Cover image: “Beside Still Waters” by Greg Olsen.
Over the past decade, Church leaders have increasingly focused on strengthening faith in Heavenly Father and in His Son Jesus Christ. In retrospect, we can see the evidence of many ways that God has prepared His Church for the COVID-19 pandemic—and other calamities yet to come.
When we look at how these events link together, we can see how He has carefully orchestrated and sequenced them to prepare us line-upon-line.
Home-Centered, Church-Supported Worship
1. Improving Sabbath Day Observance
Since 2015, Church leaders have focused on improving Sabbath day observance. See Sabbath.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. This has prepared us to be ready for many of the other things listed in this article.
2. Improved Teaching
In May of 2016, the Church began a new emphasis on improved teaching, called Teaching in the Savior’s Way. Training received through teacher council meetings has helped improve teachers, both at church and at home. Parents and heads of households are now in a better position to teach at home.
3. Come, Follow Me
The Church implemented an improved model of teaching, called Come, Follow Me. It began in youth classes in January 2013, then in Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society classes in January 2018, and finally in Sunday School classes in January 2019.
4. Book of Mormon Videos
These videos that many families are enjoying in their homes started filming three years ago. By the middle of May, the series of Book of Mormon Videos will cover 1 Nephi to Alma 42. What a blessing to have these available in our homes to supplement our Come, Follow Me study of the Book of Mormon! New videos are released each week.
5. Parents Have Primary Responsibility for Training Children
The Lord organized the family unit in the beginning. In 1995, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World“ proclaimed, “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” Church leaders teach that the home should be the primary center of learning—with the mother and father as teachers.
Elder A. Theodore Tuttle predicted our situation today in a general conference talk in 1979 when he said, “Suppose conditions changed. Suppose you could not receive all the services [from the Church] to which you have become accustomed. Suppose that much more responsibility were placed on your shoulders to care for the spiritual welfare of your family.” He questioned, “How would you pass the test, parents, if your family was isolated from the Church and you had to supply all religious training? Have you become so dependent on others that you do little or nothing at home? Tell me, how much of the gospel would your children know, if all they knew is what they had been taught at home?”
6. Changes to the Sunday Meeting Schedule
In January, 2019, the Sunday meeting schedule was changed to two hours, and individuals and families were charged to take more responsibility for their Sabbath worship and gospel study. When the program was introduced, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “We know the spiritual impact and the deep and lasting conversion that can be achieved in the home setting.” Members were prepared for this change because of the previous focus on observance of the Sabbath and the implementation of Teaching in the Savior’s Way and Come, Follow Me. This past year has helped families prepare for their experiences today of worshipping exclusively in their homes.
7. Ministering: Improved Caring for Others
In April 2018, President Russell M. Nelson announced a “newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others.” It changed the way we thought about watching over other people and prepared us for the conditions we experience with the pandemic today. We learned to become more involved in the lives of others and interact with them in more ways than just a monthly visit in the home. With today’s restrictions on visiting others in their homes, we seek other means, such as using technology to connect with others.
Elders Quorums and Relief Societies
8. Merger of the Elders Quorum and High Priest Groups in the Ward
In April 2018, the elders quorum and high priests group in each ward were combined into a single elders quorum. This merger provided more strength and stability to the quorum and made it easier to harmonize its work with the Relief Society. It also simplified coordination with the bishopric and ward council, which is certainly helpful in ministering to members today during the pandemic.
9. Roles of Elders Quorum and Relief Society Presidencies
The strengthened elders quorum paved the way for the elevation of the role of elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies that occurred over the next few years. For example, in October 2018, elders quorum presidents and Relief Society presidents were give additional responsibilities for member missionary and temple and family history work. Then in October 2019, the First Presidency clarified that “the young men and young women of the ward are the bishop’s first responsibility and priority.” This led to increased training about how bishops should delegate other responsibilities to elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies.
Children and Youth
10. Home-Centered, Church-Supported Program for Children and Youth
Previous programs for children and youth were Church-centered, and when the Church can’t meet, such as the case with the pandemic we are experiencing now, the program wouldn’t have been able to continue. In contrast, the new home-centered Children and Youth program, begun just this year, puts parents in the forefront of the development of their children. Goals and activities can continue with parents guiding their children, even when a family is quarantined at home.
