News of the Church

By LaRene Porter Gaunt, Church Magazines

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    First Presidency Emphasizes Following Christ’s Example

    During the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional in December 2004, members of the First Presidency taught and testified of the Savior’s significance and encouraged members to make the Lord’s life their example.

    “God be thanked for the gift of His glorious Son, the only perfect man ever to walk the earth,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “There is none to excel Him. There is none to compare with Him. He is the great example for all of us, our revered teacher and, most importantly, our Redeemer.”

    Members of the Church tuned in to the annual devotional by satellite, Internet, television, and radio to watch or listen as the First Presidency, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Orchestra at Temple Square focused on the Savior.

    “Our Conference Center here in Salt Lake City is filled with people, and our image, as we speak, travels … across the earth—to lands of winter and lands of summer,” President Hinckley said. “We are all together as one great family to sing and speak of the joys of Christmas.”

    He Lives

    President Hinckley taught of the Savior’s mortal life from beginning to end, from birth to Atonement. “Let us never forget as we celebrate Christmas with song and story, with gifts and mundane baubles, the greater message that Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the Father, came into the world that ‘the world through him might be saved’ (John 3:17).

    “Let us remember always that through His infinite Atonement salvation will come to all, and the opportunity for exaltation will be afforded those who walk in obedience to His commandments.”

    President Hinckley also testified of the Savior’s continued ministry after His death and in years to come: “He has come again to usher in a dispensation. And He will come yet again in clouds of glory to usher in a millennium and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

    The President of the Church also honored the Prophet Joseph Smith, born 199 years ago. President Hinckley added his testimony to that of the dispensation’s first prophet regarding the Savior, saying, “He lives, resplendent, magnificent, the wondrous Lord Immanuel. He lives, the Eternal Son of the Ever Living Father. He lives, the Great Creator, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Savior of the New, the Wondrous Light in a dark and troubled world. He lives to bless us, to teach us, to heal us, to touch our troubled hearts, to give substance to our greatest dreams, to assure the immortality of our souls.”

    In His Footsteps

    President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, explained that “to catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ.”

    He testified: “With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. … Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world.

    “At this blessed season of the year, as we follow in the Savior’s footsteps, we too will have an opportunity to bless the lives of others.”

    President Monson taught: “There is no better time than now … for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ.”

    Agents of God

    President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, related the story of a man who had no money to buy his father a Christmas gift during the Great Depression, so he gave him a diary in which he had recorded a good deed he had done every day that year.

    “We are each the agents of our Father in Heaven to do Christlike deeds for [the] Father’s children, even as [the Savior] offered to do in the grand premortal council when He said, ‘Here am I, send me’ (Abr. 3:27). ‘Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever’ (Moses 4:2).”

    President Gordon B. Hinckley (right) and President Thomas S. Monson (above) address a worldwide audience during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

    President Hinckley Addresses Members, Missionaries in Southeast U.S.

    Nearly 12,000 members of the Church in the states of South Carolina and Georgia gathered to hear the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy, in person or by satellite broadcast to 11 stakes during a November 20–21 regional conference.

    President Hinckley spoke on the pillars of righteousness, using an analogy of the pillars holding up the roof of the Salt Lake Tabernacle that is currently undergoing renovation. President Hinckley spoke during the priesthood leadership session, the general session, and a meeting with missionaries.

    Elder Ballard spoke about missionary work, referring to the new Preach My Gospel program for missionaries. He encouraged members to have the desire, strength, and courage to share what they know to be true.

    Elder Christofferson addressed the congregation regarding the need to nurture new members of the Church through befriending them, giving them a responsibility, and nurturing them with the teachings of the gospel.

    Also bearing testimony during the meetings were Sister Barbara Ballard; Sister Kathy Christofferson; Elder W. Blake Sonne, Area Authority Seventy in the North America Southeast Area; and Elder Sonne’s wife, Kay.

    The conference was held in the West Columbia South Carolina Stake. Participating by satellite were the Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, and Greenville East Stakes in South Carolina and the Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Douglas, Macon, and Savannah Stakes in Georgia.

