The spring General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began Saturday under the leadership of the oldest prophet-president in the faith’s 193-year history.
Russell M. Nelson, who turned 98 in September, is expected to address the conference (he sat on a chair to deliver his speeches last October) five years after overseeing his first General Conference as president.
On Saturday, however, Nelson, for the first time since he became president, went a full day at General Conference without giving a talk.
Other top male and female church authorities will also take to the podium, addressing thousands at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more via the internet around the world.
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland won’t be there, though, due to COVID-19. He tweeted that he and his wife tested positive for the virus.
“Pat and I love being with you at general conference,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, we both tested positive for Covid and are not able to attend this weekend. We will be watching together, hand-in-hand, at home. Like you, I express my gratitude for the Savior this Palm Sunday weekend.”
The Saturday evening session lasted barely an hour, leading some to wonder whether Holland had been scheduled to speak then.
Here are summaries of all the talks, announcements and other developments from Saturday’s sessions:
Saturday evening session
Seventy Juan A. Uceda: Follow the Good Shepherd
In the Bible, Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep, recounted Juan A. Uceda, a general authority Seventy.
Uceda, the concluding speaker in the hourlong evening session, quoted Nelson as saying “the Good Shepherd lovingly cares for all sheep of his fold, and we are his true undershepherds. Our privilege is to bear his love and to add our own love to friends and neighbors — feeding, tending and nurturing them — as the Savior would have us do.”
He then told the story of a Guatemalan Latter-day Saint, whose wife had died and who then remarried, but that ended in divorce. The man, who had been a bishop and a counselor in his stake presidency, felt judged and eventually stopped attending church.
When Uceda met with the man, he said, “as a servant of the Lord, I apologize for our not being there for you. Please, forgive us. Give us another chance to show you that we do love you. That we need you. That you are important to us.”
With the Savior’s help, Uceda said, “we can love his precious sheep and minister to them as he would.”
Seventy K. Brett Nattress: Hope through forgiveness
In talking about the power of the Savior’s atonement in washing away sin, general authority Seventy K. Brett Nattress recalled his experience as a “local church leader” in witnessing the miraculous conversion of a wayward youth.
Danny, he recalled, began running with a rough crowd, doing methamphetamines and other drugs while traveling the “slippery slope of addiction.” That changed, Nattress recalled, when Danny’s younger brother was called to serve a Latter-day Saint mission, sparking in the troubled youth a desire to change.
That eventually resulted in a “mighty change of heart,” Nattress added, that led Danny to serve a mission and later marry in the temple and be a faithful husband, father and Latter-day Saint.
“To those who have strayed from the covenant path, please know there is always hope, there is always healing, and there is always a way back,” Nattress said. Christ’s “eternal message of hope is the healing balm for all who live in a troubled world.”
Sunday school counselor Milton R. Camargo: Jesus is the solution
Jesus Christ overcame physical and spiritual death, sadness, pain, injustice and human limitations, said Milton R. Camargo, first counselor in the churchwide Sunday school organization.
Making and keeping covenants helps Latter-day Saints “focus our attention, our thoughts, and our actions on Christ, Camargo said. “...Covenant-keeping leads us to seek after whatever invites the influence of the Spirit and reject whatever drives it away.”
It could push believers to “change [their] vocabulary, using kinder words,” he said. “It could mean replacing spiritually unhealthy habits with new habits that strengthen our relationship with the Lord, such as daily prayer and scripture study, individually and with our family.”
Jesus Christ can be “an active, daily presence in our lives,” Camargo said. “He is the solution to our problems.”
Seventy Mark A. Bragg: Christlike poise
Spiritual poise blesses people to weather the storms of life and to remain calm and focused on what matters most, general authority Seventy Mark A. Bragg said during his opening remarks in the Saturday evening session.
Bragg recalled the advice he received years ago as a high school senior from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams won 10 national championships.
“Always the teacher, he said, ‘Your father told me that you have joined the Church of Jesus Christ, so I know that you have faith in the Lord. With that faith, be sure to have poise in every situation. Be a good man in a storm,’” Bragg remembered Wooden telling him.
Bragg said the Savior exemplified spiritual poise in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was in agony and under immense pressure. He did so, he added, because he demonstrated three important conditions important to Latter-day Saints’ understanding.
