The following message was sent to Church leaders in Utah on February 3, 2021.
We again express our sincere appreciation for the leadership of Area Seventies, stake presidents, bishops, and other local leaders during the current pandemic. As you know, infection rates in Utah remain high, slowing our ability to return to normal Church meetings and activities.
On January 22, 2021, the Utah Department of Heath issued an additional Public Health Order (2021-3) which is in effect through February 22, 2021. The Order “does not apply to a religious service.” However, religious organizations “are strongly encouraged to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of federal and state officials to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to the public; however, this phased approach will take time to reduce transmissions. Given that conditions vary throughout Utah, we ask stake presidents to maintain awareness of COVID-19 transmission rates in their local communities.
In consultation with senior Church leaders, we now replace our November 12, 2020 guidelines with direction previously outlined in the September 11, 2020 letter from the First Presidency and the (Updated) Utah Area Supplement. Additionally, we provide the following clarifying information to stake presidents:
- In consultation with your Area Seventy and with leaders in your stake, we ask that you develop and implement a plan for returning to Church meetings and activities consistent with information provided herein, while exercising care to follow established safety protocols (e.g., appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitation of surfaces, limitations on the number of people attending Church meetings and activities).
- Your plan should limit the number of people attending Sunday worship services and continue to broadcast services for those who participate from home. Second hour classes should be held virtually, unless specific exceptions can be made safely, and activities for children and youth should be limited in size to maintain safety protocols. All activities should have a religious purpose.
- YSA stake presidents may hold in-person second hour meetings if Church facilities are large enough to allow for social distancing and steps are taken to avoid excessive mingling between meetings. YSA stake plans may also allow bishoprics to meet with small groups of members outside regular Church meetings.
- Plans for funeral services, baptisms and wedding receptions should allow for these tender and sensitive gatherings to be conducted with appropriate limits as to the number of people invited and should follow safety protocols.
- Technology is encouraged for stake and ward conferences and other leadership meetings; however, presidency, bishopric and council meetings may be conducted in person with safety protocols.
Thank you for your inspired leadership in these challenging times.
The Utah Area Presidency
The message below was published on November 12, 2020.
The Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent the following email to Church leaders in Utah on November 12, 2020. To ensure that the Church is responsive to state executive and public health orders, the Utah Area Presidency asks local Church leaders to make the following four temporary adjustments to ensure increased safety and vigilance during a time of rising COVID-19 cases in the state:
- Temporarily suspend in-person second-hour meetings in young single adult (YSA) wards and stakes. These can be held virtually.
- Limit in-person youth gatherings to activities with a religious purpose.
- Limit in-person attendance at baptisms, funerals, weddings and receptions to immediate family and those who officiate. All others can participate virtually.
- Hold stake and ward council meetings, coordination meetings and other large leadership meetings via technology.
More details can be found in the email below:
We express our heartfelt gratitude for your efforts to inform local leaders of specific principles and guidelines intended to keep our members safe during the current pandemic. We also appreciate how local leaders have prayerfully considered how these guidelines can be safely implemented. Given the current spike in the number of cases of COVID–19 in Utah, we ask that you share the following information with stake presidents in your Coordinating Councils.
As you may know, Governor Gary Herbert recently issued an Executive Order (2020–74), effective November 9, 2020, which, among other things, mandates the wearing of face masks while within six feet (whether indoors or outside) of any individual from a separate household and precludes social gatherings of individuals from separate households. The Utah Department of Health followed with a similar Public Health Order (2020–22). These Orders have state-wide application and will remain in force at least until November 23, 2020, unless modified or extended beyond that date.
What is not well understood by many is that the Governor’s Executive Order, by its terms, does not apply to religious services. Additionally, it stipulates that social gatherings, as defined, do not include gatherings “for a primarily educational or religious purpose” and simply “encourages faith-based organizations to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
In reviewing our approach to meetings and activities in Utah (see the First Presidency letter dated September 11, 2020 and the Updated Utah Area Supplement) and counseling with others, we understand that we are currently in compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order. We do, however, encourage leaders and members to be diligent in following existing safety guidelines and in using caution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
With a desire to be responsive to the current concerns in Utah, we ask that you make the following temporary modifications to our previous guidelines while the Governor’s Executive Order is in place:
- As you know, we recently reduced the number of in-person participants in our Sunday worship services from 150 to 99 or fewer. In resident wards we have asked that second hour Sunday meetings be held virtually, however, we have permitted YSA wards in YSA stakes to gather in-person for elders quorum, Relief Society and Sunday School meetings. We now ask that these in-person second hour meetings in YSA wards be temporarily suspended and that all wards in Utah hold second hour meetings via technology.
- We have allowed small youth gatherings to be held in-person on days other than Sunday with the stipulation that they be limited to individual quorums and classes. To comply with the spirit of the Governor’s Executive Order we ask that these gatherings be limited to activities that have a religious purpose. Sporting activities and other non-religious social activities are temporarily suspended.
- We have noted some challenges in how personal safety standards are maintained in gatherings when feelings and emotions are tender. To be cautious, we now ask that in-person attendance at baptismal services, funerals, weddings and receptions be limited to immediate family members and those who officiate. All others should be invited to participate virtually. We ask local priesthood leaders to work with individuals and families to determine how best to address safety measures and to limit attendance at these important events.
- We also ask that stake and ward council meetings, coordination meetings, and other large leadership meetings be conducted using technology.
Most importantly, we ask local leaders to be vigilant in maintaining well-known safety measures (e.g., following social distancing requirements, wearing of masks, using hand sanitizer and other safety measures in preparing and administering the sacrament, cleaning buildings between meetings, etc.) and in avoiding informal congregating before and after meetings and activities.
We are grateful for your support and your desire to protect others, especially those who have medical conditions or are of an age which puts them most at risk.
The Utah Area Presidency
- • First Presidency: Safely Engaging in Church Meetings and Activities (September 11, 2020)
- • Updated Utah Area Supplement to First Presidency Letter of September 11, 2020