That’s MCU for the Mormon Church Universe, not the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although there is an undeniable element of fantasy in both. Life in the MCU through 2019 was a standard weekly cycle of attending Sunday meetings, getting your kid off to early morning seminary, and writing those tithing checks. Then in 2020, Covid reared its ugly head and we entered Phase One of the MCU: the Church suspended all meetings worldwide on March 12, 2020, then on March 20, 2020, the Church announced that most missionaries serving around the world would be returned to their home countries to self-isolate for 14 days, after which they would be reassigned to missions within their home country to complete their missionary service. (Both links are to official Newsroom announcements.) In addition, operations of LDS temples worldwide were suspended.
Phase One was a huge step backwards, mirrored by lockdowns, travel restrictions, and border closings around the world. We entered Phase Two of the MCU gradually in late summer 2020 as LDS meetings resumed. This Salt Lake Tribune article dated September 11, 2020 reports that the Church authorized LDS congregations worldwide to resume meetings, as authorized by the regional Area Presidencies and under strict guidelines tailored to each region. So we’ve been in Phase Two for roughly two months. I’m thinking Phase Two lasts until mid-2021 when vaccine distribution and administration is in full swing and some form of “return to normal” or some form of the new normal become feasible. A frequently updated post at the Newsroom summarizes various steps taken by the Church to partially resume some activities during Phase Two.
I am going to list a few recent developments with a comment or two, then solicit additional observations from readers in the comments. I know that the particulars of what is happening on the ground vary a lot across countries, states, and even stakes within the same state.
- Meetings started, meetings suspended: My ward here in my little corner of Wyoming resumed meetings about a month and a half ago, with the two wards trading use of the building every other week and only a one-hour sacrament meeting being held. Masks were required for those attending in person; those at higher risk were encouraged to stay home and view the meeting remotely. In light of suddenly increasing Covid cases, in-person meetings were just suspended again, although virtual meetings (streaming prayers, announcements, and talks from the chapel pulpit) are continuing. With Covid numbers spiking all across the United States and in many other countries, I’m guessing in-person Sunday meetings will be suspended again in many places.
- Missionaries aren’t doing much. Just getting them fed by members is a complicated task now, much less doing any of the standard proselyting activities. During the summer, we had a three-missionary team in our town over for dinner. We set up a table and chairs on our front lawn, with wife and I keeping our social distance, masked up and sitting on the front step. Sunday we’ll drop off a dinner on their doorstep. It is just a really tough time to be an LDS missionary.
- But missionaries are still going out. Just had a young man give his farewell talk on Sunday. He entered the “virtual MTC” the next day. At home. There’s a half-dozen missionaries currently serving from my ward, although I wonder what sort of missionary activities they are doing at the moment. But it’s still the case that young LDS are still excited to begin missions and that families are thrilled to support their missionaries, whatever the circumstances.
- Temples aren’t doing much. Here is an updated list of temples and the operational status for each. Every single temple that isn’t closed for repairs and refurbishing is either at Stage 1 (just wedding sealings by appointment only) or Stage 2 (living ordinances only, by appointment, but no proxy work) in a four-stage system. The standard temple visit for adult Mormons (get a name and do a proxy endowment session) is pretty much dead in the water at the moment. I think it’s going to be a long time before anyone is comfortable with the idea of a bunch of old people getting together for about 90 minutes in a closed room, coughing from time to time, sitting shoulder to shoulder.
- Let’s not sing anymore. Two features of standard LDS Sunday worship have proven especially problematic: singing and passing the sacrament. I haven’t attended in person since the March 2020 suspension, so I’m going to let readers share how singing and sacrament have been handled in their ward or branch over the last two months.
- Looking forward to Thanksgiving 2021. Because Thanksgiving 2020 just ain’t happening. At least not the usual large gathering of family and a stray friend or two. Maybe the same for Christmas. This will be a bitter pill for Mormons in Utah and Idaho to swallow, and my guess is many in these states will simply throw caution to the wind and go ahead with large family gatherings. For us, it’s gonna be Zoom visits and group online games this year.
What’s different in your country, state, or ward? Here’s a reminder: Phase Two is not the New Normal. Phase Two is an extended period of ad hoc resumptions of various activities of daily life at home, at work, at church, at school, and while travelling. Phase Two lasts until a vaccine is widely administered and such activities in something like pre-Covid form can resume with only minimal risk to participants. That will be Phase Three and it is still at least six months away.
And let me be perfectly clear: This is a serious post. My natural inclination to be a bit lighthearted about even serious topics may have peeked through a time or two above, but this is an eminently serious matter. I have lost a close family member to Covid. I suspect some readers have as well. There’s a good chance other readers will lose a family member or two during the next two months over the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. The Church deserves credit for (after some initial hesitation) closing down Sunday meetings and temple operations. Let’s hope the Church and local units retain this cautious approach as we continue to struggle our way through Phase Two.
I invite your comments on how things are going in your ward, your family, your town, your state, or your country. My condolences to anyone who has lost a family member in this difficult time, often without reassuring family hospital visits or the standard funeral activities to console family and friends. My encouragement to everyone to adopt simple safety procedures to minimize risk to self and family. We will get through this.