SALT LAKE CITY — "Historic" might be the best way to describe 2018 for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Since President Russell M. Nelson became the president of the church last January, the 94-year-old leader has presided over two general conferences full of major announcements, called two new apostles, announced 19 new temples, reiterated the importance of using the church's name and embarked on global ministry tours on five continents.
This past year, the church also announced that it will part ways with the Boy Scouts of America, commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, sent humanitarian aid to areas dealing with natural disasters and released the first book in an official multivolume history of the church.
The year might be best captured with this quote from President Nelson:
"If you think the church has been fully restored, you're just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come. Wait until next year," President Nelson said near the end of his South American ministry tour. "Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It's going to be exciting."
President Monson's death; new First Presidency
On Jan. 2, President Thomas S. Monson, the 16th president of the church for nearly 10 years, died at age 90. Members remembered the church leader for his eloquent conference talks, heart-warming personal accounts and his charge to always go to the rescue.
Following President Monson's funeral, a new First Presidency was announced via a live broadcast from the Salt Lake Temple. President Nelson presented President Dallin H. Oaks as first counselor and President Henry B. Eyring as second counselor.
"I declare my devotion to God our Eternal Father, and to his Son, Jesus Christ," President Nelson said during the broadcast. "I know them, love them, and pledge to serve them — and you — with every remaining breath of my life."
President Nelson was sustained as the 17th president of the church during a solemn assembly of April's 188th Annual General Conference.
Two new apostles
The naming of two new members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was one of several announcements the church made in April's historic general conference.
President Eyring read the names of Elder Gerrit W. Gong, the first-ever Asian-American apostle, and Elder Ulisses Soares of Brazil, the first-ever Latin American apostle, while reading a list of the quorum members.
The two apostles both used the word "overwhelming" to describe their initial experience.
"It has been very special to me to be part of the discussions of the issues of the church among the members of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency and add my little contribution as I bring some experience and background from different parts of the world," Elder Soares said.
Consolidating priesthood quorums
During April's priesthood session, President Nelson announced a restructuring of priesthood quorums, with high priests and elders meeting together in one group called the elders quorum.
"We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them," President Nelson said. "To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for his Saints."
In the next major announcement of the conference, President Nelson retired the home and visiting teaching programs, opening a new chapter in the history of the church called "ministering." The new program places a greater emphasis on serving and caring for others while offering members more flexibility. The change allows for 14- to 18-year-old young women to take part as companions to Relief Society sisters.
"We will implement a newer, holier approach to caring and ministering to others," President Nelson said. "We will refer to these efforts simply as ministering."
16 million members
In 2018, official church membership surpassed 16.1 million members. This was also announced in the April general conference.
Global ministry tours
Following April general conference, President Nelson departed on a two-week global ministry world tour that included stops in England, Israel, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Thailand and Hong Kong, with the last stop in Hawaii. President Nelson was accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland; and others.
President Nelson summarized the sweeping tour for Brigham Young University-Hawaii students in two words: "the temple." Each stop on the tour was tied to a temple, where "families literally can be together forever," the church leader said.
In the months that followed, President Nelson visited and spoke with Latter-day Saints in Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. He addressed the Saints in Spanish while in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The 94-year-old President Nelson embarked on another tour in October with a five-country trip to Latin America. President and Sister Nelson, joined by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apsotles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, made stops in Peru (where he also spoke to the Saints in Spanish), Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. The dedication of the Concepcion Chile Temple marked the end of the tour.
Parting ways with the Boy Scouts
In May, the church announced it was ending its 105-year partnership with the Boy Scouts of America at the end of 2019.
The church made the move to address the needs of a growing global church. In place of Scouting, the church will implement a new program for all Latter-day Saint young men and women, ages 8 to 18, with an increased focus on strengthening faith.
"As a global church with millions of children and youth, we need to address diverse needs and fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever," church leaders said in a news release.
'Be One' celebration
On June 1, the church commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood with a special program called "Be One" in the Conference Center.
The event featured messages from President Nelson and President Oaks, music and dancing, and stories of faithful black Latter-day Saints. The celebration was attended by notable names like entertainer Gladys Knight, NBA basketball player Jabari Parker and others.
President Nelson encouraged all to "build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation."
New curriculum and meeting schedule
In October general conference, President Nelson made another major announcement, saying the time had come for a "home-centered, church-supported" form of worship.
Church members were counseled to begin incorporating a new "Come, Follow Me" curriculum designed to strengthen families and individuals through home study. The new curriculum comes with a shorter Sunday meeting schedule, made up of a 60-minute sacrament meeting and 50-minute class, set to begin in 2019.
