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.
Nelson braces world for message
Church President Russell M. Nelson certainly knows how to build anticipation.
At the close of the fall General Conference in 2019, he promised that the gathering the following spring, celebrating the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” would be “different from any previous conference.”
Now, with much of the globe still gripped in the COVID-19 vice, Nelson is teeing up a message of “hope and healing” he plans to deliver Friday.
“My dear friends, the challenges that we face as fellow global citizens are immense, but our ability to feel hope and seek healing in Jesus Christ remains strong,” the 96-year-old leader wrote last week on Instagram. “I have felt impressed to share with you a message on November 20, 2020, from 11:00 to 11:15 a.m. MST.”
The video — in which Nelson. a renowned heart surgeon before devoting himself to full-time church service, will share a “fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual remedy” — will be posted on his social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and on the church’s main YouTube channel in 31 languages.
Thanks to his heads-up, millions of eyes will be watching.
This week’s podcast: The ‘Black 14’ — past and present
In October 1969, 14 African American players for the University of Wyoming planned to sport black armbands in a football game against Brigham Young University to protest the church’s then-priesthood/temple ban on Blacks (that ban ended in 1978).
Their coach booted them off the team hours before kickoff.
Now, more than 50 years later, the “Black 14,” as they have been called, are teaming up with the church to bring 180 tons of food to people in need in nine U.S. cities stretching from Maryland to Wyoming.
On this week’s podcast, Mel Hamilton, one of the original Black 14, talks about the experience, past and present.
Among the highlights, Hamilton, a lifelong Catholic, notes that years later his son would convert to Mormonism and rise to a high priest.
So, unbeknownst to him at the time, the elder Hamilton was, in reality, “fighting” for his son long before the child came along.
The lights of Christ(mas)
Temple Square’s Christmas lights will be on in downtown Salt Lake City this holiday season, but the square’s glistening grounds will be off — limits, at least.
The lights are ready and will be switched on every evening after Thanksgiving, but, due to COVID-19, “the plaza will be fenced off and the gates will be closed,” a news release stated, “with no public access to Temple Square.”
Instead, visitors will have to bask in the glow from surrounding roads and sidewalks, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“The virtual celebration of the Savior’s birth will be different than what visitors to Temple Square have experienced in the past,” the release added, “but organizers say it will once again be a beautiful and inspirational experience.”
Public access to Temple Square has been limited since spring, when the pandemic struck Utah, even as extensive renovation work on the iconic Salt Lake Temple continues.
The governing First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional will be broadcast Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. MST and will include fresh sermons and previously recorded music from The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.
In addition, those hoping to see seasonal lights at temples in Washington, D.C. (also under renovation) and Los Angeles will have to view them from inside a vehicle.
Lighting the world in a dark time
The church’s Light the World holiday service campaign is encouraging members to end 2020 — a year of pandemic and protests, fires and fear — “on a positive note” by reaching out to others.
“Two-thousand years ago, people found hope in a star,” states a newly released video titled “Hope Shines Bright.” “This Christmas, let’s help each other find hope in a text or a tag or a not-so-random act of Christlike kindness.”
Ideas for ways to serve others are now available at LightTheWorld.org, where a daily calendar of 25 simple ways to help others during December can be downloaded.
Those large red Giving Machines — which raised more than $6 million last year — will be shelved this holiday season. They are expected to return next year, a news release stated, but people can still support Latter-day Saint Charities’ global partners.
Young Women celebrate
The faith’s Young Women around the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of their organization in a virtual broadcast Sunday, with one of the main speakers being a man: Russell M. Nelson.
“As the father of nine daughters, 26 granddaughters and 72 great-granddaughters with more to come,” Nelson said, “I spend a lot of time with young women.”
The church president encouraged his global audience to “teach your friends the gospel, and rise above the temptations of the world by choosing to live by the Lord’s higher and holier standards.”
The program, recorded in English, was broadcast in 11 languages, according to a news release. The Young Women general leaders — President Bonnie H. Cordon and her counselors, Michelle D. Craig and Becky Craven — fielded questions in Spanish and Portuguese, and prayers were offered from girls in Norway and Thailand.
“In talking about it and planning, we really just wanted to find ways to highlight young women from all over the world,” Craig said. “This has been a hard year. And hopefully, this is like a boost that we can do this, we can do this together.”
View the entire broadcast here.
Utah’s COVID spike
Amid an explosion of new coronavirus cases, Utah’s top Latter-day Saint officials are asking congregations to make “temporary” changes to their services.
In a letter Thursday to bishops and other lay leaders in the Beehive State, Area President Craig C. Christensen and his counselors asked them to discontinue some in-person gatherings — including “second-hour services” (priesthood meeting for men, Relief Society for women, Sunday school for all adults) and weekday youth activities that don’t have a religious purpose — and to limit attendance at baptisms, funerals and weddings to “immediate family members and those who officiate.”
The letter also urged these leaders to remain “vigilant in maintaining well-known safety measures” such as heeding social distancing, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer.
Eric Huntsman, who teaches religion at BYU, endorsed the protocols.
