‘Up­lifted and ed­i­fied’

Church’s leader speaks at largest LDS gath­er­ing in state

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - NATHAN FISH/THE REPUB­LIC THOMAS HAWTHORNE/THE REPUB­LIC BrieAnna J. Frank and Macken­zie Shu­man

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.

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