Monday, September 7, 2009

The Seventy

At Education Week recently in Provo at the BYU campus, President Boyd K. Packer delivered the keynote address. He spoke of the fledgling finches nesting in the ivy growing on his home and the snakes that invaded their serenity. As part of his sermon, he talked about the Seventy in today's Church who have been deployed around the world to defend against the inroads of the adversary. He said in part:

"The Lord called 70 men and sent them forth. He gave them authority to teach and instruct and combat the forces of evil. These Seventies returned, and the New Testament says they marveled 'with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name' (Luke 10:17).

"And the Lord replied, 'Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you' (Luke 10:19). We have the names of these Seventies who were called at the time of Christ. Stephen, the martyr, was one of the Seventy, and Nicanor, who also died when Stephen was martyred, was a Seventy. (See John M’Clintock and James Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature [New York: Harper and Brothers., 1880], 9:600).

"Much has been done to prepare the Church and its members to resist the forces of evil. We live in a day of revealed direction. I have been witness as a General Authority to changes that were revealed from time to time in order that the Lord might better edify His children.

"For example, when I first came into these circles of the Church there were seven Presidents of the Seventy. They were the First Council of Seventy, the seven of them, and other seventies were in stakes. That pattern of organization served its purpose for a time. As the Church began to grow and move abroad, more Quorums of Seventy were required to minister to branches and wards and stakes and missions across the globe. And much has been changed over the years.

"The seventies in the stake quorums have been discontinued. Instead, there are now eight Quorums of Seventy with 85 General Authority Seventies and 218 Area Seventies assigned to the work. Each of the Seventy has had conferred upon him the apostolic authority.

"The role of the Seventy is to instruct and edify the leaders and members of the Church and to build up and strengthen fathers and mothers in their sacred role as parents and leaders in the home. They strengthen the parents, including single mothers who need and deserve the watch-care that they can receive.

"The Seventy go where the Twelve, limited by their number, cannot. Seventies are scattered across the world, as they were in the early days of the Church. When you look at the map of the world and where they are, it is dotted with the Seventies who are now serving.

"One who holds the office of Apostle, Seventy, patriarch, high priest, or elder carries the consummate priesthood authority held on the earth — the Melchizedek Priesthood or 'the priesthood . . . after the holiest order of God' (D&C 84:18)."

My life was blessed as recently as yesterday by an impromptu visit with one of the Seventy, Elder Lee Curtis, who frequents the Woodland Ward on rare occasions when his schedule permits him to make a visit to his family cabin nearby.

He slipped in quietly and sat beside me on the back row of the chapel during Priesthood meeting. The group instruction for the high priests ended twenty minutes early (a rare happening), and we sat and visited while we waited for Sunday School to start. Lee served as a stake president and mission president prior to his current calling. His father, LeGrand Curtis, was also a Seventy.

We discussed the historic priesthood leadership meeting and subsequent special stake conference last Sunday, of which he was a part (see my earlier post, "A New Era in Church Leadership"). He affirmed that it had been a delightful experience and that he had been assigned by Elder Scott to accompany him to a special stake conference meeting on Sunday following the priesthood leadership meeting on Saturday. He also commented that the leadership meeting went four hours in duration. He said the purpose was to provide the Apostles with closer contact with the priesthood leaders, as Bishop Burton explained.

Our conversation took an unexpected turn when he said, "My sense of your Grandfather was that he was fearless. He seemed fearless because of his great faith and the assurance he had that he was in the Lord's hands." I confirmed that assessment, because that was always my impression of who he was too.

He said he was a missionary in Italy in 1972, when President Lee and Elder Hinckley were on their way to the Holy Land, an historic visit making President Lee the first living Prophet to visit the Holy Land while he was serving as President of the Church. In Italy they held a missionary conference of which Elder Curtis was a part. He said it was inspiring, that he was in a place and time when he was eager to learn, and that President Lee had always been an inspiration to him.

It caused me to reflect on my own missionary experience with then-Elder Lee, who had visited me with Aunt Joan in the North British Mission in 1967. I shared those remembrances with him as we visited together. I had been out about nine months and was serving in a particularly challenging assignment training a new missionary in a new area, West Hartlepool, near the North Sea. I went searching in my missionary journal for my entries about it this morning. This is what I found:

"November 14, 1967

"We began our day today with prayer in Grandfather's and Aunt Joan's room [in the mission home at Rossett Green, Harrogate, Yorkshire] -- just the three of us -- and what a thrill to be able to talk to the Lord with them. When we went down for breakfast, President Robison called on me to pray, but after kneeling with Grandfather everything I said seemed at best anticlimactic.

"We left Harrogate early and travelled to Sunderland for the zone conference at which Grandfather spoke. I've heard Grandfather speak many sermons before, but this was the first sermon I've ever heard him deliver, urging each of us to seek for the spirit of the Lord, and then to have the courage to follow the promptings we receive.

"The spirit descended upon me, and carried me into the spiritual heights I never dreamed of attaining. The floodgates opened wide the minute Aunt Joan began speaking and remained open all through Grandfather's remarks and the closing song. All I could do was sob silently -- not because I was homesick in any way, just because I now understand the gospel, and Grandfather's address was so personal even though there were 60 other missionaries present. I felt as though he must have been speaking to Elder David B. Goates exclusively, because I needed to hear every word he uttered. I've determined to live that sermon every day of my mission and my life thereafter.

