With 84% of Utah County being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the predominant faith-based news of 2019 revolved around events in the church.

However, other faiths in Utah County have had news of their own and the Daily Herald would like to recognize them as well.

Local denominations

It was announced in April that Payson will soon be the home of Utah County’s first Eastern Orthodox Cathedral built in the famous Byzantine style with onion dome steeples crowning the church.

Father Gustavo Adolfo Vidal Hernandez was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orem on Aug. 1, effectively becoming the spiritual guide to more than 6,000 families. He believes that 60% of those families are Latino. He was ordained June 28, 1997, at the Cathedral of the Madelaine in Salt Lake City.

At the end of 2018 St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo mourned the passing of their beloved Rev. Peter Van Hook. Less than a year later on Nov. 24 Rev. Susan Toone was installed as the new vicar of St. Mary’s. Toone was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Utah in 2011.

LDS Church

It is difficult to name just five of the top stories of the LDS Church in 2019. From building bridges with Pope Francis at the Vatican to leaving the Boy Scouts of America, this year has been filled with news. Here are the top five stories to remember.

1. Temples

For Utah County the top temple news would have to be the long-awaited groundbreaking of the Saratoga Springs Temple in October. It took two years following the first announcement in 2017 that it would be built to get to this point.

Conversely, it only took 70 days from the announcement that Orem would have a temple for the church to announce the temple’s location and indicate ground would most likely be broken in early summer.

If there was one temple dedication that impacted the entire church in 2019 it would be the completion and dedication of the Rome Italy Temple. For the first time in history, the entire First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve attended the dedication services.

President Russell M. Nelson called the event a hinge-point in the church. Since that time, church leaders have upped their game and have traveled more extensively throughout the world preaching the gospel and meeting with heads of state, religious and local government leaders.

In all, there were 16 new temples announced, seven rededicated and six newly dedicated temples in 2019.

2. Policies

New policies included a change to a 2015 policy that kept children of same-sex marriages from being confirmed, baptized or receiving the priesthood until they were 18. Now children of LGBTQ parents, with parental consent, are able to receive those blessings. The same is now true for children in polygamous families.

Other temple-related policy changes include being able to be married civilly prior to being sealed in the temple without having to wait a year between the two ceremonies.

Temple recommend questions were also adjusted and added to. Wording in temple ceremonies was adjusted and reflected more balanced male and female roles.

In all sacred ordinances the law of witnesses applies. Two witnesses are needed to testify of the event. Until 2019, only men holding the priesthood, either as worthy priests in the Aaronic Priesthood for live baptisms, or worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holders for temple ordinances were allowed as witnesses.

Now, all worthy members of the church ages 11 or older can witness live baptisms, worthy temple or temporary temple recommend holders can witness proxy baptisms and all worthy temple recommend holders may witness temple sealings and proxy sealings.

3. Humanitarian efforts

Latter-day Saint Charities continued carrying out its purpose to relieve suffering, foster self-reliance and provide opportunities for service around the world, a statement from the church said. In May, the Church’s humanitarian arm donated $4 million to refugee resettlement agencies in the United States. In April and October, it joined with other partners in a global effort to eliminate neonatal tetanus in Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also partnered to donate hospital beds in Papua New Guinea, assemble meals for children at a United Nations conference and help spouses of U.S. governors assemble hygiene kits for children in need.

The Church also helped the Muslim community in New Zealand after a gunman killed 51 worshippers in Christchurch in March. In May, President Nelson donated $100,000 on behalf of the Church to help Muslims in New Zealand rebuild the two mosques attacked in March. Local Latter-day Saints joined others in the community to donate food and other supplies to Muslim families impacted by the shootings.

In December, residents in Utah County were able to donate to nonprofit organizations locally and worldwide via the Giving Machines located for the first time at the University Place mall in Orem. The church selected only 10 locations for the machines to be placed globally.

4. Programs

In September and November, leaders unveiled in full the new children and youth initiative that will replace the current programs for young women and young men (including Scouting) in 2020. The new program focuses on developing faith in Christ through balanced growth.

With that change, the Church officially split from the Boy Scouts of America effective Dec. 31.

The missionary program saw great changes in the way missionaries are allowed to communicate with family members. In February, the First Presidency announced that missionaries may communicate with their families on their weekly preparation day via text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chat in addition to letters and emails.

In November, the Church published a new handbook of instructions for missionaries serving around the world. The new handbook added more emergency information and preparedness as missionaries deal with political and other crises around the world.

5. Global ministry

President Russell M. Nelson traveled to countries in the Pacific, Latin America and Asia in 2019. He also visited several locations within the United States, including California, Arizona and Florida. In all, he and his wife, Wendy, traveled more than 100,000 miles and spoke to hundreds of thousands of Saints and many religious and government leaders. He visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, spoke at the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit, comforted Muslims in New Zealand and welcomed a Vietnamese delegation, the Cuban ambassador, and the leader of the Muslim World League to Temple Square.

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve blessed the lives of thousands throughout the world as they continued to travel, speak and give apostolic blessings to members and those not of the church. They met with world leaders and educators from London to Moscow.

From countries in Africa to speaking several times at the United Nations, the female leadership of the church were more visible in 2019 as they shared in humanitarian efforts and in educating the world leaders on the organization of the family and the church.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire