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.
Faces of the flu
With the world in the grips of COVID-19, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, Mormon research historian Ardis E. Parshall is posting photos and vignettes of Latter-day Saints who died during a previous pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918-20, which claimed tens of millions.
“Putting faces to the statistics, recognizing the individuality of their lives, considering the likely good they would have contributed to the world and to the church had they lived, is sobering yet somehow steadying,” Parshall writes on her keepapitchinin.org blog. “We are not masses. We are not statistics. We are individuals, and each of these men, women, and children must have been loved, must have left the same holes in their world as our current losses to this pandemic are leaving in ours.”
Some of the names from that painful past include:
• Margery Stevens. The Enoch, Utah, resident died Nov. 5, 1918, in Denver, becoming the first woman to perish from this outbreak while serving a Latter-day Saint mission.
• Taylor Giles. This missionary from Heber City died in St. Paul, Minn., on Nov. 4, 1918.
• Horatio Pickett. This 70-year-old doorkeeper, janitor and heating engineer at the St. George Temple died Dec. 21, 1918.
• Frank L. Brown. The Vermont resident, a caretaker of the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial, died Jan. 1, 1919, in Charlotte, N.C.
• Elsie Thackeray. The 19-year-old from Croydon, Utah, died Nov. 3, 1918, after nursing patients at Salt Lake City’s LDS Hospital.
View more vignettes from Parshall’s heartfelt and heartbreaking tally here.
‘Wonderful days’ await
Church President Russell M. Nelson addressed Latter-day Saints worldwide about the COVID-19 pandemic in a video Wednesday, saying that leaders “will continue to be prayerful and proceed with an abundance of caution” about when to resume religious practice and worship in chapels.
“Your safety and well-being will always be our utmost concern,” Nelson said. “ ... Church leaders will continue to monitor information and determine how soon we may again gather in our meetinghouses and temples. … I love you, dear brothers and sisters, and assure you that wonderful days are ahead."
Some good news came the next day. The church announced Thursday a limited reopening of 11 temples in Utah, three in Idaho, two in Germany and one in Sweden. Starting Monday, living husband-and-wife sealing ordinances will be performed for members who have been previously endowed.
Covenant vs. convenience
Back in 2004, when an apostle asked Robert and Lynette Gay to shelve their everyday lives for three years and oversee a mission, they politely declined. After all, the couple led busy lives full of family, humanitarian endeavors and business ventures.
“You really don’t get it,” the apostle told Robert Gay. “The Lord is calling you to save your life. You are either going to live your life by covenant or convenience. There is never a convenient time to serve. This is a matter of faith.”
The Gays prayed, reevaluated and relented, taking the reins of the Accra Mission in Ghana.
Now a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Robert Gay recounted that experience in a livestreamed worldwide devotional Sunday for young adult Latter-day Saints.
“Our lives have not been the same since,” he said. “We have been completely blessed by [God’s] love and tutoring.”
For her part, Lynette Gay urged the college-age crowd to take their burdens to the Lord.
“Don’t let your doubts, your fears, or those things that keep you up at night,” she said, “turn you away from the protection and power of the Holy Ghost and [the] promises of our Savior.”
Kate Kelly’s mission
Ordain Women co-founder Kate Kelly now sees her 2014 ouster from the church as a blessing.
“The excommunication was a gift, because I’m a very loyal person,” she told Glamour magazine. “I don’t know that I would have left on my own.”
Kelly says exiting the Utah-based faith freed her to pursue her passions and devote her energy to causes that “need me and value my work.”
At the top of her list now: ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“The ERA is a foundation upon which we’re going to build a scaffolding of equality for women in this country,” she told Glamour. “Is gender equality an American value? ... If it is, it should be in the Constitution.”
On this issue, Kelly again finds herself lined up against her former faith. After a period of silence on the topic, the church reaffirmed its opposition to the ERA late last year.
The online magazine piece highlights Kelly’s evolution from an all-in Latter-day Saint who, as a child, sang about having kids — though she says a sore spot for her in Mormonism is that she never really wanted them — to a fierce feminist who is determined to topple patriarchies.
Read the full story here.
This week’s podcast: How does the new logo measure up?
