SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ twice-annual conference kicked off Saturday without anyone attending in person and top leaders sitting some 6 feet apart inside an empty room as the faith takes precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.
A livestream of the conference showed a few of the faith’s top leaders sitting alone inside a small auditorium in Salt Lake City with their chairs far apart. Normally, top leaders sit side-by-side on stage with the religion’s well-known choir behind them and some 20,000 people attending each of the five sessions over two days in a cavernous conference center.
Church President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the conference and the major impact COVID-19 has had on the world. The faith has closed its temples and churches and brought home thousands of missionaries.
Nelson said the pandemic is one of life’s trials along with accidents, natural disasters and unexpected personal heartaches.
“Though today’s restrictions relate to a virulent virus, life’s personal trials stretch far beyond this pandemic,” Nelson said. “How can we endure such trials? The Lord has told us that ‘if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.’ Of course, we can store our own reserves of food, water and savings. But equally crucial is our need to fill our personal spiritual storehouses with faith, truth and testimony.”
He said the empty auditorium and seating arrangements were done to be good “global citizens” and prevent the spread of the virus. He said fewer than 10 people were in the room.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.
Nelson is 95 years old, his first counselor Dallin H. Oaks is 87 and his second counselor Henry B. Eyring is 86.
It is the first crowd-less conference since World War II, when wartime travel restrictions were in place. Flu epidemics forced the church to postpone the conference in 1919 by two months and cancel the conference in the fall of 1957, according to a church history of the conference.
Leaders from the Utah-based faith, which counts 16 million members worldwide, utilize the conference to provide spiritual guidance, underscore the religion’s key beliefs and, sometimes, announce new initiatives or rules.
The theme of this conference is the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of when their founder Joseph Smith, then a teenager, says he had a vision of God and Jesus Christ in the woods of upstate New York that led to the formation of the church 10 years later.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.