Care for yourselves and your loved ones, President Russell Nelson urges in global video message as Latter-day Saints brace for a Sunday without services

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) President Russell M. Nelson speaks at a news conference in April 2019. The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a "message of hope" on social media amid the coronavirus pandemenic.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here.

As Latter-day Saints around the world prepared to mark their Sabbath without the opportunity to attend congregational services, their 95-year-old leader issued a “message of hope” Saturday on social media.

Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, acknowledged the “unique challenge” the coronavirus pandemic poses to the global faith, which has canceled all worship services “until further notice” and shut down or severely restricted activities at its temples.

“We pray for those who are suffering and for those who have lost loved ones,” Nelson said. “ … Please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones, and look for opportunities to help those around you near and far. We have the great privilege of ministering to our neighbors wherever they live.”

Nelson and other church leaders moved the global religion toward a “home-centered, church-supported” model when they previously reduced the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two and introduced a member-ministering program.

“Temporary changes in our normal routine may allow additional time to experience how precious home-centered gospel study can be,” said Nelson, urging members to use recently released videos about the faith’s signature scripture, The Book of Mormon, and other technology to advance their spiritual understanding.

In addition, the faith’s local lay leaders previously were counseled to find ways to ensure that the sacrament, or Communion, is made available “at least once a month” to their congregants.

The University Ward, in east Salt Lake City, for example, sent an email Saturday to its members authorizing households with a male priesthood holder to prepare the sacrament for their families.

“If you do not have a priesthood holder in your home,” Bishop Bryan Moore wrote, “please reach out to your ministers who can either plan for administering the sacrament or who can reach out to me if necessary for sacrament arrangements.”

He also reminded those preparing the sacrament to wash their hands with soap or with hand sanitizer.

“The administration of the sacrament should not be a meeting,” Moore said. “No additional processes are necessary aside from the preparation, prayers [which are found in Latter-day Saint scripture] and distribution of the bread and water.”

For Sunday school, in which members are instructed and discuss Latter-day Saint theology, the University Ward plans to teach and record classes virtually with the video conference platform Zoom.

Other lay leaders have notified their congregations that plans are still in the works while encouraging them to care for their neighbors.

For his part, Nelson told members Saturday that “these unique challenges will pass in due time.”

“I remain optimistic for the future,” he said. “… During these uncertain times, be comforted by this promise from the Savior. He said, ‘I, the Lord, am bound when you do what I say.’ I promise you that joy is always within the reach of everyone who will hear him and obey his laws. … [The] gospel provides certain hope and help to a troubled world.”