SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in 109 years, LDS Church members sustained three new apostles at one time, during the Saturday afternoon session of the faith's 185th Semiannual General Conference.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband, 64; Elder Gary E. Stevenson, 60; and Elder Dale G. Renlund, 62, are the new members of the faith's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, announced by President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They are the 98th, 99th and 100th apostles since the church's founding in 1830 and the quorum's creation in 1835. They are expected to speak in the Sunday morning session.
The vacancies in the Twelve were the result of the deaths of three quorum members since the faith's last general conference in April — Elder L. Tom Perry on May 30, quorum President Boyd K. Packer on July 3 and Elder Richard G. Scott on Sept. 22.
Church President Thomas S. Monson issued the callings to the three men. Elders Rasband and Renlund were released from their previous assignments. Elder Stevenson will continue in his position as presiding bishop until his replacement is named, according a church statement on LDS.org.
President Monson in July set apart President Russell M. Nelson in a priesthood ceremony as the new president of the Twelve. The two men are the church's senior apostles. In practice, the senior apostle is the church president and heads the First Presidency. The next-senior apostle is president of the Twelve.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are the two-highest governing bodies of the church.
The three new church leaders discussed being called to lifetime service as apostles and answered a few questions from reporters in a press conference at the Church Office Building following the Saturday afternoon session.
A small tear escaped from Elder Rasband's eye as he expressed his love and appreciation to the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve and general membership of the church. His call was extended by President Monson last Tuesday.
Elder Rasband, who has been serving as the senior president in the Presidency of the Seventy, mentioned being a sixth-generation Mormon with pioneer ancestors from England and Denmark.
"They paid a heavy price that someone in their posterity would receive this call. I love those ancestors, the family I come from and feel it is a great honor and privilege to be here with all of you today," Elder Rasband said. "I want you all to know I love the Lord. I love this church."
Elder Stevenson, who has been serving as the presiding bishop of the church, described his call to the apostleship as "a knee-buckling experience" and "completely unexpected," but "one in which he felt a duty to serve." Humbled by the call, Elder Stevenson said his new calling would be a greater ecclesiastical role of what he has been already doing in caring for the poor and needy, he said.
"There is a scriptural charge that says that we succor the weak, we lift up the hands that hang down and we strengthen the feeble knees," Elder Stevenson said. "And in that comes the charge that we feel as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in providing service that would be Christlike service and Christlike behavior."
When called to meet with the First Presidency last Tuesday, Elder Renlund wasn't even sure where to go. But he found the right room, where he was warmly welcomed. At that point, President Monson extended the call.
"I was stunned and speechless. I think I murmured an acceptance of the calling. I was somewhere between apoplectic and catatonic," said Elder Renlund, who has served in the First Quorum of the Seventy since 2009. "I think President Monson sensed that my bones had dissolved. and so he looked at me and he said, 'God called you, the Lord made it known to me.' "
A short time later, he returned to his office and fell to his knees in prayer. He eventually called his wife, Ruth, who was "astonished" at the news. Over hours of prayer, the couple eventually received spiritual confirmation of the calling, Elder Renlund said.
"I don’t feel qualified, with the exception that I do know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. I can witness of his living reality," he said. "That he is my Savior, and your Savior, I know that that's true. And I trust completely in President Monson’s statement that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies."
Members of the media were permitted to ask the new apostles a few questions. When asked about the biggest problem facing the church, the trio of new apostles referenced the topics from Saturday's morning and afternoon sessions, which included themes of protecting the family and living righteous principles.
"There are many issues in the world today, and one of the great blessings about having prophets, seers and revelators is that word, 'seer,' " Elder Rasband said. "The leaders of the church have addressed the very items that are on the minds of the leaders of this church."
When asked how they would explain their new calling to those less familiar with the church, Elders Rasband and Renlund both remarked that like the ancient apostles, modern apostles bear special witness of the Savior to church members and nonmembers alike all over the world.
"To be a special witness of the name of Christ I think is our premier and foremost calling that hasn’t changed from the days that Christ said those with him in the meridian of time," Elder Rasband said.
When one reporter asked how they might resist the adulation of church members, the apostles talked about the Lord's example of service and remembering their roots.
Elder Renlund said what keeps him grounded is seeing people in different circumstances and seeing them through Heavenly Father's eyes. He mentioned serving for the past several years in the Africa Southeast Area, consisting of 34 countries. Once in the Central Congo, he was touched by the faith of a member who didn't have running water or electricity, but who had the joy of the gospel.
"When we see that, it changes us," Elder Renlund said. "They inspire us. They look like they have nothing, but they have everything. That keeps us grounded."
Remembering that he was born of a Wonder bread truck driver helps Elder Rasband to stay humble. He is also grateful for his wife's example.
"These days I have a wife who's going to keep me well-grounded," Elder Rasband said.
Although all three are from Utah, the apostles were asked how they might help members outside United States to feel valued as members of the faith? They responded by talking about the Savior's love of all his children.
"I can’t answer your questions specifically other than to say that Jesus Christ loves everyone. We’re going to be apostles to everyone. We’ve had opportunity to travel through the church. We love the Latter-day Saints everywhere," Elder Rasband said. "We’re called to bear the name of Christ throughout the world. And Lord willing, we’ll go do that as he would have us do it, in a manner that would be pleasing to him."