“First, he knew who he was and was true to his divine mission,” Bragg continued. “Next, he knew that there was a great plan of happiness. And, finally, he knew that through his infinite atonement, all who faithfully yoke themselves to him by making and keeping sacred covenants received through priesthood ordinances will be saved.”
By remembering their spiritual heritage as children of God, knowing about the “divine plan of mercy,” and drawing courage from the Savior, Latter-day Saints, Bragg said, can remain calm in turbulent times. “We will be good women and men in any storm.”
Saturday afternoon session
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf: The sacred sacrifice of parents
Children are born with “limitless potential,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf said as the final speaker Saturday afternoon. “They are destined to become glorious beings of goodness, grace and truth. And yet they come to earth completely helpless, barely able to do anything besides cry for help. The memory of their time in God’s presence is veiled over, along with the knowledge of who they really are and who they can become.”
These children form “their understanding of life, love, God and his plan,” he said, “based on what they observe from the people around them — especially their parents, who, honestly, are still trying to figure things out themselves.”
Parents should accept their responsibility “courageously and joyfully,” Uchtdorf said. “Don’t delegate this source of heavenly blessings to anyone else. Within the framework of gospel values and principles, you are the ones to guide your child in the details of daily decisions. Help your children build faith in Jesus Christ; to love his gospel and his church; to prepare for a lifetime of righteous choices.”
Building faith in a child is “somewhat like helping a flower grow. You cannot tug on the stem to make it taller,” he said. “You cannot pry open the bud to get it to blossom sooner. And you cannot neglect the flower and expect it to grow or flourish spontaneously.”
Still, parents can provide “rich, nourishing soil, with access to flowing heavenly water. Remove weeds and anything that would block sunlight,” Uchtdorf said. “Create the best possible conditions for growth. Then, patiently allow the rising generation to make inspired choices and let God work his miracle. The result will be more beautiful and more stunning and more joyful than anything you could accomplish just by yourself.”
The apostle reminded parents that Jesus Christ is the “strength of youth” but also the “strength of parents.”
Seventy Benjamin De Hoyos: Temple and family history bring joy and healing power
As members follow the guidance of the prophets and learn how to do family history and perform the temple ordinances for their ancestors, they will experience great joy, said general authority Seventy Benjamin De Hoyos. “The spirit will flood our hearts, awaken our faculties to do it, and guide us as we search for the names of our ancestors.”
In doing that family history, De Hoyos added, it is important to remember the work is about more than looking up names, dates and places. “It is uniting families and feeling the joy that comes from extending to them the ordinances of the gospel.”
To emphasize the importance of temple work, De Hoyos quoted church President Russell M. Nelson.
“The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and his doctrine are the very heart of the temple,” he quoted the church’s top leader as saying. “Everything taught in the temple, through instruction and through the spirit, increases our understanding of Jesus Christ. His essential ordinances bind us to him through sacred priesthood covenants. Then, as we keep our covenants, he endows us with his healing, strengthening power.”
Seventy Evan A. Schmutz: Trusting in the doctrine of Christ
As Latter-day Saints go through their mortal journey, they must have trust in the doctrine of Christ, general authority Seventy Evan A. Schmutz told conferencegoers.
“The word trust has been defined as ‘an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something,’” Schmutz said. “That someone is Jesus Christ and that something is his doctrine.”
Schmutz said trust in the doctrine of Christ will enable Latter-day Saints to live “by his every word” and to “make a lifelong study of Jesus Christ, his ministry, his teachings, and his infinite atonement. We will study his promises and the conditions upon which those promises are given.”
Trusting in the doctrine of Christ also means limiting time spent on social media, digital games and on “wasteful” or “inappropriate” entertainment.
“It is only in Christ we find truth and lasting fulfillment,” Schmutz said. “Sincere repentance will become a joyful part of our lives — both to be forgiven for sin and to be changed in the image of Christ. As church members build a relationship with Christ by trusting in his doctrine and coming unto him. They have his promise of eternal life and will be able to better endure to the end.”
Seventy Craig C. Christensen: The joy of repentance
For some, the idea of repentance “as the pathway to joy might seem contradictory,” said general authority Seventy Craig C. Christensen. “Repentance, at times, can be painful and difficult. It requires admitting that some of our thoughts and actions — even some of our beliefs — have been wrong. Repentance also requires change, which, at times, can be uncomfortable.”
