A church leader encouraged what he said is a growing movement among Latter-day Saints toward a more Christ-centered Easter as he opened the faith’s 193rd Annual General Conference on Saturday.

“How do we model the teaching and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Easter story, with the same balance, fullness and rich religious tradition of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Christmas story?” said Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Holding a first-edition Book of Mormon from 1830 as he spoke on Palm Sunday weekend from the pulpit in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Elder Stevenson said his family will focus their Easter next week on the first 17 verses of 3 Nephi 11, when Christ appeared to the Book of Mormon people.

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“We hope to make these chapters in 3 Nephi as much a part of our Easter tradition as is Luke 2 of our Christmas tradition,” he said.

“In reality, the Book of Mormon shares the greatest Easter story ever told. Let it not be the greatest Easter story never told,” he added.

Elder Stevenson quoted New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who said Easter is Christianity’s greatest festival.

The First Presidency has instructed Latter-day Saint congregations to alter their worship practices on Easter next Sunday. Each ward or branch will hold Sacrament meeting as usual, but it will be focused especially on Christ. The typical weekly second meeting was canceled, and all ancillary gatherings also were canceled.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waves to other leaders during the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Easter change fits President Nelson’s emphasis on Jesus Christ

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Gong said church members should reach out during the Easter season to those to whom they are assigned to minister and help the church close a “ministering gap” that is found in some areas.

  • “More say they are ministering than say they are being ministered to. We do not want checklist concern. But often we need more than a sincere hello in the hall or a casual ‘Can I help you?’ in the parking lot. In many places, we can reach out, understand others where they are, and build relationships when we regularly visit members in their homes.”
  • “As followers of Jesus Christ, we seek to minister to others as he does because lives are waiting to change.”
  • “It is said that those who understand the true spirit of ministering do more than before, while those who do not understand do less. Let’s do more, as our Savior would. As our hymn says, it is a blessing of duty and love.”

He compared congregations to a spiritual ecosystem and ministering to the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive trees.

  • “Ministering — shepherding — makes our vineyard “one body” — a sacred grove. Each tree in our grove is a living family tree. Roots and branches intertwine. Ministering blesses generations.”
Sister Bonnie. H Condon, Young Women general president, speaks during the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Hollands have COVID-19

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles did not attend the Saturday morning session because he and his wife have COVID-19, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who conducted the session. Elder Holland watched conference from home.

“Pat and I love being with you at general conference,” Elder Holland said in a tweet. “Unfortunately, we both tested positive for Covid and are not able to attend this weekend. We will be watching together, hand-in-hand, at home. Like you, I express my gratitude for the Savior this Palm Sunday weekend.”

Elder Holland also noted the Easter season.

“I hope you will join me in recognizing and appreciating that all sins and sorrows, all disappointment and depression, all temptation and all tears may be put behind us through the divinity, atoning sacrifice and triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he tweeted.

Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The church continues to grow everywhere, but Latter-day Saints should be shining examples of the Christian living so others will desire the gospel in their lives, Elder Cook said.

  • “We cannot be in camouflage. Our Christlike example of kindness, righteousness, happiness and sincere love for all peoples can create not only a guiding beacon light for them, but also an understanding that there is a safe harbor in the ordinances of salvation and exaltation of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Cook called it a privilege for Latter-day Saints to love, share, invite and help gather Israel, to receive the fulness of the Lord’s covenant blessings.

  • “We are grateful that members and missionaries are now expanding efforts to gather scattered Israel. Growth continues everywhere, especially South America and Africa.”
  • “In the 62 years since I commenced serving a mission in 1960, the number of full-time missionaries serving under a call from the prophet has increased from 7,683 to 62,544. The number of missions has increased from 58 to 411. The number of members has increased from approximately 1,700,000 to approximately 17 million.”

He said church leaders appreciate that many members have responded to President Nelson’s invitation for increased missionary service, but he said church members’ “commitment to love, share and invite can be greatly expanded.”

