News of the Church

By Chad Phares, Church Magazines

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr Appointed Commissioner of Church Education

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy was called in January by the First Presidency to serve as Commissioner of Church Education. He succeeds Elder Henry B. Eyring, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who served twice as commissioner for a total of about 17 years.

Under the direction of the Church Board of Education, Elder Kerr will oversee operations of all Church Educational System (CES) entities, including the Church’s institutions of higher education: Brigham Young University, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, and LDS Business College; the Church’s seminary and institute of religion programs; and a number of Church-operated elementary and secondary schools.

“While this assignment will be a heavy responsibility, it is natural and comfortable in that it relates closely to the professional focus of my career,” Elder Kerr said.

Elder Kerr, who was called as a General Authority in 1996, brings extensive educational experience to his new appointment. He has served as Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, executive vice president of Brigham Young University, and president of Dixie College in Utah. He has also held administrative positions at the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University in Utah.

Elder Kerr observed that the scriptures as well as the prophets of this dispensation have stressed to Church members the value of receiving an education. He noted: “Our learning needs to be spiritual as well as temporal, and doctrinal as well as academic. We need to have a breadth but also a balance in our learning.” The Church Educational System addresses the academic and spiritual aspects of education.

After citing 2 Nephi 9:29 [2 Ne. 9:29], “To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God,” Elder Kerr said, “We’ll be better parents, better husbands and wives, better citizens, and better members of the Church as we educate ourselves.”

While CES is primarily for young adults who are members of the Church, about 12,000 people who are not members of the Church are enrolled in the institute of religion program worldwide, making the program not only an effective method of perfecting the Saints but also a missionary tool.

The Church Educational System tries to be responsive and flexible when dealing with the growth of the Church, Elder Kerr said. One of the biggest challenges is to keep up in making the programs readily available as the Church grows.

Elder Kerr said that he is excited about his new appointment because it gives him an opportunity to work with the young people of the Church. “I love education, and I love youth,” he said. “My career has been primarily focused on the age groups served by CES.”

The Church Educational System has a special place in his heart because Elder Kerr was involved in CES programs as a young man. He graduated from seminary and institute and acknowledges how his life was blessed by them. “I enrolled in at least one institute class every term of my undergraduate study at Utah State University,” he said, “and it was a marvelous blessing to me.”

Elder Kerr said faithful seminary students receive the same kinds of blessings. “We find that homes and families are substantially blessed as the young people attend seminary,” he said. “Some choose not to participate, thinking it’s too great a sacrifice, but in the long run not participating is the greatest sacrifice.”

On the Shoulders of Giants

As Commissioner of Church Education, Elder W. Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy says he feels like he is “standing on the shoulders of giants.” A look back shows those who have filled similar assignments in the past:

Karl G. Maeser


Superintendent of Church Schools

Joseph M. Tanner


Superintendent of Church Schools

Horace H. Cummings


Commissioner of Church Schools

David O. McKay


Commissioner of Church Education

John A. Widtsoe


Commissioner of Church Education

Joseph F. Merrill


Commissioner of Church Education

John A. Widtsoe


Commissioner of Church Education

Franklin L. West


Commissioner of Church Education

Ernest L. Wilkinson


Administrator/Chancellor of the Unified Church Schools System

Neal A. Maxwell


Commissioner of Church Education

Jeffrey R. Holland


Commissioner of Church Education

Henry B. Eyring


Commissioner of Church Education

J. Elliot Cameron


Commissioner of Church Education

Henry B. Eyring


Commissioner of Church Education

W. Rolfe Kerr


Commissioner of Church Education

Church Education around the World

Church universities and colleges

56,000 students

Elementary and secondary schools

9,000 students

Seminary and institutes of religion

735,000 students

Continuing-education programs

450,000 members

Countries involved

140 countries


35,000 members

[photo] Elder Kerr served as executive vice president of Brigham Young University in the early 1980s. (Photograph by Mark Philbrick, courtesy of Brigham Young University.)

Museum Begins Anniversary Year with Joseph Smith Exhibit

Elders Russell M. Nelson and Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles officially opened a new exhibit celebrating the life of Joseph Smith on February 4 at the Museum of Church History and Art.