    Missionaries from the South Carolina Columbia Mission attended the missionary meeting, which was also attended via satellite by the missionaries of the Georgia Macon Mission.

    Members filled the West Columbia Stake Center shortly after the doors opened, more than three hours before the general session began.

    “It’s the most wonderful experience I’ve had in my life,” said 17-year-old Amanda Geddings of the Newberry Branch, West Columbia South Carolina Stake, after the meeting. “I’ve never felt the Spirit so strongly, and I am so thankful that I can be a member of this Church.”

    The regional conference marked President Hinckley’s third visit to South Carolina. His previous visits included the dedication of the Columbia South Carolina Temple in 1999 and a conference while he served as counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985).

    Adapted from Church News, November 27, 2004.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles arrive at the stake center for a regional conference in South Carolina. (Photograph by Greg Hill, courtesy of Church News.)

    Elder Nelson Visits Six Countries During 15-day Tour of Africa

    Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy, assisted by members of two Area Presidencies, presided over stake and district conferences, taught mission presidents in two seminars, and addressed members and missionaries in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe during a 15-day tour of Africa from November 8–23.

    “There is something about the beauty of these African people that doesn’t leave you when you leave the country,” said Elder Nelson. “It is a real privilege to serve them.”

    In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Elder Nelson dedicated the country for the preaching of the gospel. That afternoon, he addressed about 200 Ethiopian members and their friends.

    In Lagos, Nigeria, Elder Nelson presided over the Port Harcourt Nigeria Stake conference, one of 22 stakes in Nigeria, while Elder Bateman traveled to Ghana, where he presided over the Swedru Ghana District conference.

    Joining Elder Bateman in Ghana, Elder Nelson addressed about 1,600 members in the Accra Ghana Christiansborg Stake Center, adjacent to the Accra Ghana Temple, on November 16.

    In Johannesburg, South Africa, Elder Nelson and Elder Bateman participated in a seminar for mission presidents. Later, Elder Bateman journeyed to Maputo, Mozambique, where he presided over a district conference.

    Elder Nelson traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe, where he presided over the Harare Zimbabwe Stake conference. He also observed the Church welfare program at work. In place of the typical landscaping, Church meetinghouses in Zimbabwe are surrounded by garden plots where members plant, cultivate, and harvest their own food.

    “It’s absolutely thrilling to see the welfare program at work,” Elder Nelson said, “where nobody is hungry, where nobody receives a dole. They work for what they have.”

    Elder Nelson spoke of his love for the African people. “The Church is making a great difference in the lives of people,” he said. “It’s giving light and hope in a world where it’s urgently needed. African members,” he continued, “understand the gospel very well.”

    Adapted from Church News, December 4, 2004.

    Members of the Church gather outside of the Harare International Center in Zimbabwe, following a stake conference where Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided. (Photograph by Greg Hill, courtesy of Church News.)


    Through music, dance, and drama, Latter-day Saints are celebrating temple dedications, historical commemorations, and the sheer joy of the gospel.

    Orange! Yellow! Green! Red! A swirl of color filled an outdoor stadium in Ghana on January 10, 2004, as 2,000 youth in traditional African costumes danced in an awe-inspiring display the day before the dedication of the Accra Ghana Temple.

    Playing simple musical instruments like those of their ancestors, these Latter-day Saint youth performed music and dances based on folktales of western Africa. The event in Ghana was the first of five celebrations held throughout the world in 2004 in honor of temple dedications or rededications.

    The following month in Anchorage, Alaska, Latter-day Saints radiated the same spirit of joy as they celebrated the rededication of their temple. Dressed in costumes that harkened back to their past, 600 Church members performed an original musical program honoring the cultural heritage of native Alaska.

