Leaders shared deeply personal stories Saturday morning about the spiritual power of prayer and the confidence provided by temple covenants as they opened the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.

Members also sustained a new president of the Quorum of the Twelve, a new apostle, 11 new general authorities and a new Sunday School general presidency during the session at the Conference Center.

The conference sustained the calling of President Jeffrey R. Holland as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the first time. President Holland has been acting in the role since November, when President M. Russell Ballard died.

Church leaders raise their hands to sustain the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center.
Church leaders sustain the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during general conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We note the passing of our dear friend and associate President M. Russell Ballard. His strong leadership, loving service in the church and deep commitment to the Lord are legendary,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, who conducted the first session as first counselor in the First Presidency.

The conference also sustained Elder Patrick Kearon, who was ordained as a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in December.

Church President Russell M. Nelson, who is 99, viewed the session from home, President Oaks said. President Nelson had said earlier this week that some senior leaders might provide prerecorded messages or sit as they spoke.

In other news, President Oaks announced that apostles will conduct three of the five conference sessions. Members of the First Presidency generally conduct conference sessions.

“We are grateful for their assistance,” President Oaks said.

The Saturday morning speakers were President Holland, President Henry B. Eyring, Elders Ulisses Soares, Jack N. Gerard, Alexander Dushku and Sister J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency.

They spoke on a chilly morning that broke with pale blue skies after an overnight dusting of snow that still sat sparsely in green grass on Temple Square. The Angel Moroni stood atop the Salt Lake Temple free of the scaffolding that surrounded him when he returned to his spire this week after a four-year absence during the temple renovation.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, greet each other prior to the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2024. Church President Russell M. Nelson watched the session remotely. | Les Nilsson, The Church of Jesus

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

President Eyring recalled attending a sealing in the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple when the Teton Dam collapsed in 1976. Without cellphones and with the roads closed, the Eyrings could not contact their children to check on their safety or return home to them in Rexburg, Idaho. They stayed in a hotel room, where the late Sister Kathy Eyring paced.

  • “Kathy, whatever the outcome, all will be well because of the temple,” President Eyring said he told her. “We have made covenants with God and have been sealed as an eternal family.” Earlier in the session, Elder Soares referred to this as “covenant confidence.”
  • He asked church members to attend the temple as frequently as possible and make and keep temple covenants. He quoted President Nelson: “Once we make a covenant with God, we leave neutral ground forever. God will not abandon his relationship with those who have forged such a bond with him. In fact, all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy.”
  • “Frequent participation in the ordinances of the temple can create a pattern of devotion to the Lord. When you keep your temple covenants and remember them, you invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost to both strengthen and purify you,” said President Eyring, who sat during his prerecorded message.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaks during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2024.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaks in a previously recorded message shown during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2024. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Holland was the conference’s first speaker. It was his first talk since October 2022, due to health issues. He referred frankly Saturday to the personal challenges he’s faced. He watched the April 2023 conference from home while recovering from COVID-19. Days later, he stepped away from quorum assignments to begin dialysis treatment, returning to meetings and assignments two months later.

Then his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, died in July. Two days later, President Holland suffered a medical crisis and was hospitalized for six weeks, through the October 2023 general conference. He has said he was at death’s door. Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, who offered the opening prayer, thanked God for preserving President Holland’s life.

President Holland referred to God’s “recent gift to me of a few more weeks or months in mortality.” He shared three lessons Saturday that he learned over the past year. The first paid honor to his wife.

“She was the greatest woman I have ever known — a perfect wife and mother, to say nothing of her purity, gift of expression and spirituality,” said President Holland, who sat during his talk.

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks in the Conference Center during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference.
President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Salt Lake City. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The second came during his hospital stay. He said he has little memory of those weeks, but he does remember a spiritual experience.

“I cannot speak fully of that experience here, but I can say part of what I received was an admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the Savior and more faith in his word,” he said.

The third lesson was about the efficacy of prayer. He thanked church members for their prayers on behalf of him and his wife.

“It is for reasons known only to God why prayers are answered differently than we hope,” he said, “but I promise they are heard, and they are answered according to his unfailing love and cosmic timetable. My beloved friends, our prayers are our sweetest hour, our ‘most sincere desire,’ our simplest, purest form of worship.”

He counseled listeners to pray regularly and asked them to be “thoroughly committed, faithfully believing, covenant-keeping disciples.”

Other announcements

President Oaks announced a new Sunday School Presidency consisting of Elder Paul V. Johnson, Chad H. Webb and Gabriel W. Reid.

The new presidency will replace Mark L. Pace, Milton Camargo and Jan E. Newman on Aug. 1.

Elder Johnson is a General Authority Seventy who on Saturday was given emeritus status, effective Aug. 1. Brother Webb is the administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Brother Reid, a former NFL and BYU football player from American Samoa, is the president of the Australia Sydney Mission.

Other General Authority Seventies who will receive emeritus status on Aug. 1 are Ian S. Ardern, Shayne M. Bowen, S. Gifford Nielsen, Brent H. Nielson, Adrián Ochoa, Gary B. Sabin and Evan A. Schmutz.

Changes also were made to the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Johnson and Elder Nielson were released from the presidency along with Elder Carlos A. Godoy, effective Aug. 1, 2024. Elder Marcus B. Nash, who recently replaced Elder Kearon in the presidency, was sustained along with three new members of the presidency who will begin service Aug. 1 — Elders Michael T. Ringwood, Arnulfo Valenzuela and Edward Dube.

Elder Dube, who is from Zimbabwe, is the first Black general authority to serve in the Presidency of the Seventy.

Members sustained 11 new General Authority Seventies. They are:

  • Elder David L. Buckner.
  • Elder Gregorio E. Casillas.
  • Elder Aroldo B. Cavalcante.
  • Elder I. Raymond Egbo.
  • Elder D. Martin Goury.
  • Elder Karl D. Hirst.
  • Elder Christopher H. Kim.
  • Elder Sandino Roman.
  • Elder Steven D. Shumway.
  • Elder Michael B. Strong.
  • Elder Sergio R. Vargas.

During the conference’s leadership session on Thursday, the church announced the calling of 64 new area seventies and shared the names of 52 who will be released on Aug. 1.

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve

Elder Soares spoke about what he termed “covenant confidence through Jesus Christ,” which he described as quiet, certain assurance that God will deliver blessings he promised to those who keep temple covenants. He said being “covenant confident” is the pinnacle of a divine connection with God.

  • Elder Soares said the words “Holiness to the Lord” on each Latter-day Saint temple are an invitation to “embark on a sacred journey of learning to become higher and holier disciples of Christ.”
  • “As we make covenants in holiness before God and commit to follow the Savior, we receive the power to change our hearts, renew our spirits and deepen our relationship with him. Such an endeavor brings sanctification to our souls and forms a sacred bond with God and Jesus Christ, who promises that we can inherit the gift of eternal life.”
  • “The result of this sacred journey is that we obtain a holier and higher confidence for our day to day lives within our covenants made through Jesus Christ.”

Sister J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency

  • Sister Dennis noted that church members who make temple covenants with God “wear the garment of the holy priesthood, both during temple worship and in our everyday lives.”
  • She said wearing garments “remind(s) me that the Savior and the blessings of his infinite Atonement constantly cover me throughout my mortal journey.”
  • “By keeping my covenants and obligations with God, including wearing the garment of the holy priesthood, my very life can become a personal symbol of my love and deep gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and my desire to have him with me always.”

Elder Jack N. Gerard, General Authority Seventy

Elder Gerard asked church members to live the Christlike attribute of integrity.

  • “Living a life of integrity means being true to God, to each other and to our divine identity. Integrity means not lowering standards or behavior to impress or be accepted by others. It means doing what is right and letting the consequences follow,” he said.
  • “May we reconcile ourselves ‘to the will of God’ and develop the Christlike attribute of integrity.”

Elder Alexander Dushku, General Authority Seventy

Everyone experiences God’s light and truth in different ways, Elder Dushku said. Testimony may come as a spiritual impression, a joyful assurance of God’s love, the gift to recognize “tender mercies of the Lord” or in other ways.

  • A “pillar of light” gradually descended on Joseph Smith after a “thick darkness” enveloped him in the sacred grove, he said, meaning that a desperate prayer and a pillar of light were the beginning of the restoration of Christ’s church.
  • “Rather than sending us a pillar of light, the Lord sends us a ray of light, and then another, and another.”

Music for the Saturday morning session was provided by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.