As the Lord has hastened His work in recent years, revelation has guided the creation and implementation of new initiatives and directives, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Those inspired efforts now form “an interlocking pattern of strength” that sustains and supports members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints facing the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Each of us, in our current circumstances, can have a home that is a sanctuary of faith,” said Elder Cook.
The chairman of the Church’s Priesthood and Family Executive Council, Elder Cook spoke to the Church News via videoconferencing weeks after the First Presidency suspended meetings, closed temples, and transported thousands of missionaries to their home countries in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Across the globe, COVID-19 has caused illness and death, stifled economies, closed schools, prompted government mandates, and curtailed daily routines.
Amid this uncertainty, Latter-day Saints are showing optimism and strength as they worship in their homes. “I am very grateful for what I see in the members of the Church and their faithfulness,” said Elder Cook. “My heart fills with gratitude for the wonderful way they are reacting in stressful times—for the way they are watching out for others, staying close to others through technology, and striving to prepare themselves for future blessings.”
He said this time of challenge “is foundational and will allow the Church to grow in the future, touch more lives, and do more of the work of salvation than ever before. We will look back on this as a foundational time of preparation and not just something we had to endure.”
In difficult times, Latter-day Saint leaders center their counsel on sacred doctrine and ordinances that guide the administration of the Lord’s Church, explained Elder Cook.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities to assist members as they progress on the covenant path toward eternal life,” he said, quoting “Administrative Principles in Challenging Times,” a document released by the First Presidency on April 16, 2020. According to the document, “To help accomplish this divine purpose, the Church and its leaders provide priesthood authority and keys, covenants and ordinances, and prophetic direction. The Church invites all people to come unto Jesus Christ and faithfully obey His commandments.”
The scriptures are clear that challenging times are a part of this dispensation, the document says. “Amid difficult circumstances, the Church will proclaim fundamental principles and administer needed ordinances to bless Heavenly Father’s children. Whatever the time or circumstances, certain things are essential in the Lord’s Church. These include sacred doctrine and ordinances.”
In times of pandemic or natural disaster, the Church will respond to government orders to take needed action.
“We will always be good global citizens who honor, obey, and sustain the law,” Elder Cook said.
“Along with our commitment to be good global citizens,” the document continues, “we respectfully assert that reasonable accommodations be extended to all people of faith as they strive to participate in rites that are foundational to their faith.”
Through inspired leaders, the Lord prepared His Church both temporally and spiritually for changing and challenging times, said Elder Cook.
New initiatives and directives that provide the “interlocking pattern of strength” include improving Sabbath day observance, introducing gospel teachings that emulate the Savior, making changes to Melchizedek Priesthood quorums, shifting from home and visiting teaching to ministering, expanding responsibilities of elders quorums and Relief Societies, instituting an integrated curriculum, and developing the Children and Youth program.
Sabbath observance: In 2015, Church leaders asked members worldwide to elevate their Sunday observance. “We said, ‘It isn’t enough to send your children to church and expect the Church to provide all of their spiritual knowledge.’ They need Sabbath days where they are being spiritually fed in their home. Those homes need to be sanctuaries of faith,” Elder Cook said.
Efforts made through Come, Follow Me and Teaching in the Savior’s Way have also strengthened teaching and curriculum used at home, he added.
Ministering: The shift to ministering moved the Church from a “highly regimented” home teaching program to a “more flexible ministering effort.” At a time when Latter-day Saints no longer have the ability to enter the homes of ward and community members, they are prepared to “keep close and attentive watch over them and extend love.”
“Our ministering is very much needed with people being so isolated,” said Elder Cook, emphasizing that the shift from monthly visits to Christlike service has “more significance now.”
Dispersing responsibilities: Strengthening Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies is another change that reveals inspired foresight, he said. During this time of crisis, important responsibilities are “widely dispersed among leaders and not just with the bishop.” This “blesses the Church and blesses the people in a wonderful way.”
