Mor­mons to re­ceive mis­sion calls on­line

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LOCAL - By Brady McCombs Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The days of young Mor­mons anx­iously wait­ing for let­ters to ar­rive in the mail­box telling them where they will serve their mis­sions are over, the lat­est tra­di­tion fad­ing away un­der the march of tech­nol­ogy.

The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints said Wed­nes­day in a news re­lease that it will send the let­ters known as “mis­sion calls” on­line in­stead of by tra­di­tional mail. The change will save money spent on postage and al­low mis­sion­ar­ies to find out quicker, the church said.

The news trig­gered melan­choly among Mor­mons who have fond me­mories of the dra­matic open­ing of the en­velopes and read­ing the let­ter as friends and fam­ily watched. Mor­mon homes com­monly have pic­tures of the mo­ment, and YouTube is full of videos.

Joyce Avae­mai called it a sad change. She said she cher­ishes the let­ter she re­ceived in 2014 in her na­tive coun­try of Tahiti in­form­ing her she would serve her mis­sion in Mon­treal, Canada. She keeps the let­ter in her jour­nal.

“Ev­ery word in the let­ter was for me. It was in­spir­ing,” said Avae­mai, a 26-year-old so­cial worker who lives in Mon­treal. “You re­ceive emails ev­ery day. But the mean­ing of that paper was an amaz­ing feel­ing.” Mis­sions are con­sid­ered rites of pas­sage for many Mor­mons, broad­en­ing their per­spec­tive on the world, strength­en­ing their faith and help­ing pre­pare some for fu­ture lead­er­ship roles within the church. Men serve two years, while women go for 18 months.

The church said Mor­mons will re­ceive a text or email let­ting them know the let­ter is avail­able to read. They sug­gested the let­ter-open­ing tra­di­tion could con­tinue if the prospec­tive mis­sion­ary gathers his or her fam­ily and reads it from a tablet, phone or com­puter.

The change will start in Utah and Idaho and be in­sti­tuted around the world by end of the year for places with re­li­able in­ter­net ac­cess, the church said.

“Tech­nol­ogy is there, and it’s so easy to do,” Brent H. Niel­son, the church’s mis­sion­ary depart­ment ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in the news re­lease. “We just put it on­line, and they can read it in a mat­ter of min­utes.”

It marks the lat­est change to the mis­sion­ary ex­pe­ri­ence in re­cent years.

In 2012, the church low­ered the min­i­mum age for mis­sion­ar­ies from 21 to 19 for women and from 19 to 18 for men. In 2014, the church be­gan giv­ing mis­sion­ar­ies tablets and broad­ened pros­e­ly­tiz­ing to so­cial me­dia. Last year, the faith dou­bled the num­ber of mis­sions where tech­nol­ogy is al­lowed and swapped out tablets for smart­phones.

Mor­mon scholar Matthew Bow­man said the move to on­line let­ters is an il­lus­tra­tion of a broader change afoot in the faith as it adapts to be­ing a more global church and tries to make things more uni­form for mem­bers ev­ery­where.

The mis­sion let­teropen­ing tra­di­tion is re­flec­tive of the white, mid­dle-class, Western Amer­i­can Mor­monism that dom­i­nated the faith for most of the 20th cen­tury, said Bow­man, a Mor­mon scholar and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Henderson State Univer­sity in Arkadel­phia, Arkansas.

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