We are ever grateful to the Tabernacle Choir for their sweet sermons in song. Their rendition of that medley helped me to appreciate both the beautiful music and the unique significance of the words. Only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sing that families can be together forever; that temples are loved because they provide ordinances of eternal significance; and that hearts of the children are turned to their fathers—by the spirit of Elijah. That same special spirit brings us together on this important occasion. Birthdays are bright and special events. Joyfully we celebrate two of them tonight:
Under Church sponsorship, the Genealogical Society of Utah came into being one hundred years ago today, 13 November 1894.
President Howard W. Hunter was born eighty-seven years ago tomorrow, 14 November 1907.
Not only do their birthdates closely coincide, but their histories are also intertwined.
President Hunter has enjoyed family history since his youth when he listened with great interest to stories of his pioneer ancestors. As an adult he pursued research on his family lines. For a season after being ordained an Apostle, he commuted between California and Utah, doing research at the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City when time permitted.1
Elder Howard W. Hunter became president of the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1964. During his eight-year period of presidency, the Society introduced a computer system named GIANT—an acronym for Genealogical Information and Names Tabulation. At the time, GIANT was at the forefront of this newly developing technology. It functioned as the major program for the processing of names for the next twenty years.
While Elder Hunter presided over the Society, it sponsored the first World Conference on Records in 1969. He welcomed participants from all parts of the earth and gave one of the major addresses. That conference seemed to authenticate the Society in the eyes of many archivists worldwide and opened the way for microfilming in previously untouched realms of the globe. The conference was, in the words of Elder Hunter, “truly one of the great successes of the Church.”2
While he served as president of the Society, its collection of microfilms grew from four hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand rolls. The Granite Mountain Record Vault was completed and dedicated. President Hunter helped to shape the destiny of the Society and establish its position as one of the foremost genealogical societies of the world. “He dedicated a significant portion of his life to [family history] work and laid the foundations and the direction from which the Church is still reaping the benefits.”3
What has been done is very important. Why it has been done is even more meaningful. Though the Genealogical Society of Utah was officially organized a century ago, its vital work was foreseen long before. Elder Hunter once explained that “the uniting and redemption of the family of God was the divine plan before the foundations of the earth were laid.”4 Temples are an essential part of that divine plan, and they are not new.
The Old Testament is replete with references to the temple. In those times, temple work was done for the living only. Ordinances for the dead had to await the Atonement and postmortal ministry of the Savior.5
The New Testament also contains many references to the temple, but only occasional fragments relate to the priesthood authority and blessings that are unique to a temple. In the New Testament we read that Jesus instructed his disciples regarding “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” with power to bind on earth and in heaven.6 It also carries a statement of Paul regarding baptism for the dead.7 And the book of Revelation forecasts a future day when faithful people would serve day and night in the temple.8
Though temples were an important part of biblical history, very little would be known about redemption of the dead from a study of the Bible alone. Its few fragments could not be pieced together into a meaningful mosaic without latter-day revelation. The restoration of the gospel in its fulness brought a restitution of the doctrine of redemption of the dead. Our understanding of the doctrine is increasing incrementally.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a vigorous force for good in helping people throughout the world to identify their forebears. The Church’s state-of-the-art computer programs have been made available to millions of genealogical researchers, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Many individuals have contributed to the success of the Church’s temple and family history work. Surely the name of Howard William Hunter must be listed among the foremost. Now as President of the Church, he beckons us to the temple. He invites us to emulate the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose church this is. God declared that his work and his glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”9 His devoted disciples should adopt a similar objective—to help people toward the goal of eternal life.
Tonight we celebrate the centennial of the Society. We also extend congratulations and birthday greetings to President Hunter. His life symbolizes an unswerving commitment to his calling. His kindness, compassion, and courage inspire us to be more like him, and like Jesus the Christ—our great Exemplar. We honor and pray for Howard W. Hunter as President of the Church and as a prophet of God—tonight and always—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.