After a dizzying day of historic changes under new LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, the 188th Annual General Conference resumed on Easter Sunday with yet another momentous announcement: “Home teaching” by male Mormons and “visiting teaching” by female Latter-day Saints to members in their congregations will be discontinued and replaced with a “ministering” program.
“Construction of these temples may not change your life, but your time in the temple surely will,” he told the crowd in downtown Salt Lake City’s LDS Conference Center. “In that spirit, I bless you to identify those things you can set aside so you can spend more time in the temple.”
Audible gasps were heard when Nelson mentioned plans for a Layton temple and one for “a major city yet to be determined in Russia.”
The other temples will be in Salta, Argentina; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; and Richmond, Va.
The church has 159 operating temples, with 30 either announced or under construction.
So, what is home teaching and visiting teaching? Well, it’s hard to live in Utah and not hear Mormon neighbors mention, at some point, those programs.
“Did you do your home teaching this month?” “It’s the 30th, we better get out and do our home teaching.” “One of my home teaching families needs help moving a piano.”
Members of the faith’s lay all-male priesthood are assigned to visit households in their congregation every month to attend to the spiritual and physical needs of these families and individuals. That’s the “home” part of the phrase. These priesthood holders — who go two by two, Mormon missionary-style — often “teach” a brief religious message as well during their visits.
Mormon women do much the same thing for the female adults in their wards in their visiting teaching efforts.
Saturday saw Nelson sustained as the church’s 17th president, two new apostles chosen who reflect the growing global diversity in the U.S.-born faith and a seismic shift in how the adult male priesthood operates in every Mormon congregation across the globe.
The 93-year-old Nelson, conducting his first General Conference session as the LDS president, opened Sunday morning’s session with an Easter greeting. He was followed by a string a speakers who reflected the international reach of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his two counselors in the governing First Presidency.
Nelson then capped the morning’s session with a major speech.
In the afternoon, Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese American, and Ulisses Soares, a Brazilian native, offered their first speeches as newly appointed apostles.
Here are the latest developments and sermons from Sunday’s sessions:
Elder Quentin L. Cook: Thankful for #MeToo movement
Apostle Quentin L. Cook addressed the #MeToo movement, saying it is “commendable that nonconsensual immorality has been exposed and denounced.”
He went on to say that “consensual immorality … is also a sin.”
“Those who understand God’s plan must also oppose consensual immorality,” he said, decrying “the devastation of wickedness and addiction” that is seen “at every turn.”
Cook lamented that “many people no longer feel accountable to God and do not turn scriptures or the prophets for guidance.” And he declared that “if we as a society would contemplate the consequences of sin, there would be massive public opposition to pornography and the objectification of women.”
His sermon came at a time when the LDS Church is under criticism for how it handled sexual misconduct by a former president of its flagship Missionary Training Center in Provo,
Bishop Gérald Caussé: It is all about people
Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, who oversees the faith’s financial, real estate, charitable and investment operations, told members that the church is “all about people. It is all about you, the Lord’s disciples — those who love and follow him.”
But, he said, members sometimes focus more on visual aids for church lessons or where the chairs are placed in the classrooms and less on covenants, which should be the “sole aim.”
“Are we active in the gospel, or are we merely busy in the church?” Caussé asked. “The key is to follow the example of the savior in all things. If we do that, we will naturally focus on saving individuals rather than performing tasks and implementing programs.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Easter marks the greatest day in history
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was released as a member of the First Presidency and returned to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when Nelson took the faith’s helm, delivered an Easter message, proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection the greatest day in history.
“Yes, there are many events throughout history that have profoundly affected the destiny of nations and peoples,” he said. “But combine them all, and they cannot begin to compare to the importance of what happened on that first Easter morning.”
Uchtdorf recounted the events leading up to the crucifixion and encouraged Latter-day Saints to look to the savior.
“When you ponder the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, what do you see?” he asked. “Those who find a way to truly behold the man, find the doorway to life’s greatest joys and the balm to life’s most demanding despairs.
“... This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday — we celebrate life!” he said, later adding, “I testify that the most important day in the history of mankind was the day when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, won the victory over death and sin for all of God’s children.”
President Russell M. Nelson: Seeking a better way to serve members
In the afternoon, Nelson announced that the church would be revising its approach to caring for members. No longer would Mormon men and women be assigned to visit members in their congregations in programs called home teaching and visiting teaching.
Going forward, the LDS person-to-person program will simply be called “ministering.”
LDS authorities had been “seeking a better way to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of our people,” Nelson said, “in the Savior’s way.”
In that, these authorities drew on traditional Mormon ideas about gender.
“Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters,” he said, “and by the incomparable power of the priesthood.”
President Jean B. Bingham: What ministering looks like
Following up on the announcement that home teaching and visiting teaching will become ministering to one another, women’s Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham outlined how church members can do so “lovingly.”
