ST. GEORGE — While work continues on the renovation of the St. George Utah Temple and the Red Cliffs Utah Temple, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced earlier this week that it is lifting additional restrictions on temple use worldwide as worries over the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be lessening.
This latest update includes the LDS temples in Cedar City and Las Vegas.
According to a press release from the church, 76% of its temples – 129 of 168 of its dedicated temples worldwide – will enter “Phase 3” of the church’s reopening plans after Monday. The third phase of the reopening plans allows for “all living ordinances and limited proxy ordinances by appointment.”
“Key precautions are in place for temple workers and patrons, including masks worn at all times, limited numbers of patrons in the temple at a time, minimal staff in the temple, sanitization after each temple ceremony, careful social distancing and seating arrangements, and temperature checks at the entrance,” the press release states.
Some temples worldwide will remain closed due to local government health restrictions.
The Las Vegas Nevada Temple and Cedar City Utah Temples will be moving to the church’s third phase of reopening sometime in June or July.
Importance of proxy ordinances to Latter-day Saints
“Proxy ordinances,” also popularly known as “work for the dead” within the church, includes the practice of baptizing living individuals on behalf of those who have died – usually deceased family members and ancestors. Latter-day Saints believe those who have died without having the opportunity to be taught the gospel will be taught it in the afterlife and have the chance to accept or reject it accordingly.
If someone in the hereafter has made the choice to accept those teachings, baptism remains among the requirements to move forward. However, as ordinances such as baptism and others within the church require a physical body to perform, that is where the proxy work for the dead comes in.
This work is only performed in the church’s temples, which is one of the reasons why they are considered sacred places by church members.
Work for the dead within the temples is focused on forging eternal bonds between the living and the dead, particularly where family lines are concerned. This is also why Latter-day Saints tend to be engaged in and encourage genealogical research.
Waiting on two temples
Ralph Atkin, of the LDS church’s local communications council, said local church members have likely been attending the temple in Cedar City where possible as it is closer than Las Vegas.
Still, even with the temples gradually reopening in the wake of the pandemic, Latter-day Saints in Washington County have been without a temple in their backyards since the St. George Utah Temple closed for renovations in September 2019; it is set to reopen in 2022.
At the same time, construction continues on the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in April 2020 in the Washington Fields area and won’t be finished until mid to late 2023.
Atkin said the lack of being able to attend a temple as freely and locally as before has “been felt deeply (by church members) in this community.”
“Here we anticipate having two temples and right now we have none,” he said. “The community at large is anxious to get the two temples up and running.”
Though the St. George Utah Temple will be closed for another year, Atkin said the temple’s visitor center has reopened, albeit in a limited capacity and at reduced hours for the time being.
He also noted that the Red Cliffs Temple will not have a visitor center of its own, and that such additions to Latter-day Saint Temples were relatively rare worldwide.
Latter-day Saints consider temples to be a “house of the Lord,” and thus one of the most sacred places on Earth. Temples differ from the meeting houses or chapels where all are welcome to attend Sunday worship services. In the temple, according to LDS church descriptions, the teachings of Jesus Christ are reaffirmed through marriage, baptism and other ceremonies that unite families for eternity.
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