In addition: A look at the highs and lows in church growth, and another apostle contracts COVID.
• A net increase of 113 congregations in the United States — despite COVID-19 limitations. That 0.78% uptick may seem small, but it represents the second highest bump since 2015.
• Children of record added to church rolls slumped to 94,266 in 2019 (the latest year for which such statistics have been reported), the lowest since 91,800 in 2007.
• The coronavirus upended missionary work as the number of full-time proselytizers tumbled from nearly 68,000 in February to 42,000 in late April before bouncing back to 52,000 in August. Even now, severe restrictions continue. “As of mid-2020, half of the church’s 407 missions have missionaries who mainly worked from their apartments through the use of technology,” Martinich wrote. “…Since the start of the pandemic, many cities, and even entire countries, remain without full-time missionaries.”
• The U.S. membership growth rate plunged to 0.59% in 2019, the lowest it has been in maybe a century. The reasons, he said, range from falling birthrates to rising secularism, along with declines in convert baptisms and young adult retention.
• The Golden State is seeing fewer golden contacts as the church dissolved two California stakes. The number of stakes in the most populous state has plummeted from a peak of 162 in 1995 to 151.
Feeling the spirit in prison
With branch names like Lone Peak, Olympus, Oquirrh, Promontory, Timpanogos First and Second, Uinta, and Wasatch First and Second, the newly formed Great Salt Lake Utah District hardly stands out on paper.
But, in person, they do. That’s because the members of these congregations are all doing time in prison facilities.
Women’s group calls for Trump’s ouster
In the vein, the church will provide $3.3 million in cash and in-kind donations to help those experiencing homelessness in Utah this year.
Church aid will go to five nonprofit groups:
Calls for ‘cosmopolitanism’
Latter-day Saints have a role in advancing heaven’s aims in this earthly drama, some members say, but they’re bit players.
“By cosmopolitanism, I mean that we’re suddenly able to see ourselves as others see us and we can picture ourselves as one religion among a number of religions and a number of viewpoints,” Bushman explained. “We can see how Mormonism looks from a global view. And as soon as we do that, then the way we treat women becomes problematic in terms of the way the educated world in general is looking upon women and race and LGBTQ issues and so on.”
Such an approach, Rich adds, allows members the “freedom to be wrong — to reevaluate, question, doubt, and get cozy with uncertainty.”
“God has endowed various groups — including other religions — with particular gifts and callings that are designed to bless the world,” Mason writes. “…God has also called others around the world and throughout history to speak his words and do his will. Our community does not have a corner on holy men and women.”
A third apostle gets COVID
A quarter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has come down with COVID-19 during the pandemic. Thankfully, the disease thus far has infected only the group’s younger members and all have recovered.
Soares and his wife, Rosana, “experienced mild cases” over the holidays.
In scriptural speech: “Be still, and know that God is God.”
The 67-year-old apostle, appearing with his wife, Susan, also urged young adults to “change the future now” by developing “multigenerational relationships,” and showing more love and less judgment.
“In divided societies, disciples of Jesus Christ can share a common divinity and humanity greater than any differences,” Gong said. “In darkening, sometimes claustrophobic times, believers radiate his light and liberating truth. Where there is spiritual famine in the land, we celebrate him as living water and the bread of life. … Today you help me. Tomorrow I help you. We are here for each other.”
“Too often we are too hard on ourselves,” Gong wrote. “The Lord invites us to come as we are, to do all things ‘in wisdom and order.’”
The couple’s appearance will be a click away, because RootsTech Connect, touted as the world’s largest family celebration event, will be a free online showcase this year.
The Feb. 25-27 conference will include training on temple and family history work for Latter-day Saint leaders from apostles David A. Bednar, Gary E. Stevenson and Dale G. Renlund.
On Jan. 7, 2020, the city issued a “certificate of occupancy” to the church after the remodel, with an estimated cost of $2 million, according to building permit records.
“The Salt Lake Temple has always included a special space for church leaders to meet and carry on the work of the church,” spokesperson Doug Andersen wrote in an emailed statement. “During the time that the Salt Lake Temple is undergoing renovation, senior church leaders will meet in a dedicated space that has been prepared in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.”
Crews are removing the popular water feature and replacing it with a ring of world flags as part of a plaza makeover.
The Sunshine State is home to more than 160,000 members.
• Four temples are now offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead — along with all living ordinances — as part of the church’s Phase 3 reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Despite the Lord’s consistent and stern warnings, we have largely been seduced by the gods of affluence and ease. Many of us orient our lives around this pursuit. At times we have even verged dangerously close to embracing a Latter-day Saint version of the ‘prosperity gospel.’ … That is not the gospel Jesus preached….The Restoration’s economic worldview should be shaped more by Joseph Smith than Adam Smith.”