But repentance brings joy “because it prepares our hearts to receive the influence of the Holy Ghost,” Christensen said. “To be filled with joy means to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Our joy increases as we work daily to bring the Spirit into our lives.”
Beyond that, helping others repent “is a natural expression of our gratitude toward the Savior,” he said, “and it is a source of great joy.”
Seventy Randall K. Bennett: Patriarchal blessings provide divine guidance
General authority Seventy Randall K. Bennett recalled the importance of the patriarchal blessing he received as a 12-year-old in coping with his parents’ marital difficulties and urged members who have not yet received one to get one and live worthily of the promised blessings.
“My patriarchal blessing was critically important to me when I was young for numerous reasons: First, through the power of the Holy Ghost, my patriarchal blessing helped me understand my true eternal identity — who I really was and who I could become. It helped me know, as President Nelson has taught, that I was ‘a son of God,’ a ‘child of the covenant,’ and a ‘disciple of Jesus Christ.’
“I knew that I was known and loved by my Heavenly Father and my Savior, and that they were personally involved in my life.,” Bennett continued. “This helped me desire to draw closer to them, and increase my faith and trust in them.”
There is no minimum age for a member to receive a patriarchal blessing, Bennett said. All that is required is for one to be baptized, live worthily and to be “mature enough to understand the significance and sacred nature of the blessing” and “understand the basic doctrine of the gospel.”
Bennet said as he studied his patriarchal blessing frequently, it helped him feel the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost, reduced his anxiety and increased his desire to be “more submissive to the will of my Heavenly Father.”
Seventy Peter F. Meurs: Forgive yourself
Driving home from a 1990 summer outing with his family in Victoria, Australia, general authority Seventy Peter F. Meurs fell asleep at the wheel, plunging the car into a head-on accident.
His wife and four kids suffered various injuries, and, though they all recovered eventually, Meurs endured agonizing guilt.
“I would wake during the night and relive the horrific events,” he said Saturday afternoon. “I struggled for years to find peace and to forgive myself.”
However, as a priesthood leader, “assisting others to repent and helping them to feel the compassion, mercy, and love of the Savior,” he realized that Christ could heal him, too.
“The Savior’s healing and redeeming power applies to accidental mistakes, poor decisions, challenges, and trials of every kind — as well as to our sins,” Meurs said. “As I turned to him, my feelings of guilt and remorse were gradually replaced with peace and rest.”
The leader advised his listeners that no matter what burdens they are carrying — “unresolved sin, suffering because of an offense committed against you long ago, or struggling to forgive yourself for an accidental mistake” — they have “access to the healing and redeeming power of the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Apostle Dale G. Renlund: Accessing God’s power through covenants
As Latter-day Saints keep the covenants they make with the Lord when they are baptized and attend the temple, they will receive heavenly help in going against the world’s flow of sin and achieve their eternal destiny, apostle Dale G. Renlund said in his remarks to open the afternoon session.
Renlund likened going against that flow to the Amazon River, where a powerful tidal wave travels upstream twice each year when the sun, moon and earth are in alignment.
“Like the Amazon, with heavenly help, we can do seemingly unnatural things,” the apostle said. “After all, it is not natural for us to be humble, meek, or willing to submit our wills to God. Yet only by doing so can we be transformed, return to live in the presence of God, and achieve our eternal destiny. Unlike the Amazon, we can choose whether we yield to heavenly powers or ‘go with the flow.’”
To receive that help, Renlund invoked the words of church President Russell M. Nelson.
“’Each person who makes covenants in baptismal fonts and in temples — and keeps them — has increased access to the power of Jesus Christ ... [to lift] us above the pull of this fallen world,’” he quoted Nelson as saying. “In other words, we can access the power of God, but only when we connect with him through sacred covenants.”
Renlund said making a pledge is different from making a promise in that priesthood authority is required and that a “promise does not have the connecting strength to lift us above the pull of the natural flow. We make a covenant only when we intend to commit ourselves quite exceptionally to fulfilling it.”
The apostle reminded listeners about the injunction against taking the name of the “Lord thy God in vain.” That is more than just not irreverently using the Lord’s name, but in the translated Hebrew essentially means not identifying “yourself as a disciple of Jesus Christ unless you intend to represent him well.”
