SALT LAKE CITY -- A monumental announcement came Saturday from Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 18-year-old men who have graduated from high school and 19-year-old women will be allowed to be missionaries.
Previously, men had to be 19 to serve and women had to be 21.
The president also emphasized that "every worthy, able young man" should serve.
The invitation seemed to reverse an announcement two years ago when the church president said he was "raising the bar," asking only those of highest standards to enter missionary service.
Also announced Saturday was the future building of new temples in Tucson, Ariz., and Arequipa, Peru, and the release of a handful of general authorities into emeritus status.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen, who has served as the church's historian, was released. He also was a member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy.
Also released from that quorum were Elders Keith K. Hilbig, Jay E. Jensen and Octaviano Tenorio.
Released from the Second Quorum of the Seventy were Elders Keith R. Edwards and Larry W. Gibbons.
Monson spoke at the morning session of the church's 182st semiannual General Conferenceh.
Monson acknowledged that not all young men would be ready to serve at 18 but said he believes the change will improve the missionary program.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the first presidency, said he believes Monson's announcements for the reduced missionary ages and the two new temples were inspired.
"Because of them, I'm sure great blessings will come to us and many future generations," he said.
Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "Through this option, more of our youth may enjoy the blessings of a mission."
Nelson spoke of how missionary service can improve the lives of those who take that step.
"The decision to serve a mission will shape the spiritual destiny of the missionary, his or her spouse, and their posterity for generations to come."
"In my view, those of you in the rising generation are better prepared," Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said as he applauded the announcement.
"This historical announcement regarding missionary service is inspiring."
Nelson's talk also included an invitation for nonmembers who may have been participating in conference to listen to missionaries.
"They can help you to learn more about the true purpose of life -- why you are here on Earth, and where you are going after death," he said.
"You can learn how the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will bless your life beyond anything you can presently even imagine."
Speakers Saturday morning centered much of their talks on the strength of youth and the positive influence young people may have.
Elder Craig C. Christensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke of an experience of his then-6-year-old son when he and his family first toured the Bountiful Temple before its dedication.
He recalled how his son was clinging to his leg as the family entered the celestial room.
"What's happening here? I've never felt this way before," Christensen recalled his son as saying before they stepped aside to discuss the feelings available through the Holy Ghost.
"It became clear that what was most inspiring to Ben was not what he saw but what he felt -- not the physical beauty around us, but the still, small voice of the spirit of God within his heart," Christensen said.
Also a focus in Saturday morning's talks was the need for discipline.
Ann M. Dibb, of the Young Women general presidency, asked if gospel studies and pursuits are as important to those listening as careers, hobbies, texts and tweets.
"Do we actively seek to find answers to our questions by feasting on the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets? Do we seek the confirmation of the spirit?"
Uchtdorf encouraged listeners to make the best choices for their time.
"The more we devote ourselves to the pursuit of holiness and happiness, the less likely we will be on a path to regrets," he said.
"The more we rely on the Savior's grace, the more we will feel during life's journey that we are on the track our father in Heaven has intended for us."
Elder Shayne M. Bowen spoke of restoration after loss.
"All that is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ."