SALT LAKE CITY — For seven years now, I’ve covered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the Deseret News. Here’s a list of 12 things I learned about the church during the 190th Semiannual General Conference.
1. When Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on Sunday, it marked the first time in six years that a father and son had spoken during the same general conference. His son, Elder Matthew S. Holland, spoke during the Saturday afternoon session.
The late President Boyd K. Packer and his son Elder Allan F. Packer each spoke in the April 2009 and October 2014 general conferences.
The late President Gordon B. Hinckley was the church’s president when he and his son, Elder Richard G. Hinckley, both spoke in the April 2006 priesthood session.
More on families speaking in conference later.
2. President Russell M. Nelson shared “a new insight” regarding the gathering of Israel. He said that one Hebrew meaning of the word Israel is “let God prevail.”
He said that letting God prevail means a person is willing to let the Lord be foremost in his or her life. President Nelson said that concept stirred his soul, and he called church members to act by using the next six months to study and list the Lord’s promises to covenant Israel.
3. President Nelson also described the church as embodying “latter-day covenant Israel.” His footnotes said the term is from the 1992 publication, “Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” so it isn’t new, but the term had never been used in conference before, according to lds-general-conference.org.
He used it while characterizing this dispensation: “This pre-millennial gathering is an individual saga of expanding faith and spiritual courage for millions of people. And as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or ‘latter-day covenant Israel, we have been charged to assist the Lord with this pivotal work.”
4. A number of people noted on my Facebook and Twitter feeds that they did not know that there are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 196 nations and territories.
I didn’t, either.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong said it in his Saturday afternoon talk and mentioned in his footnotes that “nations and territories” include entities such as Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.
5. Elder Gong also noted that the church has stakes in 90 countries. Stakes, of course, are regional organizations usually made up of somewhere between six and 12 congregations, called wards or branches.
The church organizes wards and branches into districts in places where there aren’t enough members or Melchizedek Priesthood holders to organize stakes. Districts are intended to be transitional, eventually leading to stakes. For example, when Elder D. Todd Christofferson traveled to India on assignment in August 2017, I asked him when the New Delhi District would become a first stake. Church members believed a stake was imminent.
Sure enough, the New Delhi stake became India’s fourth just two months later on Nov. 5, 2017.
6. President Nelson has testified of Jesus Christ and his restored gospel in 138 nations, and counting, according to Elder Gong.
In my profile of President Nelson when he was sustained as the prophet in January 2018, I noted that he had visited 133 countries. Since then he’s traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the South Pacific. I did not know he had reached five nations that weren’t on his list before.
7. Now here is the real did-you-know fact: President Nelson and his son-in-law, Elder Michael T. Ringwood, a General Authority Seventy, each spoke in the October 2009 and April 2015 conferences. Elder Ringwood is married to Rosalie Nelson Ringwood.
8. This weekend’s conference was broadcast on TV and radio in a record 50 countries. That’s at least a 233% increase over the October 2019 conference. Including this reference is cheating, a little. I learned about this on Thursday, and added that information to a story we already had online.
But when Elder Gong noted that this conference is available in 100 languages, it reminded me of that fact. President Nelson began the conference this weekend by noting that the April conference was viewed by more people than ever before, and that he expected that will happen again with this conference.
Church officials knew that people in many nations, some of whom do not have Internet access, would be unable to watch satellite broadcasts of the April conference because of pandemic restrictions on gatherings. So they approached governments and networks around the world and at least doubled, to 31, the number of countries carrying TV and radio broadcasts of conference.
9. The church has now published 192 million copies of the Book of Mormon in 112 languages.
I wrote that it was in 112 languages back in July in my weekly email newsletter, ChurchBeat, but at that time the most recent number of total published copies I could find was 185 million.
Elder Gong also noted that the Book of Mormon is translated into most of the 23 world languages spoken by 50 million people or more. Collectively, those languages represent 4.1 billion of the world’s people.
10. The father-daughter combination of late church President Thomas S. Monson and Sister Ann Monson Dibb each spoke in the same session of both the October 2009 and October 2012 general conferences. Sister Dibb served as the second counselor in the Young Women presidency from 2008-13 and spoke in that capacity.
President Monson and Sister Dibb also both spoke in the conferences in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, when Sister Dibb spoke in the women’s session or Young Women meeting the weekend before the general sessions of conference.
11. Elder Dean M. Davies was released as first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric and called as a General Authority Seventy.
“Bishop Davies has been dealing with a significant health challenge for more than a year, though his current prognosis is positive,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement released Saturday. “We are grateful that he will be able to continue to serve in this new role as a General Authority Seventy.”
12. Brothers also have spoken in the same conference.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton, who was granted emeritus status on Saturday after 19 years as a General Authority Seventy, spoke in the same April 2017 conference as his younger brother Elder Weatherford T. Clayton, also a Seventy.
The late apostle Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin and his late brother, Elder Richard B. Wirthlin, who was a member of the Seventy, both spoke in October 1997.
Bonus item: Church leaders are taking the pandemic and personal protective equipment very seriously and have been since the pandemic began.
Saturday was another personal display of caution and care for one another. Elder Gong, who was possibly exposed to COVID-19, pre-recorded his talk and participated in the conference at home, out of an abundance of caution. The other 14 apostles wore masks and sat in chairs arranged to ensure physical distancing.