SALT LAKE CITY — Perched in a chair by the baptismal recommend desk in the Rome Italy Temple in March while the late afternoon sun glinted on the glass around the large Christus statue across the piazza, President Russell M. Nelson called dedicating that temple a ‘hinge point’ in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Then he made a startling statement that only hinted at what that meant.

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“Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace, of which this is a part,” he said. “The church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled; we’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

The buildup already felt remarkable. President Nelson was in the midst of visiting what now is 27 countries in 21 months. He already was working with the rest of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to lead the church’s membership into a new era of the faith’s curriculum, ramped-up temple building, the addition of a ministering program, a restructuring of priesthood quorums as well as the Sunday worship schedule, and much, much more.

What more could there be? The church membership found out again Saturday as announcements steadily appeared alongside a striking Christ-centered theme during three sessions of the church’s global, 189th Semiannual General Conference. Speakers announced that the Young Men and Young Women programs would be restructured, eight more temples would be built — bringing the number to 35 in those same 21 months — and more, all presented as “revelatory adjustments” in the Conference Center on a sunny, brisk fall day in downtown Salt Lake City.

For church members who have hailed President Nelson as a prophet this year on rainy rugby fields in Samoa and Tonga and sports arenas in Peru and Ecuador and are accepting and implementing the changes around the world, this period in the church has taken on a feel that recalls words familiar to them, written by Oliver Cowdery about serving as a scribe during Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon.

“These were days never to be forgotten — to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom,” Cowdery wrote.

Speaker after speaker said members face a hedonistic age marked by a persistent drumbeat of distractions, commotion, confusion and contention that requires them to deliberately place Jesus Christ at the center of their lives. In fact, a warning came that some could become preoccupied with the church changes themselves, rather than the reason for those changes.

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“Consider the swirl of bold initiatives and new announcements in the church in just these recent months,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “As we minister to one another, or refine our Sabbath experience, or embrace a new program for children and youth we will miss the real reason for these revelatory adjustments if we see them as disparate, unrelated elements rather than as an interrelated effort to help us build firmly on the Rock of our Salvation.”

Saturday’s session also brought into clearer focus the revelatory work of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. They are executing a large-scale effort to help members bring Christ into their daily lives, homes and church classes to strengthen them individually and strengthen their congregations. They are providing opportunities for every member, young and old, to develop an understanding of their relationship to Jesus Christ.

President Nelson said the adjustments to the Young Men and Young Women programs — which included dissolving ward Young Men presidencies in favor of greater involvement by bishoprics with all the youth and primary children, revising the Young Women theme and strengthening classes and their class presidencies — “are intended to help young men and young women develop their sacred personal potential.”

There also is a clear emphasis on strengthening and unlocking the unique and divinely appointed talents of women.

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, the Young Women general president, announced the Young Women changes and read the organization’s revised theme but also explained women’s ability to act with the priesthood.

”You have been set apart by one who has priesthood authority,” Sister Cordon said. “This means as you perform the duties of your calling, you exercise priesthood authority. You have an important work to do. Be sensitive to and act on the promptings of the Holy Ghost. As you do so, you can serve with confidence, for you do not serve alone!”

President Nelson, in a message to the women of the global church, underscored the teaching about women acting with priesthood authority. He said women who have received the endowment ordinance in the temple speak and teach with power and authority from God. He implored them to speak up and participate fully in church councils, saying the church depends on its women.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints salutes general authorities upon entering the Conference Center prior to the Saturday morning session of the faith’s 189th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Let me be very clear about this: If this world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover,” he said.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, greeted women and girls as “divinely assigned guardians of the eternal family” and called on them to help teach truths about it.

He spoke of the two great commandments, loving God by keeping his commandments and loving one’s neighbors, and said the church’s doctrine on eternal marriage requires walking a fine line between love and law. Apostles must teach nothing but truth, he said, and they cannot modify divine law.

“Thus, the leaders of the church must always teach the unique importance of marriage between a man and a woman and the related law of chastity,” he said, adding that “the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ultimately concerned with preparing the children of God for the celestial kingdom, and most particularly for its highest glory, exaltation or eternal life. That highest destiny is only possible through marriage for eternity.”

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of his 57-year marriage to his wife, Kathleen.

“Becoming a covenant woman in partnership with God is how great and good daughters of God have always mothered, led and ministered, serving in whatever way and place he has prepared for them,” he said. “I promise that you will find joy in your journey to your heavenly home as you return to him as a covenant-keeping daughter of God.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook placed the accelerated pace of the church’s work and Saturday’s announcement in full context.

