Dieter Uchtdorf and Jeffrey Holland -- members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing level in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide -- addressed hundreds of attendees in a rare appearance Sunday at a Little Rock service.
Demonstrating mutual support and solidarity with the church amid recent reshuffling within its hierarchy, their three-day visit to Little Rock came less than three weeks after the Jan. 2 death of 90-year-old Thomas Monson, who headed the church as the most senior of the First Presidency's three members, and the naming of 93-year-old Russell Nelson, who had served as Monson's first counselor in the First Presidency, as the church's 17th president.
Uchtdorf, a 77-year-old former pilot for Lufthansa, was reassigned Jan. 16 from the First Presidency back to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, where he had served until his call to the presidency in 2008, while Dallin Oaks, 85, a former heart surgeon, was made the newest presidency member as Nelson's second counselor.
A counselor's placement from the First Presidency back to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is a rare event, having occurred only twice in recent church history, in 1970 and 1985. Latter-day Saints have expressed concern about the change, which Uchtdorf addressed in a Jan. 17 Facebook post.
"In the last couple of days, I have seen countless comments on social media and have heard many questions regarding how I feel now that I am no longer a counselor in the First Presidency," Uchtdorf said in his post. "I appreciate your concern for my welfare, but I assure you, I'm just fine.
"I love and support the First Presidency, and I am thrilled to again more closely associate with the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles."
At Sunday's service Uchtdorf urged attendees to "think locally," when sharing the church's messages with others, reflecting upon his experiences from earlier that morning. He said that while taking a pre-dawn walk he had "felt lost" in Little Rock until the sun rose, and was more comfortable once he had gained a sense of direction in the way "the gospel gives us orientation."
Holding up a copy of the Jan. 25 edition of the Arkansas Times, Uchtdorf read aloud its title: Big Ideas: Readers and Experts Suggest Ways to Change Arkansas For the Better.
"That's missionary work," Uchtdorf said of the title. "So brothers and sisters, look around locally. Use [the newspaper] for instance -- a little message for our church: big ideas. Change Arkansas or Tennessee or whatever's close by for the better.
"Let's not wait until something comes from headquarters, because it won't."
Uchtdorf expressed gratitude to all involved, including Holland, the Quorum, Jorg Klebingat and his wife, Julia, who accompanied him and Holland on the trip; Little Rock Mission President Norman Hansen and his wife, Karen. He then reaffirmed his belief in Nelson.
"I'm so grateful to serve now again in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after 10 years in the first presidency," Uchtdorf said. "I tell you that I sustain and support and love our president and prophet ... President [Nelson]. I've known [Nelson] forever and we have served in so many occasions ... and he is indeed the prophet of God."
Holland, 77, let the audience in on a lighthearted insight about Uchtdorf gathered from the two men taking a trip together.
Uchtdorf makes for a challenging traveling companion.
"We go by and the [women] ... suddenly they have the vapors," Holland said of others' initial reactions to Uchtdorf. "The men, they don't have the vapors, but suddenly they start pulling their stomachs in."
Holland, who served as the ninth president of Brigham Young University from 1980-89 before entering the church leadership, said Uchtdorf is a "wonderful friend" and acknowledged Uchtdorf's placement back into the Quorum after serving in the church's highest leadership tier.
"[Uchtdorf] left me 10 years ago and decided to go ... the distance, but he came back," Holland said. "In the Gospel, good things come back. ... What Elder Uchtdorf represents, and what he says, and what we've observed is one of the greatest lessons that could ever be taught in this church ... and [he] is living it. ... We live it collectively, and he has taught that it is not where you serve in this church ever -- it's how we serve."
Holland also shared his thoughts on Nelson's taking the helm as president last month and its impact on the church.
"This event we're in is a testimony-builder. And President Nelson has trusted us with faith, with humility -- he didn't ask [to be president of the church] any more than Monson asked [to]. Nobody asks [to become president]. Nobody campaigns. Nobody ... pulls out placards and brings balloons and says, 'Boy, oh boy, I won.'
"Most of the time -- virtually all of the time -- the impact of this [change] is so staggering and so sobering and so tearful that we spend a lot of time just propping each other up for the duties that are at hand, that fall on the leadership of this church.
"It is very much the course of the impact of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ in people's lives, and that's not something you make balloons out of and pour confetti over."
Kurt and Shari Haws of Little Rock found the missionaries' choral performances woven into the service extra touching because their son is serving a mission in St. George, Utah.
They said the visit by Uchtdorf and Holland was "a pretty big honor."
"It's neat to see them up close and see their humor," Kurt Haws said of the apostles. "And that they're regular people just like everyone else, even though they're wonderful leaders of our church."
The Hawses were not the only Latter-day Saints who felt the apostolic visit brought a sense that the church leaders are down-to-earth people.
"It was great to see the people you see on TV, especially having such a high-up position," said Kevin Tutton of Benton, a church member who attended with his wife, Jacque, and their three children. "When you get them here in a state setting, there's got to be something behind it, and my impression is that they want to see the church grow in the South."
"[Their visit is] a big blessing because we can't travel," said Jacque Tutton. "It's not just a Salt Lake City thing."
Brandon Ralph, who has been serving as a missionary in the Little Rock area for 18 months, said it was humbling to have both men in the same building at once. Producing a tablet device, he scrolled through pages of notes he had taken from the apostles' talks.
"To be so close and hear so many wonderful, inspiring words ... it was definitely a moving, wonderful time for me," said Ralph, who said he felt supported by the apostolic visit and that he would take a different outlook on his mission work as a result.
Area Seventy Michael Beheshti, who coordinated the visit for Uchtdorf and Holland, said the apostles' visit was "momentous" for Latter-day Saints in the five stakes (governing areas) throughout which their visit was broadcast and for Arkansas as a whole.
"Because of their message of faith and hope and optimism in Jesus Christ, our faith and commitment to Christ has increased," Beheshti said. "Our commitment to keep the commandments and to follow the Savior's admonition to love one another will help us become better neighbors and use our influence to better our communities.
"Although their visit was short, the impact of that visit will endure long into the future. We will never forget this weekend."
Religion on 02/03/2018
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