“Ministering looks like elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies prayerfully counseling about assignments,” she said. “Rather than leaders just handing out slips of paper, it looks like counseling about the individuals and families in person as assignments are given to ministering brothers and sisters.”
That can take the form of going for a walk, meeting for a game night, offering service, or serving together. It can be accomplished in-person visits, phone calls, chatting online or texting, sending birthday cards or “cheering at a soccer game.”
“It looks like sharing a scripture or quote from a conference talk that would be meaningful to the individual,” Bingham said. “It looks like discussing a gospel question and sharing testimony to bring clarity and peace. It looks like becoming part of someone’s life and caring about him or her. It also looks like a ministering interview in which needs and strengths are discussed sensitively and appropriately. It looks like the ward council organizing to respond to a larger need.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Change offers chance to practice pure religion
This change in home teaching and visiting teaching provides Mormons with “a heaven-sent opportunity to demonstrate pure religion undefiled before God,” apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said, “to minister to the widows and the fatherless, the married and the single, the strong and the distraught, the downtrodden and the robust, the happy and the sad.”
In short, Holland said, “all of us, every one of us ... need to feel the warm hand of friendship and hear a firm declaration of faith.”
Changing the name, adding flexibility and reducing reports of home teaching and visiting teaching to lay leaders, the apostle said, “won’t make an ounce of difference in our service unless we see this as an invitation to care for one another in a bold new holier way.”
Elder Ulisses Soares: Follow prophets to find happiness
A day after he was sustained as an apostle, Ulisses Soares, 59, expressed his “sincere and deep thanks for your sustaining vote” and expressed his faith that Nelson “is the prophet of God on earth.”
“Though I felt so inadequate for this sacred call, his words and the tender look in his eyes as he extended this responsibility made me feel embraced by the savior’s love,” said Soares, adding that “the prophets speak by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And, he said, following the counsel of the prophets will make Mormons “happier” and “difficulties and problems … easier to bear.” They will “protect us from the attacks of the enemy in our day.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong: ‘We belong to each other’
Gerrit W. Gong offered his first conference speech as an LDS apostle, expressing first his “overwhelming feelings” since Nelson “lovingly...extended this sacred call from the Lord that took my breath away and has left me weeping many times these past few days.”
Then the 64-year-old Gong declared powerful conviction of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
“On this Easter Sabbath, I joyfully sing alleluia,” the new apostle said. “The song of our risen Savior’s redeeming love1 celebrates the harmony of covenants (that connect us to God and to each other).”
Addressing thousands in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching via satellite, Gong said, “Dear brothers and sisters, we belong to each other. We can be knit together in unity and in love, in all things and in all places that we may be in. This is especially true as we come to him and allow him to heal our broken hearts and lift our contrite spirits.”
President Russell M. Nelson: Revelation comes to LDS leaders and all who seek it
Russell M. Nelson’s first full General Conference speech as LDS prophet to the entire Mormon population was a kind of introduction to the man who now leads the 16 million-member church.
The newly sustained prophet grew up in Salt Lake City with loving parents, he said, but who didn’t live Mormon standards. He met his first wife, Dantzel White, while he was in medical school, and they were married in the iconic Salt Lake LDS Temple in 1945. They went on to have nine daughters and one son, and then, in 2005, after nearly 60 years of marriage, his wife died.
“For a season, my grief was almost immobilizing,” Nelson said. “But the message of Easter and the promise of resurrection sustained me.”
A year later, he married Wendy Watson, also in the Salt Lake Temple.
“She is an extraordinary woman,” Nelson said, “a great blessing to me, to our family and to the entire church.”
He had prayed fervently about wedding Watson, and got his answer, he said. And so did she.
Seeking and receiving direction from God is key to LDS faith, Nelson said. It helped him in the operating room as a heart surgeon, as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and now as church president.
“When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation,” Nelson said. “The [Holy] Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us discern the Lord’s will for his church.”
In such meetings, “the majority never rules,” he said. “We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then, when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling.”
Mormons everywhere can have the same revelatory experiences in their own lives.
“You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You don’t have to wonder whom you can safely trust,” he said. “... Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.”
President Dallin H. Oaks: Make wise choices in small and simple things
Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and Nelson’s first counselor, detailed the “small and simple” acts that can mold believers into their best selves, or, on the other hand, can destroy a life.
“‘Seemingly insignificant’” private decisions include “how we use our time, what we view on television and the internet, what we read, the art and music with which we surround ourselves at work and at home, what we seek for entertainment, and how we apply our commitment to be honest and truthful,” he said. “Another seemingly small and simple thing is being civil and cheerful in our personal interactions.”
None of the desirable small and simple habits, he said, “will lift us to great things unless they are practiced consistently and continuously.”
