This week in Mormon Land: Shipments sent to Navajos, Angel Moroni vs. the Christus, conference revisited

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.

Helping Navajos

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Volunteer Earl Tulley, right, assists with a food delivery on the eastern portion of the Navajo Reservation, Monday, April 6, 2020.

The Bishops’ Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City sent two semitrucks full of canned goods, flour and pasta 450 miles to the Navajo Nation last week to help the elderly during the coronavirus crisis.

“Volunteers then assembled more than a hundred 30-pound boxes of food for high-risk individuals — those on oxygen, in wheelchairs, latchkey elders, families with no transportation,” Lynn A. Whipple, region manager of the church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Services Department, said in a news release.

The Navajo Nation, covering parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

“The elderly typically live in the more rural areas of the reservation, where diabetes and lung disease are exceptionally common, making them highest at risk if they contract the virus,” Todd S. Larkin, an area Seventy for the church, said in the release. “ … Without power and water, simple things like bathing and washing hands are at a premium. If the virus gains a foothold here, the results will be devastating.”

With food boxes in hand, volunteers then spread out, traversing long, dusty roads to get supplies to those in need.

“We appreciate the help and hope that we can reach as many people as possible who are in need,” said Shannon D. Pinto, a Democratic state senator from New Mexico who helped empty the trucks. “I also hope we can continue our relationship [with the church] until this is all over. Blessed are those who help.”

Conference recap

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson leads the "Hosanna Shout" at General Conference on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

The church just concluded one of the most unusual General Conferences in its history. Due to crowd restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, the sessions took place in a small auditorium in the Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. While no more than 10 people were in that room, the conference may have never had a larger audience — transmitted online and on TV to millions around the world, many of them forced to hole up in their homes and eager to view a gathering that church President Russell M. Nelson had pledged would be unlike any other.

Here are some highlights:

• Nelson raised more than a few eyebrows when he announced that the church would put a temple in the United Arab Emirates, its first in the Middle East, and Shanghai, its first in mainland China.

He also said Utah would be getting its 24th temple, this one in Syracuse, and five others — in Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Lubumbashi, Congo; Tallahassee, Fla.; Benin City, Nigeria; and Pittsburgh.

Since taking the Salt Lake City-based faith’s helm in January 2018, the 95-year-old leader has announced 43 new temples.

• To mark the bicentennial of founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” — a promised theme for the April gathering — the church issued its sixth-ever proclamation, this one testifying to the reality of that event and the restoration of Christ’s pure gospel. You can read the document, titled “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” here.

• Nelson called on the world to unite in a special fast — the second one in two weeks — to seek relief from the coronavirus pandemic. This Good Friday fast offers the “perfect day,” he said, to pray that COVID-19 “may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.”

• Outside of Nelson’s remarks, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland may have spoken most directly to the current global crisis and his hopes for a better world after it.

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks during the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

“Even as we speak, we are waging an ‘all hands on deck’ war with COVID-19, a solemn reminder that a virus 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand can bring entire populations and global economies to their knees,” Holland said. “We pray for those who have lost loved ones to this modern plague, as well as for those currently infected. When we have conquered it — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught — not terrified they will be shot — and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice.”

• A beloved Lutheran statue will now be featured regularly in Latter-day Saint literature. Nelson unveiled a new church symbol, or logo, that includes an image of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s marble statue, the Christus, which has become a staple in church visitor centers.

The move is a continuation of Nelson’s efforts to emphasize Jesus and the faith’s full name while steering members, media and others away from using nicknames like “Mormon” and “LDS.”

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) New church symbol.

• A solemn assembly was convened on Palm Sunday in which Nelson led Latter-day Saints around the world in a “Hosanna Shout.” Participants waved a white handkerchief — “if you do not have one,” he said, “you may simply wave your hand” — while reciting three times the phrase: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen and Amen!”

• Two teens had a rare moment in the spotlight. Laudy Ruth Kaouk Alvarez and Enzo Serge Petelo, both from Provo, discussed the blessings of the priesthood. Youths have spoken before at conferences in, for example, 1982, 1983 and 1997.

