Looking Back: A Prophet Revisits a Sacred Site in Germany
Contributed By Gerry Avant, Church News senior contributing editor
A witness to history.
That’s one of the phrases I might use to describe my role as a Church News reporter and photographer.
Here is a glimpse of one of my assignments:
On August 26, 1995, I went with President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Sister Frances Monson, to a hillside overlooking Dresden in eastern Germany. It was the hillside from which President Monson, as a young Apostle in 1975, offered a prayer of dedication upon what was then the German Democratic Republic.
On that return visit in 1995, President Monson, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, was joined by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf. Elder Uchtdorf was then a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. He would later serve in the Presidency of the Seventy and in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. When President Monson was set apart on February 3, 2008, as the 16th President of the Church, he called Elder Uchtdorf to serve as his Second Counselor. I did not know it at the time, but I was standing on a historic site in the presence of a future prophet and one of his counselors in the First Presidency.
Also in the group were Dresden Germany Stake President Siegfried Sacher; Frank Apel, former president of the Dresden stake; and Gunther Schultze, a longtime member and local leader. Elder Uchtdorf translated President Monson’s remarks into German for them.
On that hillside overlooking Dresden, President Monson spoke to our small group about the occasion when he offered the prayer of dedication upon the German Democratic Republic 20 years earlier.
“It was a cold, rainy day,” he recalled. “I felt impressed that I should offer a dedicatory prayer, realizing that as the GDR had become a new nation with the division of Germany at the end of World War II it had never been formally dedicated.”
President Monson spoke about the prayer he offered in 1975 and mentioned some of the blessings he asked for on behalf of the people of East Germany. He told us, “As I said the words, ‘May this be the dawning of a new day for the Church in this land,’ we heard a rooster crow in the valley below. A church bell began to chime. Then I felt warmth on my hands and face. After I finished the prayer, I opened my eyes and saw that the clouds had parted, and a ray of sunshine was streaming down on the spot where we were standing. Before we could return to our automobile, the clouds had gathered, and it began to rain again.”
As President Monson spoke to our small group, Brother Apel and Brother Schultze wiped tears from their eyes.
After spending about half an hour with us on the hillside, President Monson asked to be left alone for a few minutes to look over the site and to contemplate the significance of all that had transpired in the former GDR in the two decades since he had offered the prayer of dedication over the land.
I walked back with Sister Monson, Elder and Sister Uchtdorf, and the others and waited by one of the cars. After a while, I saw President Monson walking toward us. I shot a series of photos as he came nearer. He chose one of those photos for the cover of one of his books, Consider the Blessings. It is one of my favorite photos. Unfortunately, the negatives have been misplaced. The only photo I can find is a copy of a 3-by-5-inch print that I gave to him upon our return to Salt Lake City.
Photo by Gerry Avant, Deseret News.