SALT LAKE CITY — Throngs of Latter-day Saints bustled out of the Conference Center Sunday afternoon after the final session of the faith's latest worldwide general conference carrying a call from their leaders to live Christ-centered lives in a home-centered church.
Across two "historic" days, leaders overhauled the church's weekly Sunday schedule, announced 12 new temples in far-flung places like Guam and Cambodia, repeatedly encouraged steadfastness in Christ through adversity and emphatically emphasized use of the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its 188th Semiannual General Conference.
Jesus Christ named the church, President Russell M. Nelson declared, and it offends him and deletes "his sacred name" when people use nicknames for it. There also may be a personal price for church members, he added.
"When we omit his name from his church, are we inadvertently removing him as the central focus of our lives?" asked President Nelson, who provided a passionate, detailed and plain-spoken explanation for his announcement six weeks ago that the faith would no longer use the nicknames "Mormon" or "LDS Church."
He said the emphasis on the full name is a correction and a "command of the Lord," not a name change, not re-branding, not cosmetic, not a whim and not inconsequential.
He grew emotional when he said the church itself, both administration and members, have perpetuated nicknames that do not include Christ's name, "subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us, even his Atonement."
"After all he had endured," President Nelson said, his voice trembling slightly, "after all he had done for humankind, I realize with profound regret that we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored church being called by other names, each of which expunges the sacred name of Jesus Christ."
At the start of the first session and the close of the final session, President Nelson said assaults on faith and families are increasing exponentially. Church leaders' pro-active counter-strategy was to announce a "home-centered, church-supported" adjustment in the Sunday schedule designed to strengthen members' commitment and conversion to Christ through added home study and service.
While President Nelson urged members to keep Christ's name in the center of the church's name, he and other speakers in the morning session pleaded with them to keep Christ in the center of their lives to help them through inevitable afflictions, including pain, suffering and anguish caused by both physical ailments and sin. The "grandeur" and "matchless power of Christ's Atonement" overcome both, they said.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said many face trials cause by their mortal bodies, sharing an intimate example from his own home, where the physical ailments suffered by his wife, Kathleen, limit her to only a few words per day.
He voices a prayer for her and sings with her every morning and night as she mouths the words.
"My reassurance is this," he said. "The loving God who allowed these tests for you also designed a sure way to pass through them. Heavenly Father so loved the world that he sent his Beloved Son to help us."
On the eve of his wife's funeral and his own 90th birthday, President M. Russell Ballard spoke poignantly about the meaning of the 100th anniversary of his great-grandfather's vision of the redemption of the dead, a key Latter-day Saint scripture and doctrine.
President Joseph F. Smith received the revelation on the eve of general conference in October 1918, weeks before his death and after a grief-stricken lifetime that saw him lose his father Hyrum Smith, uncle Joseph Smith and mother Mary Fielding Smith as a boy, then two wives, 13 children, a brother, two sisters and many others as an adult. At the time, he also mourned the loss of 20 million in World War I and another 70 to 120 million people in 1918's Spanish flu pandemic.
"The revelation he received on Oct. 3 comforted his heart and provided answers to many of his questions," his great-grandson, President Ballard, said, adding, "The vision revealed more fully the depth and breadth of Heavenly Father’s plan for his children and Christ’s redeeming love and the matchless power of his Atonement."
He called it heavenly and said, "I'm grateful to know that my precious Barbara lives and that we will be together with our family again for all eternity."
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve shared the example of Richard Norby, one of the Latter-day Saint missionaries injured in the Belgium airport terrorist bombing in 2016.
"Along with the bright colors of happiness and joy, the darker-colored threads of trial and tragedy are woven deeply into the fabric of our Father's plan," he said, adding that his message was for the Norbys and others confronted with unexpected, painful trials and challenges.
"These struggles, although difficult, often become our greatest teachers," he said, because the crucible of earthly trials, as we patiently stand steady, the Savior’s healing power brings light, understanding, peace and hope."
