Temple Closures and Church Practice

I ate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in my home with my family, and then again in the home of a friend who is in what we all see as a high risk demographic. We are making arrangements with the ward to have weekly Sunday sermons by ward members available on demand each week, and one interactive adult class by telepresence (for now, rotating through RS, EQ, and SS). The youth will be trying to interact virtually throughout the week. My regularly Book of Mormon discussion group will also shift online. My sense is that this will be the new normal for quite some time. I’m grateful for the hard work of everyone who is trying to find creative ways to meet the needs of our community. Our temple practice is, however, not so easily adjusted.

First, the church’s public affairs professionals are doing a really impressive job. They are updating the church’s COVID-19 page, often multiple times a day, with news and information. Today the church announced policies moving forward for the temple. Only living ordinances by appointment in temples not otherwise closed. Only one living ordinance per session. Only eight observers allowed for any living ordinance—no exceptions. Some missionaries will be leaving for service without having been through the temple. These seem like reasonable policies (in fact, I wish this were the case for living endowments all the time, though with a higher cap).

The challenge is that the temples are closing at a rapid rate. For the last week that I’ve been keeping track, the closures have been pretty linear. If this trend continues, all temples will be closed in about twenty-five days (I did the math, I’m just not showing it).

So while there may be a significant portion of the missionary corps who are not endowed, the bigger issue, as I see it, is temple marriage. It is not just our people that won’t be able to have large weddings and receptions. The same constraints are on the entire population. But I think a key difference is that a lot of our young people will be disinclined to wait to get married for six months or more. And it is not just a matter of not being able to have everyone you want at your marriage. If the temples are closed (which seems likely), then there is no option to be sealed at all.

There are a couple of possibilities. Church leaders sealed people in marriage outside temples up through the first decade of the twentieth century. This was a difficult period in controlling who had authority to perform sealings, and that sort of freewheeling left a bad taste in a lot of church leader’s mouths. I doubt we’ll see this any time soon.

Now, the First Presidency announced last year that people can be civilly married and then be sealed at any time thereafter—no waiting period. My sense is that when the marriage season heats up in a month or so, and most if not all the temples are closed, we will be seeing a lot of civil marriages in the church. Bishops are authorized to marry, and that seems like a solution most people would gravitate to. I also imagine that there are not a few Mormons who are not sad to not pay for a reception (a triple negative, how about that). Then when temples are open again in the future, we will have a wave of sealings.

It is hard to predict what these accommodations will do to our broader temple culture. Maybe it won’t be a big deal at all and in a year we will be back to normal, as if nothing happened. It seems more likely to me than not, that this will de-stigmatize civil marriages among our people as a valid option and precursor to temple marriage.

Comments

  1. joshua h says:

    If I had more faith, I’d probably say that last year’s policy change on civil marriages was put into place because President Nelson could foresee the days in 2020 when temples would be closed. Then again, if I had this much faith I’d think that his pronouncement last Oct. that the April 2020 General Conference would be like no other…add Come Follow Me and home study in 2019 as revelatory preparation for 2020.

    Heck, you could even add 1970s pronouncements about food storage as preparation for 2020. Why not?

  2. Why are we still sending out Missonaries? Just push out their assignments for awhile until this all settles out.

  3. mcbethjb says:

    If I had my druthers, this would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on weddings in temples. Keeping them set apart for temple ceremonies would bring the us closer to the practice in many other countries where sealers don’t have the marriage power.

  4. Eric Facer says:

    When I served my mission in Chile in the early 1970s, those full-time missionaries who were Chilean were not endowed. There were no temples in South America at that time, so if you were native to the region, getting your endowment before serving a mission was not a viable option. So, there is modern precedent for young men and women serving in the mission field without first going through the temple.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with both of your points First, young people will be disinclined to postpone weddings, and in part at least for reasons the Church should support. I was engaged for four months before my temple wedding in 1980, and it was the longest four months of my life. Unless our senior leaders have totally forgotten that experience, they won’t pressure young people to delay marriage until the temples reopen.

    Second, I agree that this wave of civil weddings will tend to destigmatize such weddings in Mormon culture. Which I think would be a very good thing. It is a rare couple that does not have loved ones in their circle that are not membets or do not have recommends. This new practice will have the salutary effect of including those people in the wedding, which is the way it should be, with the religious sealing to follow later.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Kevin.

