The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not requiring its missionaries serving in Utah to be vaccinated — even as the state opens up appointments to all those over 16.
When asked if the Salt Lake City-based faith would make it mandatory for all its proselytizers in the state to get the shots, spokesman Sam Penrod, said, “Under the direction of mission leaders, mission medical coordinators have been asked to monitor local availability of COVID-19 vaccines and will inform missionaries when they may be eligible to receive a vaccine.”
In the Beehive State, those young men and women, who have to be at least 18 or 19, respectively, are eligible right now.
Penrod then pointed to the governing First Presidency’s statement from January, when church President Russell M. Nelson, his two counselors and several other Latter-day Saint apostles over age 75 got their first dose.
“As appropriate opportunities become available, the church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens,” the statement said, “and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”
It added, however, that “individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”
Apparently, that includes those serving full-time missions for the faith in the heart of Mormonism.
The church has nine missions in Utah, but Penrod would not say how many total missionaries there are. Most estimates would put the number between 1,300 and 1,800.
The faith’s General Handbook, spelling out guidelines for members and leaders, encourages Latter-day Saints to “safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”
It adds that “prospective missionaries who have not been vaccinated will likely be limited to assignments in their home country.”
On March 2, apostle Gary E. Stevenson told a Brigham Young University audience that missionaries “diligently follow local COVID guidelines in the areas they serve.”
In some instances, “they teach outside, socially distanced,” Stevenson said. “In other places where greater restrictions are in place, missionary teaching originates from missionary apartments, done virtually.”
In Utah, at least until April 10, when the state is poised to lift its mask mandate, that means wearing face coverings and social distancing, while interacting with others.
In February, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf encouraged missionaries in a worldwide virtual devotional to “be creative” in their efforts to “help people learn about the Savior of the world.”
Uchtdorf told the young Latter-day Saints not to “neglect proven principles and practices from before the pandemic, but learn, add and adapt technological advances that the Lord has provided to accomplish his work in your time and in your season.”
Many if not most Latter-day Saint missionaries across the globe these days are doing their contacting and teaching via technology from their apartments. Smartphones, they have learned, can be a smart tool.