The latest from Mormon General Conference: Major priesthood changes, two historic new apostles. Oh, and a vote supporting the new prophet

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russel M. Nelson makes is way to his seat, before the Saturday morning session of the 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Friday, March 30, 2018.

LDS General Conference opened Saturday with a “solemn assembly” to sustain Russell M. Nelson as the church’s 17 president and prophet and, in a historic move, the naming of the first Asian-American and Latin American apostles.

Chinese-American Gerrit W. Gong, 64, and Brazilian Ulisses Soares, 59, now become junior members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It’s a lifetime assignment and puts them in the line of succession — far down the list, for now — to someday become president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The conference continued in the afternoon with the appointment of new Mormon general authorities and a new Young Women general presidency, along with a vocal protest shouted from a member of the audience at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

And during the evening’s all-male priesthood meeting, Nelson announced that the church was now combining Melchizedek Priesthood quorums for adult men from age 18 on up into a single group.

Here are the latest developments of conference and highlights from sermons:

Massive priesthood change

High priest groups will be dissolved and combined into elders quorums in Mormon congregations around the world. All these priesthood holders will be called elders.

Stake presidency, regional LDS leaders, will release both high priest group leaderships and elders quorum presidencies and call new three-man elders presidencies.

“These modifications have been under study for many months,” Nelson said. “We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for his Saints.

“These adjustments,” he added, “are inspired of the Lord.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson: New, larger elders quorums will bless all

This move will unify “priesthood holders to accomplish all aspects of the work of salvation, including the temple and family history work previously coordinated by the high priest groups,” apostle D. Todd Christofferson said. “It allows quorum members of all ages and backgrounds to benefit from the perspective and experience of one another and of those in different stages of life.”

He added, “The wisdom, experience, capacity and strength that will be found in these quorums portend a new day and a new standard of priesthood service across the church.”

Elder Ronald A. Rasband: New structure will strengthen diversity

“What a joy it will be for all Melchizedek Priesthood holders to have the blessing of teaching, learning and serving shoulder to shoulder with all the members in their ward,” apostle Ronald A. Rasband said. “There will be a greater diversity of gifts and capacities within the quorum.”

The new system will allow “more flexibility and availability to meet current and urgent needs within the ward and quorum,” he said, “and in fulfilling our various ministering assignments.”

Some Mormon congregations are small, and high priests and elders already meet together, sometimes with only a handful of attendees. Others, especially in LDS-dominated areas in Utah, are large and already have multiple elders quorums.

No doubt, that practice will expand under the new structure.

“Can a ward have more than one elders quorum? The answer is ‘yes,’” Rasband said. “ ... When a ward has an unusually large number of active Melchizedek Priesthood bearers, leaders may organize more than one elders quorum. In such cases, each quorum should have a reasonable balance in terms of age, experience and priesthood office strength.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund: Family history work blesses the living and the dead

Researching family histories and performing vicarious ordinances for ancestors in temples bless not only the dead but also the living, apostle Dale G. Renlund said.

He told of early Mormon apostles Parley and Orson Pratt, whose relationship was strained and broken. It was healed when they both had an interest to work on a history of their first ancestor who came to America.

“Their love for their ancestors was the catalyst to heal a rift, mend a hurt and seek and extend forgiveness,” he said. “... Family history and temple work is not only for the dead but blesses the living as well.”

He said family history work increases the understanding of Jesus and his atonement; helps people feel that heaven is near; enhances faith; increases the motivation to repent; and brings assistance “to mend troubled, broken or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole.”

He added, “God, in his infinite capacity, seals and heals individuals and families despite tragedy, loss and hardship. We sometimes compare the feelings we experience in temples as having caught a glimpse of heaven.”

Devin G. Durrant: Parents should be ready to teach at all times

Devin G. Durrant, first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, urged parents to be ready to teach their families at all times.

“Parental teaching is like being an on-call physician,” he said. “We always need to be ready to teach our children because we never know when the opportunity will present itself.”

