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There’s been a buzz around this weekend’s upcoming sessions of General Conference unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Perhaps that is a product of social media as a continually growing medium for buzzing. Perhaps it is because last April’s changes and announcements felt like a bit of a roller coaster and members are eagerly wondering like the Fruit Roll-up commercials of my youth, “what will they roll out next?”
Rumors of specific changes seem to be flying around (2 hour Church anyone?), but I think there is as much of a spiritual buzz in the air as anything else. We can feel the tug towards Gospel living that will ask more of us, and a sense that there are days ahead that will require more strength than we’ve ever needed before.
It’s a little intimidating to think about, but thrilling to be part of it. The work is tangibly hastening, the Gospel is filling the earth, and we are here, not only to witness it, but to help make it happen. I’ve never been more eager to listen and pay attention, not just to the big announcements and gasp-worthy changes (no more home or visiting teaching!?), but to everything in between.
That feeling set me to pondering on some of the most exciting changes and announcements that have been given during General Conference in recent memory and I want to share them with you as the anticipation of new excitement grows:
- President Russell M. Nelson’s Announcement of a Temple in Russia
Though it was only six months ago, it’s worth reviewing the moment that our new prophet, as he closed the last session of an already mind-blowing General Conference, announced the construction of seven new temples. Among them was the first temple to be built in India, a nation with a population of 1 billion; the announcement of a temple in Layton, Utah for which President Nelson paused for the laughter he knew would come.
Second to last, he announced a temple to be built in Richmond, Virginia, which was exciting to me as someone who grew up in Virginia, but even more exciting to someone in the audience who shouted out with joy, extending the waiting time before President Nelson revealed the last location. Though I can’t independently verify, one commenter on this video said the man called out, “Hallelujah!…I won’t never have to be in D.C. no more!” and that’s what brought President Nelson’s gaze up toward the balcony with a grin.
After a moment, the crowd settled and President Nelson finally added, “and a major city yet to be determined…in Russia.” Audible gasps and applause followed.
President Nelson is uniquely prepared to be the prophet that facilitates the construction of the first temple in Russia. Before being called as an apostle, he had already traveled to Russia twice in a medical capacity and has since been back on behalf of the Church many, many times. In April of 1990, he even visited the site in St. Petersburg of the original dedication of Russia for the Gospel and “offered a prayer of gratitude in the spirit of rededication of Russia.” In the prayer he asked for the people of Russia to receive religious freedom. Only four months later, the Russian government legally recognized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Inevitably, there will be more excitement on the horizon as it pertains to the Church’s growth in Russia.
- Provo Tabernacle will become the second Provo Temple
Temple announcements might be the only time we loosen up as Latter-day Saints and allow ourselves to express our excitement more like Baptists. I’m sure if we could hear the shouts of excitement from the people across the earth waiting for their ordinances from the other side, the shouts and hoorays would be a positive roar.
Another temple announcement that surprised and electrified us all was the October 2011 announcement that the Provo Tabernacle, which had been tragically gutted by a terrible fire would be rebuilt and restored. Only it would not return to its former use, but would instead become the second operating temple in the city of Provo.
Never has there been a more vivid and beautiful metaphor for the ways the Lord can restore us from tragedy to be much more than we were before, than the transformation of the Provo Tabernacle. I sat in the tabernacle only a few days before it burned, attending a wonderful Christmas concert there. When I heard that the intricately beautiful building where I’d just barely spent the evening had been absolutely destroyed, I’m sure I was not the only one to wonder—“Couldn’t the Lord have stopped something like that from happening?”
I think there are significant challenges in all of our lives where we think the same thing. But often, instead of stopping the fires from burning, He makes of us a temple from the ashes. Now, through a building and restoration process that should seriously be in engineering textbooks for how amazing it was, the structure is even more glorious than it was before. Only a week ago, I sat inside its walls and watched my little sister well up with happy tears as she was sealed to the man she loves.
- President Hinckley Announces the Rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple
Many may not know that, just like President Nelson has been uniquely prepared to facilitate a new era of the Gospel in Russia, President Hinckley was just the prophet to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple.
In preparation for an article I wrote on the influence of fathers on our most recent prophets, I learned that Bryant S. Hinckley, father to our beloved Gordon, served as a mission president in Illinois in 1939. At the time, Bryant Hinckley wrote to the President of the Church suggesting that the Nauvoo Temple be rebuilt and the reply came in the negative. He was sorely disappointed and felt strongly that this should happen.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Nauvoo Temple in October of 1999, President Hinckley said of his father’s frustrated desires for this outcome, “The Church did not have a lot of money then; all of this country was just coming out of the Depression. But I am counting it something of a strange and wonderful coincidence that I have had a part in the determination to rebuild this temple.”
Though President Hinckley’s father didn’t get to see the Nauvoo Temple rebuilt and restored in his lifetime, he was a part of the efforts to restore other parts of Nauvoo and make it a place that people could appreciate and adore for generations to come. He held many meetings promoting restoration efforts and said in a 1938 article in the Improvement Era, “If the project outlined by the citizens of Illinois is completed, . . . this extraordinary project will be a matter of far reaching significance. It will bring into relief one of the most heroic, dramatic, and fascinating pioneer achievements ever enacted upon American soil. It will reveal a record of fortitude and self-reliance; of patriotic and courageous endeavor, that should stimulate faith in the hearts of all men. . . . Annually thousands . . . will visit it. . . . Nauvoo is destined to become one of the most beautiful shrines of America.”
