SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate throughout all aspects of Utah life, including the religious ones.
On Thursday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced more casualties of the coronavirus — this time youth camps and conferences, as well as pageants — but it also leavened that news with something for the saints to look forward to: another temple opening.
In a notice to the church’s local leaders, all church recreational properties in the United States and Canada used for youth camps and conferences have been closed “until further notice.” What’s more, all pioneer treks and church pageants have been canceled for the year.
This underscores the decision that all public gatherings have been suspended in the church, including Aaronic Priesthood quorum camp, Young Women camp and other overnight youth conferences.
“If customary camps and conferences are not held, local leaders may want to consider technology-based experiences that would provide youth with fun and meaningful opportunities to connect with one another,” according the the announcement.
If and when gatherings are again approved by the church’s governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, local leaders will be allowed to organize youth conference activities at church meetinghouses.
“If overnight youth camps and conferences are desired, Church-owned facilities, where available, should be used before considering non-Church properties,” according to the notice. “Guidelines for such activities will be provided at the time restrictions are lifted.”
Leaders are told they should not plan pioneer treks for 2020.
Two church pageants — the Nauvoo Pageant in Illinois and the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York — have been canceled. The Nauvoo Pageant will return July 6-31, 2021, and continue into the future.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant will return for its final year in July 2021. In October 2018, the church had announced that the 2020 pageant — its 83rd year — would be the final performances.
In a news release Thursday, the pageant’s organizers announced that their final year would be delayed until 2021.
“The Hill Cumorah Pageant brings people from all over the world, and this just isn’t the time to do that,” pageant president Neil Pitts is quoted as saying in the release. “We are happy to know that it has been moved to another year. It would have been heartbreaking to have ended with a cancellation.”
Reached by phone, Amanda Lonsberry, public affairs director for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, said all of those involved “were actually really understanding” when it was announced the pageant would be discontinued. Now, with the uncertainty of the pandemic, having the opportunity to look forward to one more performance next year will give everyone some closure, according to Lonsberry.
“I think I speak for the whole pageant cast when I say President Pitts couldn’t have said it any better,” Lonsberry concluded. “We’re all at peace with the pageant ending, but not getting one final year would have been heartbreaking.”
Lonsberry said pageant directors had planned for a few special musical numbers before a couple of this year’s final shows — including artists like Alex Boye — those performances may now be rescheduled for next year. She said organizers have another year to “look at the lay of the land and prepare.”
The final Hill Cumorah Pageant will run July 8-10 and 13-17, 2021, in Palmyra, New York.
“With the situation in New York, this is the best-case scenario,” Lonsberry said. “I think this is a good way to end the pageant.”
Also on Thursday, the church announced the dates for the public open house, dedication and youth devotional for the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple in Canada. A free public open house will be held Oct. 22-31 at the temple, about 8 miles south of the provincial capital city of Winnipeg. A youth devotional will be held Nov. 7, and the dedication will take place — in three sessions — on Nov. 8. Elder Gerritt W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will offer the dedicatory prayer.
The Winnipeg Manitoba Temple was announced in April 2011 and the groundbreaking took place in December 2016. Once operational, the temple will be the ninth in Canada and the 169th worldwide.