SALT LAKE CITY — As President Russell M. Nelson prepared to fly out of Brazil at the end of another global ministry visit, just days before his 95th birthday, it was clear he was not slowing down anytime soon.
“There are exciting things ahead,” President Nelson said in an interview. “This work is moving forward at an accelerated pace. I can hardly wait to bounce out of bed each morning and see what the day will bring.”
It was another active year for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During 2019, President Nelson and other church leaders visited members around the globe and interacted with world and community leaders. The church continued to announce and dedicate new temples while also renovating older temples. There have been policy announcements, new guidelines for missionaries and noteworthy adjustments. One highlight came in the form of a historic gathering in Italy.
Here’s is a look back at some of the significant and memorable moments for Latter-day Saints as 2019 comes to a close.
President Nelson’s global ministry
President Nelson, Sister Wendy Nelson and other church leaders traveled around the world visiting and teaching the Latter-day Saints.
President Nelson covered thousands of miles with trips to the Pacific (Hawaii, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti), Latin America (Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil), Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia) and locations in the United States, including California, Arizona and Florida.
Before speaking to Arizona Saints, President Nelson wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Republic.
The 95-year-old’s 2019 travels also involved building bridges of friendship and cooperation with government, faith and civic leaders, including a memorable audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. He was invited to speak at the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit, spent time with Muslims affected by the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand, and hosted visits from a Cuban ambassador, Vietnamese delegation and the leader of the Muslim World League in Utah.
Historic gathering in Rome
Nine years after President Thomas S. Monson and others turned the first shovels of dirt on the construction of the Rome Italy Temple, the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gathered for the memorable dedication one weekend last March.
It was the first time that all 15 apostles have assembled together outside the United States. The occasion was marked with iconic photographs taken in front of the Christus and statues of the original apostles in the Visitors’ Center, as well as the temple.
As part of the unique event, the church released a video of Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Ronald A. Rasband, both members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, giving a virtual tour of the Rome Italy Temple. The two Apostles also shared a video of them standing outside a prison where ancient Apostles Peter and Paul were believed to be held captive.
President Nelson dedicated the Rome Italy Temple on Sunday, March 10.
The Rome Italy Temple was one of six temples dedicated in 2019.
During general conference sessions in April and October, President Nelson announced 16 more temples, bringing the total number of temples he’s announced since becoming president of the church to 35. Among the 16 were three more for Utah — Tooele Valley, Orem and Taylorsville.
In 2019, the church implemented changes that enabled women to serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings, along with a change that permits members who marry in a civil ceremony to not have to wait a year to be sealed in the temple. President Nelson also introduced a revised list of temple recommend interview questions.
During the general conference leadership session in April, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, announced that children of same-sex couples may be blessed as infants or be baptized without First Presidency approval, updating a 2015 handbook policy.
President Nelson spoke about the change in a BYU devotional with young single adults in September.
“We knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others,” President Nelson said. “That grieved us.”
The past 12 months also served as the church’s first year of the new home-centered, church-supported, integrated curriculum for individuals and families with a two-hour Sunday schedule.
Children and Youth Program
One major change was announced in October — ward Young Men presidencies will be discontinued to allow bishops to work more directly with young men and women. This and other structural changes were made to “help young men and young women develop their sacred personal potential,” President Nelson said.
As part of the new home-centered, church-supported direction, the church shifted the seminary curriculum to align with the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum.
In February, the First Presidency adjusted its communication guidelines to allow full-time missionaries to call or communicate online with their families once a week, in addition to letters and emails. One major purposes for the change was to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary’s efforts and experiences, the First Presidency said in a statement.
One month later, the church released a series of safety videos to help protect missionaries.
Due to rising costs, the price of serving missions will increase to $500 a month in 2020 for missionaries from 18 nations in North America and Europe.
Relief Society, Young Women, Primary leadership
Women serving in leadership at church headquarters continued to have a visible role in 2019.
In a first of its kind event, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president; and Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, took turns responding to questions submitted by women throughout the world in a Sister to Sister broadcast event in the Marriott Center during BYU Women’s Conference.
During the October women’s session, Sister Cordon introduced a new Young Women theme. New flexibility in the organizational structure, the retirement of beloved names for those classes and a new emphasis on each young women presidency taking the lead were among other changes Sister Cordon announced.
President Nelson announced eight new temples during the same session.
Some of the events involving members of the Relief Society general presidency included:
- In March, Sister Bingham and Sister Cordon traveled through countries in West Africa where they met with government leaders, spoke to members and missionaries, visited a temple site, and trained Relief Society and Young Women leaders.
- Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, spoke at a conference held at the United Nations in Geneva. She also participated in a $4 million donation by the church to nine national refugee resettlement agencies in the United States.
- Sister Bingham visited Sierra Leone, where she observed the implementation of a Gospel Literacy program.
Some of the events involving members of the Young Women general presidency included:
- Sister Cordon and Sister Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, took a 12-day trip to the Africa Southeast Area in May.
- Sister Cordon spoke at BYU-Hawaii’s fall commencement earlier this month, offering two principles for joy to graduates.
- Sister Cordon was present at the official opening of the church’s #LightTheWorld Giving Machines.
Some of the events involving members of the Primary general presidency included:
- Sister Jones offered a prayer at the White House for the National Day of Prayer in May.
- Sister Jones spoke on religious freedom and civic responsibility at a devotional in September.
- On behalf of Latter-day Saint Charities, Sister Jones joined a panel of speakers and addressed an international audience at the United Nations in Geneva.
First African American general authority
Invitation to pray
During a three-day trip to New England, President Ballard invited an audience to “join a movement” by praying for the United States, its leaders and families.
“Our nation was founded on prayer, it was preserved by prayer, and we need prayer again,” said the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “I plead with you this evening to pray for this country, for our leaders, for our people, and for the families that live in this great nation founded by God.”
RootsTech goes international
RootsTech, the largest family history conference in the world, held its first international conference in London in October. Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, spoke at and played a role in hosting the event.
Book of Mormon Videos
Three years after the project was first announced, the church began releasing episodes from its Book of Mormon video library series in September. Church leaders hope the live-action videos will help bring the stories of the Book of Mormon to life and supplement persona and family study.
At the conclusion of October general conference, President Nelson said the church would commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in April. More than a month later, the First Presidency announced that all Latter-day Saints, ages 11 and older, were invited to the Saturday evening session of April 2020 general conference.
“Next April will be different from any previous conference,” President Nelson said.