News of the Church

By Brittany Karford, Church Magazines

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Members Grateful for the Challenge

In the last few weeks of 2005, two sisters in the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission posed a familiar question to members, a question that at the time would have resonated with Church members anywhere in the world: “Manao ahoana ny famamkiano?” they asked. “How’s your reading?”

It is likely that, at the time, more people were reading the Book of Mormon than at any other time in the history of the Church.

And many of those in Antananarivo were among them. They had not only heeded President Gordon B. Hinckley’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year; they had already finished and were beginning again. The report of this success in Madagascar, shared by Sister Brittney Jorgensen and Sister Carrie Schow, is one of overwhelming thanks for the guidance and direction of President Gordon B. Hinckley.

When the invitation was published in a First Presidency Message in the August issue of the Ensign and Liahona magazines, President Hinckley promised in the same article that those who completed the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, regardless of how many times they had read it before, would experience an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord in their homes and in their lives, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.

With the close of 2005, Sisters Jorgensen and Schow related how they saw these promises fulfilled in the lives of those they teach.

“Even though we are one of the farthest missions from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, the members hear and follow the direction of the prophet just the same,” they said. “We have had the opportunity to see the effects of diligence and obedience in our lives and in the lives of investigators and recent converts.”

One recent convert, they said, showed them the last page in her book where she had marked the date she finished: December 31, 2005, 7:05 p.m.

Whether readers finished on New Year’s Eve or before, meeting the challenge has strengthened them with faith and confidence to share its message.

Reading the Book of Mormon cover to cover twice, Elder David Walker, a missionary in Barcelona, Spain, found the renewed testimony of the book he had been searching for. “Now when I give my testimony, even on the street, I can feel something inside reaffirming the things I’m saying,” Elder Walker said.

Similar responses have come from Church members all over the world. Brother Aldemir Guanacoma Ave, a member of the Abundancia Ward, Piray Santa Cruz Stake in Bolivia, said that when he read President Hinckley’s counsel to read the Book of Mormon again, he felt something strong, deep in his heart.

“At that very moment I asked my Heavenly Father to give me the courage to do it,” he said. “And that is what happened. I have achieved that goal, and now I can’t believe what happened to me during the time I was reading it. I came to understand what it means to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now I am sure that the Book of Mormon is true.”

Such knowledge comes because “this wonderful book, this book which has come out of the dust, to speak to men of our generation, stands as another witness of the divinity and reality of the Redeemer of the world,” President Hinckley said at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional held in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City in December. “I thank each of you, and I know that you have been blessed.”

[photo] Members all over the world were blessed by accepting President Hinckley’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon.

Museum Says Farewell to Record-Breaking Exhibit

The Museum of Church History and Art’s exhibit Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration officially closed January 15, 2006, after running for almost a full year in which the museum broke records for the highest number of visitors in a single year with a total of 437,787 visitors.

“We broke all the records because people wanted to come see Joseph,” said Mark Staker, the exhibit curator.

Though the total count hasn’t been tallied for the number of visitors in January, more than 200 visitors an hour were reported coming in the evening to see the exhibit during its last days.

“It broke the record for day, for hour, and for the full year,” said Darrell Jones, a museum volunteer who worked in the exhibit. “One night we had 1,800 people between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. You couldn’t even move.”

From their totals thus far, July and December were the busiest months in the exhibit. During July, 64,452 visitors came to the museum from the United States and around the world.

Opened February 4, 2005, the exhibit celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith through a combination of original artifacts, documents, art, and media presentations that explored the process by which Joseph was prepared, tutored, and refined to fulfill his prophetic calling.

The exhibit contained revelations from the scriptures as they were originally penned, letters, journal entries, a cloak worn by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and fragments of the vest he was wearing at his Martyrdom. All of these artifacts and more illustrate the context in which the gospel was brought forth.

Hoping to have one last glimpse, Linda Johnson, a museum volunteer, pulled back the curtain to see Walter Rane’s painting Desires of the Heart, only to find that it, too, had already been taken down. The painting portrayed the boy Joseph kneeling in the Sacred Grove.

“We are sad to see it go,” Sister Johnson said. The painting had always struck her as particularly moving. Brother Staker said the most moving feature in the exhibit varied depending on what each individual visitor most related to, but for many, it was to feel they were in the presence of work Joseph did while on earth.

The museum is now moving on to other exhibits, preparing for the Seventh International Art Competition, which will open March 24, 2006.

