SALT LAKE CITY — The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus changed Latter-day Saints worship services in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and at least two areas of the United States, bringing to 21 the number of countries where the faith’s meetings have been affected.
Eight congregations in San Francisco and San Mateo County held virtual sacrament meetings streamed live on the Internet, San Francisco Stake President Robert Turley said. Meanwhile, leaders canceled or postponed stake conferences in the Seattle area, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had announced on Thursday.
The Golden Gate Ward in San Francisco live-streamed its meeting to the homes of members, said Austin Hollan, who watched from home and administered the sacrament to his wife and their 18-month-old son. The speakers, pianist, chorister, those giving the opening and closing prayers and a few others gathered in the meetinghouse on Pacific Avenue.
“The city of San Francisco has declared a state of emergency because of the virus and asked all organizations and communities not to gather for any larger meetings unless they are absolutely necessary,” Hollan said.
Turley said his reading of the request by the city of San Francisco is to halt all meetings of 50 or more people. He attended the Sunset Ward’s ward conference on Sunday with 40 people; others watched from home. He also watched the Golden Gate Ward broadcast at home with his family.
“It was terrific,” he said, but added that he hoped congregations would hold extra meetings to make up for the lost time together.
“I’ve encouraged our leaders, if they can, to hold more small meetings of fewer than 50 in homes to make sure members get the same sort of spiritual and social nourishment,” Turley said.
The church announced Sunday that meetings had been limited or temporarily suspended for the first time in Germany and the United Kingdom.
Congregations in the Bern Switzerland Stake cancelled sacrament meetings for the second week in a row, according to Ashley Lehmann, whose brother-in-law is a member of the stake.
Verona Stake President Andrea Cordani said virtual sacrament meetings took place for a second straight week in northern Italy, a hot spot for the virus, as the Deseret News first reported last week.
Church leaders are trying to help government officials minimize the spread of COVID-19. They issued directions last week to members around the world to encourage them to follow the health guidelines of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In some of the 21 countries where Latter-day Saint meetings are affected, all church meetings have been suspended. In others, the only meeting held is sacrament meeting, the most important worship meeting for Latter-day Saints each week.
In still other countries, both hours of church took place as normal on Sunday, but all other meetings and activities during the week are canceled. In Taiwan, stake conferences continue to be canceled.
A congregation in Bangkok, Thailand, held sacrament meeting on Sunday, skipping the second hour of meetings for a third straight week, said Becky Radford Workman of her congregation.
“My boys bless, prepare and pass the sacrament and they have been getting to church early the past few weeks to clean the sacrament trays extra well,” she said. “And they keep hand sanitizer up on the stand.”
The meetinghouse is closed for any other activities.
“The kids are still having seminary because they meet at someone’s house, not the church,” Workman said. “Our poor missionaries cannot leave their apartments except for sacrament meeting or to grab groceries. They have been quite creative, though, in trying to teach the discussions online and also teach Thai conversation lessons via Facebook Live.”
The church has removed all nonnative missionaries from Hong Kong, Mongolia and South Korea. It has limited the work and public contact of missionaries in 10 other countries — Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.
Meanwhile, officials at the Bern Switzerland Temple have instructed Italian church members not to attend the temple until at least March 15, said Cordani, the Verona Stake president. Italians in northern Italy live closer to the Bern Temple than the Rome Temple.
The church previously closed the Rome Temple as well as its temples in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The full list of nations or regions where the church meetings have been affected includes Cambodia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.