My beloved brethren and sisters, the essence of life is change. It was just sixteen years ago this day that I sat in the audience as a bishop and sustained President Joseph Fielding Smith as the President of the Church along with his Counselors, President Harold B. Lee and President N. Eldon Tanner. Sustained at that conference also was Elder Boyd K. Packer, sustained as a member of the Twelve; from the position he now occupies on the stand, you can see the enormous change that has taken place in that short period of sixteen years.
Also sustained at that conference were Elders William Bennett, Joseph Anderson, and David B. Haight as Assistants to the Twelve. Elder Bennett, of course, has passed away. Elder Haight, now a member of the Twelve, and Elder Anderson are still with us. Elder Anderson is in his ninety-seventh year.
Elder Anderson, who had been the secretary to the First Presidency for almost fifty years, was a member of the ward of which I was bishop at the time. Through an extraordinary series of circumstances that I will not mention here, three days after his call I found myself in the first meeting of the First Presidency that I was privileged to attend. Since that day sixteen years ago, it has been my blessing to have met on almost a daily basis during the work week with the prophets of God. Each of them has shown special qualities. Each of them has filled a special role. Each of them we have loved and sustained and appreciated. I can today without any qualification raise my hand in full support and love for President Ezra Taft Benson, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and President Thomas S. Monson. These are truly prophets, seers, and revelators of the living God. And what a blessing it is for us to be members of a church that is directed through direct revelation from God on high.
I suppose at a time like this one naturally reflects about his roots. My great-great-grandfather, Vinson Knight, was a member of the bishopric of the Kirtland Ward, the first ward in the Church. He served under Bishop Newel K. Whitney. He later served as the bishop pro-tem, as it was called at the time, of the ward at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. His daughter, Rizpah, my great-grandmother, tells of having picked berries on the banks of the Grand River, as it flows by Adam-Ondi-Ahman.
Vinson Knight later became the bishop of the lower ward in Nauvoo, the ward in which both President Joseph Smith and President Brigham Young resided. His wife, Martha McBride Knight, was one of the charter members of the Relief Society.
I think of these stalwart people, their dedication, and their faith. The daughter of Vinson and Martha married a young man named Andrew Smith Gibbons. They were teenagers in Kirtland. After they married, Rizpah gave birth to her first child, my grandfather Andrew Vinson Gibbons, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, near Winter Quarters. Andrew was assigned as one of the members of Brigham Young’s pioneer company that arrived in the Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847, and ended up across the river in Arizona, where I was born in the little town of St. Johns. I have told my friends over the years that if you can’t spot it on the map, St. Johns is fifteen miles east of Concho. To many, it’s the end of the earth; but to those of us who were born there, it’s the center of the earth. I pay honor and respect to these ancestors, as well as to my dear wife and children and grandchildren, to all of our friends and relatives, and to the many associates with whom we have been privileged to labor over the years.
As you can appreciate, I accept this assignment with trepidation. I accept it with humility. I accept it without qualification. I desire to serve faithfully and with diligence. I pledge to President Benson and his Counselors that they will never make a call upon me but that I will strive to fill it to the very best of my ability.
As a young man in the mission field over forty years ago, I received a witness of the Spirit. From that experience I learned by spiritual means that God lives, that Jesus Christ is his son, that he is the head of the Church, that the Church is led by prophets, seers, and revelators. I therefore sustain all of those who have preceded this incumbent First Presidency, and I certainly sustain and support them as prophets, seers, and revelators.
As one final word I would say that I came to the position of secretary to the First Presidency sixteen years ago with a full knowledge of the significance of the Church and of the status of its leaders. I have seen nothing in those intervening years that would cause me to question in any respect the doctrines of the Church, the practices of the Church, or most assuredly the integrity of those who head it. I am their witness. I testify that they are honorable, upright, dedicated men of integrity committed to teaching the principles of the gospel, who strive with all of their might to prepare a people ready for the return of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, at his second coming. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.