SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke of fulfilling priesthood duties, gathering Israel, the Atonement of Jesus Christ and lessons learned from the pandemic during the priesthood session of the 191st Annual General Conference on Saturday night.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, directed his words at the 30,900 bishops of the church as he encouraged them to work with and uplift young members.
He told of his experience as a young man with a father who was not an active member of the church. One bishopric member, he said, served as a father figure at church activities while also speaking “highly and respectfully” of Cook’s father.
“Brother Eyre was a marvelous example of Christlike love in fulfilling the bishopric’s responsibility to support parents in watching over and nurturing the youth,” Cook said of the bishopric member.
Cook continued, saying bishops and bishoprics can have a powerful influence on youth who are on the verge of making big life decisions. A bishop’s impact can help youth develop a vision of their life that is guided by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, he said.
The first bishop of the San Francisco Tongan Ward, Bishop Moa Mahe, is a ward leader who successfully instilled that kind of vision, Cook said. The large number of youth in his ward primarily came from families who had recently immigrated to the U.S. Of the youth, 15 were the first in their families to attend college and 90% of the young men served missions.
“You can extend powerful invitations to change behavior, prepare them for life and inspire them to stay on the covenant path,” Cook said.
As they work to spend more time with the youth of their respective wards, bishops should delegate matters that do not involve worthiness judgments to members of the elders quorum or Relief Society. He also spoke to the young men listening, encouraging them to go to their bishops with anything in their lives they need to get “in order” in preparation for “the great work He has for you in this final dispensation.”
Young Men General Presidency member Ahmad S. Corbitt spoke to the young men who are getting ready to embark on such a “great work” as they serve missions. As a young man growing up in tough circumstances in Philadelphia, Corbitt said he initially decided he wasn’t going to be a missionary.
“I was a brand-new church member. I had no money. Besides, although I had just graduated from the toughest high school in nearby West Philadelphia and faced down some dangerous challenges, I was secretly terrified of leaving home for two whole years,” Corbitt said.
Although he did not discuss it in the talk, Corbitt eventually served in the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission. Gathering Israel through sharing the gospel is an ability every member of the church has, he taught, because of their divine identity and the power that faith gives them.
The church’s Children and Youth Program, announced in 2019, can help youth work toward sharing the gospel, Corbitt said.
“As you youth lead in living the gospel, caring for others, inviting all to receive the gospel, uniting families for eternity and organizing fun activities, the great faith in Christ you had in the premortal life will resurface and empower you to do His work in this life,” he said.
Young men building confidence in their abilities is something Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Quorum of the Seventy addressed as well. He addressed the tendency of many to feel self-doubt but said Heavenly Father sent each person to this earth at this point in time for a reason — “This is our time.”
Nielsen said many of the great characters of the scriptures endured similar challenges to people living today, and that if those listening lean on Jesus Christ, they can use their priesthood to do some of the same “life-changing things.”
As men work to develop charity and serve others with their priesthood, they should have that same love for themselves, Nielsen said. When he reads the two great commandments — to love God and love thy neighbor — he said he views “loving yourself” as a third.
“Our Heavenly Father wants us to love ourselves — not to become prideful or self-centered, but to see ourselves as He sees us,” Nielsen said. “We are his cherished children. When this truth sinks deep into our hearts, our love for God grows.”
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, reminded those watching that using the priesthood to serve others requires giving blessings and that men can better magnify that duty through prayer and inspiration.
“I believe that we can magnify our priesthood service over our lifetime and perhaps beyond,” Eyring said. “It will depend on our diligence in trying to know the Lord’s will and our efforts to hear His voice so that we can know better what He wants for the person we are serving for Him.”
Reflecting on a question a woman who was returning from inactivity asked him at a stake conference, President Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency, worked to answer the question, “What has our Savior done for us?”
Oaks discussed Jesus Christ’s resurrection and that, because of him, everyone will be resurrected. He also went over the Atonement of Jesus Christ, through which people may be forgiven and through which Christ can understand people’s pain, and the Plan of Salvation that he taught through prophets and his personal ministry.
“‘What has Jesus Christ done for me?’ that sister asked. Under the plan of our Heavenly Father, He created the heavens and the earth so that each of us could have the mortal experience necessary to seek our divine destiny,” Oaks said.
The head of the church, President Russell M. Nelson, wrapped up the session by speaking on the lessons that have been learned as the world has suffered through a pandemic.
“Amid the losses we have experienced, there are also some things we have found,” Nelson said. “Some have found deeper faith in our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Many have found a fresh perspective on life — even an eternal perspective.”
While COVID-19 has brought on loss and pain, Nelson said, it has also provided opportunities to grow. In the context of the church, it has reaffirmed the importance of home-centered worship, reminded members that they need to rely on each other, helped local leaders learn how to better operate outside of meetings and shown that in order to hear Jesus Christ, sometimes members must “be still.”
“Commotion in the world will continue to increase,” Nelson said. “In contrast, the voice of the Lord is not a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but it is a still voice of perfect mildness, like a whisper, and it pierces even to the very soul. In order to hear this still voice, you too must be still.”
As coronavirus restrictions are lifted and the world begins to come together again. Nelson encouraged members to continue to make time to hear the voice of the Lord and be with their families. He also invited the men in attendance to make their own list of lessons they have learned during the pandemic.
“The future is bright for God’s covenant-keeping people,” Nelson said. “The Lord will increasingly call upon His servants who worthily hold the priesthood to bless, comfort and strengthen mankind and to help prepare the world and its people for His Second Coming. It behooves each of us to measure up to the sacred ordination we have received. We can do this.”