While many tourists at the Magic Kingdom find temporary happiness in thrill rides, President Russell M. Nelson told more than 15,000 Latter-day Saints on Sunday in Orlando, residents of God’s kingdom discover lasting joy by heeding divine decrees.
“The happiest place on earth? It could be Orlando, or Osaka or Odessa,” the 94-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, according to a news release. “It is wherever the Spirit of the Lord dwells in the hearts of the people.”
Nelson — along with his wife, Wendy, and apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet — spoke at the Amway Center, home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic and a mere 20 or so minutes from the popular Disney World resorts.
“Orlando can claim to be the site of many happy memories for countless individuals,” Nelson said. “But lasting happiness, even joy, comes to those who keep the commandments of God.”
Before Sunday evening’s devotional, the release noted, Nelson met with civic, interfaith and business leaders, including a special guest: the owner of Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people in a mass shooting three years ago this Wednesday.
“I was moved that [Nelson] knew what we were doing,” said Barbara Poma, executive director of the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit group set up to create a sanctuary of hope after the tragedy. “He was so kind to me and that meant a lot.”
The Utah-based faith has endured an up-and-down relationship with the LGBTQ community. But soon after the Pulse attack, it issued a statement mourning the “tragic loss of life.”
“We pray for the families and loved ones of the victims of this senseless shooting," the church said, "and pray they will be comforted and cared for as they seek to heal.”
Some 36 months later, that healing continues.
“We come together on June 12th to really stand together in solidarity to comfort one another,” Poma said Sunday, “to help us move through a healing process.”
Nelson started his sermon by inviting the youngsters in the audience to sing the Latter-day Saint classic “I Am a Child of God," the release stated.
“The most profound truth is that God is our Father,” he said. “May we pray to him at any time, any place. This beats anything your smartphone or Google can offer.”
Nelson, a father of 10 children and 57 grandchildren, also shared a photograph of his new great-grandchild.
“I love children,” he said.
Uchtdorf, who, the release said, first visited Florida as a young Air Force fighter pilot, called the Sunshine State’s Latter-day Saints — numbering nearly 160,000 — “some of the finest in the world, people of good heart, kind and loving.”
“Of course, we are not perfect,” the apostle said. “But those who come to see will feel in our congregations the love and unity we have among us and for all of God’s children, regardless of language, nationality, socioeconomic background or situation in life.”