Utah’s Latter-day Saint congregations got the green light this week to resume in-person weekly worship services — but with lots of caveats and conditions.
Like the more than 30,000 wards and branches across the globe in the 16.5 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all public gatherings of congregations in the Beehive State have been suspended since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those wards desiring to assemble again in church meetinghouses must first adhere to the recommendations set out by local governmental leaders. That could mean different standards for reopening in, say, Salt Lake City, which remains at a moderate “orange” risk level for the virus, than in Santaquin, with its lower-risk “yellow” status.
Latter-day Saint congregations also need to heed the guidelines for two phases of reentry spelled out Tuesday by the faith’s top leaders.
For now, according to supplemental guidelines sent to stake (regional) authorities from Latter-day Saint leaders for the Utah Area, only in-person sacrament meetings, the faith’s main weekly worship service, can be held.
“Although Phase 1 allows up to 99 participants to meet together for sacrament meeting,” the Utah letter notes, “please remember that this is a maximum rather than an expectation or quota.”
All other traditional Sunday meetings, such as adult Sunday school or the women’s Relief Society, will continue to be suspended “because of space limitations in most meetinghouses.”
“[Male priesthood] quorums and classes are authorized to fellowship during the week,” the letter adds, “by gathering remotely using technology or in small groups for activities or other purposes.”
Given the safety rules, the size of many Utah wards and the limits on the number of participants, the guidelines say, “wards will likely need to hold multiple meetings on Sunday and may also need to invite members to attend on alternating weeks (yet not less than once per month).”
The document strongly encourages members who attend services to wear face masks.
“Seating arrangements should be made so that at least a 6-foot radius (side to side and front to back) is maintained between household groups,” it states. “Individuals from the same household, including single adults or missionaries who share the same apartment, may choose to sit together.”
The Utah Latter-day Saint leaders — led by general authority Seventy Craig C. Christensen — also recommend that ward leaders encourage members in high-risk populations (those 65 and older, who have immunodeficiencies, or other underlying medical conditions) to stay home until it is safer to attend in-person services.
“Because circumstances and health issues vary by individual, we urge leaders to help members not feel compelled to attend meetings,” they write, “and feel supported should they choose not to participate for a time.”
These standards echo and enlarge the guidelines set out this week by church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors in the governing First Presidency.
“We emphasize the importance of proceeding cautiously,” the Utah leaders say, “as we adapt to the continuing challenges associated with the COVID–19 pandemic.”