ST. GEORGE, Utah — Sunshine and warm weather are among the things that draw people to St. George, Utah, this time of year.
“I’ve waited 40 years for the opportunity to be assigned to go to St. George in the winter. When I got there, the weather was worse than it was in Salt Lake City,” said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of his visit to southern Utah Dec. 13-15, when temperatures plunged into the low 20-degrees and snow blanketed the ground.
But the weather wasn’t what Elder Perry wanted to talk about when he spoke with the Church News about his visit to southern Utah’s “Dixie,” so named after being settled by Mormon pioneers from the Southern U.S., and for its usually “southern-like” climate. He wanted to talk about the members there.
Elder Perry participated in what he described as a historic weekend in the St. George area. He and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder L. Whitney Clayton and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Bishop Dean M. Davies, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, held a series of meetings over the weekend. The Brethren and their wives went together as a team but, once in St. George, split up, with Elder Perry, Elder Hallstrom and Bishop Davies going to the eastern part of St. George and surrounding communities and Elder Holland and Elder Clayton going to the western part of the city and communities. All told, they met with members and leaders in 23 stakes. They were assisted by two Area Seventies, Elder Dennis C. Brimhall and Elder Terry L. Wade.
First on the agenda for Elder Perry and Elder Hallstrom were interviews on Friday evening, Dec. 13, and Saturday morning, Dec. 14, before issuing calls to two new stake presidents, and then attending a priesthood leadership conference Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, Elder Perry presided over a stake conference held in the Burns Arena on the campus of Dixie State University during which the St. George Utah Little Valley Stake was divided and the St. George Utah Boulder Ridge Stake was created. At the same time, Elder Holland presided at the St. George Snow Canyon Stake conference, Elder Clayton presided at the Ivins Utah Stake conference and Bishop Davies presided at the Washington Utah Buena Vista Stake conference.
Speaking with the Church News, Elder Perry said he had always thought of St. George, with its mild winters, as a place populated by older, retired people. “We found a vigorous group of young priesthood leaders who are doing their best to bring up the youth to mature in the gospel and be ready for assignments that will be theirs in the future,” Elder Perry said. “St. George isn’t a place for just retired people.”
He said he delivered “the message of the season,” speaking of the “temporal story” of the birth of the Savior, who came forth as a son of David, as recorded in the book of Mathew and the “spiritual story” as recorded in the book of Luke.
“Christmas brings those two aspects into focus,” Elder Perry said. “We don’t focus so much on the temporal nature as we do on the spiritual nature, the gift of the Son of God.”
He said that in the priesthood leadership meeting, he and the other Brethren concentrated on “building Aaronic Priesthood quorums so we will have future leadership and the Melchizedek Priesthood so we will be able to do the rescue work of those in need of our help.”
On Saturday morning, Elder Holland and Elder Clayton met with some 3,200 young people, from ages 12-18, in the Dixie Center, a convention center in St. George.
“It’s always a challenge to speak to a youth group of that size,” Elder Holland said. “There is a concern that in such a large hall we won’t have the feeling of closeness with them. But they were really impressive. Some of them came from long distances, dressed in their Sunday best. They were very reverent and attentive.”
Elder Holland, Elder Clayton and Elder Wade participated in a panel discussion, during which they answered questions posed by some of the young people.
“We spent about 45 minutes answering questions of interest to them in a personal way,” Elder Holland said. “They asked about contemporary issues of the day, such as the secularization of society and a world in which religious beliefs are questioned. Some questions reflected personal issues, like what happens to children when parents who were married in the temple get divorced. There were questions about how they could help in ‘hastening the work,’ what they could do to better prepare for missions and the temple.”
Elder Holland said he was the only “native St. George boy” among the General Authorities who went to St. George over the weekend. “It was a thrill to see the strength of the members, not only the youth in the meeting Saturday morning but also the priesthood leaders in the meeting that afternoon. I saw men I had grown up with and sons of men I knew.
“It is heartening to think how strong the church is in the greater St. George area. I was very proud of my Southern Utah heritage.