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Latest from Mormon Land: See which apostle mentions church President Russell Nelson the most at conference

Also: How church growth bucks conventional wisdom.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church leaders at General Conference on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

These are excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

Naming Nelson

When the prophet speaks … fellow church leaders like to quote him.

And apostle Neil L. Andersen quotes — and notes — church President Russell M. Nelson in his General Conference speeches more than any of his colleagues do.

Researcher Christian Anderson crunched the data and discovered Andersen has mentioned, quoted or footnoted the church’s prophet 98 times in conference since Nelson became president, including 23 in his most recent sermon.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Neil L. Andersen speaks at General Conference on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. Data shows Andersen quotes church President Russell M. Nelson more than his colleagues do.

Apostle Quentin L. Cook ranks a distant second at 64, according to Anderson, followed by Nelson’s first counselor in the governing First Presidency, Dallin H. Oaks, at 62, apostle Ronald A. Rasband (57, including 18 in this month’s talk), second counselor Henry B. Eyring (55), apostles Gary E. Stevenson (52), D. Todd Christofferson (35), Dale G. Renlund (31) and David A. Bednar (30).

Some other conference tidbits, courtesy of numbers nerd Anderson:

• Nelson continues to be referenced more than any Latter-day Saint prophet in history with 133 mentions — whether named, quoted or footnoted — in this month’s sessions. Then-President Spencer W. Kimball was noted 95 times in April 1974, his first conference at the faith’s helm. By comparison, Nelson has been mentioned more than 95 times in six of his eight conferences as president. Mentions of his name have averaged 118 during his tenure at the top.

• General authority Seventy Marcus B. Nash was the only speaker to reference the so-called family proclamation, the lowest number since April 2012.

• “Heavenly Parents” were not mentioned for the first time since 2014.

Tracking church growth trends

The church’s growth nose-dived relatively recently with the internet — and its wealth of information about the faith’s sometimes-thorny theology and history — and all those divisive debates among members and leaders about various social or political issues.

Or so goes a popular notion.

Trouble is, says data scientist Stephen Cranney, the numbers don’t necessarily support that idea.

Instead, the trends — whether looking at stake, ward (congregation) or membership growth — tell essentially the same thing.

“Church growth was low during the Great Depression, picked up during World War II, saw its apex during the late 1970s [and] early 1980s, and has since declined rather steadily until now (with a possible plateau from 2010 on for ward and stake growth),” Cranney writes in a Times and Season blog post. “...With the exception of the COVID-influenced 2020 growth decline [when convert baptisms plunged by nearly 50%], this suggests that the chatter one hears about a recent sharp decline in church growth rates ... isn’t really born out by the data (if anything the decline may have stalled out in the 2010s for ward and stake growth). Church growth rates are basically following a pattern that they’ve been following for several decades.”

From The Tribune

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Gary E. Stevenson speaks at General Conference on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Stevenson could become practically a billionaire in a stock offering set to take place for the current incarnation of a company he helped co-found.

• More than 40 years ago, Gary E. Stevenson co-founded a company that blossomed into a fitness equipment juggernaut.

That early investment is poised to pay off for the apostle as today’s incarnation of that company prepares to debut on the U.S. stock market.

The 66-year-old Stevenson’s 43.4 million shares of Logan-based iFIT Health & Fitness could be worth more than $900 million. Federal filings show he also has been nominated to become a board director of the firm.

Such an appointment would appear to violate a long-standing church policy discouraging Latter-day Saint apostles from serving on such boards.

A church spokesperson told The Salt Lake Tribune that Stevenson had received a “rare” special dispensation due to “his legacy shareholdings and his role as a co-founder of the corporation.”

Robert C. Gay, who at age 70 recently became an emeritus general authority, could see his holdings in the company rise in value to $385 million.

Read the story.

• The words being penned about Heavenly Mother — in the form of books, articles, essays, poems and more — are beginning to pile up.

And, now, so are the paintings.

For proof, one need only visit Anthony’s Fine Art and Antiques in Salt Lake City to view scores of artistic depictions in its current exhibit, “Reflections on a Mother in Heaven.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) "Utah," by Cindy Lewis Clark, in the "Reflections on a Mother in Heaven" exhibit, which showcases the work of 130 female Latter-day Saint artists, at Anthony's Fine Art and Antiques, on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

The divine display “powerfully demonstrates how LDS women artists are using their talents and training to produce artwork that ruminates upon and pays homage to our beloved Mother God,” Brigham Young University art historian Heather Belnap writes in the exhibition’s catalog. “We recognize that there is deep beauty in the creative process — particularly in forging connections with our Mother God — and are grateful for the important spiritual and cultural work that our artists do. It is our hope that our study will amplify these good and praiseworthy efforts.”

Curators Mary Brickey, Laura Erekson and Nicole Woodbury, who hit the mother lode with their exhibit, discovered a hunger for this topic.

“I grew up with an open knowledge about Heavenly Mother ... and that has powered me through my whole life,” Woodbury told The Tribune. “What surprises me about this show is what a big deal it is to others.”

Read the story and see photos of many of the paintings.

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