Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the 13th episode of Therefore, What? — a podcast from Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson. It's been edited for clarity.
Boyd Matheson: This Saturday, the Seattle Mariners will be far from their home at Safeco Field playing a weekend series in Los Angeles, yet the stadium will be bursting with an expected crowd of over 40,000. That is a strong attendance for any weekend event at Safeco Field, but Saturday's event is of particular note as the 40,000-plus spectators will be there to watch a 94-year-old take second base. Find out why on this week's episode of Therefore, What?
Therefore, What? is a weekly podcast that breaks down the news while breaking down barriers, challenges you and the status quo, explores timely topics and timeless principles, and leaves you confident to face what's next. I'm Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News, and this is Therefore, What? This weekend at Seattle's Safeco Field, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will take the stage, which will be positioned above second base. The 94-year-old president of the church will address members from around the Northwest area. To discuss this, Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News, joins us. Sarah has covered everything within the church, from welfare services, church education and social issues impacting members of the church. Sarah, thanks for joining us today.
Sarah Weaver: It's great to be with you.
BM: So this event at Safeco Field is really one of the largest ever in the Northwest with a president of the church. Give us some perspective on that.
SW: There's about 140,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pacific Northwest, specifically in the Greater Puget Sound Area. And local organizers anticipate that more than 40,000 will be in attendance at this event.
BM: That's an unbelievable number. And again, to see a president who, since he was first introduced as the 17th president of the church, has really been on a pace that the millennials couldn't keep up with. He has been hopscotching in the world, and I know you've been following him on a number of those and following him in the pages of the Church News. What do you see, as he has been traveling the world? What is driving that?
SW: Shortly after becoming president of the church, President Nelson embarked on a global ministry tour, which included eight stops in 11 days. In that time, he spoke to members in large groups and small congregations. And he kept a pace that very few people that are 93 years old could do. Now, this weekend, he prepares again. It's been more than three decades since a president of the church has been to the Greater Puget Sound Area. And President Nelson just turned 94. And so he's added one more birthday candle to his cake. And I'm sure that everyone will be excited to see him. In the meantime, he's made a lot of weekend tours. He's visited several cities in Canada, he just returned from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which was an interesting choice. Because just one year ago, that area was devastated by storms. And it's just been in recent weeks that power has fully returned to Puerto Rico. And so it was fascinating that a leader would want to go there as soon as he could.
BM: Yeah, it seems that's a driving force for him. Often people refer to his being a heart surgeon. And how often that is such a difficult thing, it's sort of a dispassionate thing you have to be able to do to execute that kind of surgery. And yet, he has this incredible compassion and he's been challenging the membership of the church to be more engaged that way, to be better ministers and to be more aware of people around them.
SW: You know, it is interesting to compare what he does as a leader of a worldwide religion to his practice of medicine, because a heart surgeon is very logical and they approach things in a very specific way; they always have to be on. I'm sure that they take emotion right out of the equation because they're holding someone's heart in their hand and now he's holding people's hearts but in a whole different way because he ministers in a moment. He takes that intensity that he used as a surgeon and yet he looks out before him and, with a new kind of intensity that I haven't seen from other church leaders, he zones in on small members and on very specific situations.
BM: I noticed, it was fascinating to me when he was first in the solemn assembly of the church where he was sustained as the prophet, seer and revelator, that at the moment that ended in the 21,000-seat Conference Center where he really could have just kind of basked in the just awesomeness, I guess is the right word of that kind of moment in his life. But he immediately left the stand and went down into the audience and went right to the widow of a former apostle, a former colleague. He seems to have that unique touch. Did you see that as he was hopscotching across the world?
SW: In Jerusalem in particular, I met a family, they were from the Philippines, and were in Jerusalem without legal status working as house help. And they had a little girl who was not even in school. And yet after the meeting, President Nelson looked out and zoned in on that child, and walked right up to her and put his hands around the back of her head. And I thought it was so sweet. You know, sometimes we think of leaders of religion visiting and hobnobbing with other leaders of countries and other important people. And President Nelson does that and he does that with ease. And he reaches out to many different types of government leaders, to religious leaders, to community leaders. And in this case, he also reached out to the least of those among them. A little girl. I saw that again in Thailand, when he had spoken to the largest gathering of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ever gather in that country. And as he was leaving, a little boy who looked to be about 3 sort of brushed up against his leg. And he reached down with one motion and picked that child up right into his arms, and sort of continued what he was doing. But he brought that child into it. We have enjoyed all of the pictures of President Nelson holding babies and children, he's known to get down on his knees. And remember, he's 94 and he gets down to their level, he looks them in the eyes. And it's like he ministers to them with the same intensity that he once took care of beating hearts.
