If you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the next few days will most likely be filled with excitement and great anticipation.
With springtime and April daffodils comes the 191st Annual General Conference. This year it falls on Easter which will most likely makes the two-day conference an even more Christ-centered event.
The usual conference rumors are practically nonexistent on social media, which could mean this conference might be full of surprises. No doubt a temple or two may be announced. It is also about time for some of the women’s auxiliaries to change hands. They will announce new area seventies, and release a few too.
For the third conference in a row, members of the church are forced to remain home and watch the events from their TVs or computers because of the pandemic.
While this conference is keeping people away, the potential audience will be larger than any previous church gathering, according to the Church Communications Department.
In addition to the reach of the church’s online broadcast, BYUtv and local TV stations, at least one session of the weekend proceedings will be broadcast on television and radio stations in more than 70 countries — many for the first time. This includes the NBC-owned stations TeleXitos (a subchannel of Telemundo) and COZI TV.
Worldwide leadership meeting
On Thursday, approximately 300 General Authorities, General Officers and Area Seventies heard messages from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time these leaders have gathered for a general conference leadership meeting since April 2019. The meeting originated from the Church Office Building auditorium on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, according to the church.
Before the message portion of the meeting, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles read the names of 77 new Area Seventies.
All 77 came from foreign countries from as far away as Kyiv, Ukraine, and Jyllinge, Denmark. And from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to Geumcheon, South Korea.
President Russell M. Nelson then called for a sustaining vote for these new leaders. This is the first time Area Seventies have been introduced for a sustaining vote in a leadership meeting of general conference.
Previously, the vote was usually done on the Saturday of general conference weekend. These new Area Seventies also will be sustained as a group during general conference.
The church has 12 quorums of the Seventy. The first two quorums are comprised of General Authority Seventies, who have authority to serve anywhere in the world.
The third through 12th quorums are Area Seventies. Under the direction of the Presidency of the Seventy, Area Seventies meet with and teach church leaders, missionaries and members of the church in local congregations. The authority of Area Seventies is generally limited to the area where they serve, according to church information.
During the leadership meeting, President Nelson shared some thoughts and observations.
“In his first two years, when he and his wife, Wendy, visited every populated continent, he said they learned from the faith of Latter-day Saints around the globe,” the release said.
During the pandemic, he said, “We learned that we do not have to get on airplanes for our testimonies to encircle the globe.”
In fact, he said, the words of church leaders “reached an unprecedented number of people in the year 2020. Our general conferences last year had a greater global reach than ever before.”
“The strength of the church lies in the solid and ever-growing testimonies of its members. And the home is where those kinds of testimonies are best cultivated,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he has learned that the church’s emphasis on a home-centered, church-supported curriculum is bearing fruit. He honored those parents who in the past year “have stepped up and have taken steps to shape their homes as their primary sanctuaries of faith.”
“The strength of the church lies in the solid and ever-growing testimonies of its members. And the home is where those kinds of testimonies are best cultivated,” he said.
Nelson also expressed gratitude for what is happening with temples at a time when their operation is limited. COVID-19 closed temples worldwide early last year. Many have started to reopen in phases.
“Names of ancestors are being prepared for the day when temples will again be open for vicarious work to be done,” he said. “And we have not stopped building temples. In the year 2020, we broke ground for 21 new temples, and 41 temple-building projects are currently underway.”
The church president also noted the growth in the faith’s humanitarian efforts in 2020.
“The global pandemic has prompted us to make the largest outpouring of assistance that we have ever given. Contributions of time, money and personal service have been offered in a spirit of generosity and love for those in need in 152 countries,” he said.
Nelson said he now understands better “what (God) meant when he said, ‘Behold, I will hasten my work in its time’ (Doctrine and Covenants 88:73). That is happening right now, right before our eyes.”
Throughout 2020 and in spite of the pandemic, members of the church and their leaders had numerous opportunities to serve the world.
In the past six months since October’s conference, the following has occurred. It is not a complete list, but helps readers see just what can happen when people partner together.
- The church gave a $20 million donation to UNICEF to purchase vaccine doses to be delivered and given to several developing countries.
- The Black 14 foundation and the church teamed to feed thousands of families affected by the pandemic. Black 14 refers to the 14 Black players on the University of Wyoming football team in 1969 that protested the game between their team and Brigham Young University. They protested because Blacks could not hold the priesthood at the time. This partnership, facilitated by Elder Gifford Nielsen, a former NFL and BYU quarterback, helped to heal old wounds and built healthy relationships.
- Across the nation, Helping Hands groups offered service by cleaning up homes and yards damaged by everything from fires to floods. One of the projects was to cut up trees that had fallen on homes and in yards.
- 80 trucks full of wood, cut from those damaged trees, were delivered to the Navajo Nation that uses wood for cooking every day and was low on supply due to COVID-19. The church also delivered trucks loaded with food, water and other supplies to help those who had suffered from COVID.
- Missionary volunteers gave service and kindness not in suits and skirts but in jeans and T-shirts around the world. From loading boxes of food as volunteers at food banks to helping tutor children not able to study or who needed help during the pandemic. Missionaries were able to help, and many times in foreign languages.
- Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles held six weeks of devotionals, face-to-face meetings and firesides. Some, including Elder Neil L. Andersen, spoke in the language of the people in the devotional. He spoke French.
- Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told missionaries to use their smartphones and the power of technology to preach the gospel and hasten the work.
- Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke at the G20 Interfaith Forum hosted by Saudi Arabia.
- Six temples were announced and 16 held groundbreakings.
- Many temples moved from phase 2 to phase 3 of reopening. Temples will be completely open and back to normal in phase 4. They have been closed for more than a year due to the pandemic.
- Two mobile bakeries were built specifically to make flatbread for children and families in Syria and Lebanon.
While the ability to meet in large groups this conference is not possible, it appears the work of the church has not stopped but continues to move forward and for many members that knowledge is what will make this conference so memorable.