LDS church announces general conference, training to take place remotely amid COVID-19 concerns

The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Intellectual Reserve Inc., St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In response to the recent global spread of the new coronavirus — declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization Wednesday morning — leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have announced a drastic change for this year’s general conference.

The St. George Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George, Utah, May 22, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The church sent out letters Wednesday telling members they will not gather at the conference center in Salt Lake City in April, or at stake centers or meetinghouses in areas where the virus is active.

According to a press release issued Wednesday morning by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church leaders have counseled with the worldwide governmental, ecclesiastical and medical leaders. And, after considering the current circumstances, have decided to make significant changes to the format of this year’s conference.

“We are deeply concerned about the global spreading of illness caused by COVID-19. … We want to be good global citizens and do what we can to control this contagious illness,” the press release states.

“We are most grateful for the many who are working tirelessly to address this health hazard. We pray for them and for all who may be suffering.”

It further states:

To help control this problem, we feel it wise to limit attendance at the upcoming April 2020 General Conference. We plan to conduct all five sessions of that conference at the conference center. General authorities, general officers and their spouses, musicians, choirs, technicians and others will participate as assigned. But, proceedings of the conference will be distributed throughout the world via technology only. The public will not be admitted in the conference center in Salt Lake City, or in stake centers or meetinghouses in areas where contagion is a concern.

Leaders stated that all sessions will be held virtually and questions about other large gatherings of church members will be answered in separate announcements. The conference is set to commemorate the bicentennial of the First Vision and The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days.

“We live in a remarkable age. The Lord has blessed us with the technology and capacity to participate in and receive messages from church leaders in all parts of the world,” church leaders stated. “We invite all to continue to prepare for this conference. As we do, we will be blessed to hear the word of the Lord and participate in a general conference experience that will remain not only memorable, but unforgettable.”

Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox responded to the action, releasing their own statement on the decision to limit mass gatherings and hold the general conference remotely.

“We appreciate the prudent steps taken by senior leadership of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints to help mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus. The Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force encourages all organizations in the state of Utah to consider adapting their normal operations to help slow the spread of coronavirus in their spheres. These adaptations will vary greatly depending on the scale and scope of events and daily operations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made wise decisions that will help minimize exposure to the virus, while simultaneously allowing church members to participate in meetings that are important to their worship,” the statement read.

In addition, leaders sent out letters worldwide stating that beginning March 16, large gatherings will be temporarily be postponed in Asia, Asia North, Europe, Europe East, Canada and all areas of the United States. Missionaries will be also be trained remotely.

“After considering the counsel of governmental, ecclesiastical and medical leaders around the world and our own prayerful reflection, we will postpone stake and leadership conferences and other large gatherings in church areas where illness caused by COVID-19 is a challenge,” the letter stated.

Large gatherings in other areas of the world may continue as usual unless directed otherwise by area presidencies, who counsel with their leaders.

“In relation to weekly worship services, activities and other meetings, members should follow the guidance of their local leaders, who will receive direction in the usual manner,” leaders announced. “As this constantly changing situation develops, we will provide further guidance on this topic.”

All missionaries scheduled to enter missionary training centers in Provo, Utah or Preston, England will begin training by video conference beginning next Monday, but other training centers will continue to function normally, the letter states. However, they will not receive any missionaries from regions where government officials are restricting activity, “missionaries from those areas will also be trained by video conference.”

“We believe this temporary virtual training program will help to prepare missionaries for the field while minimizing risks related to communicable disease.”

Leaders said they will continue to follow developments and make adjustments to their plans as needed.

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