This week in Mormon Land: The highest-paid LDS athlete ever, more temple changes for women, a missionary tax

(Yong Kim | The Philadelphia Inquirer | The Associated Press) Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper hits a baseball during batting practice Sunday, March 3, 2019, at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla.

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: Ready, worthy and Able

(Tribune file photo) Early Latter-day Saint black convert Elijah Able, sometimes spelled Abel.

Knowing who ordained whom to the priesthood in the church’s early days is seldom of interest to anyone beyond curious descendants and detail-obsessed researchers.

But a recent discovery solving the mystery surrounding the ordination of Elijah Able (sometimes spelled Abel), one of the most famous black converts in the faith’s fledgling years, excited historians and helped shed additional light on a religion with a tortuous track record on the issue of race.

W. Paul Reeve, professor of Mormon studies at the University of Utah and author of the award-winning book “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” documented the discovery and discusses what it means and why it matters.

Listen here.

The price for Bryce

(Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper warms up during baseball practice Sunday, March 3, 2019, at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla.

Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love, Brother Harper.

Bryce Harper became the highest-paid Latter-day Saint athlete ever after landing a 13-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies worth $330 million — the fattest overall baseball contract of all time.

Net or gross — that amounts to a ton of tithing.

Tapping into all the Harper hoopla, Philly.com reports, an eastern Pennsylvania brewery plans to unveil a new beer called The Bryce Is Right to celebrate the star free-agent outfielder’s arrival from the rival Washington Nationals.

More gender strides

Good news, moms, you’re welcome to work in the temples — even if you still have little ones at home.

The governing First Presidency announced in a March 1 letter to Latter-day Saint leaders around the world that mothers with minor children now can be ordinance workers.

“Members should review their circumstances,” the letter states, “and avoid placing undue burdens on themselves or their families as they consider these service opportunities.”

The move represents yet another step on the journey toward greater gender equality in the faith’s most sacred places.

Earlier this year, the church unveiled sweeping changes to temple ceremonies, adopting more inclusive language and more equitable elements for women and men.

Last year, girls ages 12 to 18 began assisting with baptistry assignments in temples. And, in 2017, the church cleared the way for female and male divorcees and single adult men over age 30 to officiate in temple rituals. (Single women older than 30 already had been permitted to serve in that capacity.)

The March 1 temple change also eliminated the calling of veil worker. Those volunteers — all men — can instead become ordinance workers.

Full houses of the Lord

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune The Ogden Temple, on the first day of the public open house, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. The temple was formally rededicated Sept. 21, 2014

Anecdotal reports of dramatic jumps in temple attendance keep piling up in the wake of President Russell M. Nelson’s October challenge to boost temple worship and January’s revisions to ordinance language.

Here is a sampling from ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com:

  • “Dallas was still packed full on a midweek morning, when I used to be one of three to four brothers.”

  • “I was at the Ogden temple last Saturday and had never seen the temple so busy.”

  • “Idaho Falls has been slammed.”

  • “St. Paul Minnesota Temple has been packed on Saturdays.”

  • “San Diego Temple was exceptionally full last Saturday.”

  • “A few weeks ago, I went to the St. George Temple on a Thursday morning and barely got into the next session.”

  • “It is very difficult to get a weekday morning session at the Indianapolis Temple for any ordinance beside baptisms.”

  • “[Mexico City] has likewise seen an uptick.”

  • “Since November, I’ve been to the Ogden, Draper, Payson, and Manti temples and all [of] them have been packed even in snow.”

  • “I can attest to seeing both Jordan River and Oquirrh Mountain temples [in South Jordan] keeping busy this year.”

Temple ticker

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Lisbon Portugal Temple.

Portugal’s first Latter-day Saint temple will be dedicated in Lisbon on Sept. 15, the church announced.

The 24,000-square-foot edifice, serving 45,000 members in Portugal, will be open for public tours from Aug. 17-31.

