SALT LAKE CITY — During the last talk of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson announced both an update in temple recommend question wording and that the April 2020 conference will “different from any previous conference.”
Speakers from around the globe encouraged members to stay true to and follow the teachings of the faith during the Sunday morning session of the conference.
Thousands gathered in downtown Salt Lake City, and many more watched around the world, as prominent leaders of the church shared specific ways that members can remain true and grow closer to God — from service, to obedience, holiness and sharing the gospel with others.
The Sunday afternoon session ended with a cliffhanger of sorts, courtesy of Nelson.
In his closing remarks, Nelson designated the year 2020 as a bicentennial year, marking the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s experience known as the “First Vision.”
He said that in celebration, April will yield a general conference different from those in previous years.
“In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel,” Nelson said. “… general conference next April will not only be memorable, it will be unforgettable.”
In the moments prior, Nelson also announced the amending of temple recommend questions — the questions asked of members to determine worthiness to enter the church’s temples. The questions, Nelson said, were edited for clarity purposes.
Nelson also highlighted the church’s many charities and expressed the joy of helping others around the world, no matter their circumstances.
Nearing the end of the Sunday morning session, Nelson talked about the many services that the church and its members have provided around the world.
“My dear brothers and sisters, the activities I have described are merely a small part of the growing welfare and humanitarian outreach of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said. “Giving help to others — making a conscientious effort to care about others as much or more than we care about ourselves — is our joy.”
Other speakers provided personal stories and even references to a well-known bit of pop culture to inspire those to stay close with God.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from Germany, likened the lives of many to the popular novel and film, “The Hobbit.” Though Bilbo Baggins enjoyed his life of living in a neat, tidy hole; when given the chance to go on a great — though dangerous — adventure, he leaves comfort behind. He leaves at a moment’s notice, leaving his home untidy and with little in his hands.
“We could spend a lifetime waiting for that moment when everything lines up perfectly. But now is the time to commit fully to seeking God, ministering to others, and sharing our experience with others,” Uchtdorf said. “Leave behind your hat, walking stick, handkerchief and messy house.”
He went on to encourage those already walking the path to have confidence and press on. For those who have maybe left, he asked for them to return.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve, was among the first to deliver a message, and he encouraged members to seek belonging in the covenant. Though one could lose faith in God along the path, God never loses faith in us, Gong said.
“However often we stumble or fall, if we keep moving toward Him, He will help us, a step at a time,” Gong said.
Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency and a native of Argentina, told heartwarming stories of those spreading the gospel and finding joy in doing so.
She asked if members of the church should be always willing to spread the gospel to others, or perhaps share a copy of the Book of Mormon with them.
“Can we be more like our Savior Jesus Christ and share with others what brings us joy to our lives?” Franco asked. “The answer to all of these questions is Yes! We can do it!”
Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve warned others of being swayed by false prophets, while using lighter stories of a mischievous child painting a dog and kids being told to beware of nearby skunks.
“These stories about innocent children discovering something about life and reality may make each of us smile, but they also illustrate a more profound concept,” Stevenson said.
He advised of those adjusting truth to be portrayed as what they want to see, and the dangers of Satan’s deceit.
“Satan, the father of lies and the great deceiver, would have us question things as they really are and either ignore eternal truths or replace them with something that appears more pleasing,” he said.
The afternoon session reflected a caring tone, with love, hopefulness and happiness as some of the topics discussed.
The session kicked off with President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, addressing the crowd about the value of holiness and happiness in people’s lives.
Overall, Eyring said he hoped to communicate to everyone that true happiness comes from holiness.
“My prayer for today is that I may help you understand that greater happiness comes from greater personal holiness so that you will act upon that belief. I will then share what I know for myself about what we can do to qualify for that gift of becoming ever more holy,” he said.
Elder Hans Boom added to the theme of hope with a story about a gong as it was transported to a Tabernacle Choir concert in Europe, noting its large size. Though it had a minor role in the concert, it was important and necessary nonetheless.
“Sometimes we might feel that we are, like that gong, only good enough to play a minor part in the performance. But let me tell you that your sound is making all the difference,” Boom said.
Large or small, everyone plays an important role in life, he said.
“Wherever you are on the path of life, some of you might feel so overburdened that you do not even consider yourself on that path. I want to invite you to step out of the darkness into the light,” Boom said. “The Gospel light will provide warmth and healing and will help you understand who you really are and what your purpose in life is.”
Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles M. Russell Ballard encouraged love in his talk about death, and submitting one’s spirit to the Lord. He spoke specifically about the death of his wife, Barbara. He encouraged everyone to make the most of the time they have.
“Brothers and sisters, please do not miss an opportunity to look into the eyes of your family members with love. Children and parents, reach out to each other and express your love and appreciation,” Ballard said. “Like me, some of you may wake up one day to discover that the time for such important communication has passed.”
During his remarks, Elder Peter M. Johnson warned to not be discouraged and to have hope.
“My dear friends, please do not let anyone steal your happiness. Do not compare yourself to others. Please remember the loving words of the Savior: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,’” Johnson said.
Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve provided hope for those who have sinned, with an offbeat topic for his talk that caught some off guard and made others hungry — fruit. Not the physical fruit, per se, but he said that during Jesus’ early ministry, he compared good fruit to eternal worth.
“This precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement,” Andersen said. “Not only will we live again following our mortality, but through our faith in Jesus Christ, our repentance and keeping the commandments, we can be forgiven of our sins, and one day stand clean and pure before our Father and His Son.”
Nelson concluded the two-day conference with his best wishes for members, “I leave with you my love and my blessing, that each of you may become happier and holier with each passing day.”