Likewise, even “small acts of disobedience or minor failures to follow righteous practices,” Oaks counseled, “can draw us down toward an outcome we have been warned to avoid.”
The LDS health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea “provides an example of this,” he said. “Likely the effect on the body of one cigarette or one drink of alcohol or one dose of another drug cannot be measured. But over time, the effect is powerful and may be irreversible.”
The “terrible consequences of partaking of anything that can be addictive, like drugs that attack our bodies or pornographic material that degrades our thoughts,” he said, “is totally avoidable if we never partake for the first time — even once.”
To protect against “the cumulative negative effects that are destructive to our spiritual progress,” said the 85-year-old Oaks, next in the line of succession to lead the LDS Church, “we need to follow the spiritual pattern of small and simple things.”
President Henry B. Eyring: Live worthy to receive heaven’s help
On Sunday morning, Henry B. Eyring, Nelson’s second counselor, said Latter-day Saints must keep the commandments to receive the Holy Ghost.
“The conditions on which we can receive that supernal blessing are made clear in the words that are spoken every week but perhaps do not always sink into our hearts and minds,” Eyring said. “To have the Spirit sent to us we must ‘always remember’ the Savior and ‘keep his commandments.’”
He pointed to the choices made by Mormon founder Joseph Smith to receive “spiritual direction and comfort” — to “be humble before God”; to “pray with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; to “obey exactly”; and to “pray to know the needs and hearts of others and how to help them.”
“I pray that you will always open your heart to receive him,” Eyring said. “If you ask with real intent and with faith in Jesus Christ for inspiration, you will receive it in the Lord’s way and in his time.”
Elder Larry Y. Wilson: Take the Holy Spirit as your guide
Latter-day Saints must be prepared to receive revelation, Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy said in the day’s first talk.
“We cannot just do and think what others are doing and thinking; we must live a guided life,” he said. “We must each have our own hand on the iron rod [scriptures].”
He illustrated his message with the story of Ensign Frank Blair, a returned Mormon missionary who served on a troop transport ship during the Korean War. In the midst of a typhoon, Blair prayed to know how he could help the ship, and “The captain thanked the young LDS officer and said he believed that following Ensign Blair’s spiritual impressions had saved the ship and its crew.”
Wilson said members should be worthy and open to revelation, and shouldn’t just seek it in dire straits.
The arrival of a typhoon,” he said, “is no time to dust off the gift of the Holy Ghost and figure out how to use it.”
Reyna I. Aburto: We can walk separate paths — together
Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, opened with a description of monarch butterflies, which travel thousands of miles each year from Mexico to Canada and then back again — “one tiny wing flap at a time.”
The brilliant butterflies “cluster together on trees,” said Aburto, a Nicaraguan native, “to protect themselves from the cold and from predators.”
Each cluster is known as a “kaleidoscope,” she said. “Although each butterfly is different, they work together to make the world a more beautiful and fruitful place.”
The Relief Society leader, the second woman to speak at this spring’s conference, compared these lovely creatures and their annual journey to Latter-day Saints.
“Every one of our paths is different, yet we walk them together,” Aburto said. “Our path is not about what we have done or where we have been; it is about where we are going and what we are becoming, in unity.”
When believers “counsel together guided by the Holy Ghost,” she said, “we can see where we are and where we need to be.”
Elder Massimo De Feo: All we need is love
The true sign of disciples of Christ is pure love, Elder Massimo De Feo of the Seventy said Sunday morning.
Jesus Christ “paid for something that he had not done,” said De Feo, who was born in Italy. “He paid for sins that he had not committed. Why? Pure love. Having paid the full price, he was in the position to offer us the blessings of what he paid for, if we would repent. Why did he offer this? Pure love.”
De Feo, adding to the “forgiveness” theme that emerged in a number of Saturday sermons, said that true disciples love to serve; love to forgive; love to submit themselves to the Lord; love the Lord more than the world; and know that they will be forgiven.
“Spiritual taxes, fees, commissions and charges, connected to sins, mistakes and wrongdoings, are all covered. True disciples are quick to forgive and quick to ask for forgiveness,” he said. “ ... If you are struggling to find the strength to forgive, don’t think of what others have done to you, but think of what the Lord has done for you, and you will find peace.”
Elder Claudio D. Zivic: Even powerful members can fall
Elder Claudio D. Zivic of the Seventy warned than even those members who have had “powerful spiritual experiences and have given faithful service could one day go astray or fall into inactivity.”
The answer, the Argentine leader said, is “to always and emphatically keep in our minds and hearts the phrase: ‘This will not happen to me.’”
In other words, Zivic said, “endure to the end.”
Even Jesus, the Seventy noted, was abandoned by some disciples. Then Jesus asked his apostles, “Will ye also go away?”