188th General Conference brings substantial changes, spiritual counsel

President Russell M. Nelson addresses the congregation at the 188th Semiannual General Conference. President Nelson announced significant changes including a reduced church Sunday block and 12 new temples. (Claire Gentry)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced historic changes and offered spiritual counsel to its members at the 188th Semiannual General Conference Oct. 6 and 7.

President Russell M. Nelson introduced a new focus on “home-centered, church-supported” gospel instruction, including a shift from three- to two-hour weekly church meetings. He also stressed the proper name of the church and announced 12 new temples.

The general women’s session — its first time being a part of the two-day conference — included instruction from the First Presidency. During the morning and afternoon sessions, General Authorities and general officers in the church offered counsel on a variety of topics, encouraging members to follow the covenant path.

Home-centered learning

During the Saturday morning session, President Nelson introduced a new approach to gospel teaching in the church. He described the approach as a home and church plan to embody doctrine, strengthen faith and forge personal worship. He said the time has come for members of the church to reappraise existing views of doctrine as something that occurs primarily in church meetings.

As part of the change, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced that weekly Sunday meetings will be reduced from three to two hours, effective January 2019.

Sunday church meetings will begin with a one-hour sacrament meeting, followed by a 10-minute transition period and then a 50-minute class. Sunday School will be held during the second hour on the first and third Sundays of each month. Priesthood, Relief Society and Young Women’s classes will be held on the second and fourth Sundays. On the rare fifth Sunday, the second hour’s use will be determined by the bishop or branch president.

“Our efforts over these recent years to hallow the Sabbath — to make it a delight and a personal sign to God of our love for Him — will be augmented by the adjustments,” President Nelson said.

Elder Cook said Latter-day Saints “will be blessed in extraordinary ways” by the change.

“The announcements made today will result in profound blessings for those who enthusiastically embrace the adjustments and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost,” he said.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the decision went beyond a mere scheduling change.

“Rather, we now have increased opportunities and responsibilities as individuals and families to use our time for enhancing the Sabbath as a delight at home and at church,” he said.

Elder Bednar described historical developments within the church as “one united and comprehensive work and not just a series of independent and discrete initiatives.”

As part of the home and church-supported approach, the church also announced a new curriculum for Sunday meetings and for teaching in the home. New materials focusing on the New Testament will be provided in January 2019.

New temples

President Nelson announced plans to build 12 new temples across the world, the most ever announced at one time. He also announced that “plans are now being made to renovate and update the Salt Lake Temple and other pioneer-generation temples.”

New temples will be built in Mendoza, Argentina; Salvador, Brazil; Yuba City, California; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Praia, Cape Verde; Yigo, Guam; Puebla, Mexico; Auckland, New Zealand; Lagos, Nigeria; Davao, Philippines; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Washington County, Utah.

According to a church statement, the additions bring the number of temples operating, announced or under construction to 201.

President Nelson encouraged Latter-day Saints to increase the regularity of their temple attendance.

“The assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially in intensity and variety,” he said. “Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater.”

General women’s session

As part of the conference, the church held a general women’s session on Saturday evening. This was the first time the meeting was held during conference weekend. In the past, general women’s sessions were held in the preceding weeks. The church now alternates between general priesthood meetings and general women’s sessions every six months.

Sister Jean B. Bingham, the church’s general Relief Society president, called the occasion “historic.”

The session featured speakers from the general Primary, Young Women and Relief Society presidencies. The entire First Presidency attended and spoke in the session. In past years, general Relief Society meetings were attended by only one member of the First Presidency. Outside of the general women’s session, only one speaker was female.

Sister Michelle D. Craig, the first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, encouraged women to recognize feelings of discontent within themselves and to use that discontent as motivation to change themselves or the world for the better.

“Our discontent can become divine or destructive,” she said, adding that divine discontent will lead to faithful action.

In his address, President Nelson said women are bestowed with special spiritual gifts. He encouraged Latter-day Saint women to pray to understand these gifts and to cultivate and expand them.

“You will change the world as you do so,” President Nelson said. “Women see things differently than men. Oh, how we need your perspective!”

President Nelson also invited women to participate in a 10-day fast from social media, saying the experience would lead to increased inspiration and revelation. He also encouraged women to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year, to increase their temple attendance and to participate more fully in Relief Society.

“We simply cannot gather Israel without you,” he said.

The covenant path

“The covenant path” was a recurring motif throughout the conference. Elder Shayne M. Bowen, a General Authority Seventy, explained that Latter-day Saints journey along this path by being faithful to their covenants. He said covenants and their associated ordinances are key to church progress.

Sister Craig also used the phrase “covenant path” in her talk in the women’s session.

“I can prepare my feet to walk on the covenant path by responding to the invitations of the Holy Ghost,” she said.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also encouraged members to stay on the covenant path.

“We will ‘be not troubled,’ because when we stand with the Lord and stand for his principles and his eternal plan, we are standing on holy ground,” Elder Rasband said.

Elder Dale G. Renlund used the term “covenant pathway,” which he described as a “plan whereby we can become heirs in his kingdom.” By following this pathway, he said Latter-day Saints can become like God and live the kind of life God lives.

Recounting his experience with a medical emergency, Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy, said, “If there is anything in your life you need to consider, now is the time.” He encouraged Latter-day Saints to pause and reflect on where they stand on the covenant path and, if necessary, adjust their lives accordingly.

Welcoming, loving others

Another recurring theme throughout the conference was the importance of welcoming others and treating them with love and respect.

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Latter-day Saints “must extend a warm hand of fellowship to our new friends, accept them where they are, and help, love and include them in our lives.”

He invited members to consider how they can be more embracing, accepting and helpful to others.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, agreed. He said that in Latter-day Saints’ faithful efforts to love and minister to others, “we may feel God’s love and needed inspiration for their and our lives.”

The church ought not to be a place where people point out each others’ flaws, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He invited members of the church to see others through a lens of love.

“Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard or discriminate against anyone,” Elder Uchtdorf said.

Latter-day Saints should love others because “it is what our Savior commanded us to do,” said Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the importance of loving others by forgiving them.

“If you know of an old injury, repair it,” he said. “Care for one another in love.”

Elder Holland said repairing spiritual wounds comes from Jesus Christ who asks members to work alongside him in healing the world. Elder Holland instructed all to “labor with him in the daunting task of peacemaking in a world that won’t find it any other way.”

The importance of the church’s name 

President Nelson spoke at length about the importance of the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said this was something God impressed upon him, quoting D&C 115:4, in which he said the name was specified through revelation.

Nicknames for the church, including “LDS Church,” “Mormon church,” and “Church of the Latter-day Saints” omit the name of Jesus Christ, President Nelson said.

“When we discard the Savior’s name we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us — even his atonement,” he said.

President Nelson denied that the disavowal of nicknames for the church was a cosmetic effort or an effort to re-brand, and instead was “a command of the Lord.” He admitted arguments against efforts to do so might be sound if the church were a man-made organization, but said it is crucial to look to him whose church this is and acknowledge the Lord’s ways are not — and never will be — man’s ways.

While it may be difficult to adjust to the clarification, President Nelson promised divine help in the effort.

“If we will be patient and do our part well, the Lord will lead us through this important task,” he said.

Nelson encouraged Latter-day Saints to be courteous and patient as they correct errors and said it would be disingenuous for members to correct other’s errors if they don’t use the proper name themselves.

President Nelson promised blessings of God will accompany the church’s effort to assert the use of its full and correct name.

“He whose church this is will pour down his power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen,” he said.

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