"The long-standing objective of the church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his Atonement, to assist them in making and keeping their covenants with God and to strengthen and seal their families," President Nelson said.
Church of Jesus Christ
In August, President Nelson announced a new effort to emphasize using the revealed name of the church.
"The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," President Nelson said in a statement.
President Nelson elaborated in his October conference talk, "The Correct Name of the Church." Abbreviations or nicknames mean omitting the Savior's name. The name of the church is "not negotiable," President Nelson said.
"After all he had done for humankind, I realize with profound regret that we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored church being called by other names, each of which expunges the sacred name of Jesus Christ," President Nelson said.
In October, the 171-year-old Mormon Tabernacle Choir changed its name to "The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square"
President Nelson announced the locations of 19 more temples in 2018, including seven at the end of April's general conference and 12 at the conclusion of October's general conference.
The temples announced in April were: Salta, Argentina; Bengaluru, India; Managua, Nicaragua; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; Layton, Utah; Richmond, Virginia; and “a major city yet to be determined” in Russia.
The temples announced in October were: Lagos, Nigeria; Mendoza, Argentina; Salvador, Brazil; Yuba City, California; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Praia, Cape Verde; Yigo, Guam; Puebla, Mexico; Auckland, New Zealand; Davao, Philippines; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington County, Utah.
President Nelson also said the Salt Lake Temple and other pioneer-era temples will be renovated.
The first book in a multivolume official history of the church, titled "Saints: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846," was released in September. Written in an easy-to-follow narrative style, the book tells the story of the early church while weaving in relevant individual accounts, giving readers a greater overall sense and context for how events unfolded.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said the story is well-rounded and complete.
"We feel that having a total picture that is transparent and tells the whole story, tells true accounts, that seen in context, almost everything will be faith-promoting and build faith," Elder Cook said. "So many things have been taken out of context, and seen as in a minuscule way. This now allows a complete picture that we think will bless the lives of the rising generation and our generation, even those of us that are older."
A few days later, Elder Cook, accompanied by church historians Kate Holbrook and Matt Grow, discussed "Saints" and responded to questions from young Latter-day Saints in a Face-to-Face worldwide broadcast from the grounds of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.
In August, the church joined a Utah coalition of medical professionals, community leaders and lawmakers in expressing opposition to the Proposition 2 marijuana initiative. But the church was not opposed to the use of medical marijuana.
A few weeks later, church leaders asked the Utah legislature to legalize medical marijuana in a special session by the end of the year. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called for that special session after the November election to discuss a new "shared vision" for medical cannabis.
After a revised version of the medical marijuana bill passed both the Utah Senate and House of Representatives during the special session, Gov. Herbert signed it into law on Dec. 3.
Providing humanitarian aid and relief for people facing natural disasters and other problems has continued to be a high priority for the church.
In March, the church donated $1 million to help ease a hunger crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Flooding and landslides in Japan, Taiwan and eastern China prompted the church to distribute resources and sponsor various relief projects, including service by missionaries with yellow vests.
The church provided supplies and provisions in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. President Oaks, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other church leaders visited survivors in Florida and North Carolina.
In November, wildfires destroyed Latter-day Saint homes and meetinghouses in Paradise, California. Following the blaze, one of the deadliest in state history, victims received an outpouring of prayers, donations and support. The church sent supplies that were distributed among the victims, according to Mormonnewsroom.com.
Several church leaders continued to champion religious freedom in 2018.
"These rights are not negotiable," President Oaks told the Deseret News. "We can't stand still and see them weakened."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed the topic before the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief in May.
"Today a substantial amount of the social welfare delivered to vulnerable communities comes from the freewill offerings of religious entities and religious people. They give food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless and jobs to the unemployed," Elder Christofferson said.
Elder Christofferson delivered similar remarks in Spanish during the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires in September.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton, senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke at the BYU Religious Freedom Annual Review in June.
"Too often, secular elites and government officials focus so much on certain favored identities, such as race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, that they miss the importance of religion as a profound source of identity," Elder Clayton said. "Just as society has increasingly understood that other identities should not be hid from the public view, society also must recognize the same for religious identity."
Youth changes20 comments on this story
Finally, the church announced earlier this month that Latter-day Saint young men and women can progress together as a group starting at age 11 and receive a limited-use temple recommend beginning in January, the First Presidency said in a letter distributed to all church members.
"We desire to strengthen our beloved children and youth through increased faith in Jesus Christ, deeper understanding of his gospel, and greater unity with his church and its members," the First Presidency wrote.