‘Uplifted and edified’
Church’s leader speaks at largest LDS gathering in state
The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday encouraged a massive gathering of church members in Glendale to follow the covenants to unlock God’s promises and reminded them about the important role that church members will play in preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
An estimated 68,000 people flocked to State Farm Stadium in Glendale to attend a visit from President Russell Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in what is believed to be the largest LDS gathering in Arizona history.
The Glendale devotional came one month after Nelson’s trip to Chico, California, which sought to offer hope to victims of last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Over the past year, Nelson also has spread his message abroad, with events in places including England, Zimbabwe, China, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
Nachelle Sampson and her 11-year-old daughter traveled from Apache Junction to see Nelson. It’s the first time, Sampson said, that she or her daughter have heard from a man who is revered as a prophet by members of the church.
Nelson, 94, became president of the Salt Lake Citybased Church in January 2018.
“It’s kind of like going to Disneyland,” Sampson said. “It’s, like, this is a man who’s very close to God and he’s here to speak to the people of Arizona and give us direction and revelation. It’s a great feeling.”
Sampson said she was glad that her daughter would get to hear from Nelson at such a young age, hoping that the experience would stay with her as she grows up.
Nelson began his speech with humor, noting how his life turned out much differently than he imagined it would, according to his written remarks as prepared for delivery.
“As the one on our high school football team who sat on the bench during most games, I must say this is an amazing sight — to be with you in a football stadium filled to the rafters,” he said.
Nelson then was to delve into a story about he and his wife, Wendy, visiting one of her young cousins two weeks ago. The cousin, whom he gave the pseudonym “Robert,” is a Brigham Young University student who had just returned from a mission trip when he had a skiing accident that left him with a fractured spine, split sternum, broken ribs and no feeling in his legs.
Nelson said family and friends fasted and prayed that God would heal Robert from his wounds, but said that they found comfort in knowing that “Robert is of Abraham.”
“All the promises the Lord made to Abraham are for Robert too — if he keeps his covenants,” he said. “At this moment, Robert’s spinal cord has been severed, but his blessings through the Abrahamic covenant are intact.”
Nelson said God’s “miracle” of giving Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, even though they were considered too old to have children, could comfort Robert’s family as they prayed for a miracle with Robert’s recovery. He cited numerous other of God’s miracles to Abraham, and stated that so long as followers are true to their covenants, they would “have access to the power of God to do the seemingly impossible in our lives.”
He said that being faithful to covenants means followers have to be willing to be seen as “peculiar” by others.
“Our thoughts, behavior, language, entertainment, fashion, grooming, and time on the internet — to name a few things — are to be distinct from patterns and habits considered as normal by the world,” Nelson said, according to his prepared remarks.
Nelson was to conclude his speech by emphasizing the important role that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plays in furthering Jesus’ cause as his return to Earth nears.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency was set to speak before Nelson. Oaks focused on faith and trusting God’s will, plan and timing. Oaks discussed technological, cultural and other changes that impact young people in the Church, but emphasized the need to hold true to LDS values despite what the worldly trends may be.
“Too many of you are selling your precious time into slavery by excess talking and texting,” Oaks said. “Cut it back and rejoin the world of those who talk face to face. That is what we need for our future missionaries, as well as what you need for all that follows.”
Early crowds battled traffic and long security lines getting into the stadium as an expected 68,000 attendees filtered in to hear Nelson speak.
“The traffic was really slow on the roads getting into the stadium,” said Andrea Alonso, a member of the LDS Church for four years now. However, she said once they got in, the event coordinators made it easy for them to navigate to their seats.
Alonso attended the event with her boyfriend, Gustavo Lazaro, who was baptized just two weeks ago.
“I am really excited to see him, especially since I just got baptized,” Lazaro said. “I hope today I will learn a lot to help me continue on with my plans and with my faith.”
Alonso said she expected something big from Nelson’s speech.
“This is like the Savior is talking to us so it means a lot,” she said. “This is coming from our Father so we expect something emotional and big.”
Jake Dalton, 17, had similar hopes for the devotional.
“I’m at that age where you’re on the cusp and you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do,” he said. “You’re about to graduate high school, you’re trying to think about college and maybe serving a mission, so I’m hoping to get some inspiration and direction.”
Dalton said his faith used to not play as large of a role in his life as it does now. He said the guidance of the leaders of the LDS church has helped influence his decisions and point him in the right direction for adulthood.
A quietness fell over the stadium at around 5:45 p.m. and congregants stood in silence as Nelson entered the venue.
Once congregants were permitted to sit, sections of church members would wave as Nelson looked in their direction.
Just before 6 p.m. a choir kicked off the event by singing the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” The entire stadium then joined in singing “Now Let Us Rejoice” before a church leader prayed over the event.
Sister Kristen M. Oaks addressed the crowd, stressing the importance of following the tenets of the Book of Mormon and not being tempted by worldly desires. She said she could promise that those who stayed true to their covenants would be “uplifted and edified” through their faith.
A little more than 6 percent of Arizona’s population identifies as Mormon, according to 2017 U.S. Census figures, ranking it behind only Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada for population percentage. In terms of actual numbers, there are more than 428,000 church members in 895 congregations throughout Arizona, church spokeswoman Jennifer Wheeler said last week. That places it fourth, behind only Utah, California and Idaho.
Arizona is home to six Temples. Five of those currently are operating, while one, Arizona’s original Tempe in downtown in Mesa, is temporarily closed for renovations.
The Mesa Temple opened in 1927. It was the only one in the state until 2002, when a Temple was dedicated in Snowflake. Since then, Temples have opened in Graham County near Thatcher (2010); Gilbert and Phoenix (2014), and Tucson (2017).
Russell Nelson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, waves at members of the church at State Farm Stadium in Glendale before speaking for a devotional on Sunday.
Thousands gather to hear Nelson speak at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sing on Sunday.