He said teaching often comes in informal everyday settings — just as Christ taught “while eating a meal with his disciples, drawing water from a well or walking past a fig tree.”

He said the teaching continues when children become adults. “We never stop being their parents. We never stop being their teachers. We are never released from these eternal callings.”

He urged use of family prayers, “family home evenings” together, family scripture study and providing a good example.

Elder Taniela B. Wakolo: Church ordinances bring light to lives

Elder Taniela B. Wakolo of the Seventy told church members that ordinances, such as baptism and taking the sacrament, or communion, on Sundays, will bring light to their lives.

He noted that after Jesus was baptized, the Bible says Satan tempted him. “Likewise, our temptations do not end after baptism or sealing, but receiving the sacred ordinances and honoring the associated covenants fill us with marvelous light and give us strength to resist and overcome temptations.”

He urged people to ask themselves, “What ordinances, including the sacrament, do I need to receive, and what covenants do I need to make, keep and honor? I promise that participating in ordinances and honoring the associated covenants will bring you marvelous light and protection in this ever-darkening world.”

Bonnie L. Oscarson: Young women should be given more responsibility in church

Bonnie L. Oscarson, the just-released Young Women general president, said the church should give more responsibility to those youths ages 12 through 17.

“They are capable, eager and willing to do much more than merely attend church on Sundays,” she said. “As we consider the roles that our young women will be expected to assume in the near future, we might ask ourselves what kind of experiences we could provide for them now that will help with their preparation to be missionaries, gospel scholars, leaders in the church auxiliaries, temple workers, wives, mothers, mentors, examples and friends.”

Oscarson said she grew up in a small congregation where, as a teenager, she was given jobs normally done elsewhere by adults. She said there is no reason not to give responsibilities to young women now — and said it would bless them.

Addressing those young women, she said, “We have noticed that many more of you are struggling with issues of self-worth, anxiety, high levels of stress and perhaps even depression. Turning your thoughts outward, instead of dwelling on your own problems, may not resolve all of these issues, but service can often lighten your burdens and make your challenges seen less hard.”

She added, “Our young women are amazing. They have talents, unlimited enthusiasm and energy, and they are compassionate and caring. They want to be of service. They need to know they are valued and essential in the work of salvation.”

Elder David A. Bednar: To be like Christ, be meek

Apostle David A. Bednar urged members to follow Christ’s example to become meeker — and said many in the world now misunderstand what that means.

“Meekness is a defining attribute of the redeemer and is distinguished by righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness and strong self-restraint,” he said. “ ... The Christ-like quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash.”

He added, “A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.”

It is developed, he said, “through desire, the righteous exercise of moral agency and striving always to retain a remission of our sins.”

More new general authorities, new Young Women presidency, Primary counselor

On Saturday afternoon, the LDS Church announced the calls of eight general authority Seventies and 55 Area Seventies. It also named a new general presidency for the Young Women organization for teenage girls, and a new first counselor in the children’s Primary general presidency.

New members of the presidency of the Seventy are Elders Carl B. Cook and Robert C. Gay.

Other new general authority members of the Seventy are Elders Steven R. Bangerter, Matthew L. Carpenter, Jack N. Gerard, Mathias Held, David P. Homer, Kyle S. McKay, Juan Pablo Villar and Takashi Wada.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, noted the wide global roots of its top leaders now.

“We now have 116 general authorities, nearly 40 percent of them were born outside the United States in Germany, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, South Korea, Guatemala, Argentina, Italy, Zimbabwe, Uruguay, Peru, South Africa, American Samoa, England, Puerto Rico, Australia, Venezuela, Kenya, the Philippines, Portugal, Fiji, China, Japan, Chile, Columbia and France.”

Appointed to the Young Women presidency — which oversees programs for girls ages 12 to 17 — were President Bonnie H. Cordon, first counselor Michelle D. Craig and second counselor Becky Craven.

Replacing Cordon as the first counselor in the Primary general presidency is Lisa Harkness.

After the sustaining of these new leaders, reports say, someone in the audience shouted “stop protecting sexual predators” three times. The person was escorted out.

