Adjust. Adapt. And move forward.
As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to reopen its temples worldwide following last year’s closures due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Church leaders are adjusting and adapting operations as part of the careful and cautious four-phase plan.
Less than three months ago, the First Presidency announced that the Church’s first temples would begin Phase 3 — offering proxy temple ordinances along with the living ordinances being performed.
The move to Phase 3 was the latest in the Church’s effort to reopen its 168 dedicated temples worldwide, after all were closed in March 2020.
Consider all that has happened in that short time since:
Apostles have instructed Latter-day Saints in a three-fold manner — emphasizing the purpose and blessings of temple worship and temple work, introducing new adjustments in temple operations and attendance to accommodate more patrons and more ordinances, and underscoring best health practices as members return to the Lord’s house.
And then in a span of nine weeks, eight temples in the South Pacific and along the Pacific Rim have added proxy work to the living ordinances, to be joined in coming days by an additional six temples as the Phase 3 reopenings expand into North and Central America.
And all this is being done with an eye to the near future, says Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and Executive Director of the Church’s Temple Department.
“We are very excited for the positive feedback we have received in all areas where temples have transitioned to Phase 3 limited temple operations,” Elder Duncan told the Church News. “We recognize that members of the Church throughout the world desire to return to the temple to worship, and we are working closely with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to make that a reality where and when it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
Progressions to Phase 3
After closing all operating temples worldwide on March 25, 2020, because of the global pandemic, the First Presidency six weeks later unveiled “a carefully coordinated, cautious and phased reopening of temples.” That May 7 announcement detailed the plan’s four phases and identified the first temples that would reopen in the first phase just four days later.
Phase 1 allows for limited living husband-and-wife sealings by appointment, while Phase 2 allows for those sealings as well as all other living ordinances, also by appointment. Phase 3 includes everything from the first two phases plus the performance of proxy temple ordinances, by appointment.
On July 20, the First Presidency announced the start of Phase 2 reopenings — the offering of all living ordinances, scheduled by appointment. The first temples advanced to Phase 2 a week later.
And on Dec. 7 — seven month to the date of the announced reopening of temples — the First Presidency signaled the upcoming start of Phase 3 operations, with temples at that level authorized to offer proxy ordinances along with the existing living ordinances. A series of instructional videos presented by three members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Dale G. Renlund — accompanied the announcement.
The Taipei Taiwan Temple — one of the Church’s first temples to close due to COVID-19 concerns a year ago — became the first temple to begin offering proxy ordinances, on Dec. 21, 2020. It was one of four temples identified on Dec. 7 as the first scheduled to move to Phase 3. The other three soon followed — the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple a week later on Dec. 28 and the Apia Samoa and Brisbane Australia temples on Jan. 4, 2021.
“We began Phase 3 limited temple operations cautiously and carefully — similar to Phases 1 and 2 — with a handful of temples in areas of the world where COVID-19 cases were low or no longer present,” said Elder Duncan. “This measured approach allowed us to adjust and adapt based on what we learned before moving forward with opening more temples.”
Four more temples in the Church’s Pacific Area followed into Phase 3 in early February — the Melbourne Australia Temple on Feb. 1 and the Adelaide Australia, Perth Australia and Suva Fiji temples on Feb. 8.
The next six to move to Phase 3 as early as Monday, Feb. 22, will be the Guatemala City Guatemala, Halifax Nova Scotia, Mérida Mexico, Oaxaca Mexico, Sydney Australia and Tuxtla Gutiérrez Mexico temples. By then, temples operating in Phase 3 will have reached five Church areas — Asia, Central America, Mexico, North America Northeast and Pacific — and eight nations.
The full breakdown of the current status of the Church’s 168 dedicated temples worldwide includes:
- 14 temples in Phase 3
- 119 temples in Phase 2
- 13 temples in Phase 1
- 13 temples paused
- 1 temple still closed
- 8 temples under renovation
Of the 13 temples having paused operations because of local COVID-19 conditions and precautions, 10 were previously operating in Phase 2 and three in Phase 1.
Adjustments include online scheduling
As part of the Dec. 7 announcement of the start of Phase 3 reopenings, Elder Bednar reiterated the Church’s commitment to reopening each temple in careful, cautious ways to avoid the spread of the coronavirus and to protect patrons and temple workers.
“Returning to the temples is something we have prayed for and looked forward to with great anticipation,” Elder Bednar said. “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.”
In a recent interview with the Church News, Elder Bednar said moving forward — when conditions are safe — sometimes necessitates adjustments in how things are done. “One of the great blessings of the pandemic,” he said, “is that we are finding even better ways in the Church to accomplish the Lord’s work.”
In the Dec. 7 series of videos, Elder Stevenson introduced a series of adjustments to temple operations — such as scheduling appointments online, symptom screening, wearing face masks, additional safety precautions and capacity limits. “Your time in the temple in this new phase of temple reopening will feel both familiar and different as you participate in proxy ordinances,” he said.
And calling the virus “serious” with consequences not yet fully understood, Elder Renlund underscored the health aspects of the Church’s temple closures and reopenings. “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.”
The return to performing proxy ordinances for deceased individuals began with smaller numbers of both patrons and temple workers, with ordinances done by appointment only. Also, a patron’s appointment has been 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.
Elder Duncan pointed to the online proxy-ordinance scheduling system as one of the most significant operational adjustments introduced with the move to Phase 3.
The online option is used to schedule appointments for proxy ordinances 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. Instructions and a step-by-step video presentation on the web page help patrons understand the scheduling process.
Also, scheduling priority is given to those needing living ordinances. For those without access to the online tool, appointments can still be made via email or a phone call to the temple.
To help its readers in online scheduling, the Church News has amended its weekly online temple tracker, which lists all 168 temples and each’s current operational status. Users can simply click on a temple’s name to access that temple’s information page, where appointments can be scheduled.
“This new scheduling system allows us to adjust the temple ordinance schedule based on available volunteers and government regulations, limit the capacity of an ordinance area based on safety protocols and government regulations, and provide the opportunity to schedule proxy ordinances for those who reside in the temple district,” Elder Duncan said.
The implementation of the online proxy scheduling system has been well received by temple patrons and by those who operate temples locally, he added.
“Since reopening temples, some feedback received is that patrons are experiencing increased reverence and spiritually uplifting experiences. Some patrons have found it helpful to seek assistance from family or friends as they schedule appointments, either online or by calling the temple directly.”
Elder Duncan noted that the announcement of temples entering Phase 3 is being done at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled date, rather than the typical one-week advance announcements for temples moving to Phases 1 and 2. The extended lead time is to “allow local temple leadership the necessary time to prepare their ordinance schedules and to train workers and volunteers,” he added.
“Given the experience we have gained with the first groupings of temples in Phase 3, we feel optimistic in continuing forward with more and more temples on a consistent basis — as local conditions and government regulations allow.”