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Church releases guidelines for weddings, funerals, ordinances during COVID-19 pandemic

Letters issued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also concern baby blessings, temple recommends and the administration of the sacrament.

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The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is seen in the morning light before the start of the 190th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 4, 2020. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the conference is being broadcast without church members in attendance.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The First Presidency on Friday released new pandemic-era guidelines for church leaders and members on weddings, funerals, baby blessings, temple recommends and how to administer and receive the ordinance of the sacrament for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The First Presidency issued a letter with two detailed documents outlining directions for essential ordinances, blessings and other church functions during challenging or exceptional times. The church posted an additional document with questions and answers specific to the COVID-19 pandemic on its Church Newsroom website.

“Directions are enclosed for essential ordinances, blessings and other church functions to guide leaders through the current crisis and the challenging days that are ahead,” the First Presidency wrote.

“These documents are issued in response to the disruptions in church procedures and member activities caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. They should provide guidance as long as this pandemic exists in a particular country or region. Other directions may be issued later.”

The church has suspended its most sacred and important worship services and much of the rest of its normal activities as part of its effort be good and responsible global citizens, according to one of the documents released Friday.

Church leaders suspended all gatherings for worship services more than five weeks ago, since March 12. On March 25, they closed all of the 168 temples worldwide.

Meanwhile, the church has altered its global missionary program significantly, moving about half of the 67,000 missionaries who were serving at the start of the outbreak to their home countries, releasing hundreds of them early and keeping most of the remaining missionaries in their apartments except for shopping and exercise.

The church also recently postponed For the Strength of Youth camps while Brigham Young University canceled the gathering for Women’s Conference at the end of this month as well as its summer sports camps.

One document released Friday outlined the church’s guiding administrative principles during challenging times, and is intended to help area and local church leaders navigate not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also future challenges that may arise.

The leaders reiterated the longstanding principle that the church and its members will follow all laws. Another guiding principle is that “priesthood ordinances cannot be performed remotely using technology. When circumstances require, others may observe the ordinance remotely using technology if authorized by the presiding authority.”

The guidance will be in place as long as the pandemic and associated official limitations on church meetings and public gatherings exist in an area, the documents said.

“In these challenging times, presiding authorities must exercise wisdom as to which ordinances should be temporarily deferred,” the information stated. “When communicable disease is a concern, those who perform ordinances should take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others.”

Sunday worship services and church activities remain suspended worldwide, the documents said, but they outline, for example, that priesthood holders may administer the sacrament, generally reserved for Sunday worship services, in the homes of church members if government and local regulations allow small gatherings. In areas where even small gatherings are not allowed, priesthood holders should not enter homes to provide the sacrament unless they are related to the members there.

“During this time, members can be blessed by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood,” one document said.

In areas where the church can function in small groups, members should practice caution.

“For example, when communicable disease is a concern, those who perform ordinances should thoroughly wash their hands and may also use gloves and face masks,” one document said.

Patriarchal blessings are suspended, but if local pandemic regulations allow, they should be provided to new missionaries.

Baby blessings may be held at home and temple recommend interviews can be completed by face-to-face technology, the documents said.

The documents also outline that families can participate remotely via technology in weddings, funerals and baptisms where those ordinances are permitted but where local regulations require small gatherings and social distancing.

Weddings should not be held in church meetinghouses unless government regulations permit, the church leaders said. “Bishops and stake presidents may officiate in weddings in an appropriate setting where social distancing can be maintained,” one document said.

The same is true for funerals.

Baptisms may proceed, where health and government regulations permit, with as few as four people — the baptismal candidate, the priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder performing the baptism and two witnesses.

The information released on Friday also noted that congregations may move forward with setting apart members to new callings without a sustaining by the ward or stake, if approved by the appropriate priesthood holder and if local regulations allow three people to gather for the laying on of hands. Again, the ordinance could be observed remotely by family and friends.

“This allows the work of the Lord to move forward, and the action is later ratified when meetings are resumed,” the documents said.

Local church leaders with additional questions are asked to consult with their area presidency.

Here is Friday’s full First Presidency letter:

April 16, 2020

To: General Authorities; General Officers; Area Seventies; Stake, Mission, District, and

Temple Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents

Dear Brethren and Sisters:

Administrative Principles in Challenging Times

We are grateful for the efforts many of you are making to carefully follow the directions from national, state and local leaders in many countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also taking appropriate precautions and is providing assistance to those in need.

Under the present circumstances and under conditions that may exist in the future, the church and its members will faithfully exhibit our commitment to being good citizens and good neighbors.

Included with this letter are documents that explain administrative principles for the church during challenging times. Directions are enclosed for essential ordinances, blessings and other church functions to guide leaders through the current crisis and the challenging days that are ahead.

These documents are issued in response to the disruptions in church procedures and member activities caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. They should provide guidance as long as this pandemic exists in a particular country or region. Other directions may be issued later.

Sincerely yours,

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring

The First Presidency

Below are the letter and documents released Friday:

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