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How the Church of Jesus Christ has responded to the global pandemic

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The Kirby family, from left to right, Trevor, Jacob, Mason, Carly, Kristin, Camree and Ryan, prays before beginning a gospel study at home using “Come, Follow Me — For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020,” a manual for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Lehi on Sunday, March 15, 2020. The church temporarily canceled all meetings and activities worldwide to limit public gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the past seven months, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have experienced the closing and reopening of temples, the suspension and return of Sunday worship services by congregation, the interruption and reassignment of missionaries, and a digital-only general conference.

A global pandemic brought about many changes for members of the global faith, whose leaders had already emphasized ahome-centered, church-supported approach to worship.

Here’s a look back at what has happened in the church over the last seven months since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the first signs of change came on Feb. 27 when church leaders canceled the leadership session of April general conference and discouraged members living outside the United State from attending the conference. An avalanche of changes followed in March.

March

In an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced on March 11 that April general conference would go on without the public and be available by broadcast only.

Many were looking forward to the conference with great anticipation after President Russell M. Nelson declared 2020 to be a bicentennial year and promised that the event would “be different from any previous conference.”

The next day, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made a joint announcement suspending all church meetings and activities. President Nelson followed up the announcement with a brief video message expressing hope for the future. The video was viewed by millions.

“These unique challenges will pass in time,” he said. “I remain optimistic for the future.”

Despite meetinghouses being closed, individuals and families worshipped and studied the scriptures at home using the church’s “Come, Follow Me” curriculum while authorized priesthood holders administered the sacrament to their families and neighbors.

Two weeks later, all 168 Latter-day Saint temples were closed until further notice.

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Missionaries of the China Hong Kong Mission move their luggage toward the check-in counters at the airport as they evacuate due to growing coronavirus concerns, as shown in a photo courtesy of President Dennis L. Phillips. The photo is one he included as a submission to the Church History Department’s project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The spread of COVID-19 resulted in substantial numbers of missionaries returning home for self-isolation with the option of returning later. Some missions ended early, some missionaries were reassigned and the church closed all Missionary Training Centers. New missionaries began training virtually in their homes.

During this time, the church began ramping up production at canneries and food processing plants while also donating medical and emergency to more than 15 countries in need.

On March 26, President Nelson released a video message calling for a worldwide fast and prayers for relief from the global coronavirus pandemic’s “physical, emotional and economic effects.”

April

In April, church leaders conducted the first general conference without public attendance since World War II in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Conference Center in Salt Lake City is devoid of conferencegoers before the start of the 190th Annual General Conference 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

During the weekend of April 4-5, 16.5 million Latter-day Saints heard President Nelson call for a second global fast on Good Friday to control the pandemic, protect caregivers, strengthen the economy and normalize life. One week later, President Nelson used social media to “express deep gratitude” for those who took part in the global fasts.

On April 13, the church announced that all For Strength of Youth conferences in the U.S. and Canada would be postponed until 2021.

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Pearl Boatright, Salt Lake County fiscal coordinator, and Linda Broussard, Salt Lake County Library senior human resources coordinator, organize face mask kits at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Each kit contains supplies to make 20 masks. Salt Lake County and Stitching Hearts Worldwide have partnered to make 250,000 face masks with the help of volunteers.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The same day, the church announced a partnership with Latter-day Saint Charities, Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health to organize an army of 50,000 volunteers to make 5 million masks to protect health care workers. The news came after the First Presidency approved humanitarian projects in 57 countries to battle COVID-19.

The church released letters with new pandemic-related guidelines for leaders and members on how to administer ordinances and officiate events like weddings, funerals and baby blessings, among other things.

Latter-day Saint youth camps were closed indefinitely and other activities canceled or postponed. The final Hill Cumorah Pageantwas pushed back to 2021.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, which released a new logo, postponed its summer tour until 2021 as well.

By the end of the month, some missionaries were beginning to receive reassignments.

May

Six weeks after temporarily closing all temples, the church announced on May 11 that it was reopening 17 temples in the first of four phases. The list grew to 34 one week later.

About two months after meetings were suspended worldwide, the First Presidency sent a letter on May 19 to local leaders and congregations authorizing a two-phased plan for returning to church, based on local government guidelines.

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An employee at the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned Beehive Clothing plant in Salt Lake City assembles a surgical gown on Friday, May 15, 2020.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

During the month of May, church employees at six facilities around the world worked to sew hundreds of thousands of cloth face masks and surgical gowns for health care workers.

Deseret Industries stores reopened during the first week of June but with reduced hours and donations by appointment.

June

June began with an announcement that October general conference would follow the same format as April and be a digital-only event.

On June 17, the church postponed the the much-anticipated Washington D.C. Temple open house and rededication “until large public gatherings are deemed safe.” The event was originally set for the end of 2020.

With a surge in COVID-19 cases and health care leaders pleading for Utahns to wear masks, the church joined with interfaith leaders on June 24 in issuing a joint appeal to use face coverings. The Utah Area Presidency added its voice of support for wearing masks a short time later.

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Tyson Hyde, Utah Food Bank driver, moves pallets of food to hand out in the parking lot of a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Taylorsville on Monday, April 13, 2020. The Utah Food Bank estimates it provided food to around 400 families at this location.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

At the end of June, church leaders stated that efforts to distribute hundreds of thousands of pounds of food each week from Latter-day Saint storehouses to food pantries and charities during the COVID-19 pandemic had made it the biggest humanitarian project in the history of the church.

Bishop Gérald Caussé said the church has more than 630 humanitarian aid projects in over 130 countries worldwide.

July

On July 15, programs at the BYU Jerusalem Center for the 2020-21 school year were canceled. BYU announced a hybrid of in-person and remote classes this fall on the Provo campus.

On July 20, the church announced a move to Phase 2 for a small number of temples. President Nelson spoke about the painful decision in March to close the temples in a video released on July 27.

August

As global deaths caused by COVID-19 surpassed 700,000, President Nelson expressed “great sorrow” in a statement shared on social media while adding that clouds of sorrow are laced with silver linings of faith, family and service.

With fewer COVID-19 cases in some areas of the world, six American sister missionarieswere permitted to return to international service in Denmark.

Ten Utah temples moved to Phase 2 in the reopening process in August.

The Ogden Utah Temple was one of the first temples to reopen after closing due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

The Ogden Utah Temple.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On Aug. 17, President Nelson said the church’s expanding pandemic-related humanitarian aid had reached 137 countries.

Even with some positive progress in combating the coronavirus, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square announced that it would sit out the rest of the year, canceling rehearsals and performances, including the annual Christmas concert.

On Aug. 25, the church announced that members could submit names for the temple prayer rolls online.

September

Earlier this month, Latter-day Saint congregations around the world returned to weekly sacrament meetings while giving high-risk members a chance to view a broadcast of the services.

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Latter-day Saints demonstrate what a sacrament meeting could look like with social distancing practices in place.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Temples continue to reopen in different phases weekly.

In a recent social media post, President Nelson lamented how COVID-19 has suspended a special tradition of going to the hospital to welcome new babies to the family.

“This treasured experience brings me unspeakable joy every time. I love holding these precious children in my arms and embracing them for the first time,” President Nelson wrote. “These past few months, my pattern has been interrupted. Wendy and I have resorted to greeting our new family members virtually. We have missed holding these babies in our arms and look forward to the day when we can do so again.”