He said the temple is soothing balm for wounded souls.
"However deep the wounds of your soul, whatever their source, wherever or whenever they happen, and for how short or long they persist, you are not meant to perish spiritually. You are meant to survive spiritually, and to live and grow in your faith and trust in God."
Ministers and shepherds
Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve and the church’s Young Women general president, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, focused talks about the church’s six-month old ministering program on Christ.
Elder Holland focused on the ministry of forgiveness.
"The miracle of reconciliation is always available to us," he said, adding "that forgiving and forsaking offenses, old or new, is central to the grandeur of the Atonement of Jesus Christ."
Those who access it should then minister to others.
"Jesus is asking us to be instruments of his grace," Elder Holland said, "to be 'ambassadors for Christ' in the 'ministry of reconciliation.' ... The Healer of every wound, he who rights every wrong, asks us to labor with him in the daunting task of peacemaking in a world that won’t find it any other way."
Sister Cordon said members must develop a shepherd’s heart to become effective ministering sisters and brothers. She said members can become the shepherds God and his prophet need them to become by knowing and numbering his sheep, watching over them and gathering them into the fold of God.
Numbering the Lord's sheep isn't about numbers, she said, "it is about making certain each person feels the love of the Savior through someone who serves for him."
"I hope those to whom you minister will see you as a friend," she added, "and realize that, in you, they have a champion and a confidant — someone who is aware of their circumstances and supports them in their hopes and aspirations."
Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the church's new ministering initiative unlocks divine help for others.
"May we raise our sights to this prophetic vision, so we can shepherd souls toward the temple and ultimately to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He does not expect us to perform miracles. He only asks that we bring our brothers and sisters unto him for he has the power to redeem souls."
He urged members to learn lessons from a modern shepherd with a flock of 2,000 today. The shepherd told Elder Stevenson that "the sooner they found lost sheep, before the sheep drifted too far from the flock, the less likely the sheep were to be harmed. Recovering lost sheep required much patience and discipline."
Christ as healer
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said God's plan is allow his children to choose what is right. Inevitably, every one makes mistakes and sins. Christ provides a way back onto the path for all, he said.
"After baptism, all members slip off the path — some of us even dive off. Therefore, exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, receiving help from him and being forgiven are not one-time events but lifelong processes, processes that are repetitive and iterative. This is how we 'endure to the end.'"
Christ's healing is available to all, said Elder Robert C. Gay of the Presidency of the Seventy.
"Can any one of you imagine our Savior letting you and your burdens go unnoticed by him? The Savior looked upon the Samaritan, the adulterer, the tax collector, the leper, the mentally ill and the sinner with the same eyes," he said. "All were children of His Father, and all were redeemable. Can you imagine him turning away from someone with doubts about their place in God’s kingdom or from anyone afflicted in any manner?
"I can’t. In the eyes of Christ each soul is of infinite worth. No one is preordained to fail. Eternal life is possible for all."
Elder Andersen said the temple is a soothing balm for wounded souls.
"However deep the wounds of your soul, whatever their source, wherever or whenever they happen and for how short or long they persist, you are not meant to perish spiritually," he said. "You are meant to survive spiritually, and to live and grow in your faith and trust in God."
President Nelson returned to the theme of the temple to close the conference, urging members to see regular temple attendance as an investment in their families and futures.
"Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater," he said. "I plead with you to take a prayerful look at how you spend your time. Invest time in your future and in that of your family. If you have reasonable access to a temple, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord — to be in his holy house — then keep that appointment with exactness and joy. I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in his temples."
He said each church members needs the ongoing spiritual strengthening and tutoring "only possible in the House of the Lord. The church's new emphasis on "home-centered" spiritual learning makes it another possible sanctuary, he added.
"The new home-centered, church-supported integrated curriculum has the potential to unleash the power of families, as each family follows through conscientiously and carefully to transform their home into a sanctuary of faith."