The exhibit, Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, was organized to commemorate the bicentennial of the Prophet’s birth and includes several rare and historically significant items from his life.

Among other things, the exhibit displays an original Book of Mormon manuscript page with Joseph Smith’s handwriting, original copies of section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of Moses manuscript, wall fragments from the Liberty Jail, surgical instruments similar to those used on the Prophet during a leg operation when he was seven years old, and a touchable plaster cast made from Joseph’s death mask.

Joseph Smith’s journal, a letter he wrote from Liberty Jail, and the first transcript of the Word of Wisdom revelation are also part of the exhibit.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, who is the executive director of the Family and Church History Department, said he thinks the exhibit will help people gain a better understanding of the Prophet. “I think one of the main benefits for people who visit the exhibit will be the sense of reality they get,” Elder Jensen said. “It will bring Joseph Smith to life for them.”

Materials used are from the Joseph Smith collection in the Church History Library and Archives, the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections at Brigham Young University, and the Community of Christ Special Collections Library.

In order to make the exhibit accessible to more people, video clips and item explanations throughout the exhibit are available in Spanish as well as English.

The exhibit is only one part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. A new film about Joseph Smith’s life will be shown at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building later this year, and the Church will sponsor international and national recognitions of the Prophet’s bicentennial throughout the year.

The Library of Congress and Brigham Young University will jointly hold an academic symposium on May 6–7 in Washington, D.C., titled, “The Worlds of Joseph Smith.”

Brigham Young University is currently working on a project to create a comprehensive collection of all documents associated with the Prophet. About 12 volumes of the project are scheduled to be released by the end of 2005.

The Church magazines will feature the Prophet and the Restoration throughout the year.

Elder Jensen said Joseph Smith is worthy of such recognition.

“John Taylor said Joseph ‘has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it’ [D&C 135:3],” Elder Jensen said. “Joseph’s legacy will be found in his work. His work will show he is a true prophet.”

The exhibit runs through January 15, 2006.

[photo] Elder Russell M. Nelson introduces the new Joseph Smith exhibit during an open house at the Museum of Church History and Art. The cloak Joseph Smith wore as general of the Nauvoo Legion is on display.

[photo] Surgical instruments similar to these were used to operate on the boy Joseph Smith’s leg. (Photograph by Welden C. Andersen.)

American Red Cross Honors Church for Measles Vaccination Aid

Members of the First Presidency presented American Red Cross President and CEO Marsha J. Evans with a US$1 million check on February 4 that went to the Measles Initiative, a Red Cross vaccination program for children in Africa that is expected to save 1.2 million lives.

Out of gratitude for the donation, which was the second part of a US$3 million total commitment by the Church, the Red Cross honored the Church with its highest recognition for donors, the American Red Cross Circle of Humanitarians award.

In the African countries most seriously plagued by measles, one in every 100 children dies from the disease. Those involved hope that the initiative can eliminate the disease from the continent.

Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said the Church decided to take part in the program because the initiative is committed to helping others and also because the Church has a large population of members in Africa. He said participating in the initiative provides “the opportunity for many of our local congregations to volunteer and participate in the program.”

American Red Cross Senior Health Adviser Dr. Mark Grabowsky estimates that approximately 90 percent of all African children need to be immunized in order to eradicate the disease from Africa. By 2006, the Measles Initiative program is scheduled to have vaccinated more than 200 million children in Africa.

Since 1986, the Church has partnered with the American Red Cross, supporting domestic and international relief efforts and initiatives. “We have a long, distinguished partnership with the American Red Cross,” Bishop Burton said. “It’s a partnership we cherish.”

Church Offers Relief after Flood, Mudslide

After heavy rains and torrential flooding in Arizona, California, Nevada, and southern Utah destroyed or damaged more than 200 homes, members in those areas continue to work to get their lives and homes back in order or help others do so.

Flooding in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah affected members in seven stakes, destroying 25 member homes and damaging 117 more. Although no lives were lost there, the floodwaters ravaged a considerable amount of farmland, particularly in southern Utah.

The St. George Utah Green Valley Stake was hardest hit. In that stake alone 18 member homes were destroyed and 36 were damaged. In the Mesquite Nevada Stake, 4 homes were destroyed and 28 were damaged.