New General Handbook
11. General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
On February 19, 2020, the Church published a new General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It not only provides updated instructions, but it is simpler and is available for everyone to read. This makes all the instructions about running the Church available online to leaders and members at every level.
When confronted with questions about how matters are to be handled, parents and members everywhere have access to the same instructions. When Church meetings were temporarily suspended, priesthood holders have access to instructions about how to administer the sacrament, when authorized by their bishops. At the handbook’s release, Elder Anthony D. Perkins commented that rather than following the original plan of releasing the handbook in 2022, “the First Presidency and [Quorum of the] Twelve felt that the [handbook was] important enough to release as soon as possible.”
Temple and Family History Work
12. Gathering Israel on Both Sides of the Veil
An important focus of President Nelson is to “invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.”
13. Family Names
Over the past decade, the Church has placed more emphasis on taking family names to the temple. Youth have become more engaged in performing proxy baptisms.
14. Witnessing Ordinances
In October, 2019, the First Presidency extended the privilege of witnessing temple ordinances. Now, any member holding a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism. Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing. These changes have helped youth and adults to understand temple ordinances more deeply and be more engaged in the work. Once temples are open again, members will re-engage in temple work in an accelerated way.
15. Digital Family History Tools
With digital tools such as FamilySearch, Indexing, Ordinances Ready, the FamilySearch Tree app, and the FamilySearch Memories app, members can be fully engaged in family history work without needing to physically go to a Family History Center or order microfilms to search for ancestors. FamilySearch has over 7 billion searchable names, and the number is growing daily.
16. Discontinuation of the One-Year Waiting Period after Civil Marriage
It used to be that when couples chose to be married civilly, they had to wait a year before being sealed in the temple. In May 2019, the First Presidency announced the discontinuation of that practice saying that “couples who have been married civilly may be sealed in the temple when they receive their temple recommends.”With all temples temporarily closed, couples may choose to have a civil marriage until temples resume normal operations.
17. Using Mobile Devices for Missionary Work
In June 2013, Elder L. Tom Perry announced that missionaries would use the internet and mobile devices in their work. Over the past seven years, that has improved the ability for missionaries to teach using technology. Today, “missionaries who remain in regions where COVID-19 is of particular concern are taking precautions to stay healthy, including staying in their apartments as much as possible, avoiding personal interaction with other people and teaching through phone calls or other technology” (Church Newsroom). Missionaries who have returned home temporarily because of the virus are able to stay connected with members and friends of the Church in their mission and continue to teach. Even after their missions end, they will be able to maintain these patterns of communication with people in the mission.
18. Options to Communicate with Families
In February 2019, the Church gave missionaries more options to communicate with their families on preparation day, including text messages, online messaging, phone calls, and video chats, in addition to letters and emails. A year later, this pattern of communication has been extremely helpful for parents and families to know about the welfare of their missionaries, especially given the magnitude of reassignments and last-minute travel plans.
19. Missionary Preparation
Consider all the ways that missionary preparation has been accelerated over the past two decades. In 2004, Preach My Gospel was published, providing an innovative way for missionaries to learn and teach. In October 2012, the qualifying age of missionary service was changed. That was accompanied by the implementation of Come, Follow Me for youth the following January. This new teaching approach helped prepare youth to be ready to serve at a younger age. Missionary preparation resources (see the Preparing to Serve website). In October 2017, the Church issued a standardized set of interview questions for missionary candidates and encouraged bishops to share them with parents so that parents could be at the forefront of preparing their children. These clear standards of worthiness and of eligibility helped missionary candidates become prepared physically, emotionally, and mentally for the rigors of full-time missionary service.
Welfare and Humanitarian Efforts
20. Financial Reserves
In an interview with Deseret News in February just before the pandemic, the Presiding Bishopric discussed the Church’s financial reserves. “There will come a time when all of these resources, reserves, will be necessary,” Bishop W. Christopher Waddell said. “We don’t know when, we don’t know exactly in what form…. We want to be ready for any contingency.” It is comforting to know that the Church will have the reserves it needs to continue operations through any world conditions.
