The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in late June will reopen missionary training centers in Provo, Utah; Accra, Ghana; and Auckland, New Zealand, to resume the in-person training suspended 14 months ago for the coronavirus pandemic.
A May 24 announcement by the church stated the centers “are scheduled to invite a small number of missionaries to train on location” with remaining candidates having part or all their training online, as has been the case for some 30,000 missionaries sent out during the pandemic.
Missionary activity — recruiting new members and visiting inactive ones with an eye toward their return to activity — remains a main effort for the 15 million-member LDS church. In 2012, Thomas S. Monson, at the time the church’s president, lowered the minimum age for young adults who wanted to serve on a mission, from 19 to 18 for men, and from 21 to 19 for women.
While the number of full-time missionaries peaked at around 80,000 in 2013, church spokesman Sam Penrod confirmed the current number of full-time missionaries is 54,000 worldwide.
The domestic reopening of what LDS church members call the “MTC” will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated and who will not require foreign language instruction. Approximately 150 to 200 new missionaries will be accepted each week, the announcement stated. The Ghanaian and New Zealand locations will each handle approximately 50 missionaries, the church stated. All trainees will have to be fully vaccinated and have a negative COVID-19 test before arriving, according to the announcement.
Don Irvine of Gaithersburg, an adult convert to the LDS faith, is currently a “service missionary” who helps support the work of young adults in the Washington, D.C., area on their missions. Mr. Irvine, who said he joined the church at age 21, never went on a mission, but his three children did serve, giving him and his wife a sense of the missionary training experience. He said the reopening of in-person training will help new, younger missionaries better prepare for their assignments.
“I remember missionaries when I was a bishop, that [in-person training] experience was a huge help to them,” Mr. Irvine said in a telephone interview. “Particularly now, since at 18 and 19, a lot of the kids have never been away from home.”
Mr. Irvine added, “There’s a certain thing when these kids get together face-to-face. This makes a big difference. Living at home and doing the MTC is completely different from being in the MTC and really living the missionary life from the start of the morning to the evening for whatever period they’re assigned there.”
He said the Provo center’s proximity to the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters also meant that many of the faith’s leaders have access to the missionaries for in-person devotional meetings and other contact that’s not always available online.
However, the LDS church announcement stated that “most new missionaries will begin their training at home and then move to an MTC for the remainder of their training. This will allow missionaries to continue to experience many of the positive elements of online training.”