Farther east, the newly remodeled Frankfurt Temple will be rededicated Oct. 20 after an open house from Sept. 13-28. In 1987, it became the second temple built in the current borders of Germany (nearly two years after the Freiberg Temple).

Across the Atlantic, new renderings were released of the interior of the planned temple in Pocatello.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Celestial Room in the Pocatello Idaho Temple.

A groundbreaking is set for March 16, a news release states, with completion expected in two to three years.

The three-story, 67,696-square-foot temple will be Idaho’s sixth. The others are in Boise, Idaho Falls, Meridian, Rexburg and Twin Falls.

News out of Africa

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Bonnie H. Cordon, left, and Jean B. Bingham, right, visit Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo, the first lady of the Republic of Ghana, at North Ridge in Accra, Friday, March 1, 2019.

The church’s top-ranking female leaders met with Ghana’s first lady in launching a three-nation goodwill mission to West Africa.

Jean B. Bingham and Bonnie H. Cordon, general presidents of the Relief Society and Young Women, respectively, discussed the church’s humanitarian, education and family programs with Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo in Accra.

“I am so happy that you are here today,” Akufo-Addo, wife of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, said in a news release. “My main focus is for the women and children, especially for their health. … My vision is to empower women to take care of their families.”

The church has been booming in West Africa. Ghana is home to nearly 84,000 Latter-day Saints.

Bingham and Cordon then trekked to Nigeria, with its 177,000 members. There, they visited the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation of the Government of Lagos State.

Next stop: the Ivory Coast (49,000 members).

Called to swerve, duck, run or hide

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced a new video series aimed at increasing the safety of its more than 65,000 missionaries around the world.

Latter-day Saint missionaries are hardly immune from accidents and assaults, danger and disease.

They get colds and cancer, mugged and molested, bitten by dogs and hit by cars, detained by unfriendly police and threatened by neighborhood gangs.

Not often, mind you, but bad things can and do happen.

To help its 65,000-plus “elders” and “sisters” stay safe, the church has produced a 12-part video series dubbed “The SafetyZone.”

The series covers, among other topics, pedestrian and bicycle safety, avoiding electrical wires, safe driving, appropriate behavior around children, crimes against missionaries (including physical and sexual harassment) and proper handling of food.

Reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived but critically acclaimed “Sports Night” series from the late 1990s, “The SafetyZone” resembles a sportscast — or newscast — with in-studio analysts who discuss missionary safety.

Despite the videos’ entertaining and sometimes humorous approach, each episode packs a “very prominent point ... that’s going to help you, that’s going to keep you safe,” S. Gifford Nielsen, a general authority Seventy, told a group of elders and sisters at the flagship Missionary Training Center in Provo.

Let the web names begin

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church Office Building, located at 50 E N Temple St, Salt Lake City, is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church continues to nick the nicknames “LDS” and “Mormon” from its operations.

This week, it shifted its web address from LDS.org to ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Mormon.org is now ComeuntoChrist.org.

Mobile apps are changing, too, with LDS Music becoming “Sacred Music.” Expect LDS Tools to undergo a renaming as well.

“This is a complex effort in numerous global languages and much work remains,” wrote the First Presidency in a letter to Latter-day Saint leaders throughout the world. “We encourage all to be patient and courteous as we work together to use and share the proper name of the church.”

A missionary tax

New Zealand’s version of the IRS has won a legal battle to tax donations to Latter-day Saint missionaries.

Stuff.com reports that Inland Revenue removed tax credits — totaling about $1.7 million — for donations by missionaries, their parents and grandparents toward mission work.

A high court ruled against the Utah-based faith, which plans to appeal the decision.

According to government filings, the church in New Zealand received $43 million in total donations in 2017, Stuff.com noted, with $106 million in total income and $322 million in assets.

Quote of the week

“The Lord cares about his missionaries. We’re trying everything we possibly can to think about the situations that they might find themselves in that would take them away from being who the Lord has called them to be, and that is to be his missionaries proclaiming his gospel throughout the world.”

— S. Gifford Nielsen, general authority Seventy

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