“They will all be glorious and grand, but this one is gone. It’s a loss in a way,” Brother Staker said.

At the end of the exhibit there was a place where visitors could share their testimony of Joseph Smith. These testimonies have all been kept and will be placed in a permanent collection in the Church archives so that future generations can read the testimonies members have shared of the Prophet Joseph Smith during his bicentennial celebration.

“We even had many youth who could not travel to Salt Lake City to see the exhibit write their testimonies and send them in so their testimony could be included as part of the permanent record,” Brother Staker said. Those testimonies will continue on as mementos of the event. He added that there are two permanent areas in the museum that continue to celebrate the Prophet Joseph Smith: the Presidents of the Church exhibit and the Birth of the Book of Mormon exhibit.

[photo] The exhibit about Joseph Smith at the Museum of Church History and Art drew a record number of visitors.

[photo] The exhibit included medical instruments similar to those that might have been used in the operation on young Joseph’s leg.

Need for Missionary Couples Continues to Grow

While tens of thousands of young men and young women are currently serving the Church as full-time missionaries, the Church has a continually growing need for a more experienced group.

There are more than 2,100 mature missionary couples serving in countries around the world, but the need for more exists and the opportunities are plentiful.

“Along with the need for young elders and sisters, there is a growing need for couples in the mission field,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “Older married couples are doing a wonderful work in the missions. Many more are needed. … With an increasing number of people retiring while they are still possessed of health and vitality, there are many who can fill a tremendous need in the work of the Lord” (“There Must Be Messengers,” Ensign, Oct. 1987, 4).

Addressing the subject during the April 2001 general conference, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said that there are four Fs that may hinder couples from volunteering to serve: fear, family concerns, finances, and finding the right mission opportunity.


Many people fear they do not have the scriptural knowledge or language skills needed to serve a mission. They are afraid they will not be able to do what is required of them.

Elder Hales said whether they know it or not, couples are already prepared. “Your life is your preparation. You have valuable experience. You have raised a family and served in the Church. Just go and be yourselves” (see “Couple Missionaries: A Time to Serve,” Ensign, July 2001, 28–31).

Missionary couples do not normally proselytize and are not expected to maintain the same rigorous schedule younger elders and sisters do. While they may teach many lessons, those often come from general contact with others, not necessarily from tracting.

Family Concerns

By serving a mission, senior couples are able to set examples for their families even while they may be far away.

“We have learned that the impact on families while grandparents are on missions is worth a thousand sermons,” Elder Hales said. “Families are greatly strengthened as they pray for their parents and grandparents and read letters sent home which share their testimonies and the contribution they are making in the mission field.”

The Lord has promised to look after the families of missionaries. After Thomas B. Marsh was called to serve a mission in 1830, he was concerned about leaving his family.

In section 31 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord told him: “I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones. … Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come. … Wherefore, your family shall live. … Go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them” (D&C 31:2–3, 5–6).


Couples who decide to serve a mission will not be assigned to serve in a place more expensive than they feel they can afford. Couples are asked to specify how much they can afford to spend per month, and they will not be asked to spend more than that amount.

While serving a mission can be a financial sacrifice, Elder Hales said there is no way to compare the blessings received with the financial sacrifice made. “The blessings of serving with your eternal companion are priceless and can be understood only by those who have experienced them,” he said.

The Church Missionary Department suggests that before a couple applies to serve a mission, they should review finances together and with family to be sure all things are in order.

Finding the Right Opportunity

There are many ways a couple can serve. Opportunities exist in the Church Educational System, public affairs, family history, mission offices, temples, humanitarian services, and a number of other places.

“There is an opportunity to use almost any skill or talent with which the Lord has blessed you,” Elder Hales said.

While couples’ preferences are taken into consideration, the Brethren hope that members would be willing to serve wherever the Lord assigns them under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Couples are encouraged to discuss with their bishops or branch presidents their desires to serve missions.

For more information concerning length of missions, mission opportunities, the process of receiving a mission call, finances, and other matters, members are encouraged to visit and visit with their local Church leaders.

[photo] More than 2,100 missionary couples are serving worldwide, but even more are needed.

Hosts Give Warm Welcome to Visiting Dignitaries

Salt Lake City entertained the world during the Winter Olympics in 2002. Four years later, many of the world’s important and influential people continue to visit Church headquarters, and the Church continues to welcome them.

A small team of Church volunteers hosts the kings, prime ministers, ambassadors, consuls general, legislators, religious leaders, senior business executives, and prominent educators visiting Church headquarters.