    Eric that is a good point.

  7. Joshua h, The 1970s and much earlier points about food storage definitely predicted the future. But it’s a combination of darkly through a glass. It’s always been a question of when it happens, not if. This same response could have escalated and been applied to many other diseases in our past and there are many turning points in history where the people of Nineveh repented and the city wasn’t destroyed so to speak. (Metaphor example to illustrate that our action or action on various issues changing the outcome, not necessarily repentance related)

    The tragedy is, the church has virtually abandoned, or at best deescalated public rhetoric on food storage, even though the principles remain and we still spend a lot of canning centers and stocking. It’s probably more a case of the people stopped taking it seriously. In that regard, it’s clear the focus shifted to the bigger picture. Building faith as a priority and there were always bigger fish to fry than where to get loaves and fishes. This crisis will of course renew that emphasis.

    With regard to the temple, I imagine if will make it more important to those that miss it. And the temple will be more meaningful in a greater percentage of people’s lives. (Intensity and Numerically)

    The main problem I have is imagining general conference. Will we need to add in a laugh track to fill in the gaps at the cheesey jokes? How will the cadence of the talks be effected without the comedic pause and wait for the conference center to laugh moments? It will actually change the overall tone quite a lot.

  8. nobody, really says:

    I was at a sealing just recently. The young couple was “shackin’ up”, found out from a test kit that they really, truly, were in love, so they put together a fast civil wedding in the Relief Society room. After a lot of work on their part, a series of Temple Prep classes, and a trip to Distribution, they went through the temple and were sealed before the end of the 3rd trimester.

    Turns out we have a significant number of very furious people at church who figure this is just a travesty and mockery of all that is sacred. They don’t particularly care that the Stake President was fine with everything. To paraphrase Matthew 20, why are you getting your nose out of joint just because the Lord chooses to be kind? I suspect a lot of people are going to spend a lot of time whispering about how the very notion of a temple marriage has been cheapened and debased now that “just any old sinner” can go.

  9. Nancy C Roche says:

    The Rexburg temple is open for live endowments and sealings only (no proxy ordinances). Ordinance workers are invited to assist only if they are not at high risk. The wedding party is 10 people or fewer. I have several friends who are not postponing anything except their receptions. Why should this not be the case for many other temples?

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Nancy, that is the current policy for all open temples (click the Q&A linked in the original post). The challenge is that many temples are closing completely (43 of them, see link above), with more closing completely every day. So currently, for example, both the Vancouver (Langley), BC temple and the Seattle temple is completely closed (and the boarder is closed now as well). If you are in BC, or in Western Washington, there is currently no proximate temple that is open. There are many countries with no open temple and travel is restricted.

  11. I am curious. How did the people come dressed in your home to partake of the Sacrament? Does it state in the handbook how one should dress to administer the Sacrament? Does it matter how we dress in our home when renewing our covenants?

  12. J. Stapley says:

    Roy, the current policy (per the Handbook) is that “[t]hose who administer the sacrament should be well groomed and clean. They should not wear clothing or jewelry that might detract from the worship and covenant making that are the purpose of the sacrament.” I have heard families have variously dressed in “Sunday best,” business casual, or regular clothes for their home services.

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Updates as of this evening:

    [As of 7:00 pm: Temples will accept only appointments for living ordinances from members residing within the local temple district.]

    In states, provinces or regions with multiple temples, those temples can accept appointments for living ordinances for members within the state, province or region.

    This applies retroactively to previously scheduled appointments. Temple staff will contact all those affected to answer questions and cancel or reschedule appointments.

    Temple staff will also attempt to contact those scheduled for living ordinances the day before their appointment to ensure no members of the patron’s attending party are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

    Members showing symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend the temple.

  14. I’m interested in how you’re maintaining ward interaction. I’m wondering how many people will become inactive and not come back when regular church service resumes. I had a Bishop who used to say that every ward member was just three Sundays away from becoming inactive.

  15. I’m in the next town over (different stake) and our straight and narrow stake pres is holding tightly to the reigns of sacrament. We are unpermitted from administering or partaking until he does it for us on Easter (which isn’t likely to happen bc we know we won’t have church service). Hopefully he will “allow” us to have our own in our homes on Easter, but maybe he shouldn’t because I might just let my daughter pass it with her brother lol.