BM: That's such a great example. I think it'll be so interesting to see what he does in Washington. Washington is a state that is not known for religiosity. It's one of the least religious states in the United States of America. And so it'll be interesting to see the message there, I think it will be one as he has been calling, regularly challenging the members of the church to live better and to serve more. And I think he recognizes that a lot of the great challenges facing the world, whether it's poverty, homelessness, addiction, upward mobility, intolerance, all of those things — that the best solutions aren't going to come from the marbled halls of Congress, or some legislative body or government agency, but really from individuals and families and communities. I know you've seen him interact and create really game changing relationships with organizations like the NAACP. Tell us a little bit about what you see in terms of his outreach and his focus that things need to happen locally, not just globally.
SW: You know, he has a large family himself. He is the father of nine daughters and one son. And he always emphasized taking care of his own family. He, at one point in his career, could have moved back East and accepted a lucrative job offer, and decided to stay here and not uproot his children. And we've seen him ask all of us to focus on taking care of our family, to taking care of our communities, to engaging in a personal ministry in which we reach out to others and sort of follow the example that he set for all of us.
BM: I know that you were privy to what happened on this Puerto Rico trip that again, a place that had been ravaged by a storm, but not only did he go there, but I think he had to be the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to deliver an entire address in a language other than English.
SW: So he made two stops last weekend — one to the Dominican Republic. And when he got there, he actually started his remarks and said, "brothers and sisters, if you don't mind, I would like to speak to you in Spanish." And we know that he is gifted with language, you know, he speaks some Russian and some Mandarin and he's spoken about learning Spanish, I think he did that after he was an apostle, I'm not sure. But he addressed this entire congregation in their own language. And as far as we know, a president of the church has never done that before. We've had a lot of other church leaders, and he has given other addresses in another language other than English, before he became president of the church. But to have a 93-, almost 94-year-old leader speaking to them in their native language was very touching to a lot of members. He went on the next night to Puerto Rico, and again, delivered most of his address in Spanish. And those who were in attendance said there was actually an "aw" moment from the audience where they were just so happy and so grateful, and so taken aback that someone would take the time to do that. It is my understanding that he wrote that address in Spanish, that it wasn't even something that he contemplated, he wrote it in Spanish, and he wrote it with those members in mind, he delivered it to them in their native language.
BM: That's such a testament to that focus on making sure the message gets to the individual. I want to shift gears just a little bit here. Recently, the church made an announcement regarding the name of the church and the proper name of the church in terms of how it should be referred. And I know that's something that really had been on his mind, as he said, somebody had been working on him for quite some time. And to me in some of the media and reports following some were saying, you know, is this rebranding? What is this? And to me, it really seems that President Nelson is calling more to the members than to the media. That this is about a recommitment in terms of where the focus should be. How do you see that?
SW: Yeah. He was very clear, he said this is the name the Lord wanted to use for his church. And so he's made a request and we're going to honor it. And I think the message was directed exactly at the members. He said, we're going to call the church what the Lord wanted it called, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On second reference, you can call it the church or you can call its members Latter-day Saints, but his intent is to, in every circumstance, follow what he believes is the will of the Lord.
BM: His focus on ministry, and obviously there were great changes in the first conference back in April, feels like there's probably more coming. Again, for a 94-year-old, he sure seems to be sprinting at this point in the program.
SW: I haven't heard about any specific announcements coming at conference, but I can tell you that everyone who works for the church is very busy right now. So I would not be surprised if there was more on the horizon.
BM: Do you sense any themes or anything as he's gone around on this ministering tour. Any of those themes that you think will be highlighted in Seattle this weekend?
SW: Well, you know, on his global ministry tour, he spent a lot of time focusing on Latter-day Saint temples. Every city on that tour either had a temple or the church had announced that it would be building a temple there. He directed his remarks to youth worldwide on doing family history and temple work. And I suspect we'll see some of those themes this weekend as well. The other issues that he talks a lot about are ministering to the one. He's asked everyone to pray for guidance, and then go out and minister the way that they feel they should. He's not trying to be prescriptive about how that should be done. He's empowering the members … to figure it out, and to rely on their own relationship with God to determine the best way to do that for themselves and their families.
