Monday, August 31, 2009
"A New Era in Church Leadership"
It is a wonderful blessing to live in close proximity to the headquarters of the Church. This weekend we were blessed to be part of a special unscheduled stake conference where the Presiding Bishop of the Church, H. David Burton, was assigned. At our regularly scheduled stake conference coming up on October 17-18, we will participate in a televised multi-stake conference originating from the Conference Center, as we have done before. We had about a week's notice in advance of this meeting, and the reasons for the unexpected meeting were given by Bishop Burton.
"Yesterday we had the pleasure, Elder Scott and I, along with Elder Foster and Brother Curtis, to meet with 15 stake presidents who comprise the region that the Kamas and Park City stakes are a part of. The remainder of those stakes are in the east side of the Salt Lake Valley.
"We met for four hours yesterday afternoon, and under Elder Scott's direction we had the glorious opportunity of visiting with those 15 stake presidents and about 120 bishops who represent the wards in this particular group of stakes. It was a singular pleasure to be with them.
"This meeting starts a new era in the Church of priesthood leadership. For many years we have changed from quarterly stake conferences to every six months. We have transitioned from having a General Authority in each of those conferences to a General Authority only once every several years.
"I can well remember that our stake in East Mill Creek, was the 150th stake organized in the Church. Sometime late this year or early the next, number 3,000 stake will be organized. With that growth it is no longer possible for a finite number of Apostles and prophets to have the unique ability and opportunity that they enjoyed in former years to visit every stake multiple times during the course of a single year.
"And so these priesthood leadership sessions are being held, and the first two in the United States were held this weekend, the one we referred to and one in the Northwest where we attempt for the Church to give the Apostles a chance to shake hands, and be a part of, and respond to the priesthood leaders.
"In connection with that, it was felt that we be in select stakes, gather the saints together on Sunday morning and enjoy the companionship that comes from gathering entire stakes together, and so that's why we're here today.
"Elder Scott suggested that I attend this conference and he's attending another of the stakes, and so four of the fifteen stakes are having a special stake conference today and we are grateful for the assignment to be here. . ."
Bishop Burton discussed the story in the 4th chapter of John, where the Savior encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in the heat of the day and asked her for a drink of water. In the encounter the Savior instructs the woman that there is "living water" of greater value than the water in the well, and that if she partakes of the living water she will never thirst again. That set the stage for his further remarks.
"Someone much wiser than I [Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities] who referred to his time, talked about 'the best of times and the worst of times.' My brothers and sisters, it is a glorious time to be alive. It's a glorious time to live in the tops of the mountains. It's a marvelous time to enjoy the benefits of technology. It's a marvelous time to be blessed with many of the comforts of life.
"It's also a challenging time. It's a challenging time that has become far more challenging than the recent past. It's a time of great dislocation. It's a time that many are suffering. It's a time when it's important for us to be cognizant of what's going on around about us; that we reach out in service; that we reach out with our means. It's a time to be proactive in looking after and caring about, and being a part of a greater community, and reaching out with love, reaching out and sharing our means. It's a time for us to physically and spiritually prepare our own lives and families. It's a time for us to prepare for the challenges that may lie ahead.
"How do we do that? What are some of the things we can do in that preparatory period? I'm sure the first thing that comes to mind is that we need to prepare for our temporal welfare. Yes, that certainly is important, but we need to prepare for our spirits, for the offerings of the adversary will become far stronger. The insidious nature of the temptations that emanate from the evil one will be the scourge of our communities and our families if we have not adequately prepared.
"As we prepare we need to continue even in times of struggle, in times of horrible hardship to remember to be faithful in the payment of our tithes and our offerings. We need to receive the blessings that come through being honorable and honest and forthright with our Father in Heaven. We need to be generous. As President Sorenson has admonished us so well, the reaching out with our means and with our help and our blessings, and whatever it takes and be certain that we share the pain that may come in temporal affairs.
"It's a season, brothers and sisters, that we become far more proactive in temple attendance and temple service. It's a time when we offer to do the work for those who have passed on. . ."
Bishop Burton then traced the early history of temple building, and told of his meeting with President Hinckley when the idea first came to him that the temples needed to be closer to the people, and he had the inspiration to begin building smaller temples. He reached his goal of dedicating the 100th temple before the end of the year 2000, much to the astonishment of even his Brethren among the General Authorities. He told Bishop Burton years before it happened that he would be alive to dedicate the 100th temple, and indeed he was! Bishop Burton continued:
"After the great sacrifice of those early saints in building temples, we are now nearing 140 operating temples around the world. Many in this room, I predict, will see 240, and perhaps 340 and 440 as temples become far more available to the Latter-day Saints. What is our sacrifice? It's not the muscle. It's been our faithfulness in paying our tithes, but then also our sacrifice will be to keep the lights of the temples burning. . .
"We need to gather our families around us. We need to be very proactive when receiving the promises the prophets have extended to us about doing what I call the small and simple things like family home evening, family gospel study, family prayer, and being very, very diligent in seeing that that kind of activity blesses the lives of our children and spouses.
"It's a time, my brothers and sisters, for us to renew our covenants with our spouses. It's a time to respond to the expectations that President Hunter -- the only General Conference I think that he presided over as President of the Church -- suggested to the priesthood brethren that they show perfect moral fidelity to their spouses. It works both directions. It's a time and a season, my brothers and sisters, that perfect moral fidelity is the hallmark of Latter-day Saints.
"May the Lord bless each one of you in the days ahead. May you be blessed with strength. May you be blessed with the means to provide for your families. May you rally around one another. May you be faithful in tapping in to the living water of Jesus Christ. May you be faithful in doing those things that will guarantee the blessings of heaven, the spiritual living water of Jesus Christ to nourish and bless your souls, your families and those who remain dear to you. These blessings I invoke upon you. . ."
As promised, the meeting lasted an hour and a half, and started and ended precisely on time. It began with an invocation, an opening hymn sung by a stake choir, followed by a talk by the stake president, then two youth speakers, a rest hymn, a testimony from Sister Burton, followed by Bishop Burton, a closing hymn by the choir and a benediction.
In the short one-week run up to the meeting there was apparently widespread speculation buzzing around about what this unscheduled stake conference would be all about. No doubt the "mystery" added to the interest level, even though I overheard some comments of disappointment when it was over that the meeting was just more of the "same ol' same ol'."
It was no surprise to me, however, that it proved to be a wonderful reaffirmation of the love of the General Authorities for the members of the Church through their priesthood leaders who can now be trained more "up close and personal" by the General Authorities than ever before. This "new era" is all about bringing the General Authorities, and specifically the Apostles, closer to the people through their leaders in these days of growth and perhaps greater spiritual needs than ever before. It was a feast for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. The rest of the Church will see this pattern rolled out across the globe, and it was a distinct honor and pleasure to be part of the first such weekend of these types of conferences.