In La Conchita, California, a mudslide killed 10 people and destroyed or damaged more than 30 homes. In response, local members volunteered labor and assisted local agencies.

Church-sponsored relief efforts in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah started shortly after the flooding began. The Church contributed to the relief effort in three steps.

The first step consisted of local Relief Societies and priesthood groups volunteering to help with whatever assistance was needed soon after the flooding began. This included finding housing for those displaced because of the flood.

The second step involved the Church making donations to Red Cross chapters in Nevada and Utah. Several Church buildings were used as Red Cross shelters. Many Church members assisted in overseeing the operations of the shelters.

The third step entailed the Church donating food and hygiene items taken from the St. George, Utah, bishops’ storehouse to food pantries and community shelters. Wheelbarrows and shovels were provided to cleanup crews.

Seminary students from high schools in St. George helped clean up in and around homes that were flooded or damaged.

[photo] A St. George, Utah, home collapses into floodwaters that ate away the home’s foundation. (Photograph by Scott G. Winterton.)

Church Renovates Family History Library

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has long been regarded as one of the top family history resources in the world. But renovations completed in January made it even more convenient, with more technological tools.

The library, which is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the state of Utah, celebrated completion of the renovations with an open house January 22–28 that featured personal genealogy assistance, family history classes, guest speakers, and free software samples.

Before the renovation, those looking for published family histories needed to search for them in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Now all 80,000 of the Family History Library’s published family histories and biographies are located on the main floor of the library building, west of Temple Square.

The Church added a videophone that makes it possible for deaf researchers throughout the world to contact deaf researchers in the library. Also added was a 30-station computer lab, giving the library more than 200 computers on which visitors can use family history research software and access the Internet.

“Our guests are always pleased to find that many of the popular pay-per-use genealogy sites on the Web are accessible for free through our library computers,” said Ray Wright, director of the Family History Library.

“The improvements make the library more user-friendly,” said Brother Wright. “We are better equipped now to handle both young and old, beginner and advanced researcher. We want our guests, regardless of experience, knowledge, or primary language spoken, to have a successful experience when they visit.”

During the open house, which was celebrated in conjunction with the 110th anniversary of the Genealogical Society of Utah, the library offered 30 classes on family history research. Classes focused on research for youth, ethnic research, and using the Internet, TempleReady™, and Personal Ancestral File®.

Additional information about the Family History Library may be found at

[photo] Patrons at the Church’s recently renovated Family History Library take advantage of improved computer accessibility.

Society Still Offering Relief 163 Years Later

Last month, the Relief Society marked its 163rd anniversary, celebrating more than a century and a half of relief efforts to members and neighbors around the world. Ward Relief Societies have created service traditions, improved community relations, and reached out to young and old, members of the Church and those who are not.

Bountiful Sisters’ Relief Efforts Ongoing

For several years, the Relief Society presidency and enrichment leaders of the Bountiful 24th Ward, Bountiful Utah Heights Stake, have strived to remember the importance of relief in Relief Society.

Thanks to current events, the ward’s desire to help has increased even more.

The ward has forged a tradition of helping others by quilting blankets and clothing, making toys and teddy bears, and knitting scarves and caps. After learning of the destruction caused by the tsunamis in southeast Asia, Relief Society sisters prepared and delivered many of these items for donation.

Carol Jensen, the ward Relief Society president, said the role of the Relief Society is important to many people. “Through Relief Society, the sisters joining the Church have found not only love, which has motivated sisterhood, but also the weekly lessons, which have encouraged knowledge and spiritual expansion,” she said.

In addition to making donations to places far away, the ward has also donated stuffed bears and quilts to hospitals and shelters in Utah. A shipment of bears was also sent to North Dakota to raise spirits after floodwaters damaged homes there.

Ward members have made sacrifices in order to perform the service. Many sisters have contributed money as well as hours working on the projects. The ward hopes that through its service, other wards will be motivated to do the same.

“We are being stricken with so many tragedies throughout the world,” ward member Dora Flack said. “Our service needs to grow to match them.”

