The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly affected temple worship for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2020 and 2021. As a result, a number of temple open houses and dedications were canceled and postponed until large gatherings are deemed safe. Despite the lack of temple dedications, temple construction persisted and the church was able to break ground for 21 temples in 2020. In what can be described as very fortunate timing, the open house and dedication for the Durban South Africa Temple was held in January and February of 2020. Elder Rasband dedicated the temple on February 16, just as the wave of coronavirus was beginning to crest.
To the contrary, in what can be described as unfortunate timing, the open house and dedication for the Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple was announced on February 12, 2020 for April and May. The keys of the temple had been turned over to the church in late January and billboards were put up to identify the temple. The church newsroom even released the photos of the completed interior, which customarily coincides with the beginning of the open house. However the wave of coronavirus crashed on worldwide shores and the dedication of the temple was postponed on March 18. The First Presidency went ahead and closed all temples worldwide on March 25.
Perhaps in a bullish move, the Washington D.C. Temple open house and rededication was announced in late February for a September open house and December dedication. In April, the open house and dedication of the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple was announced for October and November. For a while, it appeared that public affairs was banking on the virus blowing over by the Fall of 2020. Alas, it was not to be. The Washington D.C. rededication was postponed in June and the Winnipeg dedication in September. Donald and Melania Trump lost their opportunity to attend the open house as current president and first lady.
Empty Chairs in Empty Temples
On May 7, 2020, the First presidency announced a phased reopening of temples. It was not until late 2020 that any temples opened to phase 3, which is defined as open for all ordinances with restrictions like masks and appointments to limit attendance. However, for those that live near a temple that is otherwise complete but not yet formally dedicated, there is no opportunity to open the temple in any phase. Renovation work for the Washington D.C. Temple appeared have wrapped up during the summer.
In addition to Rio de Janeiro, Washington D.C. and Winnipeg, construction on the Tokyo Japan Temple has also wrapped up in early 2021. As part of the renovation, the annex of the temple (which housed the former Japan MTC) was demolished and a new one was built in its place. Unlike the annex structures that are part of the Pioneer Era temples like Salt Lake and St George, which are physically part of the core temple structure, the annex in Tokyo is not connected to the temple. It is essentially a four-story meetinghouse and accommodation center. It is inhabited by three wards, two stakes (a Japanese stake and an English stake), offices for both the Tokyo North and Tokyo South missions, offices for the Asia North area, temple patron housing, a family history and visitors center, and underground parking. In a previous era, it may have been dedicated at or near the rededication of the temple. Instead, the annex was dedicated on January 10, 2021.
A number of additional temples, including Mesa Arizona, Yigo Guam, and Quito Ecuador appear to be approaching completion. Under normal conditions, it would be likely these temples would have open house and dedication dates scheduled for the coming months. An open house and rededication committee has recently been formed in anticipation for the reopening of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
First Sign of Green Shoots after a Long Winter
In what appears to be a loose cannon incident, regional church spokesman Larry Fisher spilled the beans that an open house and dedication committee had been formed in preparation for the completion of the Pocatello Idaho Temple. He announced the individuals that had been called to chair the committee and provided an estimation of the dates for the open house and dedication:
“It is anticipated that the open house will be held sometime between October 1st and mid-December of 2021 with the dedication to follow shortly after,”
Hours later, Fisher released a retraction of the information that he had previously released saying it was not correct and to disregard it. It is unclear what prompted him to retract the information so quickly. The uncertainty surrounding the dates for the open house appear to be the culprit. After having to postpone three temple dedications in 2020, church public affairs is likely wary of announcing dates until the pandemic is on the downswing for sure. Regardless, it is safe to assume that they are shooting for an open house in late 2021, if at all feasible.
With the construction and renovation of many temples coming to a close, it begs the question: What will open houses and dedications look like in the coming year? Is It worth delaying the dedication of a temple for the publicity that an open house attracts? Why can’t the temples be privately dedicated without an open house so that the work of the temple can commenced in a phased reopening status?
Alternatives to Public Dedications
Private dedications of temples have occurred in the past. The Nauvoo Temple was privately dedicated by Orson Hyde in May 1846. Brigham Young was on the plains of Iowa and had assigned Hyde to stay behind to dedicate the temple upon its final completion. The private dedication even included passing a resolution to sell the temple in order to fund the church’s move west. Even though most of the church leaders immediately left Nauvoo after the dedication, they felt like they were fulfilling the commandment to finish the temple as given through Joseph Smith. In the 1880s, the church leaders were on the run from the government over the issue of polygamy. Risking arrest, Lorenzo Snow dedicated the Manti Temple in 1888, a temple that was under legal threat to be escheated to the federal government.
In more modern times, Hurricane Harvey dumped a foot of water into the basement and first floor of the Houston Texas Temple in 2017. Seven months later, President M. Russell Ballard rededicated the temple in a private ceremony.
Another concern could be the risk to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who have always been the presiding authority in a temple dedication. In early 2021, a number of them received a vaccine for COVID-19. This would certainly lessen their risk as they travel to these locations. In the United States, they could even go on a road trip as to avoid crowded airports. Traveling across boarders may pose another challenge. Elder Gong, who was previously announced as the presiding authority to dedicate the temple in Winnipeg, has already had COVID-19. Elder Soares, who quietly had and recovered from COVID-19, could probably swing a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Japan has been more strict in requiring foreigners to quarantine before traveling through the country. But wouldn’t it be cool if the Tokyo open house would coincide with the upcoming Summer Olympics in July? (if they even happen)
At the moment, it is difficult to predict what church leadership will do for temple dedications in 2021. What’s to say that the temples nearing completion can’t be dedicated in a private dedication? Is the local outreach to the community and media during an open house so important that a temple dedication has to be delayed? If pandemic conditions get better in later months, could an open house be held after the dedication? Is it appropriate to rededicate a temple again after a formal open house? Church leaders will likely have to consider these questions in the coming months.