Although words such as “quarantine,” “closed,” “canceled,” “paused,” and “postponed” have peppered global conversations this year, 2020 has been anything but a slow time for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The novel coronavirus disrupted and altered life in countless ways. But much of what is essential to the Church continued uninterrupted.
The Church’s humanitarian efforts grew in unprecedented ways. The faith’s response to the pandemic became the largest humanitarian project in Church history. Weekly worship in chapels came to a temporary halt in March, but the faith’s culture of home-centered gospel study helped Latter-day Saints adapt to worship and scripture study from home.
Most missionaries were called back to their home countries or asked to spend more time in isolation, but missionaries continue to share messages of Jesus Christ online. Temples closed for a few months before a cautious and careful phased reopening began in May. In-person gatherings for general conferences and other large meetings were cancelled, but messages of Church leaders continued to reach a global membership thanks to the blessing of technology.
The Church has donated cash and commodities to support more than 1,000 COVID-19 relief efforts around the globe. This includes partnerships with Convoy of Hope, Feeding America, Partnership with Native Americans, the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the World Food Programme. Food donations also increased and were distributed nationwide in the United States. The Church also responded to many natural disasters around the world, including wildfires in the western United States, hurricanes in the southern United States and Central America, and typhoons in the Philippines.
President Russell M. Nelson shared several messages of hope and healing throughout the year, including a prayer of gratitude and invitations to people everywhere to help heal fractured relationships and communities. His video message of November 20 was viewed tens of millions of times, and social media users used the #GiveThanks hashtag in millions of posts about gratitude.
Some people of other faiths expressed appreciation for the message.
“I saw this as an outsider, namely a Jewish one,” one commenter on Facebook said. “I am intent on my own faith, but I wanted to say this was an inspiriting presentation and a prayer that people of all faiths can appreciate.” A Catholic woman added, “I found this posted many times through my friends’ stories. What a beautiful message from a faith-filled leader.”
A health care worker said the prophet’s words helped her discover peace on the pandemic’s medical frontlines.
“I have been working as a COVID nurse since March,” she wrote. “Literally this week I’ve cried so many times and have said how angry I still am about everything. Everyone else seems to have moved on, and I still have to look at it in the face every week and try to fight back. I have been SO MAD. This message found me at the perfect time, and this time I cried tears of relief. I can finally feel the emotional burden lifting.”
President Nelson also invited Latter-day Saints to join in two global fasts for pandemic relief, called for racial harmony and a urged respect for human dignity.
A month before the pandemic began, Elder Ronald A. Rasband dedicated the Durban South Africa Temple—the only temple dedication in 2020.
Although worship in temples has been restricted since May, Church leaders broke ground for 21 new temples in 2020. At the Church’s two general conferences, President Nelson announced the future construction of 14 more temples—including new houses of the Lord in the United Arab Emirates and in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.
A major seismic renovation of the Salt Lake Temple began in January. In May, the temple capstone was removed and the First Presidency witnessed the initial opening of the time capsule contained within it.
Before COVID-19 put a pause on global travel, several Apostles made in-person visits with Latter-day Saints and civic leaders in several places.
Elder David A. Bednar became the first Apostle to visit the African nation of Sudan, Elder Quentin L. Cook visited the Philippines, Elder Ulisses Soares traveled to Costa Rica and Guatemala, and Elder Ronald A. Rasband made a stop in South Africa. Other leaders made visits closer to home. President Dallin H. Oaks spoke to youth around the world in a broadcast originating from Temple Square, President Henry B. Eyring ministered in Idaho, President M. Russell Ballard spoke to students at Brigham Young University, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson visited New York.
The ministry has continued apace during COVID-19. From President Nelson’s video message at the beginning of the pandemic to the First Presidency’s Christmas devotional, Apostles have shared many digital messages with Latter-day Saints and others around the world. Elder Bednar spoke at a religious freedom conference and at the G20 Interfaith Forum.
Like the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Church’s female leadership also ministered globally throughout the year. Prior to the pandemic, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon (Young Women general president) spoke to students at Brigham Young University, Sister Jean B. Bingham (Relief Society general president) visited the Philippines, Sister Sharon Eubank (president of Latter-day Saint Charities and counselor in the Relief Society general presidency) spoke to women at Utah Valley University, and Sister Reyna I. Aburto made a stop in Los Angeles.
Since then, sister leaders have raised awareness for the hungry, spoken to global leaders, encouraged women to be a unifying global force, celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Young Women program and ministered digitally to Latter-day Saints around the world.
At the April 2020 general conference, President Nelson presented a proclamation in honor of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity.
A series of videos was also initiated in honor of the 200th anniversary of the First Vision. Published with the hashtag #HearHim, each video features a Church leader describing how they hear God speak to them. The full series can be found at HearHim.ChurchofJesusChrist.org or on YouTube.
Also in April, President Nelson introduced a new symbol for the Church and explained its significance. This new symbol is a continuation of the effort he felt inspired to initiate in August 2018 to focus on the Church’s divinely revealed name. Since that time, he said, the Church’s leaders, departments, related entities, main website, members and many others now use the correct name of the Church.
“We have gone to these extraordinary efforts because when we remove the Lord’s name from the name of His Church, we inadvertently remove Him as the central focus of our worship and our lives,” said President Nelson, who has given strong emphasis to the correct name of the Church in his ministry since at least 1990. “When we take the Savior’s name upon us at baptism, we commit to witness, by our words, thoughts, and actions, that Jesus is the Christ.”
The General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published in February. This book replaces both Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other leaders). The new book is accessible to anyone and will be updated regularly to give it requisite flexibility to help thousands of leaders around the world adapt the Church’s various programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances with loving, pastoral care. Updates were made to the handbook in February, March, July, and December, with more to come in 2021.
The Church announced this year that beginning in January 2021, the faith will replace its four current magazines with three global magazines: the “Friend” (for children), “For the Strength of Youth” (for youth) and the “Liahona” (for adults). The current four magazines include three magazines in English—the “Friend” (for children), “New Era” (for youth) and “Ensign” (for adults)—as well as a magazine translated into many languages called the “Liahona” (with material for children, youth and adults).
The second volume of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days was published in February. The second volume begins in 1846 with thousands of Latter-day Saints fleeing mobs in Nauvoo, their gathering place for the previous seven years.
It concludes in 1893, with stalwart women and men working together to create communities where the faithful can gather near and worship in temples built to glorify God and redeem the living and the dead. At the same time, hundreds of missionaries journey to faraway lands—England and Denmark, South Africa and the Pacific Islands—to invite others to follow Jesus Christ and help establish the Church.