  16. Wondering says:

    Gg, Why is it any of the stake president’s business? I thought it was the bishop’s keys that were relevant. In a completely different context, I did once have to point out to a stake president that his proposed interference with the bishop’s handbook-authorized discretion as to music in sacrament meeting was not authorized by the handbook. Of course, not all stake presidents would respond appropriately and some bishops are yes-men to stake presidents even when the latter are out of line. What kind of bishop do you have?

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Gg, I’m not sure that I would describe that as straight and narrow, but there is certainly a variation in local leader perspective. I hope that your SP comes around, as this is going to last a lot longer than Easter, and there is no scriptural or handbook reason to withhold the Lord’s supper from the people.

  18. Now our ward has been asked to not create online group SS, RS and PR meetings, but rather to focus on home and family.

  19. J. Stapley says:

    DavidC, I get that impulse, but between the majority of our people single, the real need for a church community (church is far more than just a brand), and the work we can do together to fight the anxiety of isolation, I find that directive to be unfortunate.

  20. DavidC, you may not be able to have an “official” SS,RS, or priesthood online meeting, but you should be able to have an unofficial Come Follow Me study group and just happen to invite everyone to participate…

  21. jes, thanks for the suggestion. Maybe we’ll get more directions at conference if the meeting situation appears to become long term, which I expect it will. We have a good ward/neighborhood Facebook group, and we can do our own Sacrament at home every week. I’m not sure how well an online solution would maintain a sense of community. I expect that after this is all over with someone will do a study.

  22. We ought to have a Slack workspace for each ward and zoom accounts for people to have group meetings. Then we could cut back in-person Church attendance to maybe Ward Conference and Stake Conference. These are the tools I use to keep a community feeling working from home for a company with about 250 employees distributed all over the United States. It would be awfully convenient for me.

  23. Stapley, I emailed everyone the handbook which puts sacrament in Bishop’s jurisdiction and stake pres said no. Our pres exercises very tight, rigid, by the book control in your neighboring stake.

  24. nobody, really says:

    They will never officially approve on-line study groups. We have learned from sad experience that it is the nature of almost all study groups that they will immediately start selling time shares, peddling mangosteen juice, advocating polygamy, or some idiot will decide that he’s “one mighty and strong” and needs to set up his own restoration branch.

    If only family study is approved, one bad apple will only be able to turn one family. If group study is approved, one bad apple can take an entire group down the path of the dark side. That’s why we’ve correlated everything down to where there is only one acceptable Sunday School answer to any given question. In the new handbook, section 17.3.4, it’s stated that leaders need to carefully observe classes and make sure that only scripture, manuals, and Conference talks are used.

    That being said, the Church only has the authority to govern our lives that we give it. I remember a friend of mine once trying to organize a girls-only camping trip for about six of her adult friends, and a few of them objected on the grounds that they weren’t allowed to go camping without a Priesthood holder present. My friend had a horrible time trying to convince her friends that they were no longer bound by Girls Camp rules, since it was not a Church activity and they weren’t in Young Women. The Bishop doesn’t need to be consulted on every question, up to and including “What kind of car should I buy?”

  25. Wondering says:

    Nope, Nobody, the word “only” is conspicuously absent from section 17.3.4 of the new handbook. It reads in relevant part: “Leaders ensure that teachers use the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and the approved curriculum materials as outlined in the current Instructions for Curriculum. They help teachers understand how to supplement the curriculum with Church magazines, particularly the general conference issues of the Ensign and Liahona.” And in Oct 2018 General Conference Elder Quentin L. Cook’s endorsed study groups: “[I]t would be completely appropriate for young singles, single adults, single parents, part-member families, new members, and others to gather in groups outside the normal Sunday worship services to enjoy gospel sociality and be strengthened by studying together the home-centered, Church-supported resource. This would be accomplished informally by those who so desire.”
    Why should “on-line” be different?

  26. I’m always looking for ways to teach my children the gospel. For those who are looking for home church ideas, Book of Mormon Stories is a great resource to help families teach the gospel to their children. There is a new video uploaded every day . (first video https://youtu.be/n1xv-08L0Qs)

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