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Temples for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will either close or be open “by appointment only” across the globe, the Utah-based faith announced Friday, as the coronavirus continued to upend worship practices.
No proxy work — in which members perform ordinances such as baptisms for their deceased ancestors — will take place at any of the church’s more than 160 temples around the world.
Starting Monday, Utah’s 15 currently operating temples will be accommodated only for “living ordinances” such as marriages, sealings, and endowments for prospective missionaries and couples intending to wed — and only “as capacity permits by appointment only.” (The iconic pioneer-era Salt Lake City and St. George edifices are undergoing major renovation.)
The same conditions will apply to other temples where “government or other restrictions do not preclude all temple activity,” according to a church news release.
Where such mandatory restrictions are in place for public and religious gatherings, temples have closed or will close. At least 15 Latter-day Saint temples already had shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That list of closures swelled to nearly 30 Saturday morning.
Staffing at the still-operating temples, viewed as “Houses of the Lord” by faithful members, will be limited.
The church is also closing all patron housing.
“Church members will be provided with instructions when they schedule their appointments for living ordinances,” the faith’s governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in the release. “Individuals with currently scheduled appointments will be contacted by temple staff.”
The release, also sent as a letter to Latter-day Saints worldwide, assured that “steps will be taken in all temples to minimize the risk of spreading disease, including reducing temple staff, limiting guests at living ordinances, and following guidelines for interacting with patrons. Additional information will be provided to temple presidencies, and further adjustments will be made as necessary.”
So with these changes, plans for many brides- and grooms-to-be could be derailed or altered. Couples still will be able to schedule weddings, or sealings, at temples that remain open, at least as “capacity permits.” But a policy shift from last year may help ease any inconvenience.
In May, the church ended the one-year waiting period between a civil marriage and a temple sealing, a requirement that had been in place for Latter-day Saints in the U.S. and Canada. (Such a delay did not apply in many other parts of the world.) Now, couples could wed civilly and then be “sealed for eternity” when the temples either reopen or resume normal operations.
The temple cutbacks are the latest in a stunning succession of worship reductions for the 16.3 million-member faith.
On Thursday, top leaders canceled all public Latter-day Saint gatherings, including Sunday services, around the world “until further notice.”
A day earlier, they announced that next month’s General Conference would be off-limits to the public at downtown Salt Lake City’s 20,000-capacity Conference Center. The five sessions instead will be a strictly virtual experience, viewed either online or on television.
Latter-day Saint authorities, led by 95-year-old President Russell M. Nelson, moved the global religion toward a “home-centered, church-supported” approach when they previously reduced the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two and introduced a member-ministering program. Now that model will be put to an extreme test, for a time, with no Sabbath services and limited or no temple worship.