SALT LAKE CITY — Latter-day Saint congregations around the world are returning to weekly sacrament meetings, though they may be virtual or hybrid events where pandemic conditions do not allow gatherings, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Friday morning.
The Utah Area Presidency followed that announcement by issuing direction Friday afternoon that wards and branches in the state should now hold weekly sacrament meetings. Those that hold in-person gatherings may include up to 150 members, an increase from the 99 previously authorized for in-person meetings. The leaders also authorized virtual second-hour meetings in the area and in-person second-hour meetings in Young Single Adult stakes.
Remote Sunday devotionals have been held in some areas of the church but not in others, including the Utah Area. Area presidencies approve meetings and activities in their areas under the guidance of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Using technology and safe in-person practices, many opportunities exist for presidencies and councils to meet, for youth to be encouraged and supported, and for meaningful worship, ministering and service to occur.”
The releases also signaled the return of other church meetings and activities.
For example, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles may begin to assign stake conferences in November. On March 11, church leaders canceled those biannual gatherings of multiple congregations that can number in the hundreds to more than 1,000. Physical distancing and other precautions will be taken as those conferences resume.
On March 12, church leaders suspended all church meetings and activities due to the pandemic.
Phase 1 of the return to worship services began on a limited basis after a May 19 letter from church leaders, who set out a cautious course restricting gatherings to 99 or fewer people with physical distancing guidelines and other precautions. Phase 2 will allow meetings of more than 100 members, but Friday’s guidelines did not address when that may be begin.
The Utah Area Presidency authorized up to 150 members in a sacrament meeting in its announcement on Friday.
“We have been impressed in recent months with how carefully and successfully leaders have ensured the protection and safety of members while providing spiritually satisfying sacrament meetings,” the presidency stated in its release. “We now ask that attendance not exceed 150 participants taking into consideration the size and capacity of the meetinghouse, including overflow, and the need to follow social distancing and safety procedures. Families or individuals who reside in the same household may sit together at church.”
Weekly second-hour meetings are to be online only, including Sunday School (first and third Sundays) and Relief Society, priesthood quorums and Young Women meetings (second and fourth Sundays).
The Utah Area authorized an exception for in-person YSA meetings during the second hour because of the unique nature of wards and branches serving members ages 18 to 30 and “the desire of YSAs to interact face-to-face.”
“We invite YSA units within YSA stakes (not YSA units in conventional stakes) to gather — in person or via the Internet — for the second hour meetings on Sunday. YSA stake presidents should give careful attention to and follow principles and guidelines for safe interaction at church meetings and avoid excessive social mingling in hallways between meetings.”
No Primary meetings were authorized by the First Presidency or Utah Area presidency.
Friday’s First Presidency letter was more principle-based than prescriptive because area presidencies will respond based on how local conditions vary so widely across the world. The First Presidency said:
- Adult and youth presidency and council meetings may be held virtually or in person where local conditions allow.
- Local leaders can minister to members and conduct ministering interviews.
- Leaders can oversee the sacrament ordinance in homes where needed or requested.
- Youth meetings, activities and service projects can be held virtually or in person, as local circumstances allow. They may be held on Sundays or on other days. Local leaders may use the new Children and Youth Program to connect with youth.
Virtual sacrament meetings cannot include the ordinance of the sacrament, the guidelines said. Instead, a virtual sacrament meeting broadcast should begin either before or after the administration of the sacrament happens in homes, the leaders said.
Some wards and branches around the world have been holding virtual devotional services on Sundays for several months.
The Utah Area presidency authorized the singing of opening and closing hymns without distributing hymnbooks. It also restated the requirement that wipes be used to disinfect the pulpit after each speaker.
Since June, some congregations have been meeting weekly with members wearing face coverings and sitting in families at a distance from others. Some wards have used two meetings on Sundays to adhere to the limit of 99 people in a meeting.
Other wards have met less often or not at all, yet. In those cases, and between March and June, church members held worship services or scripture study in their own homes.
The First Presidency did not provide direction Friday morning about returning to the second hour of Sunday Latter-day Saint worship services, but the Utah Area presidency’s announcement may become a template for other areas to use as a starting point.