“As you walk the covenant path, from baptism to the temple and throughout life, I promise you power to go against the natural worldly flow — power to learn, power to repent and be sanctified, and power to find hope, comfort, and even joy as you face life’s challenges,” Renlund said. “I promise you and your family protection against the influence of the adversary, especially when you make the temple a major focus in your life.”
New Young Women presidency
On Saturday afternoon, President Dallin H. Oaks announced new officers in the Young Women General Presidency, who oversee the church’s programs for teenage girls.
The trio, which will assume its duties Aug. 1, includes an Argentinian woman.
Emily Belle Freeman will be the new president. Freeman is an author, speaker and podcaster who has taught in the Church Educational System.
Freeman’s first counselor is Tamara W. Runia, who has served as a stake (regional) scripture class instructor, stake Young Women president and stake Relief Society presidency counselor.
The second counselor is Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, a native of Buenos Aires, who also served a Latter-day Saint mission in that country.
The church also released Ahmad S. Corbitt from his position in the Young Men General Presidency and sustained him as a new general authority Seventy.
The other general authority seventies announced were Robert M. Daines, J. Kimo Esplin, Christopher G. Giraud-Carrier and Alan T. Phillips.
In the Young Men General Presidency, Bradley R. Wilcox, who had been second counselor, became the first counselor, and Michael T. Nelson was named as second counselor.
Saturday morning session
President Henry B. Eyring: Peace comes through faith and obedience
Peace in this life comes through obedience to the Lord’s commandments and living worthily to receive the Holy Ghost, President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, said in his concluding remarks to the morning session.
In his study of the Savior, Eyring said, he has learned five truths about how to acquire peace. First, peace comes after members demonstrate their faith by obeying the commandments. Second, the Holy Ghost dwells with members as they are faithful. Third, obedience helps members feel the love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has for them. Fourth, members must keep the commandments with “all their heart, might, mind and soul.” Fifth, peace comes through faith and repentance.
If the peace the Lord offers seems illusory or difficult to obtain at times, Eyring said, that can attributed to Satan.
“There is an enemy of your soul who does not want you, and those you love, to find peace,” the apostle said. “He cannot enjoy it. He works to prevent you from even wanting to find the peace the Savior and our Heavenly Father desire you to have.
“Satan’s efforts to sow hatred and contention all around us seem to be increasing,” Eyring added. “We see evidence of it happening among nations and cities, in neighborhoods, in electronic media, all across the world.”
Despite such turmoil, he said, there are reasons for optimism. He emphasized the church doctrine that all people who come into the world are born with a conscience that helps them distinguish between right and wrong. Moreover, he added, when a child or someone does stray from the covenant path, the Lord has trusted disciples or peacemakers that can guide and bring back errant sheep to the true fold of God.
Eyring said that as members continue to live worthily to have Christ’s peace, they will be inspired about how they can pass that precious gift to others.
“The rising generation will become the nurturers of the generation to follow,” he said. “The multiplier effect will produce a miracle. It will spread and grow over time, and the Lord’s kingdom on earth will be ready to greet him with shouts of hosanna. There will be peace on earth.”
Seventy Allen D. Haynie: Follow a living prophet
The revelatory belief in a “living prophet on the earth changes everything” for Latter-day Saints, said general authority Seventy Allen D. Haynie. “It causes one to be uninterested in the debate about when is a prophet speaking as a prophet or whether one is ever justified in selective rejection of prophetic counsel.”
To members, a prophet is “someone who never sought such a sacred calling,” Haynie said, “and who has no need of our help to be aware of his own imperfections.”
Indeed, in this view a prophet is “someone God has personally prepared, called, corrected, inspired, rebuked, sanctified and sustained,” he said. “...[W]e are never spiritually at risk in following prophetic counsel.”
He cautioned against pitting earlier church presidents against current ones.
“Unlike vintage comic books and classic cars, prophetic teachings do not become more valuable with age,” Haynie said. “That is why we should not seek to use the words of past prophets to dismiss the teachings of living prophets.”
Seemingly “small deviations, quiet neglect or whispered criticisms in response to prophetic counsel may result in our only walking near the edge of the covenant path,” he said, but “...such actions may influence [the rising generation] to leave that path altogether.”
That “generational price,” Haynie warned, “is too high.”
