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.

Who’s counting?

(Paul Sancya | The Associated Press) This Sunday, April 5, 2020, photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit.

Latter-day Saints are counseled to count their blessings, but the church says it’s also a blessing to be counted.

To that end, leaders recently encouraged members in Mexico and the United States (the two nations with the most Latter-day Saints) to take part in 2020 censuses.

Such tallies not only guide governments in distributing political power and fiscal resources, a news release noted, but they also help the church plan its operations around the world.

“We urge all members to respond to [census questionnaires] in an accurate and timely manner,” the governing First Presidency advised Latter-day Saints in the U.S. and its territories.

The decennial U.S. census does not ask about religious affiliation, but Mexico’s does. So the area presidency urged members there to “answer with the official name of the church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in keeping with President Russell M. Nelson’s continued push to use the faith’s full name.

The church lists its membership in Mexico, as of Dec. 31, 2019, at 1,481,530.

Missionary stories with surprise endings

(Photo courtesy of Janet Shumway) Elder Benjamin Shumway with a sister missionary, both of whom had been at the Missionary Training Center in Mexico, find out at the Los Angeles International Airport that they are going home.

They were out preaching one day, quarantined the next. They sheltered in their apartments, then they packed in a hurry and rushed to the airport. Some were reassigned, many returned home, thousands were released.

The missionaries of the coronavirus era share a common bond: the uncommon end to their service.

Elder Benjamin Shumway, for instance, had been in class at the Missionary Training Center in Mexico City, expecting to serve in Argentina, when word came: He might be reassigned to New Mexico. When he got to the Los Angeles airport, he found out he instead was headed back home to Las Vegas to self-isolate. More than a week later, he was released.

“The first few days I was sad about missing my mission,” Shumway told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Now I’m trying to have a good attitude.”

Read Shumway’s story and more tales of missions abruptly halted here.

First missionary COVID-19 death

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Allen Dee Pace, age 68 of Willard, Utah, has died of the coronavirus. Pace was serving a senior mission with his wife, Nedra, in Detroit when he became ill.

Allen Dee Pace, a retired high school theater teacher from Willard, Utah, died April 18. He was 68.

He had been serving in the Detroit area with his wife, Nedra Pace.

Wrote one of his daughters on Facebook: “His world was his family, theater, the LDS Church, and almost every other art form and food imaginable. He lived his life with passion and joy, and those who met him loved him and never forgot him.”

How to church ... without church

(File photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This file photo shows a Latter-day Saint baptism in New Zealand before the coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual sacraments are out. Baptisms, with as few as four people, are in. Priesthood ordinations and baby blessings still can happen, and lay leaders can view them remotely. But patriarchal blessings, save for prospective missionaries, are on hold.

The governing First Presidency recently offered guidelines to help Latter-day Saints and their lay leaders navigate “the current crisis and the challenging days that are ahead.”

Communion or sacrament has been perhaps the most persistent sticking point. It usually takes place weekly in worship services. But those gatherings have been suspended worldwide for more than a month.

Bishops over congregations can authorize male priesthood holders to prepare, bless and pass the sacrament in their own homes. If a household does not have a priesthood holder, fellow ward members who have that authority can enter the home and administer the sacrament. Such visits, however, may violate social distancing directives in many nations and cities.

So, Latter-day Saints who cannot have this ordinance at this time — many of whom are single mothers or women — “can be comforted,” a news release said, “by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants [they] have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person.”

With regular Sunday meetings scrapped, for now, members can hold services in their homes, in person or remotely, and include prayers, hymns and gospel study, church leaders said. Bishops and other congregational leaders also can use technology to “supplement” home-centered worship.

This week’s podcast: How to boost virtual worship

On this week’s podcast, Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project, discusses how church rites are functioning amid the COVID-19 restrictions and how some changes could enhance the equity and efficacy of Latter-day Saint worship.

McBaine’s 2014 book, “Women at Church,” challenged members to think outside the box when it comes to policies and practices within the faith, something a lot of leaders now find themselves doing.

Listen here.

Onward, mask-making soldiers

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A Project Protect organizer gives clinical face mask kits to a volunteer at the church’s Deseret Industries location in Murray in mid-April 2020. The donation drive-thru areas will be temporarily converted into drive-up locations for volunteers to pull up in their vehicles and pick up the kits. Additional participating Deseret Industries locations in Utah include American Fork, Harrisville, Layton and Riverton.