Integrated curriculum: Just a few years ago, parents and their children studied different curricula. “Now we are all on the same page,” said Elder Cook. “Families that are worshipping together are on exactly the same curriculum. That is a tremendous blessing and support to them.”
Children and Youth: In addition to the Come, Follow Me curriculum, the new Children and Youth program will help young men and young women stay on the covenant path, especially during this time when they are not meeting together regularly. The home has a significant role to play in this less-structured, more-inspired approach, he said.
“Families can help the youth obtain the goals that they have chosen,” said Elder Cook. “Now would be a good time while families and youth are spending more time at home together.”
Pondering these inspired, interlocking efforts reveals their great blessings, he added. These and other changes prepared Latter-day Saints for “this particular time, when we are not able to do what we were used to doing.”
More changes will come in future years, Elder Cook said, but the fundamental objective of all that the Church does will remain the same—strengthening the faith of each member of the Church in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
Elder Cook spoke of two additional inspired tools made available to Latter-day Saints as individuals and families are responding to the coronavirus crisis: the Book of Mormon Videos series and the narrative history Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days.
Book of Mormon Videos: These marvelous videos have been provided to the membership at this unique time. Elder Cook noted that as he and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, have studied the Book of Mormon during the past few months, they have loved watching the videos. After a lifetime of reading and studying the Book of Mormon, they are finding additional spiritual feelings and insights from the videos.
The videos were created by members of exceptional skill and sensitivity who deeply understand gospel doctrine. “They have made sure that every scene is in accordance with the scriptures,” said Elder Cook.
Saints: Elder Cook noted that during this time many Church members are reading the first two volumes of Saints. The comprehensive history was written using the extensive research and documentation that is available in our day, he said.
“The Joseph Smith Papers Project has allowed us to have accurate detail and great confidence in the Prophet Joseph and early Church history,” he said.
The recently released volume 2 details a pioneering period of persecution and challenges—a time not so different in terms of the challenges we experience today, Elder Cook said. For example, during the so-called Utah War in 1858, the members had scattered across the valleys of southern Utah. “As the Saints returned [to the Salt Lake Valley], they found their houses, farms, and public works in disarray,” the book recounts. “Many wards had stopped functioning. Most Relief Societies and Sunday Schools had disbanded altogether.” In that same year, a financial crisis crippled the economy. “Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs in cities across the United States, Canada, and Europe,” the book states (see Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 , 284–86).
Early Church members endured challenges that are, in many ways, “much more difficult than we are facing at this time,” Elder Cook said. “To realize that faithful, righteous people have experienced incredible difficulties and challenges should give us the courage and the faith that we can go through challenging times and be blessed—and, at the same time, bless others.”
Elder Cook said that on occasion senior Church leaders discuss what impedes people from awakening unto God. Leaders have concluded that sometimes people are overcome by the world or the natural man. Sometimes they are ignorant of the gospel. Sometimes they feel self-sufficient or the opposite, hopeless or worthless. Sometimes transgression impedes them.
Often, they fail “to appreciate that the [Savior’s] Atonement overcomes the unfairness of life and poor decisions of those who exercise their agency and inflict harm on others,” he said. “Now most of us are spending considerable time at home and have a chance to think about awakening unto God. Perhaps recent events can be a spiritual alarm clock focusing us on those things that matter most. If so, it will be a great blessing in this period to concentrate on things that we can perfect in our lives and how we can bless the lives of others as we awaken to God and move along the covenant path.”
Elder Cook said the adjustments affecting Latter-day Saint worship are temporary.
“In due time, temples will open and we will be able to gather as congregations and continue the work of salvation. All the things that are necessary to accomplish the Lord’s plan will continue and bless His people. We will joyfully participate together in the ways that have blessed our lives in the past.
“I testify that we have a loving Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who give us daily the strength and courage to go forward in difficult times.”