The church unveiled a new symbol last month as part of President Russell M. Nelson’s continuing efforts to emphasize — to insiders and outsiders alike — that the faith is centered on Jesus Christ.
Does this logo, from a design perspective, accomplish that aim?
Yes, says Randall Smith, a Salt Lake City graphic designer who helped craft a previous logo for the church. But the new symbol, while “safe and expected,” he adds, is “not very progressive” and its complexity may make it hard to use on some platforms.
Smith discusses the new logo and his work on an older one, which began springing up as part of those “welcome” signs now found on meetinghouses across the globe.
Change the channel?
The new Christus-inspired symbol has started showing up on the church website and in church communications, but it has yet to reach at least one highly visible site: the Latter-day Saints Channel.
Just go to your remote or click on an internet app store. You will see that the logo for the faith’s media channel — which includes the new Book of Mormon videos, live events, films and more — still carries an image of Angel Moroni blowing his horn.
Could that change someday? The station already has shifted its name — from the Mormon Channel — to align with church President Russell M. Nelson’s edict against using the faith’s nickname. And he vowed in last month’s General Conference that the new symbol will find a place in “official literature, news and events of the church.”
A news release stated that detailed guidelines for using the new symbol are still being developed. Stay tuned.
Lights, camera, music
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will have your ticket to the movies, with a new album featuring songs from a number of hit films.
“When You Believe: A Night at the Movies” — which will be available for streaming, download and purchase May 22 — will include “Main on End” from “Avengers: Endgame,” “I’ll Fly Away” from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Duel of the Fates” from “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”
“The choir and orchestra have a long-standing tradition of performing inspirational music from the Broadway stage and the movies,” music director Mack Wilberg said in a news release. “We hope to showcase the power of this music to inspire and to encourage us.”
They may not be traveling the globe as much, but Latter-day Saint apostles no doubt are plenty busy.
For starters, they’re reassigning thousands of missionaries who returned home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The process of reassigning these missionaries to missions in their home countries is underway, and they have started receiving their new assignments,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said. “All reassignments are being made by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
It is unknown “how long missionaries will serve in their new assignments,” Woodruff said. “Any return to their original missions is dependent on conditions associated with the pandemic.”
Elizabeth Stewart had been in Brazil for about nine months, when she was quarantined and eventually returned home to Chandler, Ariz.
The 20-year-old told her local leaders she wanted to return to full-time missionary service and now is headed to Dallas.
“When I got the call, it felt pretty normal and natural,” Stewart told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I feel more grounded knowing about my future.”
Argentina-bound Benjamin Shumway, who never made it out of the Mexico City Missionary Training before flying home to Las Vegas, has decided to defer his mission to January.
“If I go somewhere and am quarantined again, it won’t be the best mission experience,” he told The Tribune, “I know I would regret it.”
Pageants pushed back
The shows will go on — next year.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant, which had been scheduled to end an eight-decade run this summer in upstate New York, will see its final season delayed to July 8-10 and 13-17, 2021, due to continuing coronavirus concerns.
The Nauvoo Pageant will return for a run July 6-31, 2021, in western Illinois and continue in future years.
As you recall, the church said in fall 2018 that it was dropping the curtain on most of its major pageants. After a run of more than half a century, for example, Manti’s popular Mormon Miracle Pageant gave its farewell performances last June in central Utah.
Treks hit a roadblock
“Wagons, ho.” Wait. Make that “wagons, whoa.”
Although some may push and some may pull for those pioneer treks to take place this summer, the dust has settled on that question.
The church announced in a news release that “all treks” are off for this year due to COVID-19’s ongoing impact.
Youth camps and overnight conferences in the U.S. and Canada also have been shelved until further notice.
Leaders suggest in the release that bishops instead “consider technology-based experiences” as a substitute for camps and conferences.
COVID-19 has elevated, not eliminated, the need and desire of Latter-day Saint women to help others.
“At first glance, you would think a global pandemic would make ministering harder, but in fact it has simply brought out our creativity in new ways,” Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said at Brigham Young University’s recent Women’s Conference. Doing “something extraordinary is not going to be stopped by a little social distancing.”