"Following the conference, we went to lunch with President and Sister Oates of the Sunderland Stake, and then Elder Maughn (one of the assistants) and I checked in to the Seaburn Hotel with Aunt Joan and Grandfather. We chatted in their room all afternoon. Elder Maughn knew all the questions, and he plied Grandfather with what seemed like doctrinal questions I'd never even thought of before. The truth is, I don't even know the questions yet, but Elder Maughn does. Grandfather patiently answered every one, turning the pages of his scriptures with ease and familiarity. I longed to have that kind of scriptural knowledge. The goal was implanted within me -- become a scriptural scholar like Grandfather.

"At one point, Elder Maughn asked if Grandfather ever had any doubts. He arose from the edge of the bed, walked to the window and looked out on the beach drenched in the brilliant sunlight below that followed the earlier rain. Even though it was cold outside, there were sun worshipers on the beach. He said something I will never forget, 'Of course I have doubts,' he said slowly, 'we all have doubts from time to time, but when the dark clouds have hovered overhead and the winds of adversity have blown hard and the rains have descended, I have always tried to remember what it's like when the sun is shining as it is today.'

"Then we ate dinner and let Aunt Joan and Grandfather retire early. They both seemed very tired, especially Aunt Joan. Elder Maughn and I went to our room and talked even more about the gospel and a myriad of other subjects. My heart is so full that I kept him up until about 1:00 in the morning pouring out my soul. I've never had a more spiritual 24 hours in my life than today -- it's been wonderful!

"November 15, 1967

"We arose early this morning and had a great study class together for about two hours, then as the sun arose we went out and walked along the beach while we waited for Grandfather and Aunt Joan to come down for breakfast. Elder Maughn has a choice spirit, and I've certainly enjoyed being with him these last three days, as well as the time we spent together in Liverpool [he was my zone leader there]. We had a relaxed breakfast together, then met President Oates who took us into downtown Sunderland so we could pick up our car at the garage. The brakes failed in the parking lot at the stake center the day before. When I put the car in reverse to back out of the parking stall and applied the brakes there was nothing -- the car had coasted across the lot and was stopped by the curb on the other side."

[I was told by the mechanic when we picked up the car that he had surmised I must have driven all the way from Harrogate to Sunderland with the emergency brake set and the brake linings were completely gone. Of course, my story -- and I'm sticking to it even today -- is that I was unfamiliar with the controls on the English Ford Vauxhall being the reverse of what I am used to and I overlooked releasing the emergency brake. Until her dying day, Aunt Joan thought it was such a miracle that we had been protected with safety on that trip through narrow winding roads and rain-slicked highways that she rarely spoke of it -- it was such a sacred deliverance in her mind.]

"We then did a little shopping for Aunt Joan, and returned to West Hartlepool in the early afternoon. I would have liked to show them around 'our town' here, but all we had time for was a quick tour of the chapel which had recently been completed and dedicated. They stopped by our digs and it was a real treat for Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong to meet them. She kept calling Grandfather 'a canny lad,' the ultimate praise in her vernacular. I enjoyed it even more because they actually got to see where I live and how I live. They stayed for about a half hour, then we said goodbye for another 16 months I guess. I wasn't sorry to see them go, and I didn't wish for a minute to be going with them -- there's just too much to do now, and even less time now than the first time we said goodbye.

"This experience with Grandfather and Aunt Joan has done more to bolster my spirit and my confidence as a missionary than any other influence thus far, and it was evident to me tonight that a change has come over me. . ."

And so ended my encounter with an Apostle in the mission field. For the first time in my life I came to understand the power and the mantle that living Prophets among us are given. Prior to this experience I had been in the presence of the leaders of the Church on numerous occasions, but never before had I sensed as I did then the distinction between his being my Grandfather and his being an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Elder Curtis when he had his missionary experience with President Lee, I was in a place for the first time when I was open to the spirit and eager to learn.

My discussion with Elder Curtis continued yesterday, and we talked about our feelings about the plan of happiness and the redemptive power of the atonement. He said to me, "On my tombstone I want it to say, 'He believed in redemption.'" He went on to say that he is convinced that Heavenly Father really wants to save and exalt every single one of His children in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, and that the requisite pieces of achieving that goal have all been put in place in the Restoration of the last days. I concurred completely with him.

We spoke of patriarchal blessings. He said it was his privilege as a stake president to occasionally review the blessings that were being given in his stake, a chance to lift up the corner of the page as it were and glimpse into the future through the inspiration of his stake patriarch. We both remarked that there is a glorious future for the youth of Zion in the last days, and that there is little to be gained by dwelling on all the negative conditions that surround us.

I was uplifted and spiritually blessed by this brief and intimate encounter with one of the Lord's chosen servants from among the Seventy. It was a gentle confirmation in a special and sacred way to me that my thoughts and my desires are aligned presently with the Lord and His servants. I pray that it may ever be so!

1 comment:

  1. Fun to hear your "voice" as a missionary. Thank you for sharing that, dad.