Inside the Quorum of the Twelve: What It’s Like to Be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor

  • 27 June 2018

President Russell M. Nelson hugs Elder Ulisses Soares, left, while President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, hugs Elder Gerrit W. Gong at the conclusion of the Saturday morning session of the April 2018 general conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018. Elder Soares and Elder Gong were called as Apostles and new members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during that session. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

Editor's note: In this article, the second of a series on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, each member of the Quorum shares an experience that defines his ministry.

Even though members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have the responsibility under the direction of the First Presidency to “regulate all the affairs of [the kingdom of God] in all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:33), they also have personal experiences and insights that define their ministry.

“We are responsible to shepherd the Church under the direction of the First Presidency,” said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“At all times, first and foremost, we are witnesses of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ,” said Elder David A. Bednar. “We are not administrators but ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In part two of a Church News series of articles on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, each member of the Quorum shares one thought or experience that is representative of his apostolic calling.

President M. Russell Ballard

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Some years ago President Ballard was in Washington to reorganize a stake. As part of the process he met with and interviewed several men in the stake, including his uncle, his mother’s youngest brother.

His uncle was not called to be a member of the stake presidency. But “in the middle of the night, I had this impression to call him back in early Sunday morning. I called him to be a patriarch.”

The stake already had a patriarch, but President Ballard could not deny the impression he had received. And so the stake had two patriarchs.

“You are given strong impressions,” he said.

The new patriarch’s great-grandfather was Hyrum Smith. His great-great-grandfather was the Church’s first patriarch, Joseph Smith Sr. “The patriarch line was in this man,” President Ballard said.

President Ballard’s uncle went on to give many patriarchal blessings before his death at age 82.

“Is heaven close?” asked President Ballard. “Yes, it was certainly close in that instance. Is revelation alive and well in the Church? Absolutely.”

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, waves as he leaves the Saturday afternoon session of the April 2018 general conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. Behind him are Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland. Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

As president of Brigham Young University in the early 1980s, Elder Holland attended a meeting at the Church Administration Building with members of the BYU Board of Trustees.

Included in the meeting were members of the First Presidency: President Spencer W. Kimball, President N. Eldon Tanner, and President Marion G. Romney.

“I remember thinking, almost weeping, at how tired they looked,” Elder Holland said of the seasoned leaders who in any other circumstance would be spending their retirement years relaxing. Because of their calling to senior Church leadership “they were just working, working, working, working.”

Then the meeting started and “all three simply came alive. The mantle of their calling settled on them and they became energized. They were engaged in the conversation. They knew the issues. If it was financial, they knew the financial implications. If it was numerical and how many members of the Church it affected, they knew that. The longer the meeting went on the more energized they got, until by the end I was exhausted. I was tired and they were fresh. They were renewed.”

Elder Holland said he has carried that image with him for a long time. “It still sustains me.”

The image reminds him of something President Kimball said about moments like that. “My life is like my shoes,” President Kimball said. “I’m determined to wear them out in the service of the Lord.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Early one morning in 2004, Elder Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, were walking in the foothills above their house and talking about the two vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Then in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Uchtdorf spoke with his wife of the change that was coming for the two leaders called to fill the vacancies. He knew it would be “quite a change in their lives.” They spoke about the blessings and the responsibilities of the calling to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The couple returned home, knelt, and prayed for the new leaders and their families. They prayed the new Apostles would not only be sustained by Heavenly Father, but also by the worldwide membership of the Church.

“As we prayed for them, without knowing it, we actually prayed for us, because just a few days later I was called to be a member of the Twelve,” Elder Uchtdorf recalled. “We always felt a wonderful support by the prayers of family, friends, and the membership of the Church. The power and blessing of prayer is a wonderful gift from Heavenly Father, which we will always be grateful for.”

Elder David A. Bednar

Elder David A. Bednar.

Elder Bednar stated that a “countless number of sweet, simple experiences with members of the Church all over the world” defines his apostolic ministry.

