Editor’s Note: The following was written by Virginia H. Pearce
Wednesday mark[ed] the 20-year anniversary of the release of an important document. In 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put forth a set of principles that would help strengthen families and communities throughout the world. Those time-tested guidelines came in the form of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Virginia H. Pearce, daughter of late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, was serving in the Church’s auxiliary leadership at the time. She shares her thoughts on the moment she heard the proclamation and her feelings today.
‘I cannot help but reflect back to the first time I heard it’
As we mark the 20th anniversary of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” I cannot help but reflect back to the first time I heard it. Wanting to breathe oxygen into the fire of nostalgia, I even went so far as to pull down from the cloud the General Relief Society Meeting of September 23, 1995.
Oh my goodness. Click, click, and there I was again, seated in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on that soft September afternoon in the old Tabernacle, listening with multiple sets of ears — the ears of a general Church officer (I was serving at the time as the first counselor in the general Young Women presidency), the ears of a daughter, the ears of a wife and mother, the ears of a Relief Society sister and the ears of a member of the family of God.
I had meant to skim through the words of the speakers this morning, but I couldn’t help myself. Clicking on the video feed, I feasted on the meeting, from beginning to end. Sisters Jack, Okazaki and Clyde spoke movingly of Relief Society and God’s intention that we sisters “strengthen each other,” teaching that Relief Society can act as “a balm of Gilead,” a place where we can feel our Heavenly Father’s Spirit and [our] sisters’ “unfeigned love and encouragement.” Little acts of compassion from others “inspire us; they take the edges off our problems,” “particularly helping us at home.” Our Relief Society leaders reminded us all that “even in hearts and homes in apparently ideal circumstances, there are hidden heartaches and taxing challenges.”
Before I knew it, the meeting moved on to President Hinckley. And how can I not respond to the voice that all during the years of my childhood awakened me in the morning and was the steady backdrop to our chatter at the dinner table? On that evening in 1995 and even now, his voice awakens additional trust and comfort because layered onto the familial relationship is my God-given witness that he stood at that podium as a prophet.
His was a message filled with gratitude and tender emotion. He counseled, “Regardless of your circumstances, walk with faith”; “reach out in love to those in distress and need.” More than once, particularly as he read a rather lengthy letter a woman had sent to him, he had to pause with emotion. She spoke of her pain and difficulty and yet her trust in God and the promises made to her through this prophet, saying, “I have found if you cast your burden at the Savior’s feet, He will carry it for you and replace anguish with love, compassion, empathy, instruction and hope.”
President Hinckley’s words preceding the proclamation created an important context for the document that would be the capstone of the meeting and the foundation for all our discussions about family for the ensuing decades.
My faith isn’t very complicated. It centers around a clear conviction that God lives and that His purpose and the Savior’s purpose is to change us — to make us better than we are, changed enough that we can live with Them again. Little wonder that the most compelling sentence of the proclamation for me was, and still is, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
I heard those lines with all of my “ears” 20 years ago, and they still echo for me today. Today, however, I think more and more about the big family I belong to — the family of God. If it is to be successful, we will each need more faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and, yes, a bit of wholesome fun. Let’s work on those things for another 20 years!