Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Major changes to the missionary program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the announcement of new temples in Arizona and Peru and stirring sermons from church leaders highlighted the first day of the church's 182nd Semiannual General Conference Saturday.
After welcoming a near-capacity crowd to the LDS Church's 21,000-seat Conference Center on a bright, clear, crisp fall morning, church President Thomas S. Monson announced that effective immediately, young men may begin their full-time missionary service following their graduation from high school, even if they are only 18 at the time. And young women, who have not been eligible for full-time missionary service until age 21, may now begin their service at age 19.
"I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age," President Monson said. Rather, he said, the option is now available based on individual circumstances and the recommendation of their local church leaders.
"We reaffirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty," President Monson said. "Young women are not under the same mandate to serve." But, he added, the young women missionaries "make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service."
Young men and women seated in the Conference Center reacted immediately to the announcement. Dropped jaws reflected amazement and surprise, and huge smiles and excited whispers indicated a sudden burst of excitement.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who followed President Monson to the Conference Center pulpit Saturday morning, began his sermon with an observation that the new age requirements will "make a difference" for LDS missions and missionaries. He recalled that he was serving as a full-time missionary in Great Britain at the time the age for missionary service for young men was lowered to 19, adding that the first 19-year-old missionary in his mission was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who later served as his missionary companion and is now one of his colleagues in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
"That was an incredible addition to our mission," he said, smiling, adding that he believes this newly announced change in age requirements will be similarly beneficial to LDS missionary work.
Later in the session, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also mentioned the policy change, noting, "We are thrilled with the announcement."
"Through this option more of our youth may enjoy the blessings of a mission," Elder Nelson said at the start of a sermon that was addressed to non-Latter-day Saints, urging them to seek out the LDS missionaries. "The decision to serve a mission will shape the spiritual destiny of the missionary, his or her spouse, and their posterity for generations to come."
A press conference was held in between general conference sessions, during which Elder Nelson and Elder Holland elaborated on the change.
Almost lost in the excitement of the missionary age change was President Monson's earlier announcement of two new LDS temples, one in Tucson, Ariz., and one in Arequipa, Peru. The Tucson Arizona Temple will be Arizona's sixth temple, while the Arequipa Peru Temple will be the third in that South American country.
The two new temples bring the total number of LDS temples in operation, under construction or in the planning stages around the world to 168.
Additional church business was conducted during the Saturday afternoon session of conference when Elder Craig C. Christensen was sustained as a new member of the Presidency of the Seventy, replacing Elder Jay E. Jensen, who, along with Elders Keith K. Hilbig, Marlin K. Jensen and Octaviano Tenorio, was given general authority emeritus status.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen was also released as LDS Church historian and recorder, and Elder Steven E. Snow was sustained to those positions in his place.
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