Editor's note: The following story appeared in our special LDS Conference magazine, which offers a preview of the upcoming 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was delivered as part of Saturday's weekend edition of the Daily Herald. The theme of this magazine edition is "Gathering Israel." We will be running the magazine stories online this week in the leadup to conference.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one year ago in March 2020 temporarily suspended gatherings of church members worldwide in response to COVID-19.
But despite limitations on physical gatherings, the spiritual work of gathering Israel has continued to progress in the last year.
“In challenging times, disciples of Jesus Christ continue to follow Him by participating in His work of salvation and exaltation,” an enclosure with a September 2020 First Presidency letter reads. “He invites us to participate by progressing on the covenant path and helping others do the same however circumstances allow.”
Church leaders implemented temporary adjustments to missionary service in March 2020 that included releasing or reassigning many missionaries.
As guidelines have changed, the church’s missionary force, reduced from 62,000 before the pandemic to 40,000 in March 2020, has now steadily increased to 54,000, according to a February church news release.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a devotional called the increase a welcome boon because missionaries are the “extended arms of the 12 apostles” today, according to the release.
Missionaries also have used technology throughout the pandemic to conduct their teaching and training.
Technology has allowed missionaries in the field to teach thousands of lessons every week from their apartments, according to a June 2020 church news release.
“We’re learning new ways to do missionary work,” said Elder Brent Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the church’s Missionary Department, in the release. “And I think people are actually more receptive online than they are with someone knocking on their door or trying to stop them on the street.”
Several thousand newly called missionaries transitioned to online training as the church’s 10 missionary training centers closed due to the pandemic, according to the release.
“We teach them the same things, we practice the same things with them, and hopefully they’re just as prepared as the ones that come (to the center),” said Bryce Tripp, an MTC instructor from Arizona, in the release.
Following the temporary suspension of all temple activity in March 2020, the church introduced a cautious phased reopening of temples in May 2020.
Of the church’s 168 operating temples, 10 are Phase 1 (living husband-and-wife sealings by appointment), 122 in Phase 2 (all living ordinances by appointment), 19 in Phase 3 (all living and limited proxy ordinances by appointment), eight paused and nine closed, as of March 22.
Of Utah’s 17 operating temples, 15 are currently in Phase 2. The Salt Lake and St. George temples are closed for renovation. Temple construction efforts and groundbreaking ceremonies have continued during the pandemic.
Effective March 29, 14 temples will begin Phase 2-B, opening for all living ordinances and proxy baptisms by appointment.
“We are grateful for this opportunity for more members to participate in temple ordinances,” church President Russell M. Nelson said in a March 15 church news release.
Amid the pandemic, President Nelson also announced plans to build 14 new temples throughout the world in the April and October 2020 general conferences.
“As we build and maintain these temples, we pray that each of you will build and maintain yourself so you can be worthy to enter the holy temple,” President Nelson said after announcing six new temples in October 2020.
RootsTech, FamilySearch’s annual family history conference, was held virtually in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 1 million participants from over 235 countries and territories registered for the free conference, making RootsTech Connect 2021 “the largest gathering in the event’s 10-year history,” according to a February church news release.
“I think the pandemic will be remembered as the greatest accelerant,” said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, according to the release. “People are turning their hearts to their family, whether it’s past, present or future.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the “Temple and Family History Leadership Instruction” session of the conference asked participants to consider how technology had made possible this meeting “involving people from all over the world.”
“It’s truly global, and at the exact same time, it’s also local,” Elder Bednar said.
COVID-19 has caused unusual constraints and limitations on interactions and travel in the last year, according to Elder Bednar.
“When we began thinking about how this leadership session would be planned and presented, most of what you’ve participated in had never been thought of,” Elder Bednar said.
There never would have been the inspiration or opportunity to present RootsTech Connect, Elder Bednar said, without the constraints imposed by COVID-19.
“If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, then in limitations and in constraints, there can be remarkable blessings, and I would suggest to you that this leadership session is one of those remarkable blessings,” Elder Bednar said.
Home-centered worship took on new meaning after church gatherings were temporarily suspended in March 2020. Priesthood holders administered the sacrament in members’ homes.
“During this historic pandemic and worldwide paralyzation, our home has become our refuge, our holy place, our center of worship,” said Benjamin Poóu Chiquin, a father of five in Guatemala, in an August church news release.
The church for more than a year leading up to the pandemic had followed a home-centered curriculum President Nelson announced during the October 2018 general conference.
“We are blessed that we have the prophet, who is called of God,” said Lizzie Mohodisa, of South Africa, in the August release. “The programs that were put in place (in January 2019) were in a way, now that we look back, preparing us for this period. Now we can manage to do home-based sessions without a problem.”
The church announced a careful phased return to weekly worship services and activities in May 2020.
“We are grateful for inspired patterns of ministering and home-centered, Church-supported efforts that allow the Lord’s work to move forward in current conditions,” the First Presidency said in a September 2020 letter updating guidelines.