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News analysis: Historic weekend of conference marks LDS Church as a global faith

SHARE News analysis: Historic weekend of conference marks LDS Church as a global faith

SALT LAKE CITY — Smiling a bit sheepishly, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland articulated what members worldwide were surely thinking Sunday afternoon.

“To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most memorable moments of life are those in which we feel the rush of revelation,” he said. “President Nelson, I don’t know how many more rushes we can handle this weekend.”

Catch your breath.

President Russell M. Nelson is not yet four months into his calling, but already the 93-year-old is etching deep imprints on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Weeks before he embarks on a ministry tour that will take him to England, Israel, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Thailand and Hong Kong, President Nelson firmly testified of Jesus Christ, spoke of the power of revelation, and brought focused direction to the church of more than 16 million members, preparing the members to minister to each other in what is now clearly stamped as a worldwide church.

An Asian-American and a South American were called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, both firsts. Priesthood quorums are being restructured to meet the needs of congregations both large and small, wherever they might be in the world. Wards and branches are retiring home and visiting teaching, replaced by a “ministering” model to meet the unique needs of each member in each congregation. And seven new temples are being built, including first-ever temples in India, Nicaragua and Russia.

More than a quarter of the speakers at the two-day conference were born outside of the United States, including Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto of Nicaragua, Elder Massimo De Feo of Italy, and Elder Claudio D. Zivic of Argentina, who spoke one after the other Sunday morning. Other speakers during the conference were from France, Fiji, Peru and the former country of Czechoslovakia.

As Sister Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, noted, the power of unity is on display in LDS chapels throughout the world as the Saints counsel together in meetings to help the members "be more active participants in our ward or branch kaleidoscope — a place where we all fit in, and where we are all needed."

A ‘global moment’

On a late spring day almost four decades ago, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation that “all worthy men” were eligible to receive the priesthood — an opportunity that blacks had previously been denied.

Soon missionaries were sharing the gospel in homes once outside their proselytising reach. Line upon line, day after day, the gospel has taken hold in Africa, the Caribbean and in black communities across the Americas.

Temples, mission homes and meetinghouses now dot predominately black nations. Men of African descent are serving as general authorities and in other key callings. Their female counterparts, empowered by the lessons of the temple, are performing essential roles in the growth of the church and the ministry to the saints.

Saturday’s ordinations of Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares had similar impact. For many, having two non-white men counted among “prophets, seers and revelators” marks a shattering of a perceived Mormon stained-glass ceiling. For the first time, an Asian-American and a Latino are apostolic links in a hierarchical chain that could end with the presidency of the church.

And those gripes that Mormonism’s highest council is an exclusive club filled by men of European decent? Forever silenced.

“I testify that the Lord inspired the call of Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares to be ordained as his apostles,” said President Nelson on Sunday morning. “I welcome them to this unique brotherhood of service.”

The ripples are heard far and wide. A headline in Sunday's Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Post announced: "Gerrit Gong makes Mormon history to become first apostle of Asian ancestry as church signals interest in China." Elder Gong spent four years in Hong Kong as a member of the Asia Area Presidency for the church.

The Voice of America and every major news outlet in America also noted the naming of the two new apostles.

More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ directed a biblical quorum of apostles to “Go ye into all the world.” It’s apropos that their modern-day successors are sons of “all the world.” They too will go forth “preaching everywhere, the Lord working with them.”

Unified quorums

Following Saturday evening’s priesthood session, a young man found himself walking beside a silver-haired gentleman outside the Conference Center.

“So,” the young man asked, “are you ready to move back to the elders quorum?”

“I can’t wait,” he replied.

That’s precisely the unifying interaction President Nelson, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve said they hope for in wards and branches everywhere. In announcing the combining of a congregation's high priests and the elders into one elders quorum, church leaders set into motion improved care for members in need.

“We need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for his saints,” President Nelson said.

Strength is found in numbers — but it’s also the sum of youth and experience. No longer will the men of the Melchizedek Priesthood gather for a few minutes of announcements and then divide into two groups. The priesthood, President Boyd K. Packer once taught, “is not divisible.”

Combining the vast talents, abilities and tenures of a ward’s priesthood holders into one quorum is akin to building a winning football team: a good quarterback becomes a great quarterback when he’s protected by a solid tackle; strong-footed punters embolden the defense; and “cloud of dust” running backs widen lanes for even the speediest receivers.

The adjustments will also help elders quorums and Reliefs Societies work more effectively and unitedly, serving families while allowing the bishop to focus on his duties — primarily with the youth

Redefining ministering

Once again, revelation received by President Nelson and his brethren was the catalyst behind the retirement of the home and visiting teaching programs.

And again, Latter-day Saints will now rely on personal revelation as they implement “a new, holier” approach to caring for others. The concept is simply called “ministering.”

Just as restructured elders quorums are combining the shared capacities of elders and high priests, effective “ministering” will fuse the “innate gifts” of the Relief Society sisters with the “incomparable power” of the priesthood holders.”

Shepherding is a joint duty shared by men, women and the youth — including those in the Young Women program who have not had this responsibility previously. Effective ministering and member care will be "ministering's" byproduct.

The concept simply won’t work without involving the Lord. Revelation allows bishops, elders quorums and Relief Society presidencies to be guided to those in need.

President Nelson and his brethren are showing unprecedented confidence in the members. Ministering won’t be defined by reports and assignments — but, rather, by prayer, fasting and inspiration.

Through the changes came the testimonies of the leaders of the church of the divinity of Jesus Christ, whose church they testified this is.

"This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday — we celebrated life!" said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a native of Germany.

"Because of Jesus Christ, we will rise from the despair of death and embrace those we love, shedding tears of overwhelming joy and overflowing gratitude."

It is the message the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are tasked with sharing, and the message that now rings out throughout the world.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Elder Gong's first name. It is spelled Gerrit, not Garrit.