Look! See the gathered Saints,
One hundred thousand strong,
Assembled now to hear
The Prophet of the Lord expound
The Holy Word.
(S. Dilworth Young, “Area Conference at the Rose Bowl”).
The largest gathering of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation took place May 17–18 at the Southern California area conference in Pasadena, California. Coming from areas named after the old Spanish Missions—San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and Santa Monica—the Saints streamed into the historic Rose Bowl for four conference sessions. An estimated 25,000 women and 30,000 men, respectively, attended the women’s and priesthood sessions on Saturday with 75,000 at the Sunday morning session.
General Authorities in attendance were President Spencer W. Kimball, President Marion G. Romney, Elder Howard W. Hunter and Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown, Relief Society General President Barbara B. Smith, and Young Women General President Elaine A. Cannon.
Look down upon us,
You of the Mormon Battalion, and
You who came to San Bernardino.
The conference had a sense of historical significance. Sunday morning, Elder Hunter reviewed the history of the Saints in California, beginning with a group of Mormon immigrants who sailed into San Francisco Bay on 31 July 1846, a year before the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. And in January 1847, the Mormon Battalion, after a 2,100-mile march, arrived in San Diego. They later traveled from there to the little Spanish village of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, where they stayed for a short time before most rejoined their families in Utah.
The Saints established themselves more permanently in California when in 1851 Brigham Young sent a group of about 450 to establish a colony at Fort San Bernardino under the leadership of Elder Charles C. Rich and Elder Amasa Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve. Although this group was recalled in 1857 with the impending invasion of Johnston’s Army, the Latter-day Saints had firmly established ties in California.
Thus, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, at a Sunday luncheon, presented President Kimball with a proclamation recognizing the Church’s role in colonizing early California and the contribution Latter-day Saints have made to the quality of life in the Los Angeles area.
Several of those who addressed the area conference mentioned their ties to the area. Elder Hunter, who was called to the Quorum of the Twelve from the Pasadena area, said, “I feel I have come home,” and President Kimball recounted how he and Sister Kimball began coming to southern California “approximately fifty years ago” to obtain treatment for their son Edward who had been stricken with polio at the age of three.
Demonstrating the dramatic growth of the Church in this area, President Kimball said that when he first came to southern California there were only 17,000 members of the Church living in two stakes and 23 branches. Elder LeGrand Richards was one of those stake presidents. Today there are 77 stakes and 500 wards, with a total membership of over 250,000.
The conference seemed to have something special for everyone. Words of comfort and consolation were given to the handicapped, to single people, to childless couples, to the aged and infirm, and to those suffering from physical and emotional illnesses. One touching sight was a long line of members in wheelchairs.
The conference for this international area was translated into eight languages: Spanish, Tongan, Samoan, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), and sign language; and the Spanish-speaking members drew special attention from President Kimball. “More than thirty years ago, while in Arizona I caught something of the vision of the future of our Hispanic brothers and sisters. … In my heart and in my mind’s eye I could see a better day dawning for them.” Speaking of their “excelling in many areas of business, industry, and education,” President Kimball said, “But this is just the beginning. They are but the vanguard of the vast numbers who will follow in their footsteps.”
Bishop Brown, encouraging the Saints to be honest in their offerings, told of a blind woman in her seventies who borrowed money to pay the tithing on the income from the family farm during the time that her inactive father was alive. “I’m not sure exactly how her payment of her father’s tithing will be transferred to his benefit in the hereafter, but I am sure what it will do for her,” he added. “Most assuredly the windows of heaven will be opened wide for her.”
Elder Haight, recognizing the presence of many investigators in the audience, spoke of the principle of revelation and testified that he knew the Lord had preserved President Kimball “to preside over his Church at this critical period of Church and world history.” Emphasizing President Kimball’s capacity for hard work, Elder Haight described meeting President Kimball at the elevator at 6:30 A.M. one morning. Elder Haight was carrying “a thin, executive-type briefcase.” President Kimball was carrying an old Mexican leather “trunk,” bulging with papers. Looking at Elder Haight’s case, President Kimball quipped, “David, are we working you too hard?”
The tone for the women’s session was set when President Kimball walked into the stadium. Tenderly the sisters watched the Prophet as he was helped to the speakers’ platform. Sister Cannon, speaking to that feeling, cited the “second great commandment” and women’s special capacity for love. She recounted courageous, loving acts of extraordinary women.
Sister Barbara Smith urged all women, married and single, to reach beyond themselves. She expressed concern for the spiritual tests created for women by current life-styles, and added, “It is my conviction that women have never faced more challenges to their faith than they do today. The very fact that so many choices and options are now available to women … increases our solemn obligation to understand the gospel and make choices in our lives consistent with revealed truth.”
Elder Featherstone, area supervisor for southern California, used the metaphor of the homing pigeon to symbolize the instinct we all have to return to our homes; he spoke of “a mother’s love,” the first “essential element” in nurturing that instinct, as he addressed the women’s session.
President Romney, in speaking to the women, encouraged them to “establish good habits”—the habit of daily secret prayer, the habit of “daily reading,” and “the habit of cleanliness.” Keep in mind that the Lord has said that no unclean thing can enter into his presence. Be clean housekeepers, clean in body, clothing, speech and action, in thought and feeling. Remember the Savior’s declaration, ‘Blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God’”(3 Ne. 12:8).
Speaking in the general session, Elder Featherstone encouraged those in attendance to make a special effort to reach out to the inactive. He retold the parable of the prodigal son. “In a very real sense,” he said, “we are the keepers of the light … We gaze steadily down the road, anxious for your return. We will run with open arms, our hearts filled with compassion. We extend our deepest expressions of love—come home.”
President Kimball reaffirmed basic principles: holding family prayer and family home evening, doing missionary work, keeping personal records, living Christlike lives. He said, “We have the potential of becoming gods and we are perfecting ourselves now. The Savior lives and he tells us what to do in his holy scriptures and by the revelations of himself and his father to his prophets, past and present.”
The Lord sent his disciples into all the world, said President Kimball, and added, “I can see his arm outstretched to all the world, to the millions of people in Europe, South America, and the Orient and the hundreds of millions in India, China, and Russia and other areas of the world. And he was seeing the day when he would inspire his people so that they would go forward and spread the gospel to those people.” In a poem written for the conference, S. Dilworth Young captured the spirit of that vision:
To raise united voices
In inspired song;
To build our spirit
And our faith. What for?
To grow until we are
A thousand thousand more!