Newly-named LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson told reporters on Monday there will be no abrupt change in the faith's initiatives or outreach throughout the world, and the church will continue to work cooperatively with people of other faiths.
President Monson was named 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a morning press conference at the Church Office Building, a move widely anticipated by Latter-day Saints after the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley on Jan. 27.
President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf were named as first and second counselors, respectively, in the First Presidency, filing into the building's main lobby behind President Monson to the clicking of cameras, as speculation about who would comprise the new presiding body of the church was put to rest.
Flanked on either side by President Eyring, a former educator and Harvard-trained businessman, and President Uchtdorf, a native German commercial pilot and airline executive before being called to the Quorum of the Twelve in October 2004, President Monson said he is in good health and intends to travel to help administer the affairs of the 13 million-member church worldwide.
"Traveling is difficult when you go for long stretches at a time, but you always come back refreshed, feeling that you've accomplished something," he said. "I'm on my knees before I go anywhere in this world."
He said he was diagnosed with type II diabetes several years ago, but the disease is under control.
When asked about his appointment as the first non-North American counselor in the First Presidency in nearly a century, President Uchtdorf said, "I learned quickly in the church that we're not representing a nation or country or ethnic group. We are ... representing the Church of Jesus Christ. We are representatives of Him."
Some have questioned in recent years how well top church leadership most of whom were born and raised in the United States understand the unique challenges Latter-day Saints face around the globe, particularly in the developing world.
President Uchtdorf said his wife told him he doesn't have to worry about his accent, because more than half of the church's members speak with something other than an English accent. He said the faith is more than global, "it's a universal church" that has the power to "combine and unite and bring all nations and ethnic groups together."
He credited President Monson with seeking to build bridges among people of all nations, ethnic groups and languages, seeing them as "no more foreigners" but fellow citizens "in the kingdom of God."
Founded in 1830 by a frontier prophet in tiny Fayette, N.Y., and known as an American-born faith, the LDS Church now has members in 176 nations, and more members live outside the United States than within its borders. In recent years, it has grown most rapidly in Central and South America.
At age 67, President Uchtdorf was one of the youngest members of the Quorum of the Twelve and said he is "joyfully overwhelmed" by his new responsibilities. "It's something which is a great honor. I'm very humbled by the call. I know this call must have come from God, because human beings might have had a difficult time to do the same."
As the church continues to grow around the world, President Monson said the growth of temple-building seen during President Hinckley's administration will continue, and he looks forward to the dedication of the newest temple the 125th built by the church in Rexburg, Idaho, this weekend.
When asked if women should seek education as a means of personal fulfillment, rather than simply as preparation for possible divorce or death of a spouse, he said preparation for any eventuality is important and that personal satisfaction comes from setting educational goals and achieving them.
Regarding another question about whether church members could disagree with the faith's opposition to legalizing same-sex unions and still remain in good standing, he said the answer "depends on what the disagreement is."
"If it's an apostasy situation, that would not be appropriate. If it's something political, there is room for opinion here and there on either side."
He said the church will maintain its openness with the press, largely instituted during President Hinckley's administration. "I believe in an open book and access (by) the media."
Both President Eyring and President Uchtdorf lauded President Hinckley's leadership and expressed their confidence in President Monson's ability to lead the church forward.
President Eyring, 74, had only served in the First Presidency since October, called as second counselor to President Hinckley after the death of President James E. Faust in August.
He said he has seen President Monson's "goodness and capacity and love for people" and is grateful for the "opportunity to see his influence and power" go forward to bless not only the LDS Church, but "the whole world. I pledge to him my total love and support."
Asked how he reacted, knowing he would lead the church upon President Hinckley's death, President Monson said the thing he found most helpful was "going to my knees," asking God to "go before my face, on my right hand and on my left hand." He said he asked for God's "spirit in my heart and angels round about me to bear me up."
Following President Hinckley won't be difficult "because he blazed the trail. I worked with him for 44 years. ... I knew he was the Lord's prophet."
He said church leaders "desire to cultivate a spirit of love, kindness and understanding," seeking "always to follow the Savior, who went about doing good."
"I testify that this work in which we're engaged is the Lord's work," President Monson said. "I've felt His sustaining influence."
Latter-day Saints had expected to see President Monson named as the next president, following a pattern of succession in the church that has been established and developed throughout its history and through doctrinal pronouncements in LDS scripture.