Now that covered wagons have again found their way to the Salt Lake Valley, "the time has come to turn about and face the future," President Gordon B. Hinckley told a worldwide audience of LDS Church members Sunday.
The church has spent the year commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Mormon pioneer trek west. President Hinckley has been an active participant in sesquicentennial activities, including the wagon train re-creation of the 1847 pioneer migration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."The celebrations of 1997 are largely over. The last wagon has rolled to a stop," he said.
President Hinckley has repeatedly acknowledged the positive attention and momentum the celebration has attracted for the church. He let church members know during the 167th Semiannual General Conference on Temple Square that he intends to channel the momentum toward the future.
"This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward. What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny."
Both Saturday and Sunday, President Hinckley recognized the church's missionary efforts, estimating enough people will join the church in the coming year to constitute 600 new congregations. A significant benchmark is days away. "A month from now we will reach the 10 million mark in membership."
President Hinckley gave pointed direction Saturday for Latter-day Saints to pay more attention to the church's new members, helping them to feel welcome. "I say to bishops throughout the world, that with all you have to do - and we recognize that it is much - you cannot disregard the converts. . . . They come into the church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. You have people in your wards who can be friends to every convert."
Many general authorities echoed the call, asking church members to work harder in reaching out to neighbors and friends as new members.
President Hinckley indicated a rekindling of the church's interest in promoting the education and social advancement of American Indians, whose heritage, the church teaches, is tied to the peoples of the Book of Mormon.
"They have partaken of the fruits of education. They have come to know and love the gospel," he said. "But there is much more to do among them. Alcohol and drugs literally destroy some of them. We must do more to help. As I look to the future, I envision the spirit of the Lord being poured out upon these people. Education will unlock the door of opportunity, and the gospel will bring new light and understanding into their lives."
President Hinckley said the worldwide church is enjoying the best reputation it ever has, mostly due to the example of church members. "People are beginning to see us for what we are and for the values we es-pouse," he said. "If we will go forward, never losing sight of our goal, speaking ill of no one, living the great principles we know to be true, this cause will roll on in majesty and power to fill the earth."
Missionaries proselyte in countries around the globe but not everywhere. "Doors now closed to the preaching of the gospel will be opened," President Hinckley said. "The Almighty, if necessary, may have to shake the nations to humble them and cause them to listen to the servants of the living God. Whatever is needed will come to pass."
President Hinckley commended the church for humanitarian efforts currently feeding famine-stricken children in North Korea. That effort must continue and be enlarged, "not permitting politics or other factors to hold back the hand of mercy."
The church will also greatly expand its temple building by adding a category of small temples to the 50 generally larger temples now in operation around the world.
Part of the church's campaign for the future, President Hinckley said, includes a re-emphasis on existing gospel principles: Better observance of the Sabbath Day. Banishing elements of self-righteousness. Being better neighbors. Living the golden rule. Observing the church's code of health known as the Word of Wisdom. Paying tithing. Preserving the family.
"I see little to feel enthusiastic about concerning the family in America and across the world," he said, citing increasing instances of abuse of children, spouses and the elderly. "I lift a warning voice to our people. We have moved too far toward the mainstream of society in this matter." The cure for this malady is "plain, simple, everyday love and respect."
"I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness."
On Saturday, President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, offered a formula parents can use to teach their children to strengthen their families, noting the lessons learned in their earliest years have the most impact on them. The formula involves teaching prayer, inspiring faith, living truth and honoring God.
President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, counseled church members to welcome and adapt to changes in guidelines the church implements as it administers "complex and varied worldwide challenges."
"The saving principles and doctrines of the church are established, fixed and unchangeable," President Faust said. "I have some fear, however, that some members consider guidelines and procedures to be as important as the timeless, immutable laws of the gospel, such as `Thou shalt not commit adultery.' "
- "Inclusion" is practiced each conference as foreign visitors arrive. See story on A6.
- Conference reaction. Summaries of all Sunday speakers, A7.