Elder Bednar on temples and the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘An opportunity to learn remarkable lessons’

As restrictions for worshipping in temples due to the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sees blessings and growth despite all the temple closures, gradual reopenings and dedication postponements.

“We are in a season when we have experienced something that has never occurred before in this dispensation — all the temples had to be closed,” he said.  “But it was also an opportunity to learn remarkable lessons.”

The first of the Church’s 168 operating temples began closing due to COVID-19-related precautions in late February 2020. Within a week, 24 had closed; within a month, the number had risen to 111. Then, the First Presidency announced on March 25 that all temples would close due to the pandemic.

Elder Bednar, who chairs the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council, remarked on the current status of temples.

Temples worldwide are in various stages of operations as part of the careful and cautious four-phased reopening plan that was announced in May 2020. Today, some temples are open for both proxy and living ordinance work — most performing only living ordinances — while some are paused or are yet to reopen.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society building on Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society building on Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Mindful that normal temple worship and work has been interrupted for most, Elder Bednar acknowledges that Latter-day Saints have tried to remember their temple covenants and prepare for future temple worship by increasing family history work and preparing names for temple ordinances

Elder Bednar recently delivered a message about the early Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, who flocked to the still-under-construction temple there to receive temple endowments and ordinances before the forced exodus in February 1846. Early Latter-day Saints had to wait decades before being able to return again to the temple.

“Many of those people only went to the temple one time. I am not sure we remember that,” he said. “They trekked to the west, and the first temple in Utah was not dedicated until 1877. As for the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21, our year period of absence is a fraction of theirs,”

The Saints Crossing the Mississippi, by Grant Romney Clawson.
The Saints Crossing the Mississippi, by Grant Romney Clawson. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Perhaps for a little longer we cannot be physically in the temple, but is the temple in us? Are the covenants and ordinances in us?” Elder Bednar asked.  “I think we have been compelled to reflect on, remember, and cherish temple covenants and ordinances  in ways we may not have otherwise appreciated.” 

And now, in a very cautious and safe way, the Church is reopening the temples, “and great progress is being made,” he added.

As of Monday, Feb. 8, the Church will have:

  • 8 temples operating in Phase 3, which allows for the performance of living and proxy temple ordinances
  • 113 temples in Phase 2, which allows for living ordinances
  • 15 temples in Phase 1, which allows only for the sealings of a living husband and wife
  • 23 temples having paused operations because of local COVID-19 precautions
  • 1 temple still yet to reopen
  • And 8 temples under renovations

The last temple was dedicated was the Durban South Africa Temple, on Feb. 16, 2020. Since then, open houses and dedications have been postponed indefinitely for the completed Rio de Janeiro Brazil and Winnipeg Manitoba temples, as well as an open house and rededication for the Washington DC Temple. All of those events had originally been scheduled to happen in 2020.

“When it is safe, we will be able to move forward,” Elder Bednar said. “It may also necessitate some adjustments to how we do things. One of the great blessings of the pandemic is that we are finding even better ways in the Church to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

While dedications and rededications have been paused for the time being, temple construction has continued with little to no impediment. During 2020, the Church broke ground for 21 temples worldwide — four in Utah, five elsewhere in the United States, four in Asia, four in South America, two in Central America and one each in Africa and the South Pacific.

With shovels in hand, Bengaluru India Stake President NithyaKumar Sunderraj, and his wife, Christina Sunderraj, coordinated details for the Bengaluru temple groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.
With shovels in hand, Bengaluru India Stake President NithyaKumar Sunderraj, and his wife, Christina Sunderraj, coordinated details for the Bengaluru temple groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Also, President Russell M. Nelson announced 14 new temple locations in 2020 — eight during the April general conference and six in the October conference. During his three-year tenure, he has announced 49 locations for new temples across the globe.

Combining those announcements and groundbreakings with the fact that 35 temples are in various stages of construction worldwide provides what some would see as an ultimate sign of hope in this time of pandemic.

“We’re gradually reopening the temples,” Elder Bednar said, “but temple construction has not stopped. …

“Obviously there were some construction disruptions because of the pandemic, but relatively few of the temples are behind schedule. I find that to be miraculous. All over the world the construction of temples has moved forward in a remarkable way.

“So, yes, there have been some real challenges,” concluded Elder Bednar, “but ‘no unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing.’ ”