SALT LAKE CITY — Six weeks after temporarily closing all of the faith’s temples, the First Presidency announced Thursday that 17 temples will reopen Monday for weddings only, the first of four phases that eventually will lead to full operations at all 168 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The limited opening of temples in Utah, Idaho, Germany and Sweden is the first sign of a return to Latter-day Saint gatherings as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out. The decision comes after church members fasted twice and prayed continuously for relief from the coronavirus pandemic.
“With profound gratitude to our Heavenly Father that he has heard our prayers, we rejoice in announcing a carefully coordinated, cautious and phased reopening of temples,” the First Presidency said in a letter issued Thursday morning. “With this letter, we are authorizing the reopening of 17 temples” for living husband-and-wife sealing ordinances for previously endowed members. That is Phase 1 for reopening a temple.
Other temples will reopen as directed by the Temple Department based on local government and public health guidelines.
Phase 1 begins with the church’s temples in Germany and Sweden, 11 temples in Utah — Bountiful, Brigham City, Cedar City, Logan, Manti, Monticello, Ogden, Oquirrh Mountain, Payson, Provo and Provo City Center — and the Boise, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls temples in Idaho. Additional temples in Utah and Idaho will reopen after completing annual maintenance work.
Phase 2 of reopening a temple will be a return to the performance of all living ordinances, but patron housing, clothing and cafeteria operations will remain closed during that phase.
Phase 3 opens a temple for all ordinances with some limitations. Proxy ordinances for ancestors will first return in a restricted manner and patron housing, clothing and cafeteria operations would be open as needed.
Phase 4 is a return to full operation. The church will make adjustments to temple schedules, seating arrangements and facilities to further increase safety.
“We look forward to the day that we can resume full operation of our temples, congregations and missionary service,” wrote the First Presidency, which includes Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.
In Phase 1, couples may be sealed by appointment only Monday through Saturday in the temple approved for the geographic area in which they live, according to a news release.
“These sealings will be conducted with a minimum number of temple staff and a limited number of participants, according to local government restrictions,” the First Presidency announced. Additional information released by the church said the temple staff may be as small as two or three people.
Each wedding or sealing will be restricted to the bride, groom and a limited number of guests. Instructions on the number of guests will be provided when a couple calls to schedule a sealing. Priority will be given to those whose sealings were canceled by temple closures. Guests should be healthy and free of COVID-19 symptoms.
The First Presidency letter and a second news release by the church said the reopenings will be done with precautions in mind to protect temple patrons and workers, who will serve on a volunteer basis.
Workers will clean and sanitize the sealing and other rooms in the temple following each ceremony. Patrons will be allowed to wear their own masks and gloves. Hand sanitizer will be provided at several locations in each temple. Temple presidencies will encourage frequent hand-washing and appropriate social distancing.
The first temple they closed because of the pandemic was the Taipei Taiwan Temple in mid-February. By the end of that month, the church had closed the temples in Taiwan and Japan.
The next temple closures were prompted by COVID-19 outbreaks in Italy and Washington state. The Rome Italy Temple and Seattle Washington Temple each closed on March 6. A New York hot spot prompted the closure of the Manhattan Temple, along with four others, on March 11, the day the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
On March 16, the leaders temporarily suspended proxy work at the 155 temples that remained open. Living ordinances were possible by appointment only.
Two days later, with 44 temples then closed, church leaders added more restrictions in an effort to help check the spread of the virus. Temples that still were open only accepted appointments for living ordinances from outside their temple district if the state, province or region had multiple temples. Also, attendance at temple sealings in Utah was limited to 10 or fewer people — a number that included the bride, groom and the person performing the sealing.
By March 23, the church had closed 103 temples. Those remaining open strictly limited temple gatherings to 10 or fewer people. As the virus spread relentlessly, nine more temples closed the next day.
On March 25, after what they said was careful and prayerful consideration, “and with a desire to be responsible global citizens,” church leaders suspended all temple activity worldwide at the end of that day, shuttering the remaining 56 temples.
“This is a temporary adjustment, and we look forward to the day when the temples will reopen,” the First Presidency said then.
Thursday’s announcement came one day after President Nelson released a video message signaling that church leaders were preparing communications about how church gatherings would resume.
“We know that ordinances of the holy temple need to be performed,” he said. “They are of eternal significance. We will clearly communicate, step by step, when and where such gatherings and other church-sponsored activities may be resumed.”
The full First Presidency letter:
Phased Reopening of Temples
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are thankful for all who have worked to address the effects of this global pandemic. As a church, we have sought to be cautious in our actions and to limit the gathering of our members, even for weekly worship and sacred temple work.
With profound gratitude to our Heavenly Father that he has heard our prayers, we rejoice in announcing a carefully coordinated, cautious and phased reopening of temples. With this letter, we are authorizing the reopening of 17 temples.
Beginning Monday, May 11, 2020, living husband-and-wife sealing ordinances will be performed in selected temples for members who have been previously endowed. These sealings will be conducted with a minimum number of temple staff, and a limited number of participants, according to local government restrictions. As changing restrictions and local conditions allow, the Temple Department will authorize the reopening of additional temples and expanded opportunities will be made available for receiving living child-to-parent sealings and own-endowment ordinances, as well as participation in proxy ordinances. Further information, as well as a list of temples that will reopen now, may be found at Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and will be sent to church leaders.
We ask for your continued faith and prayers that this pandemic and its lingering effects may pass. We look forward to the day that we can resume full operation of our temples, congregations and missionary service.
The First Presidency