SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced changes to its upcoming general conference and training for missionaries, due to the global spreading of illness caused by COVID-19. The changes were outlined in a set of letters sent by the church’s leadership to members Wednesday morning.
The letters stated that the public will not be admitted into the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for the five sessions of the April 2020 General Conference. Instead, the meetings will only be available throughout the world by radio, television and on-line. The church is also prohibiting large gatherings in the United States and other areas around the world where contagion is a concern.
The letters from the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the only people who will be admitted into the Conference Center will be church leadership, and those speaking or performing. That includes general authorities, general officers and their spouses, musicians, choirs, technicians, and others who will participate as assigned.
In a separate letter, the church also announced that beginning March 16 all missionaries scheduled to enter missionary training centers in Provo, Utah, or Preston, England will be trained remotely by video conference. Other missionary training centers will continue to function as usual, but they will not receive any missionaries from regions where government officials are restricting activity. Missionaries from those areas will also be trained by video conference.
Each missionary will receive specific information regarding the length of training, schedules, and other logistics as his or her starting date approaches. Once missionaries complete their online training, they will travel directly to their mission assignments.
The letters expressed concern about the global spreading of illness caused by COVID-19. It explained that church leaders had counseled with worldwide governmental, ecclesiastical, and medical leaders and had prayerfully considered the current circumstances in making the decisions.
“We want to be good global citizens and do what we can to control this contagious illness,” one letter read. “We are most grateful for the many who are working tirelessly to address this health hazard. We pray for them and for all who may be suffering.”
During the last 100 years, the church has only announced similar measures twice. In October 1957, leaders canceled general conference altogether, due to an exceptionally bad flu season. The April 1919 General Conference was postponed for two months to avoid transmitting the Spanish Influenza.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement in response to the Church’s announcement and encouraging other organizations to adapt their operations to slow the spread of COVID-19. He said, “We appreciate the prudent steps taken by senior leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus…(the church) has made wise decisions that will help minimize exposure to the virus, while simultaneously allowing church members to participate in meetings that are important to their worship.”