SALT LAKE CITY -- The Mormon church has been loosening its strict rules about email communication for missionaries.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Wednesday that missionaries can now send emails to friends, priesthood leaders and new converts.
Previously, missionaries could only email immediate family members, though they've always been allowed to send written letters to friends and others.
LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins said under the new rule missionaries must get permission from their mission president before sending emails to converts or people of the opposite gender.
Missionaries are still restricted to sending emails through the church's filtered email service and on the designated preparation day each week. Emails also must be sent from public computers at somewhere like a library where a fellow missionary can see the screen.
The missionary handbook shows that the rules stem from the expectation that missionaries are to devote all their time and attention to "serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs."
The handbook also advises missionaries to never include anything confidential, sensitive or negative about the area where they are serving.
Missions are considered rites of passage for many Mormons, broadening their perspective on the world, strengthening their faith and helping prepare some of them for future leadership roles within the church.
Young Mormon men are expected, but not required, to serve missions while women have faced far less pressure to serve. Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.
In October, the church lowered the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women, and from 19 to 18 for men.
The church said applications for new missions are up twofold since the announcement and more than 65,000 Mormon missionaries are serving around the world.
About half of all new applications to go on missions have been from women, the church said; previously, only 15 percent of missionaries were women.
More than 20,000 additional missionaries have been called to serve, while another 6,000 are in the interview process.
At the church's semiannual gathering of members earlier this month in Salt Lake City, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve said the increase in Mormon missionaries is a sign that miracles happen.