Patrick Kearon, a British convert known to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his compassion toward refugees and abuse survivors, was announced Friday as the faith’s newest apostle.
He was called to the position Thursday and ordained later that day by 99-year-old church President Russell M. Nelson and the other members of the governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“This sacred call is so very daunting and humbling to me,” the 62-year-old Kearon said in a news release. “I will need to place all my trust in the Savior as I seek to become what he needs me to be and share my witness of his love and light. The abundance and grace of Jesus Christ have brought immense joy into my life, as well as healing balm in times of trial. I love him. I will strive to serve him to the best of my ability.”
And in a speech later Friday at church-owned Brigham Young University-Hawaii, he told graduates, “I slept very little last night, as you can well imagine.”
[Why naming a new apostle is big news for Latter-day Saints.]
Kearon, who had been serving as senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy, fills the vacancy left by the death of M. Russell Ballard on Nov. 12 at age 95. Kearon is the church’s first British apostle since 1911, when James E. Talmage, author of the monumental book “Jesus the Christ,” was ordained to that office.
Like all members of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second top tier — after the three-member First Presidency — in the 17 million-member church, Kearon will serve in this position for the rest of his life.
He also enters the line of succession that eventually could lead to his becoming president of the global faith.
As an apostle, he becomes one of the church’s “special witnesses of Christ,” who will help decide policies, programs and procedures for the church, travel extensively around the world and address the faithful at every General Conference.
Kearon is the third apostle chosen by Nelson. In spring 2018, Nelson made history, appointing the church’s first Asian American and Latin American apostles, Gerrit W. Gong and Ulisses Soares, respectively.
Kind, gentle and ‘astonishingly normal’
Many church members were ecstatic at the news of Kearon’s appointment.
“I met him several times in Germany while on a mission,” Mark Grandstaff of Salt Lake City wrote on Facebook. “I told his wife that he would be an apostle one day. A kinder, gentler soul you can’t find. He is in the same league as Elder (Dieter) Uchtdorf.”
Others mentioned how “authentic,” “open” and “welcoming” Kearon is, along with how real he is in all settings.
“The way he was when he spoke in General Conference was the way he same spoke on a personal level, too,” said Mark Baum, who was the lay bishop of the Sandy congregation that Kearon attended. “I’ve seen him in classrooms in small groups and that feeling is always the same — in every circumstance. He is one of the most genuine people I have ever met.”
The new apostle “is a person who sees and stops to talk with people that others overlook or disregard whenever he’s in a room,” Elizabeth Clark, associate director at BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, wrote. “I’ve heard him described as ‘astonishingly normal.’ He jokes that his American brother-in-law tells him that having a British accent raises his I.Q. by 20 points. I’ve seen a Facebook post from a trans woman who came to one of our religious freedom conferences, where he gave a keynote, and she couldn’t say enough about the love and welcome he gave her when they chatted afterward.”
How Kearon became a Latter-day Saint and a leader
A British and Irish national, Kearon was reared in the United Kingdom and the Middle East, where his father worked in the defense industry, according to his official biography. At age 10, he attended boarding school in England while his parents remained in Saudi Arabia. The significant trial of that separation fostered lasting insights and sensitivities that have come to mark his ministry.
Kearon first came in contact with the Utah-based faith when he lived in California with a Latter-day Saint family, the release said. He said they “lived a joyful existence founded on service.” He later met Latter-day Saint missionaries on the street in London, the release added, and eventually was baptized on Christmas Eve 1987.
Two years after his baptism, Kearon met Jennifer Hulme, a student Provo’s BYU, who was enrolled in the school’s six-month study abroad in London. The couple married in the Oakland Temple in 1991, according to his biography, and then lived in England for 19 years before relocating to Utah when he was called as a general authority Seventy in 2010. They have four children: Sean (who died in infancy), Elizabeth, Susannah, and Emma.
Kearon has lived and worked in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., bringing breadth and depth to his sermons.
The sermon that made him a name
It was his unforgettable 2016 speech about welcoming refugees that catapulted the previously unknown church leader into overnight stardom for many Latter-day Saints.
He called on his listeners to see themselves in the suffering of 1.25 million refugees flooding into Europe on a “perilous journey” to flee the ravages of war and political turmoil.
Early Latter-day Saints were “violently driven from homes and farms [in the Midwest] over and over again,” he told his rapt listeners. “Their story is our story — and not that long ago.”
The refugee crisis does not define today’s refugees, he added, “but our response will help define us.”
His words had an immediate impact on refugee care in the Beehive State and other Latter-day Saint-dominated regions.
“In 2016, no one in Rexburg would donate to refugee organizations because Fox News said communities with resettlement programs were being raped and murdered. People said a friends’ refugee fundraiser was ‘too political,’ “ Idaho resident Kristine Anderson, an independent Latter-day Saint historian, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “About a month later, Kearon speaks [about refugees] and there’s like five new Rexburg refugee charities.”
In 2019, the British convert spoke eloquently about individual responsibility and religious freedom to an audience at BYU.
“Influencing society always seems to be the job of someone else — someone with more power, more money, more time. Perhaps we expect some program or sponsor to take the lead. But when it comes to taking care of people, there is no ‘someone else,’” Kearon told the forum in Provo. “There is only us.”
The British general authority emphasized that religious liberty does not truly exist for anyone if it does not exist equally for everyone.
In the church’s April 2022 General Conference, Kearon gave a moving message to abuse survivors, saying, “The abuse was not, is not and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary. … When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest or other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible.”
To Alyssa Beck of Manhattan Beach, Calif., that speech was literally “life changing.”
About five years ago, Beck said, she was in a sexually abusive relationship. Eventually, she ended it and used church teachings about Christ’s Atonement to forgive the person who had hurt her, but not to heal herself.
Earlier this year, she was driving and heard on the radio Kearon’s sermon about abuse. His words jumped out at her: “You are not defined by these terrible things that have been done to you. You are, in glorious truth, defined by your eternally existing identity as a son or daughter of God and by your creator’s perfect, infinite love and invitation to whole and complete healing. Though it may seem impossible, feel impossible, healing can come through the miracle of the redemptive might of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who is risen ‘with healing in his wings.’”
She wept at his comforting words and has now listened to the talk “some 20 times.”
He speaks with such compassion, Beck said, which, “like [the late Latter-day Saint women’s leader] Chieko [Okazaki], is so different from other people who might speak on the same topic.”
In the both preaching and reaching out to others, the British apostle “brings a lifetime of global experience. More importantly, he brings a tender heart and deep compassion for people around the world,” said Patrick Mason, chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University. “His leadership during the church’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe and his accompanying 2016 General Conference address are, in my opinion, high-water marks for the 21st-century church.”
In Mason’s limited interactions with the church leader at Southern California’s Claremont Graduate University, he has “always been struck by Kearon’s genuine humility, often expressed through his characteristically British self-deprecating sense of humor. He is extremely well suited to help lead the church into its next phase of global presence and impact.”
Kearon is “basically the closest Mormonism has to a Pope Francis,” said Salt Lake City resident Calvin Burke. “We love this for all of us.”