This week in Mormon Land: Remembering an LDS prophet’s surprising death and the decade’s best General Conference talks

Harold B. Lee died at age 74 after only 18 months as president and was replaced by Spencer W. Kimball, who, despite his health challenges, led the church for 12 years.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks at the General Women's Session of the 186th Semiannual General Conference, in Salt Lake City, Saturday Sept. 24, 2016.

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.

Decade’s best conference talks

Every six months, Latter-day Saint authorities address millions of members around the world.

These General Conference sermons — streamed, beamed, published, pondered and perused — sometimes make history; other times they just make memories.

Times and Seasons blogger Chad Nielsen has released his list of the “most significant” conference talks of the past decade. It includes:

• Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s October 2013 speech in which he conceded that church leaders “have simply made mistakes” and “said or done [things] that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.”

“We openly acknowledge,” Uchtdorf said, “that in nearly 200 years of church history — along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events — there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.”

• Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk during the same conference in which he noted that he had suffered from depression as a young father and urged members facing similar challenges to get professional help.

“If you had appendicitis,” Holland said, “God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So, too, with emotional disorders.”

• President Linda K. Burton’s spring 2016 sermon in which she joined a chorus of church leaders encouraging Latter-day Saints to care for refugees as part of a sweeping “I Was a Stranger” campaign.

“It is our hope,” the then-leader of the women’s Relief Society said, “that you will prayerfully determine what you can do — according to your own time and circumstance — to serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities.”

• President Russell M. Nelson impassioned October 2018 plea for members, media and others to start using the faith’s full name and stop using the shorthand “Mormon” moniker.

“When the Savior clearly states what the name of his church should be, and even precedes his declaration with, ‘Thus shall my church be called,’ he is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, he is offended,” Nelson warned. “...To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s church is a major victory for Satan.”

View the other talks on Nielsen’s greatest conference hits of the decade here.

From Lee to Kimball

(File photo) Former church President Harold B. Lee.

Forty-seven years ago this week, the death of church President

Harold B. Lee on Dec. 26, 1973, of lung and cardiac failure stunned members around the world.

The church leader had been at the faith’s helm fewer than 18 months, appeared to be in good health and, at 74, was relatively young.

Four days later, Spencer W. Kimball was ordained the church’s 12th president. Unlike Lee, his 78-year-old successor had endured serious health challenges, including undergoing open-heart surgery the previous year (performed by surgeon-turned-prophet Russell M. Nelson).

Kimball would go on to lead the church for nearly 12 years.

(Tribune file photo) Church President Spencer W. Kimball, right, with counselor Marion G. Romney in 1978.

This week’s podcast: A look at 2020 and beyond

This year’s global pandemic brought extraordinary actions inside the church.

Worship services were halted. Temples were closed. Missionaries were released, recalled and reassigned. Humanitarian outreach reached record levels.

And there was much more: Major denunciations of racism were given. Changes to church practices and parlance were announced. A new symbol and proclamation were unveiled.

Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, discusses the year in Mormonism on this week’s show and what it all may mean moving forward for the global faith.

Listen here.

Speakest thou Karen?

If you do, you now can read the sacramental prayers and the Articles of Faith (seen here) in this Sino-Tibetan language, commonly found in large swaths of Southeast Asia’s Myanmar near the border with Thailand.

Independent demographer Matt Martinich noted the new translations on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website.

The church’s first Karen-speaking branch in Salt Lake City formed in 2009. You can read a Salt Lake Tribune story here about that trailblazing congregation.

Church sued over alleged Scout abuse

Seven lawsuits, representing seven male victims, have been filed in Arizona accusing the church of covering up decades of sexual abuse among Boy Scout troops in the Grand Canyon State.

The church “must be held accountable in order to bring healing and closure to Mormon victims of childhood sexual abuse,” the law firm Hurley McKenna and Mertz told The Associated Press.

The suits allege church officials never notified authorities about the abuse allegations and instead told the victims to keep quiet so the faith could conduct its own investigation.

Church spokesman Sam Penrod told the AP that the faith has zero tolerance for abuse and denied that it had access to files with names of banned Scout leaders.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified sums for medical expenses, pain and suffering, along with punitive damages.

Relief efforts

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Accra Mayor Mohammed Adjei Sowah speaks at the Metropolitan Assembly Awards Ceremony 2020.

• The Accra Metropolitan Assembly recently honored the church for its help — ranging from masks and medical gear to food and hygiene items — in Ghana’s fight against COVID-19.

“History will not forget the great work that the church has done for the people,” Accra Mayor Mohammed Adjei Sowah said in a news release, “and the good works of the church will forever stand.”

• Members and missionaries helped clear roads and clean up parks and beaches after Tropical Cyclone Yasa swept through parts of Fiji in mid-December, according to a news release.

Temple updates

(File photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple.

• Come Monday, four temples will be offering vicarious ordinances for the dead during the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan’s Taipei Temple and Tonga’s Nuku’alofa Temple already had begun doing so as part of Phase 3, allowing “all living and limited proxy ordinances.” They will be joined by temples in Apia, Samoa, and Brisbane, Australia, according to a news release.

Come Monday, 119 temples will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Another 25 will be in Phase 1, providing only marriage “sealings.” Meanwhile, 11 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

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.

“Given the toll this year has taken on many of us, some may be struggling to feel happy and celebratory about this Christmas season. Maybe we feel alone because of COVID-19. We may be going through family trials, suffering from physical or emotional challenges, or having an extra hard time with depression. In fact, I have found myself feeling a bit gloomy in the last few weeks. When I or my loved ones have had hard years, we have found solace in our Savior Jesus Christ….Also, focusing on helping others instead of our own sadness has given us the comfort and the strength to find peace and joy, even amidst tribulation.”

Reyna I. Aburto in an Instagram post

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