My brothers and sisters, how pleased I am to begin this worldwide leadership training broadcast by sharing a few thoughts concerning the newly revised Church handbooks. Whenever the subject of the handbook comes up, I recall an experience I had in the 1970s when I was responsible for the work of the Church in what we called East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic.
The government of East Germany would not allow Church materials to be taken into the country. So I was asked by President Spencer W. Kimball to memorize the new edition of what we then called the General Handbook of Instructions, to cross the border into East Germany, and then to type the handbook for the faithful Church leaders there. Although it would have been impossible for anyone to actually memorize the entire book, I did study it thoroughly and learned the concepts from cover to cover. I traveled to East Germany and asked the Church leaders there for an office, a typewriter, and a ream of paper. I commenced typing.
An hour or two—and many pages—later, I stood up to stretch, glanced around the room, and noticed on a bookshelf behind me a copy of the new edition of the General Handbook of Instructions in the German language. Someone had obviously smuggled it across the border. Since that time, I’ve been rather knowledgeable concerning the contents of that book.
In July this year, 2010, the membership of the Church passed 14 million. Our membership has been increasing since the Church was organized in 1830. And it will continue to grow, with thousands of units throughout the world. It would be nearly impossible to maintain the integrity of the policies, procedures, and programs of the Church without these handbooks, which are available to Church leaders everywhere in all the languages which you represent. They will be an invaluable resource to you. They’ve been read and reread, corrected and reread.
Most of you are in possession of your copies. Read them. Understand their contents. Follow them. As we of the First Presidency meet together in our regular sessions each weekday, we must, of necessity, deal with and correct errors which are made by Church leaders in administering the affairs of the Church. Most of these errors could be avoided if such leaders were familiar with the handbook and followed the policies and procedures outlined therein.
During the past several years, the Office of the First Presidency has received hundreds of requests for ratification of improper actions. Requests for nullification of ordinances that have been improperly performed, though fewer, also number in the hundreds. One area where errors occur frequently concerns disciplinary councils. There are really two types of councils: the ward or branch disciplinary council and the stake disciplinary council. Each has a different function, and if we stay within those rather specific functions, we will be all right.
Unfortunately, such is not always the case. As an example, we’ve had bishops’ councils excommunicate elders when, in actuality, holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood must be handled in a stake disciplinary council. If procedures are not followed correctly, then we of the First Presidency must ratify the action or have it redone. If we’re not familiar with policies and procedures, aberrations can creep into our Church programs.
I’m reminded of an experience I had many years ago when I served as a bishop. During the opening exercises of our priesthood meeting one Sunday morning, we were preparing to ordain a young man to the office of priest. Visiting our ward that day was a high councilor who also served as a temple worker. As I prepared to have the young man sit down to face the congregation so that we could proceed with the ordination, the high councilor stopped me and said, “Bishop, I always have those being ordained turned to face the temple.” He repositioned the chair so that the young man would be facing in the direction of the temple. I immediately recognized an unauthorized practice.
I could see the potential for it to become more widespread in practice. Although much younger than the high councilor, I knew what needed to be done. I turned the chair back so that it was again facing the congregation and said to him, “In our ward, we face the congregation.”
Over the years, we’ve had to correct many attempts by well-meaning leaders to change some of the programs of the Church. We’ve dealt with lighted candles on sacrament tables, with locally determined changes in the length of Church meetings, with elimination of Sunday School from the Sunday block meetings. We’ve created methods for providing visiting teaching to women gathered in large groups. The list goes on and is fairly long. I would not try to mention all the many changes, errors, and problems which can occur.
The point, however, is that in almost all cases, if the leaders would only read, understand, and follow the handbook, such problems would not occur. Whether you’ve been a lifelong member of the Church or are a relatively new member, consult the handbook when you are uncertain about a policy or procedure. You may think you know how to handle the situation when, in fact, you may be on the wrong track. There is safety in the handbooks.
My brothers and sisters, whatever your current leadership calling is, the new handbooks will be a treasure to you. They will be a blessing to you and to those you serve as you read them, understand them, and follow them. Such is my testimony to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.