Interfaith Service Builds Relationships in California

What started as a plan for an enrichment night meeting for the Redlands Second Ward, Redlands California Stake, turned into an interfaith humanitarian effort that helped build relationships between members of other faiths and Latter-day Saints in the Redlands area and resulted in thousands of items being sent to the needy in Afghanistan.

Jean Arnott, who was in charge of the project, initially planned on making the endeavor a one-day affair. But she found that as the group invited those of other faiths to participate, the ability to serve increased dramatically.

Although the initial plan was to prepare 100 hygiene kits, 100 newborn kits, and 100 wooden toy cars, the group, which became known as Women of Faith of Redlands, was able to far exceed those plans.

Hundreds of women of many faiths visited the Redlands California Stake Center each Thursday from May until September 2004 to assemble, paint, gather, and sew materials.

By the time the project ended, the women had made 437 newborn kits; 375 hygiene kits; 64 school kits; 244 quilts; 809 sets of infant and toddler clothing; 738 sets of hats, scarves, and gloves; and more than 3,200 toys.

“The original goal was to gather women of different religious faiths together to provide some kind of humanitarian service,” Sister Arnott said. “What resulted from the efforts of these Women of Faith was more than any of us imagined.”

Alaskan Sisters Focus on Local Needs

During the last three years, Relief Society sisters in the Soldotna Alaska Stake have sewed, knitted, crocheted, and assembled more things than most people do in a lifetime.

Sisters in the Sterling, Soldotna, Homer, and Kenai Wards, along with occasional helpers from Primary children and young women, have met several times during the last three years to provide service for those in need.

While several of the things the group has done were sent to other countries or to Humanitarian Services in Salt Lake City, the group is now more focused on helping those in need locally.

“We’re not doing it to be seen,” said Diane Henwood of the Sterling Ward. “We want to spread our service around in the Alaska area, too. We are focusing now on that.”

Recently, the Sterling and Soldotna Wards donated portable cots and bedding to Kenai Interfaith Shelter Services, and the sisters recently began to knit quilts for children going into foster care.

Sister Henwood, a professional quilter, said the sisters who are involved love to do the service. “Anytime there’s a need, we try to fill that need,” Sister Henwood said.

BYU to Hold Women’s Conference

Brigham Young University’s Women’s Conference 2005 will be held on April 28–29. Eight hours of selected talks will be broadcast two weeks later on May 13 and again on May 14 over the Church satellite system to meetinghouses throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. The broadcast can also be seen or heard on KBYU-TV Channel 11, BYUTV, BYU Radio, and on the Internet at

Church units in Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and South Africa can capture the broadcast on May 14 and 21. Local units have been authorized to record and retain a set of the broadcasts for Church use only, and members may record presentations for home use only.

Visit the Web site or call 1-801-422-7692 for more information.


“Jennifer Adventures”

I was touched when I read the article “Jennifer Adventures” in the February 2005 issue.

At age four and a half, my son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Although I was devastated at the news, I was also relieved to know that his odd behavior was not just a result of my lack of skills as a parent. Since his diagnosis, he has made incredible improvements through therapy.

I encourage parents who have an unusually difficult child to discuss their concerns with a knowledgeable health care provider. Sometimes it takes more than just better parenting skills to get at the root of undesirable behavior in a child. Rebekah Johnson, Marston Lake Ward, Littleton Colorado Stake

Thank you for the article “Jennifer Adventures.” It spoke directly to my heart. I tested the theory and made time to play with my children today. The change in our home was miraculous. My children were more kind and obedient and definitely more happy. The change in my attitude was phenomenal. This article helped me at a time when I needed it most. I am grateful to have this inspired magazine in my home. Tami Piper, Morgan Hill Second Ward, Morgan Hill California Stake


I appreciate the article in the January 2005 Ensign about addiction. As parents of a son who is addicted to drugs, we have gone through much pain and sorrow. As teachers of institute at the local jail, we have also seen many members come to our class. We sense a real feeling among Latter-day Saints that this is not a problem in the Church. We all need to understand that these people are still children of God and need the same love and attention as those who hold temple recommends. We all need to take a more proactive stance to help those in need and understand that it often takes a lifetime to overcome addictions. The article and the 12-step program the Church supports are a very good beginning to help addicts understand and overcome these problems. Local Church leaders can also be a source of support to families. Name Withheld