The outburst likely was in response to the recent headline-grabbing case involving a former president of the church’s flagship Missionary Training Center in Provo who has been accused of sexual misconduct with female missionaries in the 1980s.

Elder Taylor G. Godoy: Live today as if it were your last

Elder Taylor G. Godoy of the Seventy urged Mormons to live today as if it were their last one on earth.

He told about a friend’s sick child who once uttered, “One more day” — and died the next day. He wondered how people would act if they knew they had just one more day.

“How would I treat my wife, my children and others? How patient and polite would I be? How would I take care of my body? How fervently would I pray and search the scriptures?“

Godoy said while we do not know how long our lives will be, “we all have a ‘today’ to live; and the key to making our day successful is to be willing to sacrifice” to bless others.

For example, he told how his mother sold jewelry that her father had given her to help him start a dentistry business. “I learned that the sacrifice our loved ones make for us refresh us like cool water in the middle of the desert. Such sacrifice brings hope and motivation.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen: People may learn from heaven for themselves that Nelson is a prophet

Apostle Neil L. Andersen said people may learn for themselves that Nelson is a prophet who can help lead them through turbulent times. He said they also should not be surprised that his warnings may counter popular opinions of the day.

“The selection of a prophet is made by the Lord himself. There is no campaigning, no debates, no posturing for position, no dissension, distrust, confusion or commotion,” Andersen said. “I, too, confirm that the power of heaven was with us in the upper room of the temple as we prayerfully encircled President Nelson and felt the undeniable approval of the Lord upon him.”

He said everyday Mormons may obtain that same knowledge — and he noted that members do not follow Nelson in blind faith, nor need they do so.

“We have the privilege as Latter-day Saints to receive a personal witness that President Nelson’s call is from God,” he said. “I promise you that this greater witness will come to you as you humbly and worthily seek it.”

Andersen added, “A prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. Rather, he stands beside you and points the way to the Savior.”

He cautioned, “Don’t be alarmed when the prophet’s warning voice counters popular opinions of the day” and also “don’t be surprised if at times your personal views are not initially in harmony with the teachings of the Lord’s prophet.

“These are moments of learning, of humility, when we go to our knees in prayer,” Andersen said. “We walk forward in faith, trusting in God, knowing that with time we will receive more spiritual clarity.”

Elder Lynn G. Robbins: Christ gives us countless second chances

Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy said Jesus Christ’s atonement provides countless extra chances to repent and improve.

“The Savior paid an infinite price to give us as many chances as it would take to successfully pass our mortal probation,” he said. “Repentance is God’s ever-accessible gift that allows and enables us to go from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.”

Just like it is impossible to learn to skillfully play the piano without thousands or millions of mistakes, he said the same is true about life in general.

Robbins said that becoming like Christ “will require countless second chances in our day-to-day struggles.”

He urged, “We need to continue getting up each time we fall, with a desire to keep growing and progressing despite our weaknesses. In our weakness, he reassures us, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’”

Elder Gary E. Stevenson: Nelson is healing hearts in a different way now

Apostle Gary E. Stevenson said Nelson — once a renowned cardiac surgeon, who was on the research team that supported the first open-heart operation in 1951 — is healing hearts in a different way now.

“As President Nelson’s call to the Twelve 34 years ago ended a professional medical career of strengthening and repairing hearts,” Stevenson said, “it began a ministry as an apostle devoted to strengthening and repairing hearts of countless tens of thousands around the world.”

It is culminating now as the church’s new prophet. “We can rejoice — even shout Hosanna — that the Lord’s mouthpiece, a prophet of God, is in place and that the Lord is pleased that his work is being done in the way the he has divinely prescribed.”

Stevenson said about Nelson, “I have traveled with him and marvel at his energy as one must move quickly to keep up with his pace.” He added, “He has been profoundly prepared and specifically tutored by the Lord to lead us at this time.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gerrit W. Gong and Ulisses Soares take their seats with the quorum of the 12 apostles, during the morning session of the 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 31, 2018.

Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk: Forgiving others helps heal ourselves

Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk of the Seventy said forgiving others will bring healing to ourselves — and illustrated that by telling how he and his family struggled after a drunken driver killed his brother and his wife.

He said his parents and sister went to the sentencing for the young drunken driver.

“The drunk driver’s parents were also there, and after the hearing concluded, they sat on a bench and wept. My parents and sister were sitting nearby as they sought to gain control of their own emotions.” They then walked to the convict’s parents to offer words of comfort and forgiveness, and all wept and hugged together.

“That outreach of forgiveness in those moments caused my own heart to soften and opened a pathway to healing,” Echo Hawk said. “Only with the help of the Prince of Peace was my painful burden lifted.”

Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation and former Idaho attorney general, said he was “not suggesting that we condone unlawful conduct.”

“We know full-well that individuals are to be held accountable for their criminal acts and civil wrongdoings. However, we also know that, as sons and daughters of God who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are to be forgiving even when it seems others may not warrant our forgiveness.”

He added, “I witness this peace will come into our lives as we heed the teachings of Jesus Christ and follow his example by forgiving others.”

Elder Brent Taylor: Knowing we are children of God may change everything

Elder Brent K. Taylor of the Seventy said that truly coming to the knowledge that all are children of a loving God can add power and healing to lives.

He told the story of a teenager — whom he called Jen — who caused a fatal car accident, and found it nearly impossible to forgive herself. But she was counseled to write the phrase “I am a child of God” and say it 10 times a day.

After a time, she reported, “I felt God’s pure love, and have never experienced anything so powerful! Knowing I am a child of God is the most powerful knowledge I possess.”

Taylor said if we earnestly seek God, “We will come to understand in a very real way, as Jen did, that our [Heavenly] Father know us by name; that we are his children.”

He added, “Coming to know our Father changes everything, especially our hearts, as his gentle spirit confirms our true identity and ‘great worth in his sight.’”

Elder Russell M. Ballard: Nelson prepared by God for his calling

Russell M. Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Nelson has long been prepared by God to direct the church. At the same time, he said leaders in the church are not perfect — and members need to exercise faith in Christ to sustain them.

Ballard said he has known Nelson for more than 60 years, and served with him as an apostle for 33.

“I am a witness that the hand of the Lord has been preparing him to become our presiding apostle and prophet to administer all the keys of the holy priesthood on the earth.”

He added, however, “We should not be surprised to know that those individuals called to do the Lord’s work are not humanly perfect. Stories in the scriptures detail incidents about men and women who were called of God to accomplish a great work … but not of them yet perfect. The same is true of us.”

Ballard asked, “Given the reality of our human weaknesses and shortcomings, how do we more forward in supporting and sustaining each other? It begins with faith — real, sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Noting that he once saw how tiny mustard sees are, “If we have faith as small as a mustard seed, the Lord can help us remove the mountains of discouragement and doubt in the tasks ahead of us as we serve with God’s children.”

He urged members to seek gifts from God, including “the gift of the Sabbath day, the sacrament, service to others, and the matchless gift from God of our Savior.”

New prophet, new apostles

As the morning session opened, President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, who was conducting, gave a brief tribute to the late Thomas S. Monson, the past church president, who died Jan. 2.

“His long and devoted ministry blessed countless people through the world,” he said.

Just before the conference began, new LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, 93, walked briskly into the 21,000-seat LDS Conference Center — as those present rose to their feet to show respect. Nelson gave his wife, Wendy, a hug on the stand before taking his seat.

Then the 16 million members of the church worldwide participated in a “solemn assembly” to formally sustain Nelson — which at the same time announced the callings of Gong and Soares.

Members were asked in turns to stand — even if at home watching a TV or computer screen — to raise their right hand to sustain Nelson and other authorities.

Gong and Soares— who had been serving as general authorities in the Presidency of the Seventy — were sustained to fill vacancies left by the deaths of Monson in January and apostle Robert D. Hales in October.