Apostle Quentin L. Cook: We’re ‘gathering Israel’
Members all have a responsibility to be good examples and share in the missionary work to help in the latter-day gathering of Israel, apostle Quentin L. Cook said.
To help meet that duty, Cook quoted former church President Spencer W. Kimball’s definition of the gathering:
“Now, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church and . . . coming to a knowledge of the true God. Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations where he lives, has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days.”
As Latter-day Saints share help in gathering those numbers, Cook said, they help people around the world — including Africans and Europeans, South and North Americans, Asians, Australians and those upon the isles of the sea — receive the Lord’s covenant blessings.
Cook said the church has already made remarkable progress in the latter-day gathering.
“In the 62 years since I commenced serving a mission in 1960,” he noted “the number of full-time missionaries serving under a call from the prophet has increased from 7,683 to 62,544. The number of missions has increased from 58 to 411. The number of members has increased from approximately 1,700,000 to approximately 17 million.”
An essential part of missionary work, the apostle added, is setting a good example.
“We cannot be in camouflage,” Cook added. “Our Christlike example of kindness, righteousness, happiness, and sincere love for all peoples can create not only a guiding beacon light for them, but also an understanding that there is a safe harbor in the ordinances of salvation and exaltation of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Cook urged members to review “how we individually and collectively accept dramatic counsel to help gather Israel that has been issued by the Lord and our beloved prophet.”
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong: ‘A spiritual ecosystem’
In some places, the church’s “ministering” program — which replaced “home and visiting teaching” — has a “gap,” said apostle Gerrit W. Gong. “More say they are ministering than say they are being ministered to.”
Church leaders see “holier ministering” as “the pure love of Christ,” Gong said. “We do not want checklist concern. But often we need more than a sincere hello in the hall or a casual ‘Can I help you?’ in the parking lot.”
They hope Latter-day Saints will “reach out, understand others where they are, and build relationships when [they] regularly visit members in their homes. Inspired invitations change lives.”
Those who understand “the true spirit of ministering do more than before, while those who do not understand do less,” Gong said. “Let’s do more, as our Savior would. … Inspired ministering blesses families and individuals; it also strengthens wards and branches [congregations]. Think of your ward or branch as a spiritual ecosystem.”
These relationships make the Latter-day Saint vineyard “one body,” he said, “a sacred grove. Each tree in our grove is a living family tree. Roots and branches intertwine. Ministering blesses generations.”
Seventy Carl Cook: Press on in faith during times of difficulty
Keep the faith and press on in times of discouragement and difficulty, Carl B. Cook, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, urged conferencegoers.
Cook cited the example of church founder Joseph Smith and his courage in dealing with adversity.
“Joseph repeatedly experienced severe difficulties in his life. However, as he exercised faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement, and just kept going, he overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles,” Cook said. “Today I would like to renew Joseph’s plea not to let discouragement overwhelm us when we face disappointment, painful experiences, our own inadequacies, or other challenges.”
As members resist the urge to run from challenges, Cook talked about his experience as a then-area authority accompanying Boyd K. Packer to a stake (or regional) conference at which the apostle kept asking him to give impromptu remarks as guided by the spirit.
Despite the anxiety he felt over having to speak so many times, Cook pressed on and said he was grateful he didn’t give up or resist the apostle’s instructions.
“If I had given in to my desperate desire to escape from those meetings, I would have missed an opportunity to increase my faith and receive a rich outpouring of love and support from Heavenly Father,” Cook said. “I learned of his mercy, the miraculous enabling power of Jesus Christ and his atonement, and the powerful influence of the Holy Ghost. In spite of my weakness, I learned that I can serve; I can contribute when the Lord is by my side, if I just keep going — with faith.”
Just as the Savior has given us work to do, Cook added, he has endowed members with the ability to complete the work they have been given. “As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘Stand fast, ye Saints of God, hold on a little while longer, and the storm of life will be past, and you will be rewarded by that God whose servants you are.’”
Bonnie Cordon: ‘Look for Christ everywhere’
As Bonnie H. Cordon’s father revealed to her that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — a progressive fatal muscle disease, he counseled her to take every opportunity to testify of Christ.
“While we may not enjoy the same physical proximity as those who walked with Christ during his earthly ministry, through the Holy Ghost,” the outgoing Young Women general president said, “we can experience his power every day as much as we need.”