    The largest of the 2004 celebrations took place on February 21, prior to the rededication of the São Paulo Brazil Temple, when 8,000 Latter-day Saints and 1,200 missionaries sang and danced in a steady rain for 60,000 spectators in Pacaembú Stadium. Thousands more throughout São Paulo watched the celebration via satellite broadcast. After a thunderous rendition of the Brazilian national anthem by the nearly 70,000 present, emotions and spirits ran high as a huge Brazilian flag waved over the stadium.

    In Denmark, on May 22, 2004, the simple words of a powerful solo, “Come light, come truth,” opened the production A Bridge of Faith for 4,000 people on the eve of the dedication of the Copenhagen Denmark Temple. Latter-day Saints from Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland, dressed in medieval costumes, sang original music as if it were a plea from those who lived in the Middle Ages. Their performance dramatized how the restored gospel and the building of a temple became the “bridge of faith” that led them to light and truth.

    In New York City’s Radio City Music Hall just three weeks later, thousands of teens reflecting the diverse ethnic mix of the larger Manhattan area energetically sang, danced, and performed numbers from an array of Broadway plays. The June 12, 2004, celebration was held on the eve of the dedication of the Manhattan New York Temple.

    A capacity audience of 5,300 thrilled for two hours to the colorful costumes, sparkling dance routines, and familiar show tunes.

    In the Merriest Spirit

    These celebrations have their roots in the Church’s pioneer past and ignite in the imagination scenes of Latter-day Saint pioneers dancing with hand-clapping, skirt-swishing enthusiasm at the end of the day.

    Of such an event, one pioneer wrote: “A blazing fire would roar, and fifty couples, old and young, would join in the merriest spirit … [to] the rival revelry of the solitary fiddle.” 1

    Perhaps the earliest example of the desire to add pageantry to Church celebrations came when the Prophet Joseph Smith welcomed the formation of the Nauvoo Brass Band. Formed in 1842 to accompany the public drills of the Nauvoo Legion, it soon became known as Pitt’s Brass Band, named after its leader, William Pitt. The band played for socials, concerts, steamboat excursions, arrivals of important people, and patriotic events. The energetic music created by fifes, fiddles, drums, and horns filled hearts with toe-tapping excitement or poignant fervor, depending on the occasion.

    Later, when the musicians were settled in the Salt Lake Valley, Pitt’s Brass Band was usually found among those who welcomed travel-weary wagon train companies upon their arrival in the valley. When the Salt Lake Temple site was dedicated in 1853 and the cornerstone laid on April 6 of that year, two brass bands provided the music.

    One Latter-day Saint in 1847 summed up the benefits of these lively celebrations by saying: “I am fond of these pastimes, they give me the privilege to [put] everything off … that my body may exercise and my mind rest. What for? To get strength and be renewed and quickened and enlivened and animated, so that my mind will not wear out.” 2

    The “Dancingest” Denomination

    Major historical commemorations, such as the 50th, 100th, and 150th anniversaries of the Church, help Latter-day Saints examine their past and celebrate their heritage. The longest ongoing tradition of celebrations in the Church centers on Pioneer Day, the anniversary of the day the first pioneer company entered the Salt Lake Valley—July 24, 1847. The date has been celebrated by Latter-day Saints every year since. On the jubilee (50th) anniversary in 1897, the celebration lasted six days. Today, Pioneer Day is celebrated worldwide with pageants, parades, music, and dance.

    The pinnacle of Latter-day Saint celebrations in the 20th century had to be the great dance festivals held in Salt Lake City between 1922 and 1975. Held in June in conjunction with the Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) conference, these festivals were made up of the best dance, drama, and music productions from throughout the Church. In 1959, when 8,000 participated in a dance festival, a reporter dubbed Latter-day Saints the “dancingest denomination.” 3

    But even larger festivals followed. In 1985, for example, 10 years after President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) announced that festivals would be held regionally, 13,000 Church members performed in a regional dance festival in southern California before an audience of 100,000.