“These efforts, together with those announced during the last two years, are not isolated changes,” he said. “Each of the adjustments is an integral part of an interlocking pattern to bless the Saints and prepare them to meet God. One part of the pattern relates to the rising generation. Our youth are being asked to take more individual responsibility at younger ages — without parents and leaders taking over what youth can do for themselves.”

The need had long been clear to leaders, who for years have used general conference to warn Latter-day Saints of what Elder L. Todd Budge, a General Authority Seventy, on Saturday described as living “in a world where the monster waves of death, physical and mental illness and trials and afflictions of every kind break upon us.”

Julie Beck sings with other conferencegoers during the Saturday morning seasion of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

More help through change is on the way. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Twelve said leaders are excited about the new Children and Youth program for the entire church, which begins in January, replacing Boy Scouts and adding activities for girls. “I am excited for the children and youth of the church to experience this integrated focus on them both at home and at church — through gospel learning, service and activities, and personal development,” he said.

Despite the growing obstacles, leaders said members may find peace, enduring joy and happiness even in their afflictions if they build their faith in Christ and trust in him. They repeatedly warned of danger and pointed church members toward the Savior as safe ground.

For example, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught a parable of cheetahs and topis, a type of African antelope, and how the beautiful, sleek, compelling predator constantly stalks the topis. A brief moment of carelessness can invite a swift cheetah attack, he said. Spiritual thoughtlessness invites similar catastrophe into life.

“In a paradoxical period when violating the sanctity of human life is heralded as a right and chaos is described as liberty, how blessed we are to live in this latter-day dispensation when restored gospel light can shine brightly in our lives and help us to discern the adversary’s dark deceptions and distractions,” he said.

He called on members to be constantly vigilant and rely on the promptings of the Holy Ghost and signals come from prophets and apostles, “the Lord’s watchmen on the towers.”

Leaders also said the combined efforts of church leadership and members are working.

The president of the church’s worldwide Sunday School organization said the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum implemented in January to improve personal and family gospel learning has been successful for those using it.

“We see Latter-day Saints everywhere growing in faith and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Brother Mark L. Pace said.

He said the program has been the “counterstrategy and proactive plan” against evil and worldliness that President Nelson promised it would be when he announced it along with the decision to reduce the church’s traditional Sabbath meetings from three hours to two in lieu of a more home-centered, church-supported approach.

“We see individuals and families setting aside time throughout the week to study the words of our Savior,” Brother Pace said. “We see improving gospel instruction in our Sunday classes as we study the scriptures at home and share our insights at church. We see greater family joy and unity as we have moved from simply reading the scriptures to studying the scriptures in a profound way.”

In most of the 21 talks by 19 speakers, the theme again returned to making space and time for Jesus Christ and making him the framework of their lives.

“What we need here is less Wi-Fi and more Nephi!” said Elder Terence M. Vinson of the Presidency of the Seventy, quoting a father and referring to a Book of Mormon prophet. “There is no treasure, nor any hobby, nor any status, nor any social media, nor any video games, nor any sport, nor any association with a celebrity, nor anything on earth that is more precious than eternal life,” he added.

Brother Stephen W. Owen, the Young Men general president, said young people should feel hope for the future.

“Yes, you face challenges,” he said. “But so does every generation. These are our days, and we need to be faithful, not faithless. I testify that the Lord knows about our challenges, and through the leadership of President Nelson, he is preparing us to meet them. I believe that the prophet’s recent call for a home-centered church, supported by what we do in our buildings, is designed to help us survive — even thrive — in this day of spiritual malnutrition.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles picked up the theme of finding joy in difficult times.

Conferencegoers sustain church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“We find joy in overcoming misery in whatever form, whether it be sin, trial, weakness or any other obstacle to happiness,” he added. “This is the joy of sensing progress in the path of discipleship, the joy of ‘having received a remission of sins and having peace of conscience,’ the joy of feeling one’s soul expand and grow through the grace of Christ.”

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, counseled members to increase their spiritual capacity to receive revelation and shared four ways to do so: 1. Be intentional about creating time and space to hear God’s voice. 2. Act without delay. 3. Get your errand from the Lord. 4. Believe and trust.

Acting in faith is the only way a person can grow faith, added Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Conversion, he added, “is more than an intellectual acceptance of gospel teachings. It shapes our identity, transforms our understanding of life’s meaning and leads to unchanging fidelity to God. Personal desires that are contrary to being anchored to the Savior and to following the covenant path fade away and are replaced by a determination to submit to the will of Heavenly Father.”

“In spite of everything else this conference tradition may offer, it will mean little or nothing unless we find Jesus at the center of it all,” Elder Holland said. “To grasp the vision we are seeking, the healing that he promises, the significance we somehow know is here, we must cut through the commotion — as joyful as it is — and fix our attention on him.”