Maintaining the Course

By Adam C. Olson

Church Magazines

First Presidency
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Members of the new First Presidency bring their past experience to bear on the Church’s future direction.

The day after he was ordained and set apart as 16th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas Spencer Monson addressed the media on Monday, February 4, 2008, honoring his predecessor and expressing his desires that his administration be one of unity, cooperation, and reaching out.

With his newly called counselors, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, sitting at his right and left, President Monson paid homage to President Gordon B. Hinckley, who died Sunday, January 27, 2008, after serving as President of the Church for nearly 13 years.

“President Hinckley’s passing has affected all of us,” he said. “We shall miss him. And yet we know that he has left us with a wonderful legacy of love and goodness.”

Though following in President Hinckley’s footsteps might seem daunting, President Monson said it would not be difficult because, “He blazed the trail.”

Continuing the Course

The two men served together in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for more than 40 years and met together on an almost daily basis while in the First Presidency, making decisions and discussing goals.

Having worked with President Hinckley so closely, President Monson said, “It is inevitable that our thinking would be similar. Therefore there will be no abrupt change from the courses we have been pursuing. … We will continue the commitment of those who have gone before us in teaching the gospel, in promoting cooperation with people throughout the world, and in bearing witness to the life and mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Among the hallmarks of President Hinckley’s administration that President Monson said he hopes to continue are temple building, traveling, and the Perpetual Education Fund.

There is no doubt that the Church’s building of new temples will continue, President Monson said, “because the Church keeps growing, and we must provide that holy edifice in areas where the Church is sufficiently large to justify it.”

President Monson, who has traveled to dedicate seven temples and attended the dedications of others in many countries, said, “I love to meet the people and be out among them.”

“I do plan to travel,” said President Monson, who will serve in the wake of the most widely traveled President in Church history. “Traveling is difficult when you go for long stretches at a time, but you always come back refreshed, feeling that you have accomplished something.”

President Monson feels that the Church is accomplishing something with the Perpetual Education Fund and proclaimed that it will continue “far into the future.”

“[The fund] is expanding,” he said. “And those young people are finding jobs, and they’re able to repay the loans. It is a perpetual education fund. It has lifted them out of poverty to a life comparable with others who otherwise had the chance and the money to provide an education [for themselves]. It’s a miracle.”

Working Together

Though President Monson announced no abrupt changes to policies or programs, he made it clear what he hoped the tenor of his administration would be—working together in the spirit of cooperation and reaching out in the spirit of love.

“It has been my opportunity to work somewhat closely with leaders of other faiths in some of the challenges facing our community and indeed the entire world,” he said. “We will continue this cooperative effort.”

President Monson said he believes each member has a responsibility to be active in his or her community and to work cooperatively with people of all faiths and organizations to bless lives.

“It is important that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together,” he said.

President Monson applies that same principle to Church administration. Expressing gratitude for his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he explained, “Our purpose is united, and we work together in complete harmony in a spirit of love and cooperation.”

President Monson was ordained an Apostle on October 10, 1963, and has served as an Apostle for more than 44 years, including his time as Second Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter and as First Counselor to President Hinckley.

However, in spite of his long experience in Church leadership, he said he plans to rely heavily upon the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric in moving forward.

“This is not a one-man or three-man leadership situation in the Church,” he said. “These are very competent and vastly different individuals in their backgrounds and in their training.”

Known for his tender stories of caring for individuals, President Monson hopes that members will also reach out to those in need both temporally and spiritually.

“As a Church we reach out not only to our own people but also to those people of goodwill throughout the world in the spirit of brotherhood which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “We desire to cultivate a spirit of kindness, of understanding, of love. We seek always to follow our Savior, ‘who went about doing good’ ” (Acts 10:38).

Among those who stand in spiritual need are those Church members who are not actively participating. Addressing them directly, President Monson said, “Don’t give up. We need you.” He then explained, “My purpose is to provide ways that we as active members can put our arms around those who are less active and bring them back to the fold. I am dedicated to that principle.”

Pursuing the Spirit of Helping Others

President Monson attributed his desire to lift those in need to the example of his mother.

Born on August 21, 1927, to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson, President Monson spent his younger years living near railroad tracks on the west side of Salt Lake City. Young men coming west to seek employment during the Great Depression would frequently stop at their home, having heard that food or help was available there.

“I saw my mother minister to those men, totally unafraid, no fear in her at all,” he said. “In fact, she gave them each a lecture that he should write his mother and tell her where he was and that everything was going to be all right.

“That same spirit carried forward with me,” he said. “I have had great satisfaction in pursuing that same spirit of helping others.”

President Monson’s desire to serve others has blessed the lives of many both in and out of the Church. He has served as a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America since 1969. In 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to serve one year on the President’s Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives.

As bishop of the ward with the largest welfare load in the Church at age 22, he spent one week of personal vacation time each Christmas to visit each of the 84 widows in his ward. These visits continued decades after President Monson was given other Church assignments for as long as the widows lived.

“Each would ask me to speak at her funeral,” he said. But concerned about how much traveling he did, he would reply, “Good heavens, I’m overseas sometimes five weeks at a time, and I won’t be here.”

“No,” they would say, “we pray that you’ll be here.”

Between 1950 and 2000, President Monson spoke at the funerals of all 84.

Looking to the Future

As he looks at the road ahead, President Monson said he recognizes challenges but remains optimistic.

“Our young people live in a world of many challenges, and they should be prepared to meet them and not be overcome by them,” he said. He laid the responsibility upon parents to teach their children how to pray.

“Sometimes the best answers that young people can give to the questions of life are found when they are upon their knees, calling upon our Heavenly Father. I testify that if they will remember that the Lord is mindful of them and will answer their prayers, they will be able to meet every challenge that comes to them.”

President Monson expressed optimism based on the strength of Church members. “How grateful we are for the dedication, the faith, and the strength of the people of the Church, who now number more than 13 million in 176 nations and territories throughout the world.

“We’re proud of our young people. … They stand as beacons of goodness in a world of shifting values and standards. We know the future of this work will be in good hands.”

Of that work, President Monson testified that it is the Lord’s. “I have felt His sustaining influence,” he said.

Following the death of President Hinckley, President Monson said he went to his knees, “thanking my Heavenly Father for life, for experience, for my family, and then directly asking Him to go before my face, to be on my right hand, to be on my left hand, and His Spirit in my heart, and His angels round about me to bear me up” (see D&C 84:88).

Buoyed by the strength of the Lord and in good health—“I still do a day’s work, and half a night’s as well”—President Monson said, “I know that He will direct our efforts as we serve Him with faith and diligence. … You can rest assured we’ll be giving due attention to the present and the future but not forgetting the past. For the past is prelude to the future.”

Photograhs by Craig Dimond, except as noted

President Thomas S. Monson, center, became the 16th President of the Church on February 3, 2008. His counselors in the new First Presidency are President Henry B. Eyring, left, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

The new First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles meet with members of the media.

President Thomas S. Monson addresses the media after being introduced as President of the Church.