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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, sustain leaders during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — “Breathtaking” changes made recently in their church should not distract Latter-day Saints from the spiritual purposes behind them, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Saturday afternoon during the second session of an international general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Meanwhile, church members sustained the first African-American general authority in the faith’s 189-year history, Elder Peter Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama, and church leaders announced that the faith had 16,313,735 members at the end of 2018, up 195,000 from the previous year.

Additionally, two other church apostles asked members to improve their worship in Sunday sacrament meetings and to faithfully uphold the church’s 1995 Proclamation on the Family.

“In the last 18 months, the Lord has inspired his prophet and the apostles to implement a number of wonderful adjustments,” said President M. Russell Ballard, who joked that they are breathtaking because it’s hard for him to keep up with church President Russell M. Nelson. “However, I worry that the spiritual purposes of these adjustments might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves.”

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder Peter M. Johnson, new General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center takes the stand during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City in the Conference Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Echoing messages from the morning session about the vital role of love in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he said the best way to find the spiritual purposes of the church is to live the teachings of Christ and apply his two great commandments.

“Loving God and loving our neighbors,” he said, “is the doctrinal foundation of ministering; home-centered, church-supported learning; Sabbath day spiritual worship; and the work of salvation on both sides of the veil supported in the Relief Societies and elders quorums—all of these things are based on the divine commandments to love God and to love our neighbors. Can there be anything more basic, more fundamental, and more simple than that?”

Also fundamental is learning and teaching, he added.

“The Sabbath-day adjustments that emphasize home-centered, church-supported gospel learning and studying are an opportunity to renew our spirit and our devotion to God within the walls of our homes,” he said.

President Ballard also told church members their ministering efforts will be more successful if kept simple.

“The most joy comes from the simple things of life,” he said, “so we need to be careful not to think that more needs to be added to any of the adjustments we have received to build faith and strong testimonies in the hearts of God’s children.”

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Attendees sustain leaders during the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the church’s changes to its Sunday worship practices — more gospel learning at home, two instead of three hours at church — should increase members’ reverance for the sacrament service.

“In addition to making time for more home-centered gospel instruction, our modified Sunday service is also to reduce the complexity of the meeting schedule in a way that properly emphasizes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as the sacred, acknowledged focal point of our weekly worship experience,” he said. “We are to remember in as personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family. Inasmuch as we contributed to that fatal burden, such a moment demands our respect.”

He requested that members arrive in their Sunday best and that congregation leaders keep announcements in the meeting to a minimum.

He also suggested the personal contrition inherent in the ordinance of the sacrament should include love for others.

“We might be more successful in such contrition if we are mindful of the other broken hearts and sorrowing spirits that surround us,” he said. “Seated not far away are some who may have wept — outwardly or inwardly — through the entire sacramental hymn. Might we silently take note of that and offer up our small crust of comfort and tiny cup of compassion for them — or for the weeping, struggling member who is not in the service and, except for some redemptive action on our part, won’t be there next week either? Or for our brothers and sisters who are not members of the church at all?

“There is no shortage of suffering in this world, inside the church and out, so look in any direction and you will find someone whose pain seems too heavy to bear and whose heartache seems never to end. One way to ‘always remember him’ would be to join the Great Physician in his never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve said Latter-day Saints celebrate the innovations of science and medicine but know the truths of God go beyond them, declaring “there are some things that are completely and absolutely true.”

“In opposition to the truths of eternity, there always have been counterfeits to distract God’s children from the truth,” he said.

He asked listeners to view “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” through the eye of faith.

“There are so many, young and old, who are loyal and true to the teachings of the prophets, even though their own current experience does not fit neatly inside the Family Proclamation: Children whose lives have been shaken by divorce; youth whose friends mock the law of chastity; divorced women and men who have been gravely wounded by the unfaithfulness of a spouse; husbands and wives who are unable to have children; women and men who are married to a spouse who does not share their faith in the restored gospel; single women and men who, for various reasons, have been unable to marry.”

He said many who carry heavy burdens will say others don’t understand their situation.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Attendees walks through the Conference Center before the start of the Saturday afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

“I may not,” Elder Andersen said, “but I testify that there is one who does understand. There is one who, because of his sacrifice made in the garden and on the cross, knows your burdens. As you seek him and keep his commandments, I promise you that he will bless you and lift the burdens too heavy to bear alone. He will give you eternal friends and opportunities to serve. More importantly, he will fill you with the powerful spirit of the Holy Ghost and shine his heavenly approval upon you. No choice, no alternative, that denies the companionship of the Holy Ghost or the blessings of eternity, is worthy of our consideration.”

Elder Mathias Held, a General Authority Seventy from Colombia who is a counselor in the church’s South American Northwest Area, spoke of his conversion to the church with his wife 31 years ago.

He said that as they studied the church’s teachings rationally, they liked what they saw. When they received a spiritual witness, he said he discovered learning with the eye of faith.

“Our mind produces one perception through our physical senses and through our reasoning,” he said. “But through the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Father has also provided us with a second perspective, which is really the most important and true one … . When these two perspectives are then combined in our souls, one complete picture shows the reality of things as they truly are.”

Elder Takashi Wada, a General Authority Seventy from Japan and a counselor in the church’s Asia North Area, asked members to study the scriptures by feasting on their words.

“Feasting upon the words of Christ will bring life-sustaining revelation, reaffirm our true identity and worth before God as his child, and lead our friends unto Christ and everlasting life,” he said.

Elder David P. Homer, a General Authority Seventy and a counselor in the church’s Asia Area, said that at critical moments, Latter-day Saints will hear multiple voices competing for their attention and that it is vital that they listen to the right ones.

“If we are not careful, the wrong voices can draw us away from the gospel center to places where faith is difficult to sustain, and we find little more than emptiness, bitterness and dissatisfaction.”

Heavenly Father has made it possible to hear and follow his voice, he added: “The Spirit speaks to different people in different ways, and he may speak to the same person in different ways at different times. As a result, learning the many ways he speaks to us is a lifelong quest.”

During the first half of the second session, church members unanimously sustained their leaders and heard a report from the church auditing department.

Also, several general authorities of the church received emeritus status and many new leaders were introduced. The Sunday School General Presidency was released and a new presidency was announced.

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President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session, the second of the weekend’s five meetings. A combined choir from Brigham Young University provided the music, singing “Come, O Thou King of Kings,” “I Stand All Amazed,” “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.”

The opening prayer was given by Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department. The closing prayer was given by Sister Lisa Harkness, who became first counselor in the Primary general presidency a year ago.