This week in Mormon Land: Philly’s favorite Latter-day Saint, conference highlights, Nelson’s next big trip

(Matt Rourke | The Associated Press) Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper stretches before batting during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, in Philadelphia.

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want this free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Philadelphia story

(Matt Slocum | The Associated Press) Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper waves before addressing the crowd at Citizens Bank Park before a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Philadelphia.

There’s a new Latter-day Saint icon in Philadelphia.

It’s not the faith’s temple, the 61,000-square-foot, twin-steepled building dedicated in 2016.

No, it’s Bryce Harper, the 6-foot-3 slugger the Philadelphia Phillies signed to a 13-year, $330 million contract earlier this year.

Turns out, the Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters in the City of Brotherly Love are delighted to have Brother Harper not only on their baseball team but also on their religious team.

John Traverso, a Latter-day Saint leader in the Valley Forge Stake and a “huge Phillies fan,” told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Harper’s faith is the “icing on the cake” for members.

“A lot of us see Bryce Harper as a superstar,” Traverso said. "And I think he sees the [church’s] prophet as a superstar.”

The story noted that the all-star athlete’s Instagram account, with its 1.6 million followers, lists “God fearing” first. That caught the eye of Milan Kunz, the Philadelphia Temple’s incoming president.

“I spent two years in Ireland on my young mission [and] didn’t talk to 1.6 million people in two years,” he told the paper. “Here, he can reach 1.6 million people with one post.”

Conference recap

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson waves to the crowd as he and his wife, Wendy Nelson, exit at the conclusion of the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. At left is President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.

President Russell M. Nelson promised weeks ago that there would be “exciting” announcements during the fall General Conference.

He wasn’t kidding.

Here is a summary of the significant news and sermons from this past weekend’s sessions:

• There were overhauls to programs for the Young Men and Young Women, including a long-lobbied-for, gender-inclusive shift in the YW theme from daughters of “Heavenly Father” to “Heavenly Parents.” The move elevates Mormonism’s belief in a Heavenly Mother. The activity budgets also will be “equitably” divvied between the girls and boys. Because of the Boy Scouts — from which the church officially will sever ties at year’s end — more money in the past often went to Young Men.

• The term “auxiliary” for a nonpriesthood entity such as Relief Society, Primary or Sunday school has been retired and replaced by “organization.”

New temple recommend questions were unveiled. They still cover the same territory — the Word of Wisdom, for example, and tithing remain — but the language in 11 questions has been, in Nelson’s words, “edited for clarity.”

Eight new temples, including two more in Utah, in Orem and Taylorsville, were announced. Several days later, the church also released a rendering of the planned Layton Temple, one of 23 either operating or coming to the Beehive State.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Peter M. Johnson, general authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to the congregation of the 189th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

• Notable sermons included words of warning from Seventy Peter M. Johnson to beware of Satan’s temptations. It was memorable — in every way, every way, every way — not only for its rhetorical cadence but for its historical precedent as the first General Conference address by an African American general authority. The tender treatment of depression, anxiety and “other forms of mental and emotional affliction” by Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, drew notice as did apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s call to high gospel adventure through the inspiration of a diminutive Bilbo Baggins (of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”) and President Dallin H. Oaks’ return to LGBTQ issues in which he reemphasized the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

• Nelson also primed the pump for next April’s General Conference, vowing it “will be different from any previous conference.” Why: Because the church will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” which gave birth to the Mormon movement.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Joseph Smith's "First Vision" is depicted.

This week’s podcast: Sizing up conference

This week, we revisit and discuss — what else? — the recently completed General Conference.

Examining the changes and speeches — and the impacts they may have on the faith — are Emily Jensen, a Latter-day Saint writer, editor and blogger, and Joseph Stuart, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Utah and co-chair of the Mormon History Association’s 2020 Program Committee.

Listen here.

Nelson to rack up more frequent flyer miles

The Russell M. Nelson Roadshow will resume next month, with a trip to Southeast Asia, including the first visits by a church president to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia since the Hinckley administration.

Nelson, with his wife, Wendy, will stop in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, and Ho Chi Minh City on Nov. 17 and 18, according to a news release.

The couple will be in neighboring Cambodia on Nov. 19 for a devotional in the capital of Phnom Penh, where the country’s first temple will be built.

The Nelsons will be joined Nov. 20 by apostle D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Katherine, in Singapore followed the next day by a journey to Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Since taking the church’s helm some 20 months ago, Nelson has touched down in every continent (save Antarctica) and logged more than 90,000 miles — akin to circling the globe four times.

March against child abuse

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hundreds march up State Street in Salt Lake City for the March to End Child Abuse, led by excommunicated bishop Sam Young on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019,

The first national March to End Child Abuse drew nearly 800 participants to downtown Salt Lake City on the first day of General Conference.

Organized by Sam Young, the former Latter-day Saint bishop who was excommunicated after his aggressive campaign to end bishops’ one-on-one interviews with minors, the rally aimed to eliminate all child abuse in all religions.

“Dear prophet, you need to stop the molesters,” pleaded Christina Freeman, who was raised in a Latter-day Saint household and abused, she said, by a family member. Freeman, now 31, said she told her bishop, but he did little to stop the assaults.

The names, they are a-changin’

Apostle D. Todd Christofferson offered an update last week to general officers on efforts to reinforce the church’s full name.

A news release noted that:

• 95% of outward-facing references to the church have been corrected.

• More than 800 new domain names — in many languages and countries — have been obtained to replace wrong references.

• 90% of all public church entities and products that previously included the term “Mormon” or the acronym “LDS” have been updated.

Mormon.org and associated social media channels have been changed to ComeUntoChrist.org.

• 93% of work on technology systems has been completed to use the new domain name: ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Pacific leader visits

Top church leaders, including President Russell M. Nelson, recently welcomed the president of a Central Pacific nation.

Kiribati President Taneti Maamau visited church headquarters in Salt Lake City, according to a news release, and Brigham Young University and the Missionary Training Center in Provo.

More than 20,000 Latter-day Saints live in Kiribati, making up nearly 20 percent of the populace.

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, speaks to Latter-day Saint women gathered in the Conference Center for the women’s session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference on Oct. 5, 2019.

“Like any part of the body, the brain is subject to illnesses, trauma and chemical imbalances. When our minds are suffering, it is appropriate to seek help from God, from those around us, and from medical and mental health professionals. … Let us follow the Savior’s path and increase our compassion, diminish our tendency to judge, and stop being the inspectors of the spirituality of others. Listening with love is one of the greatest gifts we can offer, and we may be able to help carry or lift the heavy clouds that suffocate our loved ones and friends so that, through our love, they can once again feel the Holy Ghost and perceive the light that emanates from Jesus Christ.”

Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.