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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Elder Quentin Cook (L) and President Henry B. Eyring laugh during a press conference following the first session Saturday of LDS General Conference where the two men were sustained to their new callings.

With a bright smile and a touch of emotion, President Henry B. Eyring described his call to the First Presidency of the LDS Church as personal and sweet — a time when he felt both joy and a closeness to the Lord, as well as "personal inadequacy."

President Eyring made his remarks to reporters during a televised press conference Saturday, just hours after being sustained by the worldwide membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the new second counselor in the church's First Presidency. He fills the position held by President James E. Faust, who died in August.

Joining President Eyring was Elder Quentin L. Cook, who was also sustained by church members as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He fills the vacancy in the quorum left by President Eyring.

The men were asked questions ranging from the church's missionary program, media access, and why Elder Cook—a native Utahn—was selected to join a group that represents a worldwide church. The men were also asked to describe personal feelings about their calls, and talk about how their educational background could help them serve.

"I know, particularly because of the incidents of the last few days, that there is a loving Heavenly Father, that he hears prayers and he will reach out," President Eyring said of his call.

Both men said they received their calls to serve in church leadership on Thursday. President Eyring said he received a telephone call from church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who asked if he was willing to join President Thomas S. Monson and himself in the First Presidency.

"It was the most marvelous way of extending a call, which was from the Lord," he said.

Elder Cook said he was invited to President Hinckley's office, where he was then extended his call. He described it as "wonderful, and short, and sweet."

"I think that knowing how overwhelming this might be, compared to President Eyring, President Hinckley did invite me to his office," Elder Cook said. "If someone had called me on the phone, I would have been sure it was a prank of some sort."

Eyring became emotional when he talked about filling the position of President Faust. "He was not only a dear friend, but a model," he said. Later, Eyring described a time when he was talking to another General Authority, and said, "I always wanted to be him (Faust) when I grew up."

When asked about how his educational background as a Harvard MBA and Ph.D. would impact his work in the First Presidency, President Eyring found himself suddenly emotional when relating his observation of decision-making at the top levels of church leadership.

As the new president of what as then Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) in 1971, sitting in the first meeting he had ever observed with the church's Board of Education, he watched as an academic with a research background in group decision-making. He initially viewed their discussion as "the strangest encounter.

"Here you have the prophets of God, and they are disagreeing in a way you never see in business," when participants most often defer to the chairman. "I thought revelation would come to them all and they would all see things in the same way. It was not like anything I had ever seen in studying small groups in business."

After a while, the men began to find points of agreement, and he believed he'd seen a "miracle in unity" occur. Waiting for then-church President Harold B. Lee to announce a consensus decision, he was startled to hear him table the discussion after noting he felt "someone in the room who is not yet settled."

Afterward, he observed a member of the Quorum of the Twelve approached President Lee and thank him. With emotion stirred at the memory, President Eyring said he remembers thinking, "We're in another kind of thing here. This (church) is what it claims to be, the true Church of Jesus Christ. Revelation is real here, even in what you call the business side" of church operations.

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"President Lee taught me a great lesson" in dialogue, "that we can be open, direct and talk about differences in a way you can't anywhere else. No one is trying to win or make our arguments dominate. We just want to do and to say what is right."

President Eyring is the latest in a triad of Harvard-trained leaders called to serve in key positions by President Gordon B. Hinckley. Presidents recently named at church-owned BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii are both Harvard Business School graduates.

Elder Cook, a Stanford-educated attorney, emphasized it would be "a great mistake" for church members or observers "to think there is an educational or occupational requirement to serve in the church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"If you look at all the people who are serving from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds, you have people who love the Lord and are spiritually mature. There is no educational or occupational requirement of any kind."

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; nwarburtone@desnews.com