How solemn assemblies work

The congregation sustains the general authorities during the Saturday afternoon session of the 183rd General Conference. (Sarah Hill)

A solemn assembly is held each time a new president for the LDS Church is called.

This year, another solemn assembly will be held at the 188th Annual General Conference as members sustain a new prophet and president, President Russell M. Nelson, a newly organized First Presidency and new members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“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,” said Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 1994 General Conference.

Elder Haight then explained that solemn assemblies are held for three purposes: dedicating new temples, giving special instruction to the priesthood leaders of the church, and “sustaining a new president of the church.”

Process of a solemn assembly

According to Elder Haight, solemn assemblies differ from other meetings where church leaders are sustained.

This difference was first established by Joseph Smith, the first president and prophet of the LDS church, and begins with the First Presidency standing and sustaining the new president of the church by raising their right hand. This sustaining shows that the person recognizes the man as a prophet, seer and revelator.

Elder Haight said following the First Presidency’s sustaining vote, the remaining priesthood quorums of the church, followed by the general body of the church, all stand and sustain the newly called church president, members of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

After each priesthood body, Relief Society and young women group has stood and sustained the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the entire body of the church stands in unison to sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Following this sustaining, all members of the church sit and the members sustain the remaining officers of the church.

“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,” Elder Haight said. “It also means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that come through his prophet. It is a solemn covenant.”

In the April 1995 General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson, then the First Counselor in the First Presidency of the church, explained how the sustaining, or voting, process is recorded.

“The General Authorities assigned to the Assembly Hall on Temple Square or the Joseph Smith Memorial Building will observe the voting in those gatherings,” President Monson said. “In stake centers, a member of the stake presidency will observe the voting. Should there be any negative votes, we ask that we be so advised.”

The sustaining process allows for votes in favor and in opposition of the newly chosen persons.

History of solemn assemblies

According to the “Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” published in 1992, Joseph Smith convened the first solemn assembly on March 27, 1836. The solemn assembly was held in the Kirtland Temple and nearby schoolhouse.

The encyclopedia explains that during this first solemn assembly, church members sustained Joseph Smith and other church leaders, Joseph Smith said the prayer dedicating the Kirtland Temple and members were instructed by one another.

In the April 1986 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then the First Counselor in the First Presidency of the church, explained how this sacred meeting that began with Joseph Smith has continued.

“Dating from October 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 to express the voice of the church,” President Hinckley said.

The 188th Annual General Conference will have general sessions on March 31 and April 1 at 10 a.m. and  2 p.m. The priesthood session will be held March 31 at 6 p.m.

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