“My family wants to be careful to protect ourselves and others, but we value worshipping with our friends and neighbors,” Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune. “By wearing masks, socially distancing, and following other mitigation practices, we can meet with our ward every other week in smaller groups for an hour and do our other classes remotely.”
Sunday ‘pick-me-up’ at Yale
Latter-day Saints who attend Yale University have returned to abbreviated, socially distanced in-person services — and they couldn’t be happier about it.
“I wasn’t expecting to miss it that much,” Chunie Johnson, a student in the physician associate program, told the Yale Daily News. “I’m used to having my Sundays be a pick-me-up and so, feeling a little more down than usual, I think, was something I noticed.”
Members also have noticed how rigorously their meetings in New Haven, Conn., adhere to safety measures.
“I haven’t seen COVID restrictions more radically followed than I did at church,” Connor Peck, a student in the School of Public Health, told the paper. “When I go to campus, I’ve never seen anyone that’s been more strict, and I think it’s because, honestly, religious institutions know we have an eye on our back, kind of like a target for superspreading events.”
The translation question
A young men’s teacher in St. George wrote to the church president with a question:
How did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon?
Although a wave of new scholarly books has surfaced examining the genesis of the faith’s signature scripture, this teacher’s query came not in 2020, but rather in 1906.
Yes, notes historian Ardis E. Parshall, members wondered even back then whether Smith placed an “instrument” on the gold plates and the words then appeared in English or whether the fledgling Latter-day Saint prophet even looked at the plates.
“The purpose of this brief post is not to try to answer the question — volumes have been and are being written on that,” Parshall writes on her Keepapitchin.org website, “but only to note with fascination that exactly the same questions we debate now were discussed long ago.”
The researcher does not know how — or if — President Joseph F. Smith responded. But she did point to the teacher’s ultimate position: “For me it is done, and I accept it in full.”
Growth in Angola
A second city in Angola now has multiple Latter-day Saint congregations.
Huambo recently gained a second branch, independent demographer Matt Martinich reported this week on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website. Previously, only the capital of Luanda had more than one congregation.
The church has about 3,500 members in Angola and one stake.
Forty-six years ago this week, church authorities created France’s first stake, in Paris, with Gérard Giraud-Carrier as president, according to a church chronology.
Today, France has nearly 40,000 members, 10 stakes, 108 congregations and two missions. The Paris Temple, located near famed Versailles, was dedicated in 2017.
“This is like a dream come true,” French native Gérald Caussé, the church’s presiding bishop, said at the time. “We’ve worked closely with the architects to make the temple a beacon in the area.”
• Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, teamed up with other faith groups, in donating toward a housing center in Missoula, Mont.
“Seeing faith-based communities unite around a common cause brings me hope,” Casey Dunning, executive director of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, told KPAX. “We’ve brought unique perspectives together to imagine and create safe, secure housing for families. The new Meadowlark housing center allows us to more than double the number of families we can help.”
• Dozens of Latter-day Saints helped restore the bell tower and steeple of the Bethel AME Church, the oldest chapel in Chico, Calif.
“This was a dream come true,” Pastor Loretta Dickerson-Smith said in a news release. “I have been blessed to be a part of this great restoration of this building, which is not just a restoration of the physical building but the restoration of our temple, where all of us of various faiths are coming together and taking part in this project.”
• The church’s Frankfurt Temple donated 620 sets of bed linen, 436 fitted sheets and 173 towels from its pandemic-idled guest houses to a refugee center in Friedrichsdorf, Germany.
“It was important to us that the laundry should continue to be used instead of simply being thrown away,” Jens Müller-Hopf, a temple administrator, said in a news release. “We are pleased that things will now be of use to people who have found refuge with their families in our region.”
• More than 120 young Latter-day Saints joined with the Helping Hands program to plant trees throughout La Paz, Bolivia.
“What you have done today is very important,” Municipal Council President Andrea Cornejo said in a news release, “because our country is going through difficult times and your contribution gives us hope.... Today you have sown life.’”
• Next week, 153 of the church’s temples will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 126 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Two California temples, however, Sacramento and San Diego, will “pause operations,” the church announced, due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.” No temples have begun Phase 3, which would make “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.
• A small-scale, socially distanced groundbreaking Saturday launched construction of the Coban Temple.
The single-story, 8,800-square-foot structure will be one of four either operating or planned in Guatemala, home to nearly 300,000 members.
“As we dedicate this property, we likewise dedicate ourselves to honor,” general authority Seventy Brian K. Taylor, Central America Area president, said near the end of his dedicatory prayer, according to a news release. “Wilt thou accept our offering and may thy grace and presence abide here and in our lives always.”
• A groundbreaking also took place Saturday for the Davao Temple.
The two-story, 18,450-square-foot building will be one of seven operating or planned temples in the Philippines, home to more than 800,000 Latter-day Saints.
“It never ceases to amaze me how the hand of the Lord has been over this nation,” general authority Seventy Taniela B. Wakolo, Philippines Area president, said in a news release. “How he has prepared its people and its land to receive the gospel and the blessings of the temples of the Lord.”
Quote of the week
“I want people to realize that we’re working together, and will continue to work together, to strengthen the love between people — even people with differences.”
Mel Hamilton, on the Black 14′s partnership with the church
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.