  • “My specific prayer today is for every child, young man, young woman, family and quorum, Relief Society and class to review how we individually and collectively accept dramatic counsel to help gather Israel that have been issued by the Lord and our beloved prophet.”
Dr. Ash Puriri, New Zealand, wears a korowai cloak during the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency

President Eyring closed the session by saying church members who have felt what he called Christ’s supernal gift of personal peace, whatever the circumstances, should seek inspiration about how to pass it along to others.

  • “The Savior knows that all of Heavenly Father’s children yearn for peace, and he said that he could give it to us.”

Some do not feel the Lord’s promised peace because there is an enemy who works to prevent it.

  • “Satan’s efforts to sow hatred and contention all around us seem to be increasing. We see evidence of it happening among nations and cities, in neighborhoods, in electronic media, all across the world.”

President Eyring said the formula for receiving what he said was the miracle of personal peace is to keep the commandments, which includes loving God with all one’s heart, might, mind and soul. Then peace comes through the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Sister Bonnie H. Condon, Young Women general president, talks with Sister Susan Bednar prior to the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president

President Cordon shared the story of her father’s death from ALS and said he always taught her to take every opportunity to testify of Christ.

  • “I invite you to join me in accepting his invitation,” she said. “Look for Christ everywhere ― I promise he is there! True joy rests on our willingness to come closer to Christ and witness for ourselves.”

The morning after more than 60 tornadoes barreled through five U.S. states and killed 11 people, President Cordon, the Young Women president since 2018, said Christ provides hope and clarity.

  • “We live in a fallen world, with distractions coaxing our eyes and hearts downward instead of heavenward. Much like the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11, we need Jesus Christ,” she said.
  • She encouraged listeners to “create muscle memory of discipleship and testimony to bring into focus their reliance on Christ.
  • “The adversary creates so much noise that it can be difficult to hear the Lord’s voice,” President Cordon said. “Our world, our challenges our circumstances will not get quieter, but we can and must hunger and thirst after the things of Christ to ‘hear him’ with clarity.”

Additional speakers

Other speakers included Elders Carl B. Cook and Allen D. Haynie, who are General Authority Seventies.

Elder Cook taught that God can help people overcome discouragement with faith.

  • “Regardless of the size, scope and serious challenges we face in life, we all have times when we feel like stopping, leaving, escaping or possibly giving up, but exercising faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ, helps us overcome discouragement no matter what obstacles we encounter.”

Elder Haynie said world conditions can cause panic, but God’s children can navigate troubled times by following the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • “Knowing by revelation that there is a living prophet on the earth changes everything.”
International guests sing with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Those shown are Sundae Mae Indino of Cagayan, Philippines, second from left on the second row; Thalita De Carvalho of Sao Paulo, Brazil, second from right on the second row; Georgina Montemayor Wong of Monterrey, Mexico, center of fourth row; Denisse Elorza Avalos of Tijuana, Mexico, second from left on the fifth row. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Tabernacle Choir’s special guests

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang “Come, Ye Children of the Lord,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “The Day Dawn is Breaking,” “Now Let Us Rejoice,” “Keep the Commandments” and “High on the Mountain Top.”

They choir was joined by special singers from Brazil, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines and Taiwan, President Oaks said. It is the first time that international singers have traveled to Salt Lake to join the choir to sing at conference.

International singers are invited to perform with the Tabernacle Choir at general conference for the first time ever

The opening prayer was given by Elder Benjamin M.Z. Tai, a General Authority Seventy from Hong Kong. Elder Tai is the assistant executive director of the Missionary Department.

The closing prayer was said by President Mark L. Pace, a General Authority Seventy from Argentina. He is the Sunday School general president.

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Attendance at the conference again is limited to 15,000 seats per session, though the Conference Center’s capacity is 20,000, because of parking and accessibility concerns related to the historic renovation of the Salt Lake Temple and other construction on and around Temple Square.

Click here to learn where to watch or listen to or read about this weekend’s 193rd Annual General Conference.