SALT LAKE CITY — The weekend's global LDS Church general conference began Saturday morning with an unprecedented infusion of diversity in senior church leadership that was celebrated worldwide.
It ended Sunday afternoon with widespread gasps of wonder echoing through a full, 21,000-seat Conference Center when new church President Russell M. Nelson announced the faith's first temples in Russia and India.
In between, the energizing 93-year-old retired heart surgeon restructured priesthood quorums in every congregation and replaced the iconic home-teaching and visiting-teaching programs with a new concept of ministering.
The surge of "revelatory" changes directly impacted every one of the 16.1 million members and 30,500 congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"President Nelson, I don't know how many more rushes we can handle this weekend," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve joked on Sunday afternoon during the final of five conference sessions. "Some of us have weak hearts. But as I think about it, you can take care of that, too. What a prophet."
He said that about 90 minutes before President Nelson announced seven new temples, in Salta, Argentina; Bengaluru, India; Managua, Nicaragua; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; Layton, Utah; Richmond, Virginia; and a major city yet to be determined in Russia
In the substantial wake of the announcements, it was clear the entire conference laid an orderly foundation for the presentation of the new ministering concept. Through two days and 35 messages by 29 speakers, leaders called again and again on Latter-day Saints to work together in unanimity, unity and accord with each other and in alignment with the Godhead.
A growing, increasingly international church brought restructuring. And leaders sought to focus members on Christlike caring and inclusion on an Easter Sunday filled with testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
A new era
"This general conference marks the beginning of a new era of ministering," President Nelson said in his fifth and final talk. "The Lord has made important adjustments in the way we care for each other. Sisters and brothers — old and young — will serve one another in a new, holier way."
Sunday's announcement about ministering followed Saturday's announced restructuring of two priesthood quorums into one elders quorum.
"Elders quorums will be strengthened to bless the lives of men, women and children throughout the world," President Nelson said. "Relief Society sisters will continue to minister in their unique and loving way, extending opportunities to younger sisters to join them as appropriately assigned."
Elder Holland, who together with Sister Jean B. Bingham detailed how church members will minister, said leaders wanted the church to move resolutely toward watching over each other. He called the change a heaven-sent opportunity to demonstrate the pure religion.
"Clearly, as the work of the church matures institutionally, it follows that we should mature personally...," he said. "Our prayer today is that every man and woman — and our older young men and young women — will leave this general conference more deeply committed to heartfelt care for one another, motivated by the pure love of Christ to do so."
Elder Holland said leaders want to see members "minister...to all of us, every one of us, because we all need to feel the warm hand of friendship and hear a firm declaration of faith."
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, declared in the conference's opening talk Saturday that the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truest sense — pure religion — is to succor, lift and strengthen those in spiritual and temporal need.
"Doing so requires us to visit them and to assist them that their testimonies of faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and his Atonement will be anchored in their hearts," he said.
Themes of confidence, unity and revelation dominated President Nelson's address on Sunday, his first conference talk as a prophet to the full body of the church.
He said he is not naive about the state of the world, but he expressed optimism for a future he said is full of opportunities. "Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of his mightiest works between now and when he comes again," President Nelson said. "We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and his Beloved Son preside over this earth in majesty and glory."
He used the faith's senior leadership as a model of unity.
Grow into revelation
"When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation," President Nelson said. "The Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us discern the Lord’s will for his church.
"In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling! We experience what the Prophet Joseph Smith knew when he taught, 'By union of feeling we obtain power with God.'"
He called revelation a privilege and one of the greatest gifts of God. He also said God wants to speak to every person. He said those who want to hear him should pray, listen, record their impressions and act on them.
"As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will grow into the principle of revelation," he said.
Sister Bingham, the Relief Society General President, said Sunday that Mormon young women ages 14-18 will participate as ministering companions to Relief Society sisters, just as young men do with Melchizedek Priesthood holders. She called the priesthood and ministering announcements "revelatory changes."
"The extension of these duties to Young Women is an important shift in how members fulfill their duties within the church," Stapley said.
Elder Holland said the Relief Society has successfully modeled many components of the new ministering concept already.
Josephine Shelton, a native New Yorker and Mormon convert who now lives in Price, Utah, said she has seen that in the monthly council meetings implemented in January.
It's working out really well," Shelton said. "We come together and brainstorm and pull topics together. What are the needs? What can we do to minister in a better way to help sisters that are inactive. Instead of going and giving a message, now it's more of 'Hi, how are you doing? What's going on? We need to talk. What can I help you do this week?"
She has noticed small and simple acts — the theme of a conference talk by President Oaks on Sunday — become significant.
"If they like to crochet," she said, "I go buy some yarn and crochet needles: 'Let me sit with you for an hour and you teach me how to crochet,' and you build that relationship. Then they say, 'Oh, maybe I'll go to church next Sunday. I haven't been going. Maybe I'll go now on a regular basis.' It makes a big difference."
Shelton's example fit into one leader's Sunday call on Mormons to act in one accord, like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, each unique and different but working together to make the world a more beautiful and fruitful place.
"We are on this journey together. In order to reach our sublime destiny, we need each other, and we need to be unified," said Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, a native of Nicaragua and second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.
Jesus Christ set a perfect example of unity with his Father, she said, citing the Bible in the way his disciples followed that model after his death, the men continuing "with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women."
Latter-day Saints can follow their example, she said, by trying to draw closer to Christ. That will give them determination to "be one in the kaleidoscope of our families, wards and communities; and we will minister to each other in newer, better ways."
She said LDS congregations already act in unity like Christ's ancient disciples each week during meetings, testifying of Christ, studying the word together and ministering to each other in love.
"Revelation is scattered among us," she said, "and when we put that revelation together, we see more."
Every other speaker Sunday also mentioned unity.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve said the scriptural imperative for unity is largely ignored today in favor of tribalism.
"In the Lord’s church the only culture we adhere to and teach is the culture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "The unity we seek is to be unified with the Savior and his teachings."
President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about the spiritual uplift of constant and continuous focus on small things and added, "It helps if we are part of a team who are paddling together, like a rowing crew in action."
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about aligning with the Godhead and receiving the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
"Great ministers have qualified for the Holy Ghost as a nearly constant companion," President Eyring added. "And they have qualified for the gift of charity, which is the pure love of Christ. Those gifts have grown in them as they have used them in serving out of love for the Lord."
Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said the church "is all about people and covenants."
Those messages and the new use of the term and concept of ministering brought new meaning to the next major item on President Nelson's agenda, an eight-country trip that begins April 10.
He has coined it "a global ministry tour."