1 of 41
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson speaks at the 181st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011.

To read excerpts of talks from the sessions of general conference, click here.

SALT LAKE CITY — President Thomas S. Monson brought "a most inspiring conference" to a close on a warm-but-breezy Sunday afternoon with a prayer that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "realize and understand how close to us (our Heavenly Father) is willing to come, how far he is willing to go to help us, how much he loves us and how much he does and is willing to do for us."

Speaking to the Sunday afternoon session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the church in the downtown Conference Center, President Monson offered his assurance to members of the church that "our Heavenly Father is mindful of the challenges we face in the world today. He loves each of us and will bless us as we strive to keep his commandments and seek him through prayer."

He expressed his appreciation to church members for their service to each other, and to the world.

"We are God's hands here on this earth, with a mandate to love and serve his children," President Monson said. "I thank you for all that you do in your wards and your branches. I express my gratitude for your willingness to serve in the positions to which you are called, whatever they may be. Each is important in furthering the work of the Lord."

He closed by telling church members: "I love you. I pray for you." And he asked for their continued prayers for himself and for all of the general authorities of the church.

"We are one with you in moving forward this marvelous work," he said. "I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, woman and child has a part to play. May God give us the strength and the ability and the determination to play our part well."

Earlier in the day President Monson spoke during the morning conference session, recalling how much the world has changed during the 84 years he has lived. He expressed his concern at how rapidly the moral compass of society has been evolving.

"Behaviors which once were considered inappropriate and immoral are now not only tolerated but also viewed by ever so many as acceptable," he said.

But although the world has changed, President Monson said, "the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change. The 10 commandments are just that: commandments. They are not suggestions. They are every bit as requisite today as they were when God gave them to the children of Israel."

He used several stories from his life to illustrate how "communication with our Father in Heaven — including our prayers to him and his inspiration to us — is necessary in order for us to weather the storms and trials of life."

"As the winds of change swirl around us and the moral fiber of society continues to disintegrate before our very eyes, may we remember the Lord's precious promises to those who trust in him: 'Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.'"

Earlier in his Sunday morning talk President Monson made special mention of Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was in attendance at the Conference Center and who also spoke during the conference session. The 79-year-old general authority did not speak during last April's general conference sessions because he was recovering from surgery. President Monson even broke slightly with protocol to make his expression of appreciation intimate and personal: "We love you, Bob."

Elder Hales' talk, delivered from his chair rather than from the podium, focused on how "mortal challenges allow us and our Heavenly Father to see whether we will exercise our agency to follow His Son." His words were especially poignant to those who were aware of the health challenges with which he has wrestled.

"On this Sabbath morning, I express gratitude that in my Gethsemane and yours, we are not alone," Elder Hales said. "May we wait upon him by pressing forward in faith, that we may say in our prayers, 'Thy will be done,' and return to him with honor."

Following his talk, after the television spotlight faded and he relaxed back into his chair, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland — who sits on his left — reached over and gave Elder Hales' arm an affectionate squeeze. Then Elder Richard G. Scott — who sits on his right — leaned over and whispered to him as he patted his hand. At the close of the session President Monson paused and embraced Elder Hales as he made his way from the Conference Center podium.

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency also spoke during the Sunday morning session. His was a "message of encouragement," urging members of the church "upward on the path to eternal life" by being more charitable, by being witnesses of God "at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in," and by enduring to the end.

He also spoke of the "Day of Service" activities that have taken place all around the church in response to his request during the last general conference, and he promised members that "as you serve others for (the Lord), he lets you feel his love. And in time, feelings of charity become part of your very nature."

Elder M. Russell Ballard also noted Elder Hales' presence in the Conference Center at the beginning of his talk about the name of the church. Building on a theme presented by President Boyd K. Packer during the last general conference, he talked about the nine words of the church's official name, and why each is important. He urged members of the church to use the full name of the church whenever possible, as opposed to identifying themselves as "Mormons."

The word Mormon, Elder Ballard said, "has become an acceptable nickname when applied to members rather than the institution. We do not need to stop using the name 'Mormon,' when appropriate, but we should continue to give emphasis to the full and correct name of the church itself."

Neither Elder Ballard nor Elder Hales were in attendance in the Conference Center during Sunday afternoon's final session, during which three apostles spoke. Elder Russell M. Nelson talked about the importance of making, keeping and honoring covenants made with God. "The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a 'covenant keeper,'" Elder Nelson said. "The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter."

Elder Oaks focused his conference address on the teachings of Jesus Christ, drawing almost exclusively from Bible scriptures to consider "what he himself taught about who he was and what he was sent to earth to do."

"There is no middle ground," Elder Oaks said. "We are followers of Jesus Christ. Our citizenship is in his church and his gospel, and we should not use a visa to visit Babylon or act like one of its citizens. We should honor his name, keep his commandments and 'seek not the things of this world but seek . . . first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness.'"

Other than President Monson's concluding remarks, Elder Quentin L. Cook was the final speaker of the 181st Semiannual General Conference. He spoke of the role of adversity in our lives. Responding to the question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?" he used a number of experiences — including the stories of two LDS connections to the Titanic tragedy — to make the point that there are some things that must be "viewed through the wide and clear lens of the gospel instead of the limited lens of mere mortal existence."

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided music for three conference session: Saturday morning and both Sunday sessions. A Primary choir from the Pleasant View/North Ogden area in Utah provided music for the Saturday afternoon session. Music for the priesthood session Saturday night was provided by a Melchizedek priesthood choir from Pleasant Grove, Utah.

EMAIL: [email protected]