“Our job is to escort [dignitaries] to Church sites, answer their questions, and make them feel comfortable,” said Norman D. Shumway, codirector of VIP hosting.

Brother Shumway and his wife, Luana Shumway, lead two Church-service missionary couples who welcome about 300 dignitaries to Church facilities in Salt Lake City each year. In the past year, dozens of dignitaries have visited from every continent but Antarctica.

A tour may last one full day. Dignitaries typically tour Temple Square, Welfare Square, the Conference Center, and the Family History Library. They also visit a local seminary or institute class and have lunch at the Lion House or dinner catered in the Ambassador Room on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. On weekend visits, dignitaries may also attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Music and the Spoken Word performance.

Government- and university-sponsored programs draw dignitaries to Salt Lake City.

One program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, brings future and potential leaders from countries throughout the world to visit Salt Lake City and participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. Utah’s capital is one of the program’s many cities that give foreigners a firsthand look at America. In the past, some of the program’s participants have become chiefs of state or cabinet-level ministers.

Other dignitaries, particularly ambassadors or consuls general, visit Church headquarters by invitation from Brigham Young University. Each year BYU invites 6 to 12 ambassadors to visit the university in Provo, Utah. After the ambassadors speak at BYU and tour its campus, the Church hosts the ambassadors in Salt Lake City.

When appropriate, officials are met by a General Authority. Often the hosting General Authority will have lived in or visited the official’s country and will be able to speak of places he has visited or people he has met.

As part of a typical tour, dignitaries may visit the Church’s Humanitarian Center. Almost all the visitors express gratitude for humanitarian aid the Church has donated to their countries. Brother Shumway said that during tours of the facility, some visitors become emotional upon realizing how the aid for their country is obtained. The number of Church volunteers and the Church’s distribution system also impress many visitors.

Watching visitors feel the Spirit is what the Church hosts enjoy most.

“You can always tell that people are surprised,” Brother Shumway said. “They use words like incredible, stupendous, and tremendous.

Sister missionaries serving on Temple Square lead dignitary tours. But unlike other tours on Temple Square, the tours are not aimed toward proselytizing; instead, they are focused on historical events.

“Our purpose is not to convert them,” Brother Shumway said. “As part of Public Affairs our job is to build bridges of friendship and understanding.”

However, tours often lead to questions about the Church. Some frequently asked questions are: How do you choose a prophet? What does the prophet say? Why can’t we go into the temple? How do you fund the welfare program? How do you get members to volunteer?

Before leaving, all dignitaries receive a copy of The Family: A Proclamation to the World and The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles in their language, as well as other items, as appropriate.

Preparing for dignitary visits keeps the hosting couples busy. Before each visit, they review the culture, diets, traditions, religion, and current events of the visiting dignitaries’ country. Showing Church programs and principles to visitors who are not familiar with the Church strengthens the testimonies of the Church hosts.

“When we see the Church through the eyes of others, it verifies to us that the Church’s programs are guided by prophets and revelation,” Sister Shumway said.

[photo] While visiting Utah, Salem Al-Sabah, ambassador of Kuwait to the United States, greets the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a choir rehearsal.

Standardized Meetinghouses Give a Place for More Members to Meet and Worship

In Hong Kong and New York City—cities of skyscrapers—often the only direction to build is up. Looking at both cities’ temples, one can see that an innovative approach had to be taken in order to fit the temples into these urban areas. Similarly, where a traditional meetinghouse layout is not practical, members must still be accommodated.

In areas where land is at a premium, a typical meetinghouse layout must be adjusted to fit a smaller plot of land. Both New York City and Hong Kong have recently received new multistory meetinghouses based on the Church’s worldwide meetinghouse standard plan program.

Rolling Out a Standard Plan

Whether large or small, multistory or not, regardless of location, meetinghouses throughout the world all have a standard look based on design guidelines set forth by the Church.

In 2002 the Church released guidelines to areas throughout the world for a general design of Church meetinghouses. This plan, the worldwide standard plan, provides essential elements and general layouts for meetinghouses to meet the needs of rural, suburban, and urban areas. The plan establishes a universal look for Church meetinghouses while still allowing for the detail work to be customized for a particular area. As part of the worldwide standard plan program, a new consistent model for urban meetinghouses was established. It is a unique multistory design that ranges from two to five stories but still leaves room for diversity in design.

