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Saturday afternoon session features callings, releases, statistics, sermons

To read excerpts of talks from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions of general conference, as well as excerpts of the Priesthood session, click here. Excerpts from the Sunday morning and afternoon session will also be available after the sessions occur.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Changes in several key church administrative positions highlighted the Saturday afternoon session of the 182nd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There was an audible reaction in the Conference Center when President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency, announced that Presiding Bishop H. David Burton and his counselors, Bishop Richard C. Edgley and Bishop Keith B. McMullin, were being released. Bishop Burton has served as Presiding Bishop of the church since Dec. 27, 1995, and served as a member of the Presiding Bishopric for three years before that, and as secretary to the Presiding Bishopric for 14 years before that. Thirty-three years of service in the Presiding Bishopric's office deserves an audible reaction, at least.

A few minutes later there was another audible reaction when President Uchtdorf announced the release of Julie B. Beck, Silvia H. Allred and Barbara Thompson as the General Relief Society presidency of the church.

"In light of the calls and releases the First Presidency has just announced," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the start of his conference address a few minutes later, "may I speak for all in saying we will remember and love always those who have served so faithfully with us, just as we immediately love and welcome those who now come into office. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you."

The new Presiding Bishop is Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, with Bishop Gerald Causse and Bishop Dean M. Davies as counselors. The new General Relief Society president is Linda K. Burton, with Carole M. Stephens and Linda S. Reeves as counselors. You can read more about those who were released and sustained to new callings Saturday afternoon by clicking here.

The church auditor's and statistical reports were also presented Saturday afternoon. Some interesting numbers from the statistical report included:

Total church membership at the end of 2011 was 14,441,346.

There were 119,917 children of record born into the church during 2011.

There were 55,410 full-time missionaries, resulting in 281,312 convert baptisms.

There were also 22,299 church-service missionaries.

With the dedication of new temples in Guatemala and El Salvador and the rededication of the Atlanta Georgia Temple, there are now 136 temples in operation throughout the world.

Of course, there were also powerful messages delivered during the afternoon session. Four members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke during the session, including Elder Richard G. Scott, who spoke about the importance of being able to receive revelation and inspiration for your personal life.

"Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter," Elder Scott said. "It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon eternal unchanging principles. We receive help from our Father in Heaven in response to our faith, obedience and the proper use of agency."

Elder Robert D. Hales, also of the Twelve, spoke about the need for each of us to spiritual find ourselves and become truly converted and spiritually self-reliant.

"Have a talk with yourself in the mirror and ask: Where do I stand on living my covenants?" Elder Hales said. "We are on the right path when we can say: I worthily partake of the sacrament each week, I am worthy to hold a temple recommend, and I sacrifice to serve and bless others."

Elder Holland used Jesus' parable of the laborers in the vineyard to teach "the renewing power of God's love and the miracle of his grace."

"His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not for the hour of the day in which you got there," Elder Holland said. "So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven't made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the Vineyard says there is time."

And Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve referred to a statement made last December by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks of England, who noted how secular some parts of the world have become through "an aggressive scientific atheism tone deaf to the music of faith."

"Above all else, each of us must realize that when one is tone deaf to the music of faith, he or she is out of tune with the spirit," Elder Cook said. "Our doctrine is clear: we are to be positive and of good cheer. We emphasize our faith, not our fears. We rejoice in the Lord's assurance that he will stand by us and give us guidance and direction."

Other speakers during the session were Elder David S. Baxter of the Seventy and Elder Ulisses Soares of the Seventy.

Music for the session was provided by a special choir from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. (And yes, a new missionary who entered the MTC last Wednesday — Elder David Archuleta — sang in the choir.)