Faith has been the converter and the teacher since the inception of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and remains the strength of a growing congregation worldwide.

President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded church members attending the church's 171st Annual General Conference on Sunday of an enduring legacy exemplified by many of the early stalwarts of the church whose faith led them through the pioneering experience that brought tens of thousands to the Great Basin.

"Countless, literally countless, are the stories of (faith's) expression in the pioneer period of the church. . . . As it was then, so it is today. This precious and marvelous gift of faith, this gift from God our Eternal Father, is still the strength of this work and the quiet vibrancy of its message. Faith underlies it all. Faith is the substance of it all," he told the hundreds of thousands who have followed the conference, either at the scene in Salt Lake City or through various cable, satellite and Internet broadcasts around the world.

As he prepared to close the annual conference Sunday afternoon, President Hinckley took a short detour to explain why he has been using a cane during the proceedings. The 90-year-old leader of the world's 11 million Latter-day Saints maintains a demanding schedule of meetings around the globe. He said he has experienced some mild vertigo and was using the cane at the suggestion of his doctors.

"I have been a little unsteady on my feet. I hope to be over it in a day or two," he said, adding that medical advisers had not pinpointed a cause for his condition.

Bringing his hallmark sense of humor into play, President Hinckley commented on how many church notables have used canes, including earlier church presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and David O. McKay, among others. "I'm just getting into style," he quipped. Earlier, on entering the podium in the Conference Center, he had waggled the cane at members of the general authorities with some glee.

He also had fostered another light moment Sunday morning when he told Elder M. Russell Ballard, "Thanks for giving my talk again." Elder Ballard had just completed reprising President Hinckley's November talk to the youths of the church, encouraging them to use the discourse as a guide for their lives.

Outside, throngs of church members crowded the temple block and the environs of the Conference Center, hoping for an opportunity to get inside one of the buildings to hear the conference addresses.

The popularity of tickets to the Conference Center has fostered a new kind of "panhandling" in the plaza between South and North Temple streets. Several clusters of young people (and an adult or two) sported signs saying "We will sing for tickets."

Brothers Clark and Cortney Siler, who recently moved to Salt Lake City from Chicago, had not had any luck yet, with only a short time to the start of the afternoon session. But they were singing lustily, even taking requests. Cortney is waiting for a mission call and eager to "go anywhere I can serve."

Among the recurrent themes of the conference has been the call for retired couples and individuals to serve in the mission field.

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve echoed earlier speakers.

"You can't find the word 'retirement' in the Bible," he noted, after telling the stories of several couples who have made valuable contributions to the work of the church throughout the world.

Also a repeated theme was the necessity for church members, with the increase of temples throughout the world, to be prepared to worthily serve in them.

Worthy temple service "is an outward indication of an inner feeling that we have for (the Savior.) We should always remember that it is by his invitation that we come to his holy house, the temple of the Lord," said Elder L. Lionel Kendrick of the Quorums of the Seventy.

Church members also were urged to build the church spiritually as well as in numbers, by observing the fast and sharing resources with others and through making conscious efforts to be united in building the kingdom.

"Our wealth, our social status or skin color doesn't matter," said Elder John K. Carmack of the Quorum of the Seventy. "The feast of the gospel is freely available to all that desire to partake of its delicacies."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks encouraged members to make wise use of their time, rather than simply gathering information for its own sake. He sounded a warning about potential misuse of the communications technology that pervades modern society.

"With greatly increased free time and vastly more alternatives for its use, it is prudent to review the fundamental principles that should guide us. Temporal circumstances change, but the eternal laws and principles that should guide our choices never change."

He specifically urged church members to be cognizant of the pornography that is readily available to anyone with access. Predators may use those resources to seek out young people with the ultimate objective of "stalking them for evil purposes. Parents and youth, beware," he said.

Adjourning the conference Sunday afternoon, President Hinckley assured members that "this work is alive and vital as it moves forward across the world in communities both large and small."

He urged them to return home bent on strengthening their faith "in these eternal and unchanging truths."