As members “choose to seek Christ, the Spirit will witness of him in many different situations,” Cordon said. “.... Our closeness to Christ grows through worshipping frequently in the temple, repenting daily, studying scripture, attending church and seminary, pondering our patriarchal blessings, worthily receiving ordinances, and honoring sacred covenants.”
The faith’s worldwide Young Women leader urged her listeners to develop “holy habits,” serving and giving in ways that are “less of a checklist and more of a witness.”
Her father has been gone for more than a decade, she said, but his words — “never give up an opportunity to testify of Christ” — “are alive” in her.
Cordon, the day’s only female speaker, invited everyone to “look for Christ everywhere. I promise he is there.”
Apostle Gary Stevenson: Really celebrate Easter
As Latter-day Saints celebrate Easter this year, apostle Gary E. Stevenson counseled, they should take more time and thought with their families to observe the holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ
In stressing the importance of Christianity’s holiest day, Stevenson quoted church founder Joseph Smith about the centrality of the resurrection in the gospel.
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it,” Stevenson quoted Smith as saying in his remarks to open the Saturday morning session.
In reading about the Savior’s crucifixion and resurrection in the Bible, Stevenson said, members should also take time with their families to read the rich account of the resurrected Lord’s appearance in the ancient Americas in the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith,” Stevenson said, described the Book of Mormon as ‘the most correct of any book,’ and, beginning with 3 Nephi 11, it tells the magnificent story of the resurrected Christ’s visit to the Nephites, the Savior’s Easter ministry.”
The apostle invited Latter-day Saints to make 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon a vital part of their Easter tradition, just as Luke Chapter 2 in the Bible is with respect to celebrating Christmas.
“In reality, the Book of Mormon shares the greatest Easter story ever told,” Stevenson said. “Let it not be the greatest Easter story never told.”
Studying the Book of Mormon account of the risen Lord, he continued, “will change your life. It will open your eyes to new possibilities. It will increase your hope and fill you with charity. Most of all, it will build and strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ and bless you with a sure knowledge that he and our father know you, love you, and want you to find your way back home, with a capital H.”
Holland out ‘due to COVID’
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland was absent from the Saturday morning session “due to COVID,” Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, announced.
The 82-year-old Holland spoke at Brigham Young University on March 21 to name a new president of the church-owned school. Holland also is scheduled to give the commencement address April 28 at Southern Utah University, an appearance that has drawn opposition from the LGBTQ community.
Earlier in the pandemic, several Latter-day Saint apostles contracted COVID-19. All recovered.
Money, membership, music and temples
The weekend’s five conference sessions come at a time of heightened scrutiny of the global religion’s wealth. Observers were waiting to see if it would offer any real numbers about the church’s multibillion-dollar holdings as more insiders and outsiders call for increased financial transparency, especially in the wake of the high-profile $5 million settlement the faith paid in February to the U.S. government for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings. Regulators determined that the church went to “great lengths” to “obscure” the size and scope of its investments in violation of reporting requirements.
But the brief report from the church’s Auditing Department followed the same pattern as previous statements. It was — as tradition has held for six decades — devoid of any dollar figures. It simply stated that “in all material respects, contributions received, expenditures made, and assets of the church for the year 2022 have been recorded and administered in accordance with church-approved budgets, accounting practices and policies.”
That was of interest after an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission discovered that two internal audits (one in 2014 and one in 2017) from the church’s Auditing Department had warned the faith’s top leaders that the reporting approach to the federal agency from Ensign Peak Advisors, the church’s investment arm, might run afoul of SEC rules — which turned out to be the case.
Ensign Peak’s portfolio was valued at $44.4 billion at the end of last year.
Besides the litany of sermons from Latter-day Saint apostles and other general authorities at the conference, church watchers also were eager to find out if the statistical report would show whether the Utah-based faith’s global membership topped 17 million in 2022, after surpassing 16.8 million the previous year.
It did, hitting 17,002,461, adding 212,172 converts and 89,059 children of record.
Much of the conference music will be provided by the famed Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, which this weekend will include 10 international singers (three from Brazil, two from Mexico, two from the Philippines, and one each from Ghana, Malaysia and Taiwan).
If recent practices are followed, Nelson also will announce where new temples will be built. Since he took the helm in January 2018, he has named 118, nearly 40% of the church’s total temple tally.