Latter-day Saint Charities and its Utah allies are recruiting a 50,000-strong army to make 5 million medical-grade masks to help front-line workers in the battle against the coronavirus.

This health care offensive, code-named Project Protect, aims to enlist 10,000 volunteers each week for five weeks. Armed with special kits, each volunteer would spend about 8.5 hours sewing 100 masks.

Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, said the church has never embarked on such an effort, which has been billed as the largest volunteer push in Utah since the 2002 Winter Olympics.

“I would just say to all of the people who are volunteering in different ways: If you’re helping in the community, if you’re babysitting first responder kids, if you’re teaching your children at home, if you are a first responder, if you’re working in a care center or in a health facility, we are so grateful for you,” Eubank said in a news release, “and our goal is to help support you so that we can get through this pandemic together.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, shows an assembled clinical face mask to the media during a virtual news conference on Friday, April 17, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Latter-day Saint Charities partnered with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare to work with experts from various fields to design a simple clinical face mask pattern and source medical-grade material. Project Protect volunteers will sew approximately 5 million clinical face masks.

The faith’s humanitarian arm also is assisting in 110 projects in scores of countries around the world. Latter-day Saint Charities is providing face masks and other medical gear, for instance, in Lebanon, Mongolia and Zimbabwe.

“Some of the material is still coming,” Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, said in a news release, “and we are very grateful.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint Charities is working with international medical nonprofit MedGlobal to provide medical supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Majdal Anjar, Lebanon, where there is a large refugee population.

Sunnier forecast

With the coronavirus cloud still hanging over much of the world, church President Russell M. Nelson offered a ray of hope.

“Brighter days are ahead,” he assured, “both here and hereafter.”

In a recent social media post thanking participants in a pair of global fasts seeking heaven’s help against COVID-19, the 95-year-old leader, a former heart surgeon, encouraged followers to build a “stronger relationship” with the Savior “as we look forward to a recovery from this worldwide pandemic.”

“He is our master healer. He will heal our broken hearts. He will bestow upon us personal peace and comfort,” Nelson wrote. “Thanks to Jesus Christ, no condition is hopeless.”

‘I believe … we’ll be back to normal’

(Courtesy photo | MagicSpace/Broadway Across America) This file photo shows the first national tour cast in the "Book of Mormon" musical.

Hello! What’s this? Another song parody to the show-stopping “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” musical?

Yes, believe it. This one comes courtesy of ChicagoNow blogger Paul M. Banks about the coronavirus pandemic.

“A novel virus with no therapeutic or vaccine,” he writes. “What's so scary about that? I must trust that social distancing can beat it, and the CDC always has my back.”

And here’s a sample from the chorus:

I believe —

That anti-vaxxers are dangerous idiots.

I believe —

The Asian wet markets must be closed.

And I believe —

That Sean Hannity definitely doesn't speak

for America.

I am a Chicagoan.

And a Chicagoan just believes.

You can check out all the lampooned lyrics here.

Quick hits

• A Church News documentary explores Russell M. Nelson’s travels in his first two years as church president.

“This is a global work, and whenever I’m comfortably situated in my home, I’m in the wrong place,” Nelson says in the video’s opening. “I need to be where the people are.”

And he was. He has logged more than 90,0000 miles, visited dozens of countries, huddled with more than a hundred world and faith leaders and spoken to more than a million members while journeying to every continent — save for Antarctica.

• More than 110 missionaries in the Manchester, England, Mission came together — virtually, at least — to sing the hymn “He Sent His Son.”

Posted on Facebook, the video, with 49 split screens, drew thousands of visitors as part of a “Why I Believe” online devotional.

“We’re all in lockdown,” mission President Stuart N. McReynolds said in a news release. “However, despite the challenges, we felt it [was] important to continue with the devotional, especially on this Easter Sunday.”

Temple update

Want to see how work is progressing on the four-year renovation of the Salt Lake Temple and makeover of Temple Square?

You can do so in 30 seconds. Just click here to see a time-lapse video of the project.

In the coming days, a crane is expected to remove spire stones and the iconic Angel Moroni statue that were damaged in a recent earthquake.

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.

“When we decided about moving missionaries from or to certain countries in the morning, we had to change it in the afternoon. When we evaluated governmental or other travel restrictions in a meeting, the situation had already changed when we left the meeting.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf in a Church News interview on the challenges during the coronavirus.

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