BM: And I think that's so interesting because it really does seem like he is calling on everyone to minister, not just to the people in their congregation, but really in their community. It's wherever you can reach, make sure you're open and willing. This this isn't about a checklist anymore, this is about ministering in the Savior's way.
SW: You know, when he became prophet, we did interviews with some of his family members and others, they all reported that he likes to use the snowblower in the morning and go from house to house, and he's in a cul-de-sac and he doesn't do that, again. This is a man in his 90s who's waking up, he likes to be physically fit, but he himself likes to serve his neighbors. It goes beyond the service he does for the church and his family. He wants to reach out in a personal way to each one of his neighbors, and one way he can do that is by making sure that when they wake up, their driveway's clear of snow.
BM: Hmm, that's great.
SW: I don't know if he's still doing that.
BM: I know he still wants to downhill ski, and I'm not sure if anyone's gonna let him this winter. Very good. Well, I've joked that while he will deliver the speech from second base at Safeco Field on Saturday, that those in attendance should watch him closely because he probably won't stay there very long. He's sort of like the great Ichiro (Suzuki) from the Seattle Mariners who played well into his 40s, so very old for a baseball player, but was always looking to steal third and maybe get home. And I think President Nelson is probably going to do the same thing. He's gonna have an eye on home; home, family, faith, those things that are really important to him. So Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today. We appreciate you joining us on Therefore, what. We'll watch with great anticipation to see what happens at that Safeco Field this Saturday.
As we look at some of the key takeaways from today, I loved how Sarah shared some of those personal ministry moments from President Russell M. Nelson. That he does have this eye on the one, and he also recognizes that it really is about what happens in homes, in neighborhoods and communities that really matter. We touched lightly on this very unique partnership that he helped forge with members of the NAACP. NAACP is an organization that's been striving to bring social justice and promote civil rights for more than half a century. And the church has done significant work to lift members in the black community in the United States and around the world, through education, through humanitarian efforts and through self-reliance programs. And so with a shared history of community driven action, the NAACP and the church have announced a partnership to bring self-reliance and entrepreneurial training to people across the country. It's a unique partnership, but it's a partnership where both organizations recognised, 'look, this has to happen close to home, it needs to happen in the home. And then it needs to happen in the neighborhood and the community as well.' Because ultimately, the best solutions flow when we look at people, and we see people not as problems to be managed, but as people with unlimited, even divine potential. And so finding ways to partner, to support, to encourage collaboration in the Northwest and everywhere else he goes, through volunteer service, through monetary resources, that's always going to be on President Nelson's agenda. And that's something that is definitely worth watching.Comment on this story
When you think about other areas in the Therefore, What? department, to me it really is that challenge for everyone to be better and to serve more and to find those opportunities that again, are not found on a checklist, but are found in unique opportunities, unique moments every day. I love to quote Winston Churchill, who in trying to rally his people when he said to every man, there comes that moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and given the opportunity to do something special. And I think that's true. I think President Nelson is talking about those tap-on-the-shoulder moments that we all get every single day to make a difference for someone else, through a text, through a phone message, through service to a neighbor, through plowing a neighbor's snow, and if you can do that, at 94, that is very impressive. But, you know, going back to Churchill, he also cautioned that with these taps on the shoulder, he said, what a tragedy if those moments find the person unwilling or unprepared for what could have been their finest hour. And I think that's also true. I think we miss a lot of moments every day where we could have served, where we could have made a difference, where we could have lifted someone up or made a difference in someone's life, because we're either not paying attention, we're not prepared or we're just too focused on our own interest in our own agenda. So those are all important things for us to think about. It will be fascinating to watch things unfold at Safeco Field and, again, imagining a stadium of 40,000 plus people there to listen to a 94-year-old stand on second base with his eye on home. Home, faith and family is really what this weekend is going to be all about. Remember, after the story is told, after the principle is presented, after the discussion and debate have been had, the question for all of us is Therefore, What?
Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcast wherever you're listening today. And be sure to rate this episode and leave us a review. Follow us on Deseretnews.com/podcast and subscribe to our newsletter. This is Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News, thanks for engaging with us on Therefore, What?