In creating the plan, Church architects carefully evaluated the needs of units of various demographics. The capacity of the chapel, the classrooms, and the Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women rooms were then planned accordingly, taking into account the fact that the size of a Relief Society, Primary, or other organization may be above average for a given congregation.

Under the worldwide standard plan program, most building options can be expanded according to growth. If substantial growth is anticipated in an area, a “phased” building may be built. When the need arises to expand the building to accommodate larger or additional wards, the original building can be added to, with each phase being added like another puzzle piece. For example, in phase one a chapel may be “multiuse” with removable seats. Phase two would add a cultural hall and additional classrooms, making the chapel of singular use with fixed pews.

The program establishes a uniform look for the Church and a way for meetinghouses to be built more efficiently and economically.

An example of this efficiency is reflected along the Wasatch Front in Utah, where the Church continues to build a large number of meetinghouses to accommodate growth. Standardization has cut building costs by as much as 20 percent.

“These are sacred tithing funds, and we are trying to stretch them as far as possible,” says Randy Stenson, a manager in the Architecture and Engineering Division of the Church Physical Facilities Department.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has said of the standard meetinghouse plans: “This tremendous building program is phenomenal. I know of nothing equal to it. Our structures are beautiful. … We have had long experience in constructing houses of worship, and out of that vast experience we are producing better buildings than have ever previously been constructed in the Church. They combine beauty with great utility. If they look much the same, it is because that is intended. By following tried and tested patterns we save millions of dollars while meeting the needs of our people” (“Condition of the Church,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2004, 4).

Implementing the Plan

Brother Stenson says the worldwide standard plan program provides design guidelines and conceptual floor plans to local architects hired by the Church to build a meetinghouse in a particular area. These become the framework around which are created plans unique to the area and its needs. The details are decided locally, such as what materials will be used and whether the building will have a natural or mechanical ventilation system.

Wherever a meetinghouse is built, certain considerations must be made in creating the look and feel of the building. An architect must take into account the culture, the surroundings, and the building regulations of a particular area.

Areas often adapt a building’s look to blend in with its surroundings or to establish a certain image. A meetinghouse in Eastern Europe may be entirely different than one in the Australian outback, while both plans follow the same guidelines and principles set forth in the worldwide standard plan program.

Some customization may be necessary based on a particular site. Brother Stenson says location is a very important consideration.

“We would rather choose the right site and adapt our plan to it than choose the wrong site and use the standard plan,” he says. “The right site is key to exposure to the Church and accessibility by the Saints in getting to that site.”

Meeting Urban Needs

In some urban areas, a multistory building is more practical than a single level meetinghouse. Where an average meetinghouse is built on 2 1/2 to 5 acres (1 to 2 ha), these multistory meetinghouses are approximately 43 feet (13 m) wide and can fit on a plot of land as small as a quarter of an acre (.1 ha). Multistory meetinghouses are composed of the same number of rooms with the same capacity as single-level meetinghouses housing units of comparable sizes, but they are simply built in a vertical fashion. They are being built in cities across the world to provide facilities sufficient to meet the needs of Saints in urban areas.

In New York City, members in Harlem were meeting in a marginal industrial building. A new five-story building was approved, with room to accommodate anticipated growth in the unfinished upper two levels. In Japan, a three-story meetinghouse was built recently. The building’s design allows for the construction of additional floors if the need arises.

A five-story layout may consist of parking on the first level, the chapel on the second, classrooms and offices on the third and fourth levels, and a cultural center on the fifth level.

For the multistory meetinghouse, architects at Church headquarters knew that they needed to use elements that would identify the building as a church rather than an office building and would provide a consistent, ecclesiastical look for the Church. They studied classics in ecclesiastical architecture, including historic temples and cathedrals. From those buildings, key design elements of a religious nature were established as standard items for the multistory meetinghouse, says Wayne Balle, worldwide meetinghouse client manager for the Architecture and Engineering Division.

Those essential elements include, for example, a tower and steeple, a distinctive front window, a distinctive entry, a pronounced base, and the Church logo sign. Area architects then determine their approach to the core elements, the structure, the materials, the colors, and other details as appropriate.

Meetinghouses as a Place of Worship

Brother Balle says that regardless of a meetinghouse’s style, height, or location, the worldwide standard plan program is meant to help the Church’s Physical Facilities Department fulfill its purpose to “serve priesthood leaders by providing them with temples, meetinghouses, and other facilities for their use to help bring souls unto Christ.”

[illustration] Multistory buildings based on the worldwide meetinghouse standard plan program may look like this rendering.