    A Tremendous Generation

    Now the First Presidency, under the leadership of President Gordon B. Hinckley, has called for a revival of these gala celebrations. On February 19, 2004, a letter to local Church leaders informed them that they and the members over whom they preside “may … be invited to participate in events held in conjunction with special occasions such as temple dedications and historical commemorations.” The letter also encouraged local leaders to hold stake and multistake events. It noted that these experiences—“music, dance, drama, speech, sports, [and] visual arts”—help provide “a sense of unity and opportunities to develop friendships, especially among the youth.”

    Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy, adviser to the Music and Cultural Arts Division of the Priesthood Department, reiterates this important aspect of activities: “President Gordon B. Hinckley has counseled us to make sure that every member has a friend. Our youth today have a special need for good friends who are active in the Church. As youth work and perform with others who share their values, they realize that they are not alone. They see the happiness of their peers in living the gospel, and their own desire and commitment to do the same grows.”

    Many Church leaders today remember the effects these cultural activities had in their own lives. Elder Hammond recalls: “Although I wasn’t experienced in dancing, I participated with 3,000 other Church members in expressing my love for the gospel. I felt part of something much bigger than myself. That was an important moment in my young life.”

    David Warner, director of the Church’s Music and Cultural Arts Division, observes: “As we hear reports of cultural arts activities throughout the Church, we note that successful efforts always strengthen the participants. For youth, this strengthening comes as they have fun together, organize their time, develop their talents, and make sacrifices to serve. What they learn in the process prepares them for future responsibilities as missionaries, parents, and leaders in the Church. Perhaps most importantly, as youth seek the Spirit of the Lord to uplift and inspire others, they receive that Spirit more abundantly in their own lives.”

    Praise and Thanksgiving

    Such blessings can be felt by young and old alike. “Woven through these grand activities are very personal experiences where hearts are touched and testimonies strengthened,” says Brother Warner. “Raising their voices in song or witnessing youth joined in dance, members of the Church remember the hand of the Lord in their own lives and the lives of their forebears. They feel gratitude for their rich cultural heritage and rejoice in being a Latter-day Saint. In doing so, they let their light shine before friends and neighbors and extend a powerful invitation to come and enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel.”

    As temples continue to be built throughout the earth and special historical anniversaries of the Church are celebrated, that light will continue to shine. As in times past, it will be carried forth by faithful members of the Church who follow the commandment in Doctrine and Covenants 136:28 [D&C 136:28] to “praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.”


  •   1.

    Edward W. Tullidge, History of Salt Lake City (1886).

  •   2.

    A. M. Merrill, “Dancing,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1908, 950.

  •   3.

    “Dancingest Denomination,” Time, June 22, 1959, 47.

  • Members perform in Brazil’s Pacaembú Stadium before the São Paulo Brazil Temple was rededicated in 2004. (Photograph by Samir Baptista.)

    Alaskan members perform prior to the dedication of the Anchorage temple. (Photograph by Lynn Howlett.)

    Children in Ghana perform prior to the dedication of the temple in Accra. (Photograph by Linda Leeper.)

    Youth from the stakes surrounding the new Manhattan New York Temple dance on the Radio City Music Hall stage. (Photograph by Shaun Stahle, courtesy of Church News.)

    Call for New Member Experiences

    Becoming a member of the Church brings both blessings and challenges. When you were a new member, did you have an experience that could help others make the transition into Church membership? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome those challenges? Who helped you and what did they do to assist? As a Church leader or a ward or branch member, how have you helped new members strengthen their testimonies and become a part of the ward or branch family?

    Send stories and experiences to New Member Experiences, Liahona, 50 E. North Temple St. Rm. 2420, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3220, USA; or e-mail to Please include your full name, address, and ward and stake (or branch and district).

    Call for Scripts

    The Church is seeking scripts that are a minimum of one act for dramatic and musical productions suitable for ward/branch or stake/district use. They are welcome in all languages. They should teach gospel principles in uplifting ways and be doctrinally correct. These gospel-oriented works will be shared with Church units, so authors will be asked to grant the Church a non-exclusive, perpetual license for unlimited use.

    Submissions will be accepted at any time, but they will be reviewed yearly on an April 1 deadline. Please include:

    1. 1.

