A phrase that has entered the LDS vernacular with increased fervor this year has been “hastening the work.” On every side you hear that the reason we are increasing missionaries, plunging into the digital age, stepping up our consecration, doing family history research with new relish is because we are hastening the work.
The idea has given a vigor and excitement to being a Church member just now, and a sense that for each of us, “This is our time.” It might have taxed you to the bone to have been a pioneer and crossed the plains-but this time may be both more stressful and also more consequential.
So take a breather from all the bad news that you read from the world and see why it is an exciting time to be a member of the Church-as you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a hastening the work.
1. Missionary Service Surges
When President Thomas S. Monson announced the change in age requirements for missionaries in Oct. 2012, a noticeable intake of breath and a surge of electricity went through the listeners at General Conference. A year later, after 18-year-olds had been opening mission calls during their senior year of high school and young women were preparing in droves to enter the mission field, Pres. Monson announced that the number of missionaries in the field had grown from 58,000 to 80,000, a record new number.
What’s more the number of women serving had risen from 15 percent of the missionary force to about 24 percent, meaning 11,000 more sister missionaries are serving than were a year ago.
At a press conference following President Monson’s announcement, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that while it is not an obligation for young Latter-day Saint women to serve missions, “those who do serve are stunningly successful, and we enthusiastically welcome your service.” He said, “Personally, I am absolutely delighted if this change in policy allows many, many more young women to serve.”
100s of new senior missionaries are also now in the field.
To accommodate this swell, 58 new missions were established, the existing Provo Missionary Training Center was enlarged to take over some buildings on the south of the BYU and a church-owned high school in Mexico City was transformed into a large regional missionary training center that opened in June.
What’s more, full-time missionaries will be working online and giving tours in meetinghouses.
PBS did a short Religion and Ethics documentary on the new missionary numbers which can be seen here.
2. Going Digital
The LDS Church has leaped into the digital age with sophisticated websites, social media and outreach. Mormon.org, for instance, has 37,500 subscribers with 42 million views. The Mormon Channel on YouTube YouTube subscribers, and its users have viewed its 1,900-plus videos more than 61 million times.
Recently the Touchstorm Video Index listed the Mormon Channel as a “top brand” on YouTube.
Mormon Newsroom is now on Instagram, a social media photo and video sharing site. One of the page’s first videos provided a glimpse of this year’s Christmas lighting ceremony at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Washington D.C. Temple.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s roots go back 165 years, but on this year’s tour of the Midwest United States for the first time ever, the audience got to choose the show’s encore by texting or tweeting.
This year, too, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve all got their own facebook pages where inspiring ideas are shared.
Church leaders are asking Latter-day Saints to become digital missionaries and also making it easy for us by supplying so much excellent content.
During November and December, the Church began releasing a series of topic pages at lds.org/topics. They have included “Race and the Priesthood” “First Vision Accounts” and more. They are written by church historians to give perspective on topics sometimes considered sensitive.
3. LDS Church Statements on Same-Sex Marriage
The courts have been busy undoing marriage this year, and the Church has responded.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings on same-sex marriage-one on Prop. 8 in California and one that overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.
“In addition, the effect of the ruling is to raise further complex jurisdictional issues that will need to be resolved.
“Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states.”
In December a federal district judge for Utah imposed same-sex marriage on Utah and the LDS Church responded:
“The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”
4. New Youth Curriculum
A new youth curriculum was introduced this year that allows Church leaders and teachers to select each month from an online collection of lessons those that they think are best geared to their youth.
It’s a curriculum made for youth in a technical age, complete with videos, music and graphics accessible via a Church website and mobile apps.
“Youth today face a never-ending stream of digital distractions that pull them in a variety of directions, many of which are destructive or unnecessary,” says Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The Church must play a significant role as a source of good for youth in a technological world. Our new online-based curriculum seeks, both through digital media and increased interpersonal interaction in and out of class, to help youth apply the teachings of Jesus Christ in their own lives.”
5. Typhoon Wallops the Philippines
When Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the central Philippine islands on 8 November, more than 10,000 Filipinos sought refuge with 4,000 of their Mormon neighbors in 200 chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though several meetinghouses were damaged, all inside were protected.
The first priority for the LDS Church was to locate its missionaries and get them out of harms’ way. All had been spared, though many Latter-day Saint members lost their lives and homes in the storm.
In addition to the ready service given by Latter-day Saints in the Philippines, other spots around the globe saw the familiar yellow vests that say “Mormon Helping Hands.” Missionaries did a clean-up project in Cambodia, the LDS Church planted 400,000 t rees in Haiti and did significant clean-up after the Oklahoma tornado.
6. Church Milestone
The Church is growing. President Thomas S. Monson announced that the LDS Church had hit the 15 million mark.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created the Church’s 100th stake in Peru.
During the Sunday services, Elder Christofferson encouraged Latter-day Saints to continue to follow Jesus Christ by serving others. He also spoke about the Church’s rapid growth in Peru, where some 520,000 Mormons in nearly 800 congregations reside. The first Peruvian stake was created in 1970, and the Church has one of its 141 temples in Lima, with two others (one announced in Arequipa, another under construction in Trujillo) on the way
7. Boy Scouts and the Church
The LDS Church celebrated its 100 years of partnership with the Boy Scouts with a celebration in the 21,000 seat Conference Center that brought the great outdoors in. President Monson told the crowd, “If ever there were a time when the principles of Scouting were vitally needed, that time is now.”
Also amidst some questions about how the Church would respond to the Boy Scouts admission of boys who are homosexual, the Church affirmed, rather than turned its back on the affiliation.
“The Church’s long-established policy for participation in activities is stated in the basic instructional handbook used by lay leaders of the Church: “young men … who agree to abide by Church standards” are welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate’. This policy applies to Church-sponsored Scout units. Sexual orientation has not previously been-and is not now-a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.”
8. Concern about Diminishing Religious Freedom
The LDS Church continues to speak out about the importance of religious freedom and Elder Dallin Oaks was honored last spring by the Becket Fund for his lifetime of service in promoting our first freedom.
Elder Oaks told those in attendance at the banquet where he was honored that for the past half century scholars have observed the role of religion declining in American life. “In this same period, the guarantee of free exercise of religion seems to be weakening in public esteem,” he said. “It is surely under siege by the forces of political correctness, which would replace it with other priorities.”
He explained that “in the long run, the vitality of religious freedom must rely on public understanding and support.” He expressed concern that recent survey findings show that the population least concerned about religious liberty in America is adults under 30, of whom only a small percentage believe that restrictions on religious freedom will increase in the next five years. “We must give greater attention to the education of the rising generation,” he said.
2013 brought a new temple film and the dedication of the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple.
In April’s General Conference President Monson announced plans to build temples in Cedar City, Utah and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In August, President Monson broke ground for the church’s temple in Hartford Connecticut and a few weeks later Elder Ronald A. Rasband presided over a groundbreaking in Fort Collins, Colorado.
For those who marvel at architectural feats, the nearly seven-million-pound exterior of a 112 year-old building that will become the Provo City Center was raised on 40-foot high steel stilts to continue the renovation process.
10. Family Search .org Redesigned
Digital technologies have progressively made family history work easier and more accessible. A new version of FamilySearch.org, which launched Tuesday, 16 April, makes family history research more interactive and conveniently collaborative, with added social media, photo and story elements that create a more personal family history experience for each user.
FamilySearch, the world’s largest genealogy organization and a nonprofit sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has updated its website to enable individuals to work together with others online to build their family tree, compile and share family photos and stories, create interactive fan charts and access 24-7 online assistance – all for free. The site’s enhancements seek to broaden family history’s appeal to those who don’t consider themselves researchers or genealogists, especially youth who are masters of digital realms such as social media.
Goodbye to Sister Frances J.Monson
Sister Frances J. Monson, wife of President Monson died this year and was remembered for her legacy of love.
President Monson said of her, “There was no chink in her armor; there was no guile in her soul; there was no flaw in her character.”