[illustration] Church architects identified elements of famous religious buildings that help identify a structure as religious in nature.

In the Service of Your God DVD Available in Spanish

The In the Service of Your God DVD is now available in Spanish, the first DVD produced by the Church Welfare Services Department to be offered in a language other than English. The translated version, Al Servicio de Vuestro Dios, will aid Spanish-speaking congregations worldwide as a resource to help members and leaders learn and apply welfare principles.

Originally produced and distributed to English-speaking areas in 2004, the DVD complements new welfare training lessons available online at Welfare Services reports that the lessons have been used extensively and parallel nicely with training activities for Church leaders.

While the emphasis is on training, the DVD contains material applicable to a broader audience that can be useful for family home evening or youth instruction.

The multifaceted content is divided into three segments. The first uses scripture stories and testimonial vignettes to show how welfare principles should be taught. Clips from this section, such as the dramatization of the parable of the good Samaritan, illustrate what it means to show true compassion to the less fortunate. The second segment features general conference addresses on welfare topics dating from 1986 to 2004, giving latter-day counsel on issues such as debt, fasting, and welfare activity. While the first and second segments resonate with a wide audience, the third segment is tailored to training committees. It explains the responsibility of the welfare council.

Overall, the three segments include 13 video presentations, a total of nearly four hours of footage.

Though some of these clips have been translated to Spanish individually prior to the release of Al Servicio de Vuestro Dios, the DVD debuts four newly translated segments: On the Road to Jericho, Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, The Good Samaritan, and Administering Welfare through the Relief Society.

The voice-over for the Spanish version was produced in Colombia. Although the translation process is challenging, additional languages are now being considered.

The overriding message of the DVD is stated on the cover: “Cuando os halláis al servicio de vestros semejantes, sólo estáis al servicio de vuestro Dios—When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

Copies of the DVD in both Spanish and English are available through Church Distribution, priced at $4.50 for individual copies or at $75 for a case of 50.


A Happy Gathering

The article “A Happy Gathering of Sisters” (Jan. 2006) was a real treat. It reminded me of the many reasons why I love Relief Society. I was converted at the age of 14 in the Philippines. I still remember the classes I attended, the teachers we had, and their beautiful lessons. My insights, values, and convictions came from consistent attendance in those classes. I soon became a teacher myself. I live in California now, away from home, but I still teach the Relief Society class once a month. I feel it is a special calling that the Lord has asked me to fulfill, and I love it.

There is so much learning that takes place in every class and enrichment meeting. They can be fulfilling and enlightening experiences. We are truly blessed to be members of this divine organization. Indeed, it is a “happy gathering of sisters,” and I am so grateful to be a part of it. Deanna June Alcazar, California

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

One of my most treasured Christmas gifts this past December was the Ensign containing the special Christmas DVD Mr. Krueger’s Christmas. Every time I watch it, my heart soars with love for our Savior Jesus Christ, and I am overcome with joy and happiness at the Savior’s sacred birth. The accompanying music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes my spirit sing. Please accept my humble thanks. Ponda Anderson, Arizona

Marital Violence and Abuse

“For Newlyweds and Their Parents” in the January 2006 issue is a wonderful summary of the keys to adjustment for the new couple and their relatives and friends. It is important to note, however, that domestic violence and other serious abuse should not be kept secret under the guise of proper marital confidentiality. Those concerned should appropriately seek counsel and protection. Gayle B. Adams, Utah

Stop Walking on Eggshells

I was very much interested in the January Ensign article entitled “He Offended Me.”

About 40 years ago I came to a personal decision about offending people. I decided to stop walking on eggshells when talking to people. I have never purposely tried to offend anyone, and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone else if what they said or did offended me. So I determined to do what the person in this article very apparently did—I started learning how to deal with offenses toward me.

I think a vast majority of Heavenly Father’s children truly do not try to offend anyone on purpose, for we do not really know what will offend another. I think offenses are normally given in innocence. So it is, I think, incumbent upon each of us to give the offending party the benefit of the doubt. If, in fact, the offending party did mean to offend, then I find the offense more easy to just ignore. If I feel terribly offended, I normally say, “That offends me. Why did you do (or say) that?”

I think we teach too often about not offending people when we need to be teaching how not to be so sensitive, to turn the other cheek.

If I were to act upon all the offenses I have received over the years, even by other Church members, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I must also say that when a person continues to purposely offend, I simply remove myself from that environment. Emmett E. McKinney Sr., South Carolina