Latest from Mormon Land: How members pray; rebuilding Beirut; and temple terminology

Also: Remembering the oldest church president and explaining the “ongoing restoration.”

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this May 27, 2020, photo, missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pray during a Zoom meeting with a family while on a smartphone at their apartment, in Brigham City, Utah.

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.

Rebuilding in Beirut

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Beirut District President Maroun Akiki and his wife, Roula, in the shop President Akiki manages, which was heavily damaged in the explosion on Aug. 4, 2020.

The reverberations from last August’s deadly blast in Beirut are still being felt economically and emotionally in Lebanon — and Latter-day Saints are trying to help.

The faith’s humanitarian arm has donated nearly $2 million in aid and is funding a range of other projects as the Middle Eastern nation strives to recover and rebuild from the explosion while also grappling with a surging coronavirus.

“Beirut is home to a small church congregation that meets on one floor of a high-rise building,” a news release noted. “The retail store beneath the church was damaged, as were the floors above, but the church’s meeting rooms were untouched.”

District President Maroun Akiki was uninjured, but the blast damaged the off-road-vehicle store he manages.

“As I have contemplated the events, I have felt a full range of emotions,” Akiki’s wife, Roula, said in the release. “But we are blessed. We have stored food in our home, as our church has taught us to do, and that helps.”

Somia Mohana, the branch Relief Society president, and other church leaders have distributed food boxes to Latter-day Saints and others in their communities.

“We have to take [it] one day at a time,” said Karim Assouad, former district president. “Everything is uncertain, unstable. But we know how to survive here in Lebanon.”

Why folded arms? Pray tell.

(Rick Bowmer, AP file photo) In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, President Russell M. Nelson prays during the church's twice-annual conference in Salt Lake City.

“Father, I will rev’rent be

“And in thy house walk quietly;

“Fold my arms and bow my head

“And close my eyes while prayers are said.”

So goes the Primary song and so goes a typical Latter-day Saint prayer. But why do members, generally, fold their arms instead of folding their hands when approaching the Almighty?

Writer Jonathan Stapley explores that question in a recent By Common Consent blog post.

Acknowledging that more research may be needed, he points to traces of the practice in Protestant Sunday schools in the 1860s. He also reports that apostle David O. McKay suggested “folded arms, bowed heads and closed eyes” for Latter-day Saint Sunday schools in 1923.

“It is worth noting that while many people maintained folded arms for prayer after Primary, it was hardly universal,” Stapley writes. “...Other Christians also fold their arms to pray, so it isn’t just a Mormon thing.”


(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A sealing room in the Fortaleza Brazil Temple.

In Latter-day Saint lingo, members often talk about “taking a name to the temple.” They mean, by that, going to a temple and doing vicarious ordinances for a dead ancestor.

But the phraseology may be off.

Research historian Ardis E. Parshall recently blogged — at keepapitchinin.org — about a child who was blessed and baptized under one name, but whose father later switched the surname. When this boy eventually married under the new name, his earlier ordinance dates didn’t show up on his membership records.

His bishop wrote to apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, then the church historian, to ask whether all the ordinances still counted.

Smith responded that any confusion could be rectified with a simple notation.

“It was not the name that was baptized or ordained,” Smith said, “but the individual.”

That small gem of a statement, Parshall writes, was “the whole point of this post.”

This week’s podcast: The ‘ongoing restoration’

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Patrick Mason speaks while recording the 100th episode of the "Mormon Land" podcast in 2019.

In his new book, “Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World,” scholar Patrick Mason explains how 16.5 million Latter-day Saints can — with help from the billions of others across the globe — “renovate the world.”

Mason emphasizes that while Mormonism’s “ongoing restoration” is more about looking forward than backward, the church and its members must discard some historical and cultural baggage, including racism, sexism and colonialism, to reach its ultimate destination.

He also calls on Latter-day Saints to take up the cause of the “Messiah of the marginalized” and lift all the children of their Heavenly Parents.

Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, joins this week’s podcast to talk about his book, these topics and more.

Listen here.

Remembering Hinckley

(Tribune file photo) President Gordon B. Hinckley speaks at General Conference in October 2001.

Thirteen years ago this week, the oldest church prophet died.

Gordon B. Hinckley, who had led the faith as its 15th president for nearly 13 years, died Jan. 27, 2008. He was 97.

A week later, Thomas S. Monson succeeded him.

President Russell M. Nelson will turn 97 on Sept. 9.

Third time’s the, ahem, charm

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Top Latter-day Saint leaders, including church President Russell M. Nelson, seated in the middle on the front row, await for General Conference to start Oct. 3, 2020, from the Conference Center Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

General Conference is going for a three-peat.

In April, the two-day gathering will be an all-virtual affair for the third straight time because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Utah-based faith has announced, as expected, that the spring conference will follow the pattern set in October, with church leaders speaking from a nearly empty Conference Center Theater in downtown Salt Lake City. Only the speakers for each session (and their spouses) will be present. In the fall, they were socially distanced and wore masks.

Last April, the conference had no in-person audience as well, but it took place in a small auditorium in the nearby Church Office Building.

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available and administered in coming months, conference could return to its usual home, with its usual crowds, in October.

Mission: Sundance

(Fide Ruiz-Healy | Courtesy of Sundance Institute) Samuel Sylvester appears in "The Touch of the Master’s Hand" by Gregory Barnes, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Gregory Barnes found inspiration for his short film, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” in two places: his Latter-day Saint mission to Argentina and a 1992 church video about repentance.

The result: a dark, 12-minute comedy that premieres this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

Barnes shot footage in a Southern California meetinghouse.

“The aesthetic of Mormonism is really unique,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Seeing carpet on the [meetinghouse] wall like that makes my stomach turn, but I also find it completely nostalgic. … I can watch the movie and I can smell it. I think a lot of people with Mormon backgrounds can feel the same.”

Barnes hopes to create a feature-length anthology of missionary stories.

Help in Idaho

Latter-day Saints gave away nearly 40,000 pounds of food — in the form of 1,300 boxes stuffed with fresh produce, meat, dairy, yogurt and eggs — this week on the Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho.

“This is an opportunity to help a part of the community that’s in need,” Ross Hugues, president of the Pocatello-Tyhee Stake, told the Idaho State Journal. “...This should help us understand that we are one community — that COVID-19 doesn’t care about boundary lines or the color of our skin. We are all in this together.”

Temple updates

• How is the four-year renovation of the Salt Lake Temple coming along?

Well, scaffolding now blankets the south side.

“This will help workers in the stone repair and cleaning process,” a news release said, “as well as improve access for materials into the temple.”

On the north side, a deep hole will make way for a second crane.

See photos here.

• Five temples are now offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead, along with all living ordinances, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release. Three more are scheduled to join them in Phase 3 of the church’s reopening plan in coming weeks.

Come Monday, 117 temples will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Another 16 will be in Phase 1, providing only marriage “sealings.” Meanwhile, 18 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

Quote of the week

“You know, you’re Mormon, but the [Republican] Party is more and more evangelical. You’re a millionaire, and the party is more and more populist. And you’re a moderate, and the party is more and more conservative. And so we’re just going to work a lot harder.”

— Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, quoting what a top campaign strategist told him during his presidential run.

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