Following the calling and setting apart of a new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes a very sacred moment during general conference when, historically, a solemn assembly is held for the membership of the church to sustain their new leader.
On the occasion of President Thomas S. Monson’s solemn assembly, President Russell M. Nelson, now-president of the church, noted the importance of the moment.
“Today, at this solemn assembly, we have complied with the will of the Lord, who said that ‘it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by … one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church,’” Nelson said. “This law of common consent has been invoked, and the church will move forward on its prescribed course.”
During this April’s general conference, it will be Nelson’s turn for a solemn assembly for the sustaining vote of the church. It is expected the historic tradition of the assembly will continue.
President N. Eldon Tanner conducted President Spencer W. Kimball’s solemn assembly.
“Today, we are witnesses to and participants in a most sacred occasion — a solemn assembly to act upon heavenly things,” Tanner said. “As in olden times, there has been much fasting and prayer offered by the Saints throughout the world that they may receive an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, which is so much in evidence here on this occasion this morning.”
Tanner explained and said, “A solemn assembly, as the name implies, denotes a sacred, sober, and reverent occasion when the saints assemble under the direction of the First Presidency. Solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church. This conference session today is a solemn assembly for the purpose of sustaining a newly called church president and other officers of the church.”
According to Tanner, there is a pattern to solemn assemblies, which distinguishes them from other church meetings where members sustain officers of the church.
A solemn assembly is different than the common sustaining of local stake and ward leaders. During those occasions, members are typically seated and join together in their sustaining by raising their right hand to show support as a full congregation.
Solemn assemblies vary slightly.
“That pattern, which was established by the prophet Joseph Smith, is that the priesthood quorums, commencing with the First Presidency, stand and manifest by the uplifted right hand their willingness to sustain the president of the shurch as a prophet, seer and revelator, and uphold him by their confidence, faith and prayers,” Tanner said.
The priesthood, in their various quorums of the church, follow the same pattern and so manifest by their vote. Then, the members of the church are invited to stand where they are and signify their willingness to do the same. The other leaders of the church are similarly sustained in their offices and callings.
“When we sustain the president of the church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it also means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that come through His prophet,” Tanner said. “It is a solemn covenant.”
Dating from Oct. 10, 1880, when John Taylor was sustained to succeed Brigham Young as prophet, seer, revelator and president of the church, each such occasion has been designated a formal solemn assembly of the body of the church.
“We have now reached a point where many times the number seated in the Tabernacle are assembled in other church halls across the United States and Canada, as well as in other parts of the world,” said Gordon B. Hinckley, then-counselor in the First Presidency, at the time of President Howard W. Hunter’s solemn assembly. “Furthermore, many are seated in their homes, listening to the conference. All of you, wherever you may be, are invited to participate in this solemn and sacred undertaking when we sustain a new president of the church together with other officers.”
Hinckley continued, “In these present circumstances, it is considered unfeasible to seat by quorums those assembled in the Tabernacle and the many other halls. We shall, however, vote by quorums and groups. Wherever you are, you are invited to stand when requested and express by your uplifted hands whether you choose to sustain those whose names will be put before you.”