Eubank, who also oversees the church’s humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, pointed to the Relief Society’s partnership with several Utah hospitals to get 50,000 volunteers to sew 5 million medical-grade face masks for health care workers.
That five-week initiative, dubbed Project Protect, already has delivered thousands of masks.
“We knew that our burn rate or usage rate of [personal protective equipment] could leave us short,” Dr. Andy Phillips, who specializes in occupational medicine at University of Utah Health, said in a news release. “To know that we have such a large number of high-level masks coming allowed us to be able to inform our workers that they could use the current supplies in a more liberal fashion.”
Relief Society general President Jean B. Bingham urged women to view the coronavirus challenges as “an unprecedented time” for personal growth.
“We are being reminded of those things of lasting value on which to focus our energy,” she said during the all-digital conference. “We are learning to share the message of the gospel through technology as well as personal connections.”
Bingham’s second counselor, Reyna I. Aburto, also pointed to these “peculiar times” and the innovative ways members are assisting others.
“This is the time really to minister to others according to our circumstances,” she said, “and we are seeing this around the world as people are just helping each other in different ways.”
Making masks, sharing food, providing medicine — such acts of charity, as the Relief Society motto touts, never faileth.
But sometimes charity can never succeedeth without a more basic commodity: money.
To that end, the church donated a total of $5.5 million in cash to five aid agencies to help with coronavirus relief efforts.
The funds went to Feeding America, Partnership With Native Americans, the Salvation Army, United Way and Convoy of Hope.
“This generous gift came at a pivotal time,” Hal Donaldson, CEO of Convoy of Hope, said in a news release. “Convoy of Hope is well on its way to reaching the goal of delivering 10 million meals to those hit hardest by the coronavirus.”
The church has not said how much, if any, of its vast “rainy day” funds — pegged earlier this year at $100 billion by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal — have been spent on these humanitarian efforts.
A world of hurt — and help
Church officials say 280 projects have been launched in 80 countries to help with COVID-19 relief.
In Nigeria, for example, the church donated N95 masks, surgical gowns, protective eye shields, disposable hand gloves, hand sanitizers, antiseptic liquid soaps, disposable shoe covers and more to the Lagos state’s health ministry, according to a news release. “We kindly call on other religious institutions and corporate organizations in the state to follow the example of the church and contribute,” a health official said.
In Wales, meanwhile, Latter-day Saints partnered with others to buy, assemble and deliver 8,000 hygiene kits. “It has been a wonderful experience to see how the community has come together to support us in so many ways,” a senior nurse wrote in a thank-you letter.
In the U.S., more than a dozen truckloads of commodities from Bishops’ Storehouses also are making weekly trips to food banks and other charities nationwide.
Another news release notes Relief Society women have made masks for community members in Perth, Australia, for medical workers in Indiana, even for jail inmates in Los Angeles.
RM: rugby missionary
After tackling a new language in the mission field, Young Tonumaipea is ready to return to tackling on the rugby field.
The Samoan international star signed a contract with the Gold Coast Titans of Australia’s National Rugby League, the Sporting News reported, after he spent two years proselytizing in Germany.
“It was a hard decision to go and leave everything behind, but it was honestly something I don’t regret,” the 27-year-old Tonumaipea told Fox Sports Australia. “ … I’ve learned so much and gained so many experiences.”
• The Winnipeg Manitoba Temple is scheduled to be dedicated Nov. 8 after a public open house from Oct. 22 through 31.
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong will dedicate the temple, a news release said, the day after an evening youth devotional.
The single-spired Winnipeg Temple, announced nine years ago, will be Canada’s ninth such edifice.
• The church unveiled plans to build hundreds of new homes in a walkable residential community around the still-to-be-built Tooele Valley Temple, 30 miles west of Salt Lake City.
Renderings show the community would also sport a regional park, playing fields, pickleball courts, a natural vegetation walking trail and more — all interspersed with water features, wide green spaces and tall stands of trees.
Quote of the week
“I want to make Mormonism weird again. The more I lean into the oddity of our peculiarity, the more I enjoy myself. I’ve found Mormonism to be ugly-beautiful in that curious sort of way. And the more I can embrace that strange Mormon aesthetic, the better.”
Madison Daniels in a By Common Consent blog post
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.