Hosts Welcome World Dignitaries at Church Headquarters
By Walter Cooley, Church Magazines
Salt Lake City entertained the world during the Winter Olympics in 2002. Three years later, many of the world's important and influential people continue to visit Church headquarters, and the Church continues to welcome them.
A small team of Church volunteers host the kings, prime ministers, ambassadors, consuls general, legislators, religious leaders, senior business executives, and prominent educators visiting the Church's headquarters.
"Our job is to escort [dignitaries] to Church sites, answer their questions, and make them feel comfortable," said Brother Norman D. Shumway, co-director of VIP hosting.
Brother Shumway and his wife, Sister Luana Shumway, lead two Church-service missionary couples to welcome about 300 dignitaries to Church facilities in Salt Lake City each year. Since January, several dozen dignitaries have visited from every continent but Antartica.
A tour may last one full day. Dignitaries typically tour Temple Square, Welfare Square, the Conference Center, and the Family History Library. They also visit a local seminary or institute class and have lunch at the Lion House or dinner catered in the Ambassador Room on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. On weekend visits, dignitaries may also attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Music and the Spoken Word performance.
Government- and university-sponsored programs draw dignitaries to Salt Lake City.
One program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, brings future and potential leaders from countries throughout the world to visit Salt Lake City and participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. Utah's capital is one of the program's many cities that give foreigners a firsthand look at America. In the past, some of the program's participants have become chiefs of state or cabinet-level ministers.
Other dignitaries, particularly ambassadors or consuls general, visit Church headquarters by invitation from Brigham Young University. Each year BYU invites 6 to 12 ambassadors to visit the university in Provo, Utah. After the ambassadors speak at BYU and tour its campus, the Church hosts the ambassadors in Salt Lake City.
When appropriate, officials are met by a General Authority. Oftentimes the hosting General Authority will have lived in or visited the official's country and will relate places he has visited or people he has met.
As part of a typical tour, dignitaries may visit the Church's Humanitarian Center. Almost all the visitors express gratitude for humanitarian aid the Church has donated to their countries. Brother Shumway said that during tours of the facility, some visitors begin to cry upon realizing how the aid for their country is obtained. The number of Church volunteers and the Church’s distribution system also impress many visitors.
Watching visitors feel the Spirit for the first time is what the Church hosts enjoy most.
"You can always tell that people are surprised," Brother Shumway said. "They use words like incredible, stupendous, and tremendous."
Sister missionaries serving on Temple Square lead dignitary tours. But unlike other tours on Temple Square, the tours are not aimed toward proselyting; instead, they are focused on historical events.
"Our purpose is not to convert them," Brother Shumway said. "As part of public affairs our job is to build bridges of friendship and understanding."
However, tours often lead to questions about the Church. Some frequently asked questions are: How do you choose a prophet? What does the prophet say? Why can’t we go into the temple? How do you fund the welfare program? How do you get members to volunteer?
Before leaving, all dignitaries receive a copy of The Family: A Proclamation to the World and The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles in their language, as well as other items, as appropriate.
Preparing for dignitary visits keeps the hosting couples busy. Before each visit, they review the culture, diets, traditions, religion, and current events of the visiting dignitaries' country. Showing Church programs and principles to visitors who are not familiar with the Church strengthens the testimonies of the Church hosts.
"When we see the Church through the eyes of others, it verifies to us that all of the Church's programs are guided by prophets and revelation," Sister Shumway said.