This week in Mormon Land: More beards at BYU. Better, not just shorter, sacrament meetings. A new heaven with a new take on gender.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want the newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

This week’s podcast: A British bishop’s reflections

Bishop. It’s the toughest assignment in the church.

A lay calling, it brings no pay but heavy demands. The bishop is responsible for the spiritual and temporal well-being of hundreds of families and individuals. All of this on top of the needs of his own loved ones and a full-time job.

Ross Trewhella has been serving in this taxing but rewarding task for nine years, shepherding his Latter-day Saint flock in Cornwall, England. Hear his thoughts on the pending shift from three hours of Sunday services to two hours, the appeal to stop using the word “Mormon," the challenges the faith faces in the United Kingdom and more.

Listen here.

A new whiskering campaign at BYU

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Brigham Young University isn’t becoming a haven for the unshaven, but beards are a growing trend on the Provo campus.

No, there aren’t new rules — just new roles.

Movie roles, to be precise.

The school’s Daily Universe reports that more students are popping up in classes, cafeterias, dorms and elsewhere with longer hair on their heads and chins as they prepare for parts in the church’s Book of Mormon videos, set to resume filming in the spring.

Cast members must receive waivers from the school’s grooming policy, which generally bars beards. But that may not exempt them from enduring sideways glances from fellow students.

“Without context, these students may be mistakenly viewed as noncompliant or rebellious when, in fact, they’re preparing to share the most important stories ever recorded,” BYU food science professor Laura Jefferies told the paper. “I’m thrilled that they have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

So, it’s lights, camera, action, Cougars, and skip the razor.

Less is Mor-mon

It isn’t easy even for the church to excise the word “Mormon” from its materials. Think Mormon Channel, MormonandGay.org and MormonNewsroom.org.

President Russell M. Nelson said as much in August when he announced the renewed emphasis on using the faith’s full name while eliminating “Mormon” and “LDS” as nicknames for the church and its members.

“We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with [God’s] will,” he said in that initial news release. “... Various church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so.”

For instance, the church’s Newsroom website still is found via MormonNewsroom.org. A posting this week notes that fact, while indicating that the site won’t carry that URL forever:

“Newsroom, like other church channels, is following the counsel of church leadership regarding the direction and timing of changes to MormonNewsroom.org.”

So expect these and other “Mormon” monikers to go the way of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, now called The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and get new titles.

On that subject, this group adopts a new stand

(Keith Johnson | Special to The Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks about the name of the church during the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 7, 2018, in Salt Lake City.

Mormon Women Stand — a website independent of but loyal to the church and its leaders — has changed its name to Latter-day Saint Women Stand.

“When members of the [administrative] team read President Russell M. Nelson’s words,” the group writes in a blog post, “ ... we all quickly came to the consensus that it was best to change our name.”


How great the wisdom and the love of new sacrament focus

(Courtesy photo of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A young Latter-day Saint boy passes the sacrament.

As part of the change from three hours of Sunday services to two hours, the governing First Presidency is calling for hourlong sacrament meetings to be “focused on deepening conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthening faith in them.”

Amen to that, says By Common Consent blogger Jared Cook.

“The purpose of sacrament meeting is not to be instructed on various doctrines or exhorted to obey the commandments or follow the prophet or any of the other good things we are regularly encouraged to do at church, but to increase faith in Christ and conversion to him,” Cook writes. “ … The message of conversion from the Book of Mormon is not about being committed to the institution of the church, as admirable as it may be to be committed to the institution; it is about being converted — this is, changed — by Jesus through faith in him.”

Reimagining the religion

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Writer Mette Harrison at her home on Feb. 16, 2015.

Utah novelist Mette Harrison spells out 10 ways to imagine a “new Mormonism” in a guest column for Religion News Service.

Among her suggestions:

• Envision a heaven where “gender, sexual orientation and race are not part of God’s inherent qualities.”

• Edit the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, to “deal with racism and gender issues.”

• Showcase and commission better art in church meetinghouses.

• Put forth a revised history that lets “our leaders be truly flawed. Let God be missing from some events. Let God be truly present in others.”

• Adopt greener policies, exhibiting more care for the environment at church and in homes.

Help for Indonesians

Tsunami- and earthquake-plagued Indonesians are getting help from landlocked BYU professors and students so they will be better prepared when cruel nature strikes again.

Geography professor Chad Emmett and geology professor Ron Harris have teamed up on efforts to school Indonesians on the importance of getting to higher ground after the quakes rock and before the killer waves roll.

“When the earth shakes (soft or hard) for more than 20 seconds, there is a high possibility that a tsunami will follow,” Emmett explains in a post on the website of BYU’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. “ …To save themselves, people have 20 minutes to flee to an elevation of at least 20 meters.”

Emmett and a group of BYU and Utah Valley University students journeyed some 9,000 miles to Indonesia in 2016 and 2017 to teach this 20-20-20 rule and other lifesaving measures.

Quote of the week

(Keith Johnson | Special to The Tribune) Elder Robert C. Gay, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, speaks during the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 7, 2018, in Salt Lake City.

“Can any one of you imagine our savior letting you and your burdens go unnoticed by him? The savior looked upon the Samaritan, the adulterer, the tax collector, the leper, the mentally ill, and the sinner with the same eyes. … Can you imagine him turning away from someone with doubts about their place in God’s kingdom or from anyone afflicted in any manner? I cannot. In the eyes of Christ, each soul is of infinite worth. No one is preordained to fail. Eternal life is possible for all.”

Elder Robert C. Gay, presidency of the Seventy

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.