10 LDS temples in Utah to expand their operations with COVID-19 precautions in place

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Ogden Temple in late 2014. The temple soon will be open again for all ordinances.

Next week, Latter-day Saints will be able to participate in temple “endowments,” or ritual teachings about the origin and purpose of mortality, in 17 more temples — including 10 in Utah.

Because of the coronavirus, the faith’s temples shut down in late March and began to reopen in May for marriages (known as “sealings”) of couples under a Phase 1 plan, with stringent space limitations and mask requirements.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday that, starting Aug. 17, some but not all temples in the Beehive State are shifting into Phase 2, which will allow “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”

Priority — especially in Utah temples, which are expected to be “very busy” — will be given to sealings for couples, according to a news release, followed by endowments for full-time missionaries currently serving in the field who left home before getting this ordinance and then prospective proselytizers who soon will be departing for their missionary assignments.

Phase 2 required some changes to the endowment ceremony itself, according to a letter last month from the faith’s governing First Presidency.

“The sacred teachings, promises, and ceremonies of the temple are of ancient origin, and point God’s children to him as they make further covenants and learn more about his plan, including the role of the Savior Jesus Christ,” wrote church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors. “Through inspiration, the methods of instruction in the temple experience have changed many times, even in recent history, to help members better understand and live what they learn in the temple.

“... With a concern for all” amid the COVID-19 pandemic “and a desire to enhance the temple learning experience,” the leaders wrote, “recent changes have been authorized to the temple endowment ceremony.”

The endowment ceremonies include the “making of sacred covenants, or promises, to God,” they said, and resemble other such covenants like “prayer, immersion of an individual at baptism, or holding hands during a marriage ceremony.”

Similar “simple, symbolic actions accompany the making of temple covenants,” the top officials wrote.

In other words, there are some physical elements to the rituals.

The temple endowment is considered one of the holiest rites of the Utah-based faith, so it has been especially hard to be sending out full-time missionaries into their service without being “endowed.”

With temples moving into Phase 2 in Bountiful, Brigham City, Cedar City, Logan, American Fork, Ogden, Payson, Vernal and two in Provo, most male and female missionaries from Utah should be able to have that ritual before leaving for their respective two years or 18 months of service. It also means all living couples can be sealed in the temple, not just those who have been previously endowed.

No Latter-day Saint temples in the Salt Lake Valley have entered Phase 2, and none of the faith’s 168 temples around the world have resumed proxy work in which members perform these ordinances for their dead ancestors.

Precautions due to the virus remain in place for temple workers and patrons, Monday’s release said, including a mask mandate for all inside and severe limits on the number of participants permitted at any time. Phase 2 has added temperature checks at the entrance.

As of next week, 130 temples will have entered Phase 1, and 29 will have started Phase 2.