Having a father with that kind of vision for this place must have contributed to the emotion President Hinckley surely felt but concealed with his characteristic cough as he announced to the Church that this long awaited desire of many would finally come to life in the same place where the original temple stood.
- President Hinckley Announces the Beginning of Smaller Temples
Gordon B. Hinckley was a temple builder. He dedicated or rededicated 88 of the 159 temples currently operating (that’s 55% of them). He brought us another groundbreaking moment when in April of 1998, he announced a new design concept for smaller temples that could be built more quickly and reach more of the saints much sooner. At the time he announced the concept, he said there would be some 30 of them to be constructed right away, all over the world.
It was June of 1997 after President Gordon B. Hinckley attended the centennial observance of the Church’s Juarez Academy in Mexico and was en route back home that he had an important thought. In a 1998 interview with the Church News, he recounted, “As we were riding to El Paso, I reflected on what we could do to help these people in the Church colonies in Mexico. They’ve been so very faithful over the years…And yet, they’ve had to travel all the way to Mesa, Arizona, to go to a temple.” It was then the concept of smaller temples came to his mind.
“All necessary features of a temple could be incorporated into a smaller structure constructed with relative rapidity, just a few months, he reflected. On a piece of paper, he sketched out a floor plan that he later turned over to architects to refine” (Church News, March 2017).
Since this announcement, many, many temples have followed. Prior to the announcement, there was just one temple in Mexico. Since the announcement, 12 more followed in that nation alone. One of the first smaller temples announced after this new approach was adopted was the Anchorage, Alaska temple. It’s poignant for me to realize since that was the first place I ever attended the temple with my now-husband and where his family attends regularly.
Making room for new and different approaches to temple building also opened the way for the Copenhagen, Denmark temple and the New York City, New York temple, both of which were built on existing church buildings.
- President Monson Announces the Age Change for Missionaries
I was running late the Saturday morning of the October 2012 General Conference weekend. I was driving to my parents’ house to watch with them and listening to the opening music on the radio in my car until I could get there. As I pulled up to the house, President Monson began to speak and so I stayed in the car to listen rather than miss whatever he would say. And so it was, alone in my car that I heard the historic announcement that the new age of eligibility for serving a full-time mission would now be 18 for young men and 19 for young women.
To be honest, my eyes welled up with tears when I heard it, and not really happy ones. When I turned 21 and was finally eligible to put in mission papers, it felt like my life had momentum and that leaving what I was in the middle of and disappearing for 18 months would permanently take away certain opportunities. Hearing the change made me think how much easier it would have been to leave at 19 when so little had gotten going in my life yet. Not serving a mission is basically my only regret in life and it felt in that moment as if having the chance at a younger age would’ve changed the outcome.
That said, it was a thrill to see the rush of people in my little sister’s graduating class step forward and offer missionary service in droves. It was moving to watch the way she served her own honorable mission a short time later and I still dearly love seeing all of the very young temple workers that have come from the flood of returned missionaries that followed.
And as for me, I look forward to someday serving a mission with the awesome companion I’ve already chosen and know that in the mean time I can have opportunities to share the Gospel outside of the context of full-time service.
At the time the mission age change was announced, there were about 58,000 full time missionaries serving. One year later, that number had swelled to about 80,000. That number has since leveled out a bit with the latest statistical report showing 67,049 full time missionaries at the end of 2017, but the missionary spirit continues to grow and bless the lives of those that teach and those that are taught.
- Reading the Revelation Extending the Priesthood to All Worthy Males
Though it didn’t happen in my lifetime and though it was initially announced in June 1978 and only reviewed during the Conference session that followed that fall, I had to include the priesthood revelation on this list.
Sometimes Conference announcements are exciting because they are unexpected and sometimes the joy comes from something being long dearly hoped for and desperately prayed for. I love that by reading this important revelation in that Conference session, all who sat in the tabernacle and all who listened from afar were given the opportunity to raise their right hand in favor of their brothers and sisters of color finally having full access to the blessings of the priesthood. It was an opportunity to demonstrate love and fellowship through a sea of raised, sustaining hands.
Though, as I mentioned, I didn’t experience this moment firsthand I feel a little of the excitement captured in one of the musical numbers performed at this summer’s 40th anniversary celebration of the revelation, “This is the Day”:
What an honor it is to live in a dispensation when we not only have unprecedented access to the scriptures and the words of the Lord to His children throughout time, but where there is such a flood of continuing revelation. These exciting announcements aren’t calculated attempts to keep you from snoozing through Conference, they are the next step in our discipleship, toward becoming a more sanctified people.
And the other wonderful thing about our understanding of revelation and the Gospel is that the Lord has messages exclusively for you and your life that He’s willing to share with you if you’ll only seek them out. Go into this weekend’s General Conference with a question and a prayer in your heart and you may find that some of the most exciting announcements you hear come directly from the Spirit and are meant exclusively for you.