SALT LAKE CITY — The 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened Saturday morning with a session that featured the announcement of two new temples by President Thomas S. Monson and emotion-charged sermons from church leaders, including a memorable poem and testimony from 88-year-old President Boyd K. Packer.
For Latter-day Saints watching the proceedings in Cedar City, Utah, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the highlight of the session was church President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement that the church will build new temples in those locations. The Cedar City Utah Temple will be the 17th temple in the state of Utah; the Rio de Janeiro Temple will be Brazil’s seventh such structure.
“Brothers and sisters, temple building continues unabated,” said President Monson, who also referred to the recent dedication of new LDS temples in Calgary, Canada, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and the rededication of the Boise Idaho Temple in his opening remarks.
President Monson also remarked on what he called the “remarkable and inspiring” response of young church members to his announcement at last October’s conference reducing the age at which LDS missionaries can be called.
“We have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a Missionary Training Center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents,” President Monson said, adding that such growth in the numbers of missionaries has made it necessary for the church to create 58 new missions.
“To help maintain this missionary force, and because many of our missionaries come from modest circumstances, we invite you, as you are able, to contribute generously to the General Missionary Fund of the church,” President Monson said.
The 85-year-old church president concluded his remarks by urging church members to be “attentive and receptive to the messages which we will hear” during the next two days of general conference sessions.
“We will hear inspired messages today and tomorrow,” he said. “Those who will address us have sought prayerfully to know that which the Lord would have us hear at this time.”
For President Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the second-eldest apostle (at age 90, Elder L. Tom Perry is the eldest), that meant sharing a poem of personal reflection and testimony called “Unfinished Composition” that he started writing at the age of 68. Ten years later, at age 78, he added a few stanzas to the poem, and then added more lines to the poem last year when he turned 88.
Those in the 21,000-seat Conference Center chuckled at his poetic references to his “metal hip” and the plate in his neck (because of which, he writes, “I’ve joined the stiff-necked generation”) and the fact that “the only thing that grows in strength with me is my forgetter.” And there were smiles as he shared the last of his most recently written verses:
I know that He will come anew
With power and in glory,
I know I will see Him once again
At the end of my life’s story.
I’ll kneel before His wounded feet;
I’ll feel His Spirit glow.
My whispering, quivering voice will say,
“My Lord, my God, I know.”
To which President Packer added: “And I do know!”
“President Packer,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as he started his address a few minutes later, “we’re all looking forward to the 98-year-old additions to that incredible poem.”
Elder Ballard went on to speak about the priesthood, which he called “a sacred and essential gift of God.”
The power of the priesthood, he said, “is different from priesthood authority, which is the authorization to act in God’s name.”
“That authorization or ordination is given by the laying on of hands,” Elder Ballard explained. “The power of the priesthood comes only when those who exercise it are worthy and acting in accordance with God’s will.”
Elder Ballard said the priesthood is an important element of Heavenly Father’s plan for the eternal happiness of his children.
“In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood,” he said. “Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman.
“In other words,” Elder Ballard continued, “in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by a husband and wife. And as husband and wife, a man and a woman should strive to follow our Heavenly Father. The Christian virtues of love, humility and patience should be their focus as they seek the blessings of the priesthood in their lives and for their family.”
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the LDS First Presidency, reminded conferencegoers that the Savior Jesus Christ “invites us to be close to him,” and that we draw closest to Christ through our service to others.
“My promise to you who pray and serve the Lord cannot be that you will have every blessing you may wish for yourself and your family,” he said. “But I can promise you that the Savior will draw close to you and bless you and your family with what is best. You will have the comfort of his love and feel the answer of his drawing closer as you reach out your arms in giving service to others.”
“As you bind up the wounds of those in need and offer the cleanings of his Atonement to those who sorrow in sin, the Lord’s power will sustain you,” President Eyring continued. “His arms are outstretched with yours to succor and bless the children of our Heavenly Father.”
Also speaking during the Saturday morning session was Sister Elaine S. Dalton, general president of the church’s Young Women's organization, who took her theme from the proverb: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” She shared a touching story about working with her husband, who had contracted to install the carpeting in the Conference Center when it was built 13 years ago.
“My part was to vacuum,” she said. “And so I vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed. After three days, my little vacuum burned up!”
While she was doing that vacuuming 13 years ago, “trying to act well my small part,” she said, “I didn’t realize that I would one day stand with my feet on the carpet under this pulpit.”
Sister Dalton spoke of the importance of virtue to the safety and dignity of women.
"What would the world be like if virtue were reinstated in our society as a most highly prized value?" she said. "If immorality, pornography and abuse decreased, would there be fewer broken marriages, broken lives and broken hearts? Would media ennoble and enable rather than objectify and degrade God's precious daughters? If all humanity really understood the importance of the statement, 'We are daughters of our Heavenly Father,' how would women be regarded and treated?"
Also speaking during the session was Bishop Dean M. Davies of the Presiding Bishopric, who urged listeners to build their lives on a sure foundation of faith, prayer, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end as “the appropriate building blocks that will anchor our lives to the Atonement of Christ,” and Elder Craig A. Cardon of the Seventy, who reminded listeners about the importance of repenting and forgiving. “The Savior loves you,” Elder Cardon said. “He wants to forgive.”
Music for the session was provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, offered the benediction to the session. As far as it is known, Sister Stevens is the first woman to offer an invocation or benediction during a general session of conference.
Women have been giving sermons in general conference sessions since 1984.