“The majesty and mantle of the office bless people in miraculous ways,” Elder Bednar said. “The Lord sends a member of the Quorum of the Twelve to specific places at particular times where we encounter faithful Latter-day Saints and others who often are struggling or are in need of comfort and reassurance. God orchestrates those interactions,” said Elder Bednar.

“The first word uttered by the Father in this dispensation was a person’s name—‘Joseph.’ He knew Joseph Smith as an individual,” Elder Bednar said. “We are blessed to be His messengers and witness the Lord reaching out to individuals and families—one by one. We go forth in His name and are witnesses of His matchless love and power. The work of the ministry is both personal and powerful.”

Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf after being named Apostles during the Saturday morning session of general conference on October 2, 2004. Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News.

Elder Quentin L. Cook

Elder Quentin L. Cook.

In attempting to do so, “we go where the members are. We see wonderful, sweet people, and we have a chance to minister to them. Some of them are in tragic circumstances. That’s part of what we’re here to do. We attempt to render Christlike service.”

Elder Cook said one of the dramatic and touching things Apostles experience is how “precious mothers, who have taught their children about our calling, have them get in line to shake our hands after every meeting. This happens wherever we go, and we are aware that it is not us; it is the calling.”

“I feel my primary responsibility is to bear a strong testimony of the resurrected Savior and His mission,” he said. “To be an Apostle, in the service of the Lord, is very humbling.”

Newly called Apostle Elder Quentin L. Cook, left, shakes hands with fellow Apostle Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf during general conference on October 6, 2007, in Salt Lake City. Elder David A. Bednar smiles in the center. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

Elder D. Todd Christofferson.

Several years ago Elder Christofferson was visiting Merida, Venezuela. Because everyone could not fit in the meeting hall, local leaders set up a tent for overflow. Elder Christofferson wanted to greet the members in the tent “so they could see me physically.”

As he walked out, a little boy, maybe 7 years old, spotted him through a window and began shouting, “el Apostol, el Apostol” (the Apostle, the Apostle).

“That is a very simple incident, but it illustrates to me the depth of appreciation that even children have for the calling,” said Elder Christofferson. “It’s not the person. … That child had learned that level of appreciation for the call and what it represents.”

Sometimes, Elder Christofferson worries, “How am I going to measure up to what they anticipate?”

Then he feels assurance from the Lord. “Forget about yourself and what people may think of you. … Focus on what I want to give them through you. Focus on what I want them to hear through you.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen

Elder Neil L. Andersen.

Elder Neil L. Andersen, a newly called member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is hugged by Elder D. Todd Christofferson after the Saturday morning session of the April 2009 general conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 4, 2009. Photo by Jason Olson, Deseret News.

While Elder Andersen emphasizes that the priesthood of the Apostles is the same priesthood of all Melchizedek Priesthood holders, he points out that the Apostles are often in places that allow them to use the priesthood in healing the sick.

He recalled on one occasion being with President Dallin H. Oaks years ago in Dallas, Texas, where a girl was brought to the home where they were having lunch. She was carried in her father’s arms. Her health had been declining for several weeks and they were afraid for her life. Following the blessing of Elder Oaks, her recovery was remarkable.

On another occasion, Elder Andersen gave a blessing with Elder Richard G. Scott in Provo, Utah, to a woman who had a very serious cancer. Years later, the woman stopped Elder Andersen in the Brazil MTC in São Paulo, where she was serving with her husband as a missionary, and thanked him and Elder Scott for the blessing that restored her life.

Elder Andersen pointed out recently he saw a missionary application for a young man to whom Elder Andersen had given a priesthood blessing when the boy was critically ill. Now, eight years later, the young man is ready to serve a mission. The family had experienced a miracle.

“Wherever we go, these experiences are not uncommon,” said Elder Andersen. “The priesthood blessings we offer are like the priesthood blessings of all worthy priesthood brethren. They change people’s lives. Because we are Apostles 24 hours a day, every day of the year, these experiences come into our lives with frequency. They are sacred experiences and we talk about them very little, but they bring a sure witness of the hand of the Lord in our callings.”

