All participants except the individual being baptized are to wear a face covering. And patrons are encouraged to bring household members, if possible, to officiate in the ordinances.
  • Endowment: Seating in endowment sessions will be capped at 30% of room capacity. Seating will be socially distanced, although members of the same household will be seated together.
  • Sealings: As in Phases 1 and 2, the number of patrons will be limited, with witnesses physically distanced from the sealing officiator.
  • Temple clothing: When possible, patrons should bring their own white and ceremonial clothing to the temple.
  • Family name cards: Temples will no longer print name cards for family patrons. Name cards for proxy ordinances must be done by a member before he or she comes to the temple. Following the completion of the ordinance, the information will be recorded in FamilySearch by the temple.
  • Housing and cafeteria services. These will likely remain closed. Patrons can check with the temple in their district for more information.

Additional adjustments might include sensitivity regarding the number and frequency of temple ordinance appointments, Elder Stevenson said, with attendance perhaps limited to ensure opportunities for all who desire to participate.

“The temple is the house of the Lord, where holy ordinances are performed and sacred, meaningful worship takes place,” the Apostle said.

“As you faithfully adhere with happy, cheerful hearts to the adjustments I have described, you’ll be blessed. uplifted and strengthened,” Elder Stevenson added. “We ask for your continued faith and prayers, your kind regard for the needs of others and, in a special way, for your patience as we enter this new phase of temple opening.”

Elder Renlund: Being our brother’s keeper

Elder Renlund opened his video message with the statement “I speak to you not as a former physician; I speak to you as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ” and then underscored being “our brother’s keeper” during the pandemic and the need for increased safety.

“As individuals, as families and as a Church, we will be judged by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies,” said Elder Renlund, who along with his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund, had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus only days earlier.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, it wreaks havoc among those who are already disadvantaged. Sadly, responses to the pandemic have been politicized and contentious. Ours need not be.”

By performing proxy ordinances in the temples, Latter-day Saints do for others what they cannot do for themselves, said Elder Renlund. “Without these blessings, these deceased individuals are profoundly disadvantaged.”

The Apostle reminded of the Savior’s second great commandment — “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

“As it relates to this pandemic, especially in the temple, that means social distancing, wearing a mask and not gathering in large groups,” Elder Renlund said. “These steps demonstrate our love for others and provide us a measure of protection.

“Wearing a face covering is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters.”

Elder Renlund called the virus “serious,” with consequences not yet fully understood. “The Church has taken the pandemic seriously from the beginning — we closed all temples,” he said. “Now we are opening them cautiously in phases to minimize the risk to temple ordinance workers, patrons and communities.”

He cautioned Latter-day Saints against thinking the phases of temple reopenings and worship to be short-lived. Rather, he encouraged them to follow the Lord’s counsel given to early Church members who gathered outside of Kirtland in the spring of 1831. Although the situation was temporary, they were to act is if they would be there for years.

Taipei Taiwan Temple
Taipei Taiwan Temple Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I the LORD shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall return on to them for their good” (Doctrine and Covenants 51:16-17).

Said Elder Renlund: “If you act on these phases of temple worship ‘as for years,’ not delaying, but doing all you can to accomplish your temple worship now, it will turn to your good.”

Temples by totals and an abbreviated timeline

With the announced changes, the Church will have — as of Dec. 21 — the following breakdown of its 168 dedicated temples:

  • 4 operating in Phase 3
  • 118* operating in Phase 2
  • 26* operating in Phase 1
  • 11 “paused”
  • 1 still closed
  • 8 closed for major renovations

*Additional changes in temples operating in Phase 1 and 2 may be announced Monday, Dec. 14

Of the 11 temples which currently have “paused” operations because of local COVID-19 conditions and restrictions, eight had reached Phase 2 operations and the other three Phase 1. Three that had been paused previously— the Adelaide Australia, London England and Preston England temples — are returning to Phase 2 status.

With the Dec. 14 Phase 1 reopening of the Panama City Panama Temple, the Church’s sole temple still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the Kyiv Ukraine Temple.

An area-by-area listing of the current status of each of the Church’s 168 dedicated temples is available on the Church News’ temple reopening status tracker.

On Feb. 21 and 22, four temples in the Church’s Asia and Asia North areas closed because of the developing pandemic. By the end of that month, 24 temples had closed; by March 24, a month after the first closures, the number of pandemic-closed temples had reached 111.

A day later, the First Presidency announced the closure of all operating temples worldwide. “After careful and prayerful consideration, and with a desire to be responsible global citizens, we have decided to suspend all temple activity Churchwide at the end of the day on March 25, 2020,” wrote the Church leaders in a letter with the same date. “This is a temporary adjustment, and we look forward to the day when the temples will reopen.”

Temples remained closed for six weeks, until the First Presidency announced “a carefully coordinated, cautious and phased reopening of temples” on May 7. “We ask for your continued faith and prayers that this pandemic and its lingering effects may pass,” the First Presidency wrote. “We look forward to the day that we can resume full operation of our temples, congregations, and missionary service.”

On May 11, a group of 17 temples became the first to open in Phase 1, offering limited living husband-and-wife sealings by appointment.

In a July 20 letter, the First Presidency announced both changes to the temple endowment ceremony and the start of reopened temples to move to Phase 2.

“With a concern for all and a desire to enhance the temple learning experience, recent changes have been authorized to the temple endowment ceremony,” the First Presidency wrote. “Given the sacredness of the temple ceremonies, we ask our members and friends not to engage in speculation or public discussions about these changes. Rather, we invite Church members to continue to look forward to the day when they may return and fully participate in sacred temple work prayerfully and gratefully.”

On July 27, the first 12 temples being upgraded to Phase 2 began performing once again all living temple ordinances, by appointment.

And on Dec. 21, four temples will be the Church’s first to operate in Phase 3, with proxy ordinances joining living ordinances as being performed on a limited basis.