What do the three new apostles look forward to the most in their new calling?
Elder Renlund said he could better answer the question if he could at some point get a good night's sleep.
"I’ve been afflicted by severe insomnia since Tuesday," he said with a smile. "But I think the whole purpose of the church is to deliver the Atonement of Jesus Christ to people. ... I can’t imagine what this is going to be like. I really have no clue and what that will be like but it’s being able to see the Atonement of Christ work on people throughout the world. To me, it is the most fascinating thing that I look forward to."
The final inquiry from the media asked how the mens' professional experience might help them respond to the needs of a growing, diverse church?
All three agreed their backgrounds have taught them to value the worth of each soul.
"An organization is really about people," Elder Stevenson said. "Seeing the goodness of people everywhere — of a factory worker in China or a sales manager in Europe — the people are really the blessing. That’s what I learned in my professional career, and that has been amplified in the past eight years that I’ve had serving as a general authority in diverse places in the world."
The press conference ended in tender fashion as the new apostles' families greeted their families with hugs and kisses. The children and grandchildren of the church leaders learned of their callings in general conference like everyone else.
In January, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, was sworn in as a new member of Congress using a Bible provided by Elder Rasband, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Elder Rasband was the LDS Church mission president over Love's Connecticut hometown at the time of her conversion to the church, and her now-husband's mission. The Bible he carried to Washington, D.C., for Love to use to take the oath of office was an 1828 Cooperstown Bible, the same version used by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
The current church leader later stood with Love and her family in her ceremonial swearing-in photo taken with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"At the mission reunion held just Friday night, he didn't even hint that this calling would be announced. President Rasband has stayed close through every stage of our lives," Love said Saturday. "May Heavenly Father bless Sister Rasband and President Ronald A. Rasband, my husband's mission president, our spiritual liaison and the family we consider our family. We love you."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, acknowledged the broad professional experience of the three new apostles.
"These are three excellent men. They have been stalwarts in the church but also very successful in life, and their successes will help all of us, to raise all of us and to bring all of us to a better knowledge of what we should be doing and can do and what we will do," Hatch said in a statement.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, praised Elder Rasband's distinguished track record of leadership and service.
"His wisdom and his insight will prove extremely valuable to the Quorum of the Twelve and to the church as a whole."
Elder Rasband was born Feb. 6, 1951, in Salt Lake City. He married Melanie Twitchell in 1973, and the couple has five children. Elder Rasband served in the Eastern States Mission, headquartered in New York City, from 1970 to 1972 and was educated at the University of Utah.
He joined the Huntsman Container Co. in 1976 as a sales representative, and in 1987 was appointed president and chief operating officer of Huntsman Chemical Corp.
His business experience taught him that "people are the most important asset," according to a Mormon Newsroom article.
"I learned that if you take good care of your people they’ll take good care of you. I learned many, many leadership skills from the people that I worked with that have served me well as a general authority.”
Elder Rasband has most recently served as the senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy. He has served as a counselor in the Europe Central Area Presidency, president of the Utah Salt Lake City Area and executive director of the church's temple department. He has also supervised the North America West, Northwest and three Utah Areas as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Elder Stevenson was born Aug. 6, 1955, in Ogden. He married Lesa Jean Higley in 1979 and the couple has four sons. He served a full-time mission in the Japan Fukuoka Mission and was educated at Utah State University.
Formerly the chief operating officer of ICON Health and Fitness, a company with brands that include NordicTrack and ProForm exercise equipment, Elder Stevenson and his family enjoy skiing, snowboarding, hiking and other outdoor activities.
Elder Stevenson has previously served as president of the Japan Nagoya Mission (2004-07) and as area president of the church’s Asia North Area (2008–12).
“I’m very, very comfortable in Asia," he said in an article on Mormon Newsroom. He described in the article how the 2011 earthquake that hit Japan was a "defining moment" in his life.
"To see the destruction, to see the loss of life, to walk the streets and see it and feel it and be with people who were affected with family members that were gone," he said, "and to be able to see a response and to help shape a response, that was a manifestation of the church of Jesus Christ filling one of its divinely appointed responsibilities of caring for the poor and needy."
The son of parents who immigrated to the United States to marry in the LDS temple, Elder Renlund's life of church service includes time as a full-time missionary, bishop, stake president and Area Seventy.
A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at the time of his call to the apostleship, Elder Renlund has been serving in the presidency of the Africa Southeast Area.
In his profession, Elder Renlund was a cardiologist who specialized in heart failure and heart transplantation. He was educated at the University of Utah and trained at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Utah and served as medical director of the Utah Transplantation Affiliated Hospitals Cardiac Transplant Program.
“As a physician, one learns to care about people and how to solve problems,” Elder Renlund said in an article on Mormon Newsroom.
Born in Salt Lake City in November 1952, Elder Renlund married Ruth Lybbert Renlund in 1977 after serving a full-time mission in Sweden. The couple has one daughter. Before Elder Renlund's call to the Seventy, his wife served on the Deseret News board of directors.
Elders Koichi Aoyagi, Bruce A. Carlson, and Don R. Clarke were released as General Authority Seventies and granted emeritus status.
Elder Serhii A. Kovalov was also released as an Area Seventy.
Email: [email protected]