This week in Mormon Land — and what a week it was: Coronavirus chaos, quake shake, and a calming voice

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The statue of Moroni, missing its horn, atop the Salt Lake Temple, damaged in an earthquake in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

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 free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Tense times ‘will pass’

Church President Russell M. Nelson had a message for a world shaken by a pandemic:

Stay healthy. Serve others. Cling to hope. Look to God.

“These unique challenges will pass in due time,” the 95-year-old leader assured in a video posted on social media. “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.”

His calming words seemed to resonate. The three-minute message had millions of views.

An angel’s fallen horn

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The statue of Moroni, missing its horn, atop the Salt Lake Temple, damaged in an earthquake in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

The earthquake retrofit that recently began for the Salt Lake Temple couldn’t come quick enough.

A powerful quake struck northern Utah on Wednesday, delivering, according to early reports, “minor damage” to the iconic structure — most noticeably, the Angel Moroni statue. Its trumpet fell off.

Some of the temple’s smaller spire stones also were displaced.

“This event emphasizes why this [renovation] project is so necessary to preserve this historic building,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release, “and create a safer environment for all our patrons and visitors.”

Coronavirus shakes up church operations

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

Church-related closures and cancellations — like the spread of COVID-19 the world is combating — came quickly and relentlessly.

Worship services have been canceled worldwide “until further notice,” putting the faith’s “home-centered, church-supported” model to an extreme test. The sacrament, or Communion, is to be made available “at least once a month.”

• Scores of temples have shut down and others are open “by appointment only” and only for “living ordinances” such as marriages, sealings, and endowments for prospective missionaries and couples intending to wed. The church further stated that temples will accept only appointments for living ordinances from members residing within the local temple district. However, in states or regions with multiple temples, a news release noted, those temples can schedule living ordinances from members within those states or regions. All proxy work — in which members perform ordinances such as baptisms for their deceased ancestors — is on hold.

Mission calls will keep going out, but the new proselytizers may start their service elsewhere. Young elders serving in the United States and Canada will come home early if they have served 21 months. Senior missionaries and those with “serious or chronic” medical conditions across Europe have returned early. The same may occur for such missionaries elsewhere. Nonnative missionaries in the Philippines, Korea and Mongolia will do — or have done — the same. Most nonnative missionaries in Africa will return home to self-quarantine, and then serve in their home countries “based on capacity and need.” For many who remain in the field, they are teaching with technology without leaving their apartments. Missionaries in the U.S. and Canada, along with those in much of the world, have been instructed “not to go door to door or contact people on the street.”

Church schools, including Brigham Young University in Provo, have canceled classes and are instead teaching courses online. Classes have been canceled for seminaries and institutes, too, especially in places where schools have been shuttered.

• The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s weekly radio show, the longest continuously running network broadcast, will go on — but the performances will be reruns.

Temple Square, one of Utah’s most popular tourist draws, along with the church’s libraries, museum, restaurants and other visitor attractions in downtown Salt Lake City, have closed.

• All church historic sites — ranging from attractions in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois to Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, California and Utah — have ceased operations. Visitors can still stroll through the “Sacred Grove,” [where church founder Joseph Smith reported seeing his ‘First Vision’ nearly 200 years ago], but without guided tours.

Deseret Industries thrift stores have closed to the general public but will remain open for individuals with bishops’ orders.

• Nearly 50 Church Distribution retail outlets have shut down around the world, a news release noted. Those that remain open have reduced their hours to support temples performing live ordinances.

‘Mormon Land’ podcast on hold

The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly “Mormon Land” podcast — exploring the personalities, policies, contours and complexities of the church, its culture and its teachings — is on hold as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe. We hope to return as soon as possible. Until then, catch up on episodes you may have missed or return to some past favorites.

Listen here.

Choose you this day — and every day

(Photo courtesy of BYU) Because of COVID-19 precautions, Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy spoke to students via digital livestream from empty Marriott Center on March 17, 2020.

When making day-to-day decisions — regardless of how routine or how significant — choose the path that will bring you closer to God.

So said general authority Seventy Jack N. Gerard in a livestreamed address to Brigham Young University students.

“Our daily walk through life can seem puzzling or tough to figure out. We face decisions every day that define who we are. Yet, like looking through glass darkly, we are left to choose based on our limited knowledge or experience gained in mortality,” he said in a transcript of the speech. “ … I would encourage you now during your schooling years and throughout your life, to always place your trust in the Lord, to heed his counsel, and even when the path is not clear, to know the great blessings he will grant unto you.”

Gerard delivered his sermon from an empty Marriott Center at BYU — because of COVID-19 restrictions — to students watching remotely.

Quick hits

• Latter-day Saint Charities presented gift wallets, with $300 worth of supply vouchers, to a hundred families recovering from the deadly and devastating fire that ravaged Kangaroo Island off the coast of Australia.

• Hundreds of members banded with other religious and charitable groups to help repair homes, distribute hygiene kits and clean up debris after the tornado that tore through Tennessee.

• A groundbreaking has been set for June 13 for what will become New Zealand’s second Latter-day Saint temple, this one in Auckland, according to a news release. The Hamilton Temple has been closed for renovation.

• The April open house and May dedication planned for the Rio de Janeiro Temple has been postponed due to the coronavirus. No new dates have been set. Brazil — home to 1.4 million Latter-day Saints, the most of any country after the U.S. and Mexico — is in line to have the third most temples. Seven have been built with four more due to come on line.

• Two missionaries died in recent days. Antonio Schwenke, a 19-year-old from Spain, died of malaria while serving in Sierra Leone’s Freetown Mission, a news release said. Katherine Pindar, a 19-year-old from Mesa, Ariz., died in her sleep after a brief illness while serving in Houston. A separate release said the cause of her death was “undetermined.”

Quote of the week

“I remain optimistic for the future. … 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.”

Church President Russell M. Nelson

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