This week in Mormon Land: The women who brought about temple changes, the latest from the Russian front, historic downsizing in Mexico

(Courtesy | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Mexico City Mexico Temple and the rendering of the Tijuana Mexico Temple in 2015.

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 this newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

This week’s podcast: A look back at 2018

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dallin H. Oaks, Russell M. Nelson and Henry B. Eyring at a news conference in the lobby of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday. Jan. 16, 2018. Nelson was named the 17th president of the 16 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Oaks was named first counselor in the First Presidency and Eyring second counselor.

If the church seemed dormant during the waning years of enfeebled President Thomas S. Monson’s tenure, that perception ended in 2018.

After Monson’s death at age 90 two days into the year and the ascension of apostle Russell M. Nelson to the presidency, the deluge of changes, adjustments, announcements, rescissions and reforms came at a dizzying pace and shows no signs of letting up.

This week, we recap the historic headline-making year with an eye to 2019. Listen here.

The Russian front

(Courtesy | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, greet Latter-day Saints in Moscow, Russia, April 22, 2018.

What’s the status of mission work, er, uh, “volunteer” work in Russia?

About what it has been since 2016, when the government there essentially banned proselytizing, forcing missionaries to abandon proselytizing outside of chapels, jettison their trademark nametags and take on the title of “volunteer.”

Nowadays, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, these volunteers “focus on supporting existing members rather than expanding the flock.”

In April, President Russell M. Nelson announced plans to build the church’s first Russian temple. At this point, though, that effort may be more aspirational than operational. Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf visited Moscow soon after the spring General Conference and tamped down expectations that a House of the Lord would be rising anytime soon in Russia.

“Matt Martinich, a U.S.-based Mormon researcher, sees the April announcement as an effort to stanch the flow of Mormons leaving Russia,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. “... The church’s biggest challenge in Russia is keeping its members there.”

Historic changes to temple ceremonies

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Visitors look at Christmas lights on Temple Square on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.

Women — and men — are embracing the sweeping changes implemented this week at the faith’s 161 temples across the globe.

Members report that the newly shortened endowment ceremony, for instance, includes more inclusive language and removes wording and other elements that had been seen as “sexist.”

“If you ask any faithful feminist what she wanted to change, these hit the entire checklist,” a woman who attended the Philadelphia Temple told The Tribune. “Every single complaint was addressed and fixed in a meaningful way. This was not a baby step; it was like a leap forward.”

The governing First Presidency noted in a news release that “details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically, including language, methods of construction, communication, and record-keeping. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to his servants.”

Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess is trumpeting the changes. “I hope,” she writes, “they will be a catalyst for many young women to have positive sacred experiences in the future, where they will feel equally valued to men in the temple.”

Count on temple attendance to skyrocket in the coming days and weeks as members rush to witness the changes for themselves.

Sisters act

(Courtesy | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jane Manning James

By Common Consent blogger Cynthia L. pays tribute to the women who helped pave the way for the temple changes with a list ranging from the faith’s first “first lady,” Emma Smith, and trailblazing black convert Jane Manning James to former Relief Society leader Chieko Okazaki and poet Carol Lynn Pearson.

The blog credits the women “whose vision, writing, pleading, and work made this day possible.”

The tally “is not and never could be an exhaustive honor roll,” writes Cynthia L., encouraging commenters to add other names to the lineup.

“For my sisters,” she concludes. “I am thankful for the sacrifices and work of all of you.

Fast and not furious

| Courtesy Jana Riess Jana Riess, writer and researcher

Jana Riess, the RNS columnist, also accepted President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge and undertook a social media fast over her yuletide break.

She welcomed the respite and made two surprising discoveries. Read what she learned here.

Mexico’s up and downs

(Courtesy | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Mexico City Mexico Temple in 2015.

Mexico — with more than 1.4 million members, the most of any country outside the United States — is seeing its Latter-day Saint footprint expand and contract at the same time.

Recently, according to independent demographers, two new stakes and two new districts were created there while another stake was eliminated.

“There are now 220 stakes and 47 districts in Mexico,” ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com reports. “There has been a net decrease of 139 congregations (7 percent annual decrease) in Mexico thus far in 2018 — the largest decrease in the number of wards/branches ever reported by the church in Mexico, and the largest annual decrease in the number of wards/branches ever reported in a single country in the history of the church.”

Mission reduction

(Courtesy photo) Sister missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach a young man in Lyon, France.

The number of missions around the world will fall from 407 to 399 in July.

While the church announced this week that four new missions will be created — in Guatemala, Peru, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a dozen will be merged with other missions, including three in California and five in other U.S. states.

“The number of missionaries has leveled off after the change in ages for missionary service took effect in 2012,” a news release states. “The number of missionaries initially surged to over 88,000 before receding to 65,000 missionaries today, as expected.”

Imagining — and realizing — a better body

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dan Reynolds performs with Imagine Dragons at the Loveloud Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

As a Latter-day Saint and returned missionary, Dan Reynolds certainly knows about — and has lived — the church’s Word of Wisdom health code.

But the Imagine Dragons frontman also has discovered a new workout and dietary regimen that has helped him overcome an inflammatory disease and transform his body from “skinny-fat to shredded,” Men’s Health reports.

Quote of the week

“Tomorrow is my 50th wedding anniversary with my eternal companion, Karen. I have been eager for some of these adaptations for many years, and I praise God that they occurred."

Bruce Van Orden after attending a temple in Provo.

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