Only six times in the Church’s one-hundred seventy-five year history has a President of the Church been in office for ten years or more—but on Saturday, March 12, it will be seven. Gordon B. Hinckley is now the fourth oldest man to hold the office of President of the Church, but age does not seem to matter much to him.
He often quips about his age. To the youth in Manhattan he said, teasing a little, “I didn’t know I’d make it this long because I run on batteries. I have a pace maker. I wear glasses. I carry a cane and I have batteries in my ears. But I’m going to make it at least to my 94th birthday which is next week.” And make it he did. He would spend his 94th birthday visiting the President of the United States in the White House and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest honor given to a civilian in this country.
What makes this man tick, besides the pacemaker? Where does he get the kind of energy to do what he does in his ninety-fifth year? How has he done so much in these 3,653 days as prophet? Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin gives some insight: “President Hinckley’s preparation for his current service has been life long. As President Boyd K. Packer reminded us recently, ‘No man comes to be President of this church except he has been apprenticed for a lifetime.’ From the scriptures we learn that those who serve as prophets were ‘prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God.’
“I bear my witness that President Hinckley has been foreordained, raised up, prepared, and called of God ‘to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.’ I have been well-acquainted with him since my early youth and have observed firsthand that the fabric of his noble character contains not a single shoddy thread. From the living water of the Lord and his restored gospel, President Hinckley has drunk deeply throughout his entire lifetime. Because of his righteous obedience, streams of living water have flowed and will continue to flow from him to quench the thirst of a spiritually parched world.” [i]
An Ordinary Man?
Even twenty-five years ago, as a relatively young, sixty-nine-year old Elder Gordon B. Hinckley stood at the side of President Spencer W. Kimball in the small Peter Whitmer cabin in Fayette, New York, it has been clear to leader and lay member alike, this Gordon B. Hinckley was no ordinary man. But yet, he likes to think of himself as ordinary.
At the laying of the foundation of the Ghana Temple a wonderful, ‘ordinary scene’ emerged. “I’m not without experience,” President Hinckley said of sealing up the cornerstone. “I’ve done this 80 something times. But I never get any good at it.”
Soon after President Hinckley confessed he had not mastered the art of putting the mud in the cornerstone, some of it dropped on his shoe.
“Mother, Kathy,” the prophet said to his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, and daughter Kathleen H. Barnes, “come and take a turn.” His advice on the best way to use the trowel: “Just pretend you are making a cake.” People always warm to President Hinckley’s charm.
How does President Hinckley picture himself and the work he is doing? He likes to think of himself as carrying a sacred stewardship and he thinks of the members of the Church as his “beloved associates” who also carry their loads with him in this great work.
Two months after Gordon B. Hinckley was ordained the President of The Church he was asked by a reporter how he would like to be remembered by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He said, “I would hope that I might be held in remembrance as a man who tried to do some good in the world, to make the world a better place, to improve it. And as a man who walked with integrity with his associates, both those in the Church and out of the Church, with love and appreciation for the goodness that he saw in people wherever he went.” [ii] As these ten years have passed since his ordination as President of the Church, he continues at 94 years and 9 months old to push with enthusiasm into his second decade.
It’s hard to predict, in history’s eyes, what will be the most prominent thing talked about for “the time of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s administration as President of the Church.” It is not unlikely, however, that it will be his great push to build temples. President Hinckley is a builder. He’s an architect. He’s a mover. He’s a visionary. It took the Church 167 years to dedicate the first 50 temples. It took forty months, to-the-day, to dedicate the next 50 temples. This is a remarkable feat.
Who can forget the thrill that surged through the Church when, on April 4, 1999, President Hinckley said these words at the very end of that general conference: “In closing now, I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. A member of the Church and his family have provided a very substantial contribution to make this possible. We are grateful to him. It will be a while before it happens, but the architects have begun their work. This temple will not be busy much of the time; it will be somewhat isolated. But during the summer months, we anticipate it will be very busy. And the new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.” [iii]
The “Small Temples”
But the temple at Nauvoo is not the only jewel in this temple-building era. The bringing of so many temples to the people is an idea that sprang from the love and tenderness President Hinckley feels for the Saints around the world.
According to Keith Stephan, former Managing Director of the Temple Construction Department, the idea of the small temple came to President Hinckley when he was visiting the Saints in Colonia Juarez, Mexico in June, 1997. This was an early Mormon colony, with pioneers coming here to escape persecution and open the door to Mexico when it would have been easier to remain with the nucleus of the Saints in more settled regions. But they came, and true to their heritage, they have been remarkably faithful over the decades with scores of mission presidents and Church leaders counted among their ranks, and an activity and tithing level that indicates the highest level of commitment.
The Saints of Colonia Juarez had to drive three hours and then fly to get to their nearest temple, and as President Hinckley visited among them he said, “”I would like to see the time come when all of our people throughout the world could get to a temple without too much inconvenience,” he said. “I think you are about as far away as anybody. And I don’t quite know what to do about you. There aren’t enough of you to justify a temple.”
He later told the Saints, “There are many areas of the Church that are remote, where the membership is small and not likely to grow very much in the near future.
Are those who live in these places to be denied forever the blessings of temple ordinances?
“Thinking with love on these Saints as he was leaving, the idea of a small temple, available for use as the members needed it, came to his mind, and he took out piece of paper and drew an L-shaped temple upon it.”
He later described the experience this way, “While visiting such an area a few months ago, we prayerfully pondered this question. The answer came bright and clear.”
He signed the picture he had drawn, Gordon B. Hinckley, and when he returned to Salt Lake, he took it to the temple construction department, discussed the idea with them, and asked if they could draw up plans.
Out of this devotion to the well-being of the Saints, the vision of the small temple was born. During his life, President Hinckley has dedicated 85 temples.
The Challenge of the Prophet
President Hinckley gave the temple construction department this challenge: you have to do this additional building with the same people you have now. This is the direction of a prophet who understands that the work must move quickly with the resources available.
The staff in the temple construction department put up a little sign to remind them, “If you need to do something that has never been done before, you need to do it differently than it has been done before.” They prayed and pondered over the challenge, and finally turned to missionary couples for help, particularly those who had experience in construction. In this way, the managers from the Church department could travel and supervise the building of more temples while missionaries did the day-by-day supervision.
The results “were a miracle,” according to Keith Stephan. Missionaries in Nauvoo, for instance, gave over 88,000 hours to build the temple. The department was divided into four teams of people who each oversaw 15 temples apiece.
“President Hinckley’s timing was perfect,” he said. “This was before 9/11 when the economy was high, the world was safer and travel was freer.
“President Hinckley would sit with us and say, ‘I feel an urgency.’ He would joke that he had always driven the work forward with a 2×4, but now it was with a cane.”
Seemingly Unbounded Energy
How thrilling it has been to see this Prophet in the most obscure places around the world, visiting countries, wards and branches that have never seen a prophet before. President Hinckley said in his first press conference that he didn’t much care to travel, but he would use all the energy that the Lord would give him to go out and be with the people and to do his part in expanding the work of the Lord. He has done that in marvelous fashion.
Within the first year of his time as President of the Church, there was a shift in the demographic profile of the members. On February 28, 1996 more members lived outside the United States than inside. It seemed appropriate that this number would be achieved during his time. President Hinckley has visited more of the Saints of the Church in these past ten years than perhaps all of his predecessors combined. He has visited every continent and many of the islands of the sea. Saints not only in enormous gatherings but in some of the small, obscure branches have seen the face of a prophet for the first time. The chronology of a few months of 1997 captures his enthusiasm to be with the Saints: “May 8-17: President Hinckley toured the South Pacific nations of New Zealand and Australia, speaking 15 times in seven cities to a total of more than 55,000 members. Aug 7-14: President Hinckley delivered 12 addresses to about 56,000 people in four nations of South America: Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. Oct 10-17: President Hinckley addressed a total of 52,500 members in eight islands of the Pacific: Samoa, Hawaii, American Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Tahiti. Nov 8-13: President Hinckley addressed 42,000 Church members in Mexico City and an additional 12,000 in Puebla, Mexico.” [iv]
In February of 1998, President Hinckley would become the first Church president to visit West Africa. During a nine-day tour he would visit Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. On that trip he would announce a temple to be built in Ghana. Six weeks later he would announce in general conference that the Church would build 30 new temples in various parts of the world with a goal to have 100 temples by the year 2000. The goal would be achieved and superceded by two!
Testimonies of His Brethren
President Hinckley feels a deep kinship with his counselors and his brethren of the Twelve. His love is often overflowing with tears of gratitude. But that Christ-like love goes both ways.
President James E. Faust spoke tenderly of his dear friend, Gordon Hinckley: “As I expressed in the press conference on Monday, March 13, 1995, I have had the great privilege of associating in various Church assignments with President Gordon B. Hinckley for forty years. I know his heart. I know his soul. I know of his faith. I know of his dedication. I know of his great capacity. I know of his love of the Lord and God’s holy work. I have a great personal affection and regard for him. I also know that he has been foreordained and marvelously prepared to be the President of this church in our day and time.” [v]
Elder Robert D. Hales gave his testimony: “We declare with soberness, and yet with the authority of God in us vested, we have a prophet today. The President of the Church, as a prophet, is God’s representative on earth and is appointed to lead his church. This has been true in the past as recorded in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and in this, the last dispensation of the fulness of times with the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“He who holds all the priesthood keys authorizing those saving blessings is the living prophet. The Lord has declared “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (D&C 132:7). I testify that President Gordon B. Hinckley is the one in whom those keys are currently vested.
“He is our prophet today. He was prepared and foreordained before the foundation of the world. For over a half century, he has been taught and tutored by Apostles and prophets with whom he has served. He is wise. He is caring. He speaks for the Lord. His is the voice to which we should now respond. Our spiritual safety lies in turning to the clear voice of our living prophet. If we listen to his voice and obey his counsel, we will be able to live as Christ would have us live and endure to the end so that one day we, along with our families, will return back into the presence of our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.” [vi]
Elder David B. Haight testified: “With all the inspiration and love that I possess, I testify that Gordon B.
Hinckley was foreordained to become the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; to be the mouthpiece of God on the earth at this time; and to lead God’s people as prophet, seer, and revelator.” [vii]
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave this testimony: “And I with others in this conference bear personal witness, as a witness, of the divine calling of President Gordon B. Hinckley to this holy office and sacred assignment for which he has been so long and so well prepared. And by “preparation” we mean not only the many experiences which he has had in the Church from his youth, but also mean that doctrine Alma taught, that such a man is “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,” a calling predicated at least in part upon demonstrated “faith and good works” before President Hinckley ever came to this earth (see Alma 13:1–3).” [viii]
Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave his perspective: “President Hinckley is a special blend of the practical and the spiritual, possessing a keen mind furnished with fixed principles. When we rightly describe him as having good judgment, good humor, goodwill, and as being a good listener, the common adjective is good. Goodness is thus the key to so much of what makes up President Hinckley, whom I am delighted to sustain as our President, prophet, seer, and revelator, the high calling which has come after such unusual preparation of this exceptional disciple of Christ.” [ix]
President Hinckley’s Own Feelings
Perhaps President Hinckley himself, in his talk in general conference as he was sustained as President of the Church, best summarized the matter: “I do not know why in His grand scheme one such as I would find a place. But having this mantle come upon me, I now rededicate whatever I have of strength or time or talent or life to the work of my Master in the service of my brethren and sisters. Again, I thank you, my beloved brethren, for your actions this day. The burden of my prayer is that I will be worthy. I hope that I may be remembered in your prayers.” [x]
He continued: “This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others.
“I am fully aware that I am not a young man as I shoulder the responsibilities of this sacred office. Sister Hinckley and I are learning that the so-called golden years are laced with lead. But I think I can honestly say that I do not feel old. I cannot repudiate my birth certificate, but I can still experience a great, almost youthful exuberance in my enthusiasm for this precious work of the Almighty.
“Now, my brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.
“We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.” [xi]
[i] Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Living Water to Quench Spiritual Thirst,” Ensign, May 1995, 18.
[ii] Dew, Sheri, Go Forward With Faith, The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, p. 578.
[iii] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Thanks to the Lord for His Blessings,” Ensign, May 1999, 88.
[iv] Church Almanac, 2005, pp. 595-96.
[v] James E. Faust, “Responsibilities of Shepherds,” Ensign, May 1995, 45.
[vi] Robert D. Hales, “Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey,” Ensign, May 1995, 15.
[vii] David B. Haight, “Sustaining a New Prophet,” Ensign, May 1995, 36.
[viii] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Our Priesthood Legacy,” Ensign, May 1995, 38.
[ix] Neal A. Maxwell, “Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,”
[x] Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Work Is Concerned with People,” Ensign, May 1995, 51.
[xi] Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 69.