21. Church Welfare System
Since the Great Depression, the Church welfare system has matured to be one of the most efficient systems in the world to provide assistance wherever it is needed. The Church provides nearly $1 billion a year in humanitarian and welfare assistance. The Church is as prepared as any organization in the world to care for needs in any crisis.
22. Emergency Preparedness
The Church has long taught the importance of emergency preparedness, food storage, 72-hour-kits, and avoiding debt. In October 1995, Elder L. Tom Perry taught, “The need for preparation is abundantly clear. The great blessing of being prepared gives us freedom from fear.” As grocery stores have empty shelves, I think about how the Church has over 100 Bishop’s Storehouses and how they are stocked for emergencies just like this. Latter-day Saint Charities has even increased production at its canneries and food processing plants during the COVID-19 crisis. This week, the Church published a collection of seven guidelines related to pandemic.
The purpose of becoming spiritually and temporally self-reliant is to be in a position to serve the Lord and care for others, especially in times like these. Over the past few years, the Church has developed self-reliance groups to help with personal finances, employment, education, learn English, and other life skills. Because of these efforts, thousands of members are now better prepared for crises.
Self-Reliance Centers (formerly called Employment Centers) provide information about community resources, one-on-one coaching and support, and accelerated job search groups. Although these centers are temporarily closed for walk-in patrons, many are providing one-on-one help via technology.
General Conference Broadcast Digitally
24. Access to General Conference
General Conference was first broadcast online in 1999. Now, the Church provides many ways to access general conference live and afterward, both with an internet connection and without. , including online, through mobile apps Learn about all the ways you can access general conference online, with mobile apps, on Smart TV, regular TV, radio, by satellite at meetinghouses around the globe, on social media, in print, and even by asking Amazon’s Alexa to play it for you.
25. Church Communication Emails
Over the past few years, the Church has stepped up the ability to communicate directly with leaders and members by email. In 2017, the Church replaced the weekly “bishops envelope” with email notifications and a central Official Communication Library. Members and leaders can subscribe to receive regular updates from the Church in various categories. When important events happen, the Church can push an email to all members worldwide. Members have received updates about COVID-19 via these emails from the Church.
26. Online Donations of Tithing and Fast Offerings
In 2015, the Church began implementing an online system for paying tithing and making other charitable donations. Not only is it convenient, but it is an important way to make these donations when they can’t be made in person at church.
27. Mobile Apps
Church mobile apps developed over the past decade make it easier for members to stay connected and to participate in the Church—even when they are not at church.
The Member Tools app is the modern equivalent of the old paper ward directory. It’s constantly updated with contact information, allowing you to call someone with a tap or get driving directions to their house.
The Gospel Library App is the full Church library on your smartphone. First released in 2009, it has grown to be a world class app with Church publications in over 100 languages. You can search, study, and takes notes in scriptures, conference talks, manuals, magazines, videos, audio files, and more. By way of this app, Church headquarters can distribute gospel inspiration to members worldwide. Recently, a section on Life Help was added with practical help for many life challenges, including a section on mental and emotional help, which undoubtedly can come in handy given the stresses of the coronavirus.
Released earlier this year, the Gospel Living app provides content that inspires youth to set goals and has links and tools to help them in their gospel learning and daily living. The Circles feature allows youth classes and quorums to stay socially connected in a safe way during this period of physical distancing. Youth can share their goals and uplifting content with each other, their parents, or their leaders to get support.
Church music apps help you worship at home, even if you don’t have a piano—or a piano player—at home. The Sacred Music app lets you browse and search the hymnbook and the Children’s Songbook, view the words and sheet music, and listen to hymns and songs (with words and music or just the instrumental music so you can sign along). The Sing Along Hymns app is a fun way to learn hymns and children’s songs. With the Tabernacle Choir app, you can watch and listen to the world-famous choir. All these apps help families in Sunday worship, home evenings, or family gospel study.