First Presidency Updates COVID-19 Guidelines – Sort Of

lds-church-covid-sacrament
Area Presidencies have been directed to do something they've been doing all along.

On Friday, February 18, 2022, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a letter to leaders worldwide that updates safety guidelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We are grateful that the Lord has heard the prayers of so many and provided the direction that has allowed us to navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic which, in some areas of the world, continues. As governments begin to modify the requirements for travel, masks, and other protective measures, we offer the following direction.

We are now encouraging Area Presidencies, in consultation with stake presidencies, to determine on a local basis whether masks should be worn or other precautions should be observed in the various Church meetings and activities. In doing so, local leaders should consider the guidance of local health and government officials and local customs and conditions.

For the time being, masks will still be required in temples, where so many who attend are part of an elderly, more vulnerable population and where our desire is to keep temples open and to have as many as possible participate.

We thank you for your faithfulness in heeding the counsel provided by Church leaders and pray the Lord’s continued blessings upon you.

Sincerely,

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring

One might be scratching one’s head a bit at first glance at this text. Haven’t Area Presidencies been working with stake presidencies and setting standards this entire time? That’s how you wound up with some parts of the world immediately pivoting to Zoom church in March 2020 while saints in Utah were forbidden from doing so. That’s how you have congregations in some states and countries with no mask requirement (or one that’s poorly enforced) and others where masks remain the norm. That’s how some wards still embrace social distancing and others don’t. Outside of Church leadership moving swiftly to suspend all public Church activity in March 2020, the response to the pandemic has been largely decentralized, although the First Presidency has encouraged the wearing of masks and publicly encouraged Church members to get vaccinated against the virus, and has done so repeatedly.

This reads as less of a direct policy change and more of a green light for Area Presidencies to revisit the current standards in their region and decide whether to change them.

Overall, the Church appears to be inching away from digging in its heels on COVID. The upcoming April General Conference will be the first with public attendance since October 2019, and the Church only claimed construction around Temple Square—a project that is now delayed by approximately two more years—as the reason for restricting the number in attendance with no remarks about combating COVID.

The last section of the letter notes that masks will continue to be required in temples. The First Presidency mandated masks among temple patrons last summer, and gently reminded patrons of the mask requirement earlier this year. Interestingly, the letter states that maintaining a mask requirement is not only out of concern for the largely elderly temple worker population, but also “where our desire is to keep temples open and to have as many as possible participate” (emphasis added). So the logic here is that masks are essential to keep temples open and allow as many as possible to participate, which is great! But wouldn’t we apply that logic to our meetinghouses, a place with more people congregating with greater frequency? Are masks not essential to allow as many as possible to participate in sacrament meeting? To allow as many people as possible to hear the gospel? To allow as many children as possible to learn in primary? It’s an interesting disconnect that one can only assume comes from Area Presidencies taking ownership of meetinghouse policy while the First Presidency and the Temple Department dictate temple policy.

Regardless, all COVID-related policies are pursuant to the laws in one’s state or country at the time of writing.

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