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson speaks with Laudy R. Kaouk Alvarez, center, and Enzo S. Petelo during the Saturday evening session of General Conference on April 4. 2020. The two young people spoke during the session.

Church membership topped 16.5 million by the end of 2019, up more than 251,000 from the previous year and the first time since 2012 that the annual rate of growth has risen. Convert baptisms and congregational expansion also saw marked increases, but the number of children added to the rolls fell as birthrates continued to decline.

• The church’s three top female leaders — Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham, Young Women President Bonnie H. Cordon, and children’s Primary President Joy D. Jones — gave sermons.

New general authorities were named, including former Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland, son of apostle Jeffrey R. Holland. Two Africans — Thierry Kasuangi Mutombo and Adeyinka Ayodeji Ojediran — were appointed as well, along with two Latin Americans — Ciro Schmeil, who was born in Brazil, and Moisés Villanueva, a native of Mexico.

• The conference concluded with a prerecorded video of choirs on six continents singing, in their native languages, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”

This week’s podcast: How did this conference play?

Joseph Stuart, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Utah and a contributing editor to the Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon history blog, reviews the conference, its impact and his impressions.

Listen here.

Stones cut without hands ... but by a quake

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Giant crane on the grounds of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Salt Lake Temple, April 2, 2020. The temple, which closed in December for seismic upgrades, sustained minor damage during the March 18, 2020, earthquake. The trumpet on the Angel Moroni statue fell off, and there is minor displacement of some of the temple's smaller spire stones.

It may not be what John the Revelator had in mind, but visitors to downtown Salt Lake City soon may see another angel flying in their midst — when a crane brings down Moroni from his perch atop the Salt Lake Temple to repair the earthquake-damaged statue.

The shaking also displaced some stones on the iconic temple’s spires, a news release said, and workers will remove them along with additional stones for preservation as the four-year temple renovation and seismic retrofit continues.

The Christus vs. Angel Moroni

OK, it’s not really a duel, but many have no doubt seen the good-natured jests about Angel Moroni losing his job for “dropping” his trumpet during the quake and being replaced weeks later by the church’s newly unveiled Christus symbol.

Times and Seasons blogger Chad Nielsen says the move marks “an important shift in branding and iconography” as the church strives to put Jesus “front and center in our mentality as a culture and our image in the public square.”

“There is a part of me that still cherishes my Mormonism and the use of Angel Moroni as the symbolic herald of the restoration,” Nielsen writes, “but, as a Christian, I find the trajectory of focusing more fully on Jesus the Christ as the foundation and head of the church to be satisfying.”

Quick hits

• For the first time, Latter-day Saints in Ghana and Nigeria could tune into General Conference on local TV stations, a news release noted, while members in the Philippines were able to view sessions on national media.

• A couple of enterprising elders in Montana have found a way to connect with the community from inside their apartment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Missionaries Tyler Steelman and Thomas Pickford launched a Facebook group called #BozemanStrong, TV station KHQ reported, to spread hope and positive messages to residents.

It “was our way of adjusting to the circumstances going on in the world today," Steelman told the station.

“It started off a little slow,” Pickford added, “but, as people joined, there was more involvement and just people sharing different ways of how they’ve helped others during this time, which has been really cool to see.”

Temple updates

(Images courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Renderings the newly announced Washington County and Tooele Valley temples.

• Two days after announcing a 24th temple in Utah, the church released renderings of two previously named Beehive State temples along with a fourth one planned for Washington state.

In Utah, the Tooele Valley Temple will be three stories and contain about 70,000 square feet, according to a news release, while the Washington County Temple, the second such edifice in St. George, also will be three stories but a bit larger, approximately 90,000 square feet.

The one-story Moses Lake Washington Temple will be about 20,000 square feet.

Quote of the week

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

“We invite all of God’s children throughout the world to join us. … Come and see. Even during this challenging time of coronavirus, meet with us online. Meet with our missionaries online. Find out for yourselves what this church is all about. When this difficult time has passed, meet with us in our homes and in our worship places.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf in latest General Conference

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