Elder Ronald A. Rasband

Elder Ronald A. Rasband.

After Elder Rasband was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a fellow Apostle offered him some advice.

“Add 30 minutes to everything you do in the public domain,” Elder Rasband was counseled. “Just add 30 minutes because everywhere you go, under every condition, under every scenario, people are going to want to talk to you.”

Elder Rasband, who came from a corporate background where he did everything with some urgency and on tight deadlines, knew he needed to make a change. He knew his calling was not about him, but that it was about being a representative of Jesus Christ. “It’s the office of Apostle that people honor,” he explained.

For example, on one occasion, he attended his grandchildren’s Primary sacrament meeting program. The bishop asked if he would shake the children’s hands after the meeting. “Of course,” Elder Rasband replied. “I would love to do that.”

Older members lined up to shake Elder Rasband’s hand after the children, until he had greeted everyone in the ward. “That’s just an example of the honor that is applied to the office of Apostle in the Church,” he said.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, share a laugh prior to the general priesthood session of the April 2018 general conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson

Elder Gary E. Stevenson.

When Elder Stevenson considers the role of an Apostle, he is reminded of a family in Mexico who had just lost their 38-year-old father to a pulmonary embolism. This family included the surviving spouse and mother, two 18-year-old twins, and their younger 12-year-old sibling. Upon meeting them, Elder Stevenson’s sincere desire was to “encourage them and make certain their needs were being attended to.”

Often, he said, Church leaders strive to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5). This type of service is the essence of being “a witness of the Savior,” he said.

“At times, people may perceive the main role of Apostles is to address the needs of a worldwide Church. Yet a primary focus and priority is to minister to individuals, one by one,” he said.

Elder Dale G. Renlund

Elder Dale G. Renlund.

Elder Renlund recalled an incident two years ago that illustrates his service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

He was traveling from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, through Panama City as a transit hub to get to Georgetown, Guyana, for a district conference.

Elder Renlund, traveling with Elder Hugo Martinez, who spoke Spanish, had 40 minutes in the Panama City airport. “It was rushed and we felt like we were just really lucky to get to our departure gate,” he recalled.

In the next gate, almost in the same line, getting ready to get on the plane was a woman whose name Elder Renlund later learned was Monica.

“Monica came over and said, ‘Are you members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?’”

Elder Martinez told the woman in Spanish that they were.

“Can you help me?” she asked. She wasn’t a member of the Church and needed help with a complicated membership issue relating to a deceased relative.

“I had served on a committee that dealt with these complicated membership issues in the year and a half before my call to the Twelve,” said Elder Renlund. “So I knew what information we needed and what we could do to help.” As he reached into his briefcase, pulled out a card and explained to her what she needed to do, she burst into tears. She said, “I knew you could help me because I saw you last night in a dream.”

She emailed Elder Renlund, and they resolved the problem. “Her children, who are members of the Church and are also relatives of this individual, were just so overjoyed to have this resolved,” he said. After the resolution, Monica wrote Elder Renlund and said, “My children now believe in miracles.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong

Elder Gerrit W. Gong.

Weeks after being sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Gong thought of his welcome to the Quorum and the love of the members when thinking of the apostleship.

“There is so much to learn,” he said. “We feel the great love, fellowship, and brotherhood of the Quorum; great unity and harmony with the First Presidency; and the great sustaining encouragement and love of the members wherever we go.”

Elder Ulisses Soares

Elder Ulisses Soares.

Not long after being sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Soares was called to the office of one of the senior Apostles.

“I called you here because I just want to give you a hug and let you know I am here for you,” the leader told Elder Soares. “There are multiple opportunities to sustain.”

Since receiving the call to the Twelve, Elder Soares said he has never felt alone. He has “felt embraced” by family, colleagues, and the membership of the Church.

“The world is changing,” he said. “The Apostles need to be in a constant process of learning, inquiring, and receiving inspiration and revelation in order to accommodate things.”

 

Apostles Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Quentin L. Cook, and Elder David A. Bednar talk prior to the general priesthood session of the April 2018 general conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.