      Two copies of the entry and any applicable music on 8 1/2 x 11 inch (22 x 28 cm) paper.

    2. 2.

      A statement signed by all contributors that says: “The work submitted, entitled ______ , is my original work, is owned by me, and conforms to the submission rules.”

    3. 3.

      A cover letter with the work’s title; author’s name, address, phone number, and e-mail address; central theme; synopsis; and cast requirements.

    Send submissions to: Church Theatrical Script Submission, 50 E. North Temple St. Rm. 2082, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-6070, USA. For more information, call 1-801-240-6492.

    Additional Sharing Time Ideas, April 2005

    The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the April 2005 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see “My Family Can Be Forever” on pages F4 and F5 of the children’s section in this issue.

    1. Invite a family consisting of a father, mother, and baby to Primary. Ask the father to be prepared to briefly teach the children about pre-earth life and Heavenly Father’s plan for us to come to a family. Ask the mother to explain what parents do for a baby and what the baby will need to learn to return to Heavenly Father. Play the following game to show that everyone in the family can teach the baby. Copy Primary packet picture 1-7 (or another picture of a family), and cut it into six puzzle pieces. Write on the back of each piece one of the following names: Grandpa, Grandma, Father, Mother, Brother, Sister. Pass the puzzle pieces from child to child as the pianist plays “music clues” as to what the baby must learn (play, for example, songs or hymns about baptism, following the prophet, obedience, and so on). When the music stops, have the children identify the song and the principle taught. Ask each child holding a puzzle piece to tell one thing that the family member on the puzzle piece can do to teach that principle to the baby or to the child’s own family. Have one child put his or her puzzle piece in place after each song, beginning with “Grandpa.” Continue until the puzzle is complete.

    2. We can learn to live the gospel in our homes. Divide the room into four stations depicting four areas of a home—living room, kitchen, bedroom, and family room. The children will move from station to station for brief activities. In the “living room,” lead the children on a scripture chase (see who can reverently find each reference first) to identify gospel traditions in the home. Include the following scriptures: D&C 19:38 (praying), D&C 1:37 (reading scriptures), John 14:15 (keeping the commandments), Ex. 20:12 (honoring parents), D&C 119 (paying tithing), and D&C 59:9 (attending meetings). Point out that these are also part of the Faith in God requirements.

    In the “kitchen,” have the children make a simple sack puppet (see Teaching, No Greater Call [1999], 176–77). Show pictures of various foods and substances. Have the children open the puppet’s mouth if the food or substance shown is good for them and close the puppet’s mouth if it is not. Encourage the children to share the puppet in family home evening.

    In the “bedroom,” review with the children how to pray by discussing the Lord’s Prayer (see Matt. 6:9–13). Help the children make cutouts of the sun and moon to take home to remind them to pray morning and night.

    In the “family room,” teach older children how to lead a hymn (see Faith in God guidebook, 10). Teach younger children a scripture story, song, or finger play that they can share in family home evening.

    3. Teach the children about the Kirtland Temple using Gospel Art Picture Kit 500 (Kirtland Temple). Teach about the coming of Elijah to the Kirtland Temple and the restoration of sealing power using Gospel Art Picture Kit 417 (Elijah Restores the Power to Seal Families for Eternity) and the information on the back of the picture. What does it mean to be sealed? Where and how are we sealed today? Show a picture of a temple, and explain that when we are married in the temple and keep the promises we make there, we can live together as families in heaven after we die. Sing a song or hymn about temples. Show the My Gospel Standards poster, and ask the children why it includes a picture of the temple. Review My Gospel Standards, and teach that as we live them now, we will be worthy to attend the temple when we are older.

    Give each child a piece of paper divided in half with a line. Have the children draw a picture of themselves living one of the gospel standards on one half of the paper and a picture of themselves at the temple on the other half. Make a collage of the pictures for the Primary room, or have each child take his or her picture to share and post at home. Bear your testimony of the blessing of eternal families.