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Utah Latter-day Saint meetings may expand to 150 where local conditions allow

Updated guidelines give local leaders more flexibility to manage pandemic conditions and attendance at funerals, baptisms and more

All meetings and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are canceled, effective immediately. Above, the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Latter-day Saint wards in Utah may now allow sacrament meeting attendance to expand to 150 people when following COVID-19 protocols. Above, the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The Utah Area Presidency is raising the blanket limit on Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting attendance in the state from 99 to 150 while strongly encouraging local leaders to maintain pandemic protocols and be responsive to outbreaks in their communities.

Congregations should develop and implement plans to return to sacrament meetings while limiting attendance based on local conditions and continuing to broadcast the services for those who participate from home, according to a letter sent this week by the Area Presidency to Area Seventies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The letter largely returns the church in Utah to guidelines issued in September. The Area Presidency tightened those guidelines in November, reducing the limit on sacrament attendance from 150 to 99, as the state experienced a major upswing in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A Utah public health order in effect until Feb. 22 doesn’t apply to religious services but encourages religions to follow health protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of federal and state officials to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to the public; however, this phased approach will take time to reduce transmissions,” the Utah Area Presidency said in its letter. “Given that conditions vary throughout Utah, we ask stake presidents to maintain awareness of COVID-19 transmission rates in their local communities.”

Second-hour classes will continue to be held virtually throughout the state, unless specific exceptions can be made safely, the letter said. Young Single Adult congregations may hold in-person second-hour meetings if their “facilities are large enough to allow for social distancing and steps are taken to avoid excessive mingling between meetings,” the letter said.

The letter authorized activities that have a religious purpose for children and youth.

Additionally, YSA stake leaders may authorize bishoprics to meet with small groups of members outside regular church meetings, where conditions permit.

The letter also gave local leaders more flexibility on overseeing other events, lifting a blanket limitation on attendance for funeral services, baptisms and wedding receptions. Local leaders “should allow for these tender and sensitive gatherings to be conducted with appropriate limits as to the number of people invited and should follow safety protocols.”

Presidency meetings, bishopric meetings and stake and ward council meetings may be conducted in-person following safety protocols, the letter said.

Here is the full letter from the Utah Area Presidency to Area Seventies:

Dear Brethren:

We again express our sincere appreciation for the leadership of Area Seventies, Stake Presidents, Bishops, and other local leaders during the current pandemic. As you know, infection rates in Utah remain high, slowing our ability to return to normal church meetings and activities.

On January 22, 2021, the Utah Department of Heath issued an additional Public Health Order (2021-3) which is in effect through February 22, 2021. The Order “does not apply to a religious service.” However, religious organizations “are strongly encouraged to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of federal and state officials to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to the public; however, this phased approach will take time to reduce transmissions. Given that conditions vary throughout Utah, we ask Stake Presidents to maintain awareness of COVID-19 transmission rates in their local communities.

In consultation with senior Church leaders, we now replace our November 12, 2020 guidelines with direction previously outlined in the September 11, 2020 letter from the First Presidency and the (Updated) Utah Area Supplement. Copies of these documents are attached for your convenience. Additionally, we provide the following clarifying information to stake presidents:

In consultation with your Area Seventy and with leaders in your stake, we ask that you develop and implement a plan for returning to Church meetings and activities consistent with information provided herein, while exercising care to follow established safety protocols (e.g., appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitation of surfaces, limitations on the number of people attending Church meetings and activities).

Your plan should limit the number of people attending Sunday worship services and continue to broadcast services for those who participate from home. Second hour classes should be held virtually, unless specific exceptions can be made safely, and activities for children and youth should be limited in size to maintain safety protocols. All activities should have a religious purpose.

YSA stake presidents may hold in-person second hour meetings if Church facilities are large enough to allow for social distancing and steps are taken to avoid excessive mingling between meetings. YSA stake plans may also allow bishoprics to meet with small groups of members outside regular Church meetings.

Plans for funeral services, baptisms, and wedding receptions should allow for these tender and sensitive gatherings to be conducted with appropriate limits as to the number of people invited and should follow safety protocols.

Technology is encouraged for stake and ward conferences and other leadership meetings; however, presidency, bishopric, and council meetings may be conducted in-person with safety protocols.

Thank you for your inspired leadership in these challenging times.

The Utah Area Presidency