Leadership changes, religious freedom and defending the family were among the top news stories for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2015.
In the past 12 months, three senior members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles died, and three new apostles were called. The LDS Church has defended and celebrated the family, promoted religious freedom and dedicated temples. Church leaders have emphasized keeping the Sabbath Day holy and encouraged charity and missionary work. There has also been progress with preserving church history, advances in using technology to spread the gospel message, and anniversaries commemorating historical events.
The following review does not include every LDS Church news item in 2015, but it does include some of the more significant events relevant to church members.
Between May and October, church members were saddened by the deaths of three senior apostles. They were also eager to see who would fill the vacancies.
Two months after speaking in general conference and six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, Elder L. Tom Perry died on May 30. At the time of his death, he was 92, the oldest living apostle. His funeral took place in the Salt Lake Tabernacle the following week and was attended by thousands.
President Boyd K. Packer died July 3 at the age of 90. He had served as president or acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1994. Like Elder Perry’s, President Packer's funeral service was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and was well-attended.
Elder Richard G. Scott died Sept. 22, surrounded by family at home, at age 86. The fourth in seniority at the time of his death, Elder Scott served as an apostle for 27 years. His funeral was also observed at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Elder Russell M. Nelson was set apart as the new president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson shortly after President Packer's death.
President Monson filled the three vacancies by calling Elders Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson and Dale G. Renlund as new apostles in October at general conference. The trio became the 98th, 99th and 100th apostles called since the quorum's creation in 1835. It was also the first time since 1906 that three apostles were called at one time.
At the beginning of the year, church leaders called for laws to protect religious freedom and nondiscrimination.
In March, high-ranking church leaders, including Elder Perry and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, joined with Utah lawmakers in support of legislation intended to do just that.
Religious freedom was a common theme for church leaders in their travels throughout 2015. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to an interfaith group on the topic in February.
In May, Elder Christofferson addressed religious freedom while visiting a Brazilian mosque. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quroum of the Twelve Apostles gave similar remarks at a private Catholic university in Australia.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about religious freedom while touring in Argentina in April. Speaking in Sacramento, California, in October, Elder Oaks said "believers and nonbelievers should seek fairness for all." He also gave a narrow critique of Kim Davis, the county clerk who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky.
Emphasis on Sabbath Day
In training meetings and general conferences during the year, church leaders encouraged members to place greater importance on keeping the Sabbath Day holy.
“Our whole desire is that throughout the church, we focus our Sabbath day worship on the Lord,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a video Q-and-A addressing the new initiative.
Elder Ballard was one of many who continued to emphasize the message in October general conference.
"This helps us remain unspotted from the world, provides us with physical rest and gives each of us the spiritual refreshment of worshipping the Father and the Son every Sunday," he said. "When we delight in the Sabbath Day, it is a sign of our love for them."
In April, the LDS Church joined with 18 other religious organizations in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against same-sex marriage.
When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage a few months later, the church reaffirmed it would "continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman." The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also sent out a letter directing local leaders to hold meetings in their units and allow members to ask questions.
In November, the church made changes to its handbook for local leaders on policies related to adults in same-sex marriages and their children. A few days later, Elder Christofferson offered further explanation about the changes.
In August, the church announced it would include women leaders on three major governing committees to give women a more official voice in church leadership.
Sister Linda K. Burton, the church's Relief Society general president, was invited to be part of the church's Priesthood and Family Executive Council. Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women general president, joined the Missionary Executive Council, and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, the Primary general president, was added to the Temple and Family History Executive Council.
In October, the First Presidency approved the release of two scholarly essays addressing the roles and authority of women in the church. The first was titled "Joseph Smith's Teachings about Priesthood, Temple and Women," and the second was titled "Mother in Heaven."
The year 2015 has been a productive one for the LDS Church in its building of temples. As of December, the church has 149 operating temples.
In April, President Thomas S. Monson announced temples would be built in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Bangkok, Thailand.
Members of the First Presidency dedicated temples in Trujillo, Peru; Cordoba, Argentina; Payson, Utah; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Tijuana, Mexico. They also rededicated temples in Mexico City, Mexico; and Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
In mid-December, the angel Moroni statue was placed on the temple spire of the Hartford Connecticut Temple.
The church has announced that ground will be broken for the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Barranquilla Colombia temples, and the Suva Fiji Temple will be rededicated in February. The much-anticipated dedication of the Provo City Center Temple will take place in March. The Jordan River Utah and Frankfurt Germany temples will be closed for renovations in 2016.
Last spring, family home evening, one of the most prominent traditions in the church, turned a century old.
In October, the church celebrated the 20th anniversary of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ release of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." The document, originally presented by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the General Relief Society Meeting on Sept. 23, 1995, reaffirmed gospel standards and doctrines related to the family.
Also in October, Elder Ballard gave a keynote address during the opening ceremonies of the ninth World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City.
"The doctrine and theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints literally start and end with family," Elder Ballard said.
A new online course called "My Plan," designed "to help returning missionaries use mission experiences to plan for continued, lifelong membership," was announced in July by the First Presidency and became available in August.
Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy and director of the Missionary Department spoke about "My Plan" at the 2015 Seminar for New Mission Presidents at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
“Just as we are concerned with providing safeguards for missionaries to be able to safely serve during their missions, we are also concerned about every missionary having continuing protection and safeguards after he or she returns home,” Elder Evans said.
When the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America voted to end a ban on gay adult leaders in July, the LDS Church was "deeply troubled" and considered ending its longtime association with the BSA.
But it didn't. A month later, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced the church would continue its association with the BSA, thanks in part to its ability as a sponsoring unit "to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values," according to a statement.
Many Church members responded positively to the announcement that they could pay tithing and make other charitable donations through a new church online system in April. The new system also allows for anyone to create an account and donate to a missionary.
Humanitarian aid and charitable work continued to be an important part of the LDS Church in 2015. In addition to sending relief supplies to areas hit by various natural disasters, this year the church commemorated 30 years of LDS Charities helping others, including contributions of more than $1.2 billion.
In late October, LDS Church leaders sent a letter to be read in sacrament meetings encouraging members to help refugees through humanitarian donations or by participating in refugee relief projects.
Significant events transpired from a church history standpoint. President Nelson dedicated the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania. The church also marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of "Jesus the Christ," by Elder James E. Talmage.
In August, the church collaborated with the Community of Christ to publish a high-quality color copy of the original printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The contents of Joseph Smith's journals that cover the final year of his life were also published in the series’ "Journals, Volume 3."
Another significant event was the reopening of the Church History Museum after one year of renovation. The ribbon was cut by Elder Holland, and the museum now features an exhibit that includes a theater designed to take viewers into the Sacred Grove with Joseph Smith.
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