Latter-day Saint congregations in Utah should temporarily suspend in-person Sunday School, priesthood and Relief Society meetings on Sundays and hold them via technology only, according to a new letter on COVID-19 safety issued by the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City.
The area presidency also said youth gatherings should be limited to activities with a religious purpose, and attendance should be kept to immediate family members for all baptisms, funerals, weddings and receptions while others participate virtually.
Council and coordination meetings and other large leadership meetings should be held remotely, too, the presidency said.
The update to the church’s COVID-19 protocols, which already include mask-wearing and physical distancing, was a response to the executive order issued Sunday by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, which mandated mask-wearing and reduced the number of social gatherings allowed, after a sharp rise in the state’s COVID-19 cases.
The area presidency sent the letter via email to Utah church leaders on Thursday.
“What is not well understood by many is that the governor’s executive order, by its terms, does not apply to religious services,” the church leaders wrote. “Additionally, it stipulates that social gatherings, as defined, do not include gatherings ‘for a primarily educational or religious purpose’ and simply ‘encourages faith-based organizations to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.’”
The area presidency, led by Elder Craig C. Christensen, the area president, said the church’s pandemic policies already complied with the new executive order but said it wanted to issue the temporary changes “to be responsive to the current concerns in Utah.”
The church’s guidelines already require masks to be worn during church gatherings, including sacrament meetings, physical distancing, the use of hand sanitizer and other safety measures in preparing and administering the sacrament and cleaning buildings between meetings.
The full letter is below.
We express our heartfelt gratitude for your efforts to inform local leaders of specific principles and guidelines intended to keep our members safe during the current pandemic. We also appreciate how local leaders have prayerfully considered how these guidelines can be safely implemented. Given the current spike in the number of cases of COVID–19 in Utah, we ask that you share the following information with stake presidents in your Coordinating Councils.
As you may know, Governor Gary Herbert recently issued an Executive Order (2020–74), effective November 9, 2020, which, among other things, mandates the wearing of face masks while within six feet (whether indoors or outside) of any individual from a separate household and precludes social gatherings of individuals from separate households. The Utah Department of Health followed with a similar Public Health Order (2020–22). These Orders have state-wide application and will remain in force at least until November 23, 2020, unless modified or extended beyond that date.
What is not well understood by many is that the Governor’s Executive Order, by its terms, does not apply to religious services. Additionally, it stipulates that social gatherings, as defined, do not include gatherings “for a primarily educational or religious purpose” and simply “encourages faith-based organizations to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
In reviewing our approach to meetings and activities in Utah (see the First Presidency letter dated September 11, 2020 and the Updated Utah Area Supplement) and counseling with others, we understand that we are currently in compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order. We do, however, encourage leaders and members to be diligent in following existing safety guidelines and in using caution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
With a desire to be responsive to the current concerns in Utah, we ask that you make the following temporary modifications to our previous guidelines while the Governor’s Executive Order is in place:
As you know, we recently reduced the number of in-person participants in our Sunday worship services from 150 to 99 or less. In resident wards we have asked that second hour Sunday meetings be held virtually, however, we have permitted YSA wards in YSA stakes to gather in-person for elders quorum, Relief Society and Sunday School meetings. We now ask that these in-person second hour meetings in YSA wards be temporarily suspended and that all wards in Utah hold second hour meetings via technology.
We have allowed small youth gatherings to be held in-person on days other than Sunday with the stipulation that they be limited to individual quorums and classes. To comply with the spirit of the Governor’s Executive Order we ask that these gatherings be limited to activities that have a religious purpose. Sporting activities and other non-religious social activities are temporarily suspended.
We have noted some challenges in how personal safety standards are maintained in gatherings when feelings and emotions are tender. To be cautious, we now ask that in-person attendance at baptismal services, funerals, weddings and receptions be limited to immediate family members and those who officiate. All others should be invited to participate virtually. We ask local priesthood leaders to work with individuals and families to determine how best to address safety measures and to limit attendance at these important events.
We also ask that stake and ward council meetings, coordination meetings, and other large leadership meetings be conducted using technology.
Most importantly, we ask local leaders to be vigilant in maintaining well-known safety measures (e.g., following social distancing requirements, wearing of masks, using hand sanitizer and other safety measures in preparing and administering the sacrament, cleaning buildings between meetings, etc.) and in avoiding informal congregating before and after meetings and activities.
We are grateful for your support and your desire to protect others, especially those who have medical conditions or are of an age which puts them most at risk.
The Utah Area Presidency