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LDS leader reminisces

The life of a prophet belongs to the entire church President Gordon B. Hinckley said Sunday in a reflection on his near-lifetime of service to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His personal recollections highlighted the Sunday morning session of the churchs 176th Annual General Conference.
Photo by Keith JohnsonLDS Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley center followed by James E. Faust and Thomas S. Monson greets general authorities.
The personable leader of 12.6 million members worldwide has become known and loved for his efforts to embrace Latter-day Saints across the globe and to unite the membership by taking church leadership into their far-flung homelands.
In what he described as a departure from the usual gospel-themed talks of general conference the 95-year-old leader who millions consider a prophet took a personal journey back through the years focusing on the blessings that have come from his devotion to the latter-day cause and his lifelong commitment to the spread of the gospel.
He served as a missionary and then in ward and stake positions as a young man until being sustained a member of the churchs Quorum of the Twelve in April 1958. He became the churchs 15th president on March 12 1995.
My talk this morning will be different from any previously heard in the general conferences of the church President Hinckley said.
I face the sunset of my life. I am totally in the hands of the Lord . . . I take this opportunity while it is available to express appreciation and gratitude for the remarkable blessings the Lord has showered upon me . . . Somehow the Lord has watched over and guided my choices although it was not always evident at the time.
The church leader said the concluding words of the poem by Robert Frost The Road Not Taken come to mind. Two roads diverged in a wood and I — I took the one less traveled by And that has made all the difference.
Often in recent years the venerable leader has alluded to his age and the inevitable decline it entails. Although a vigorous and thoroughly alert nonagenarian whose sense of humor is legend he has suffered challenges recently.
The death of his beloved companion Marjorie Pay Hinckley two years ago was a significant event. I miss her more than I can say. She was a really remarkable woman one with whom I walked side by side in perfect companionship for more than two-thirds of a century he said.
President Hinckley also referred to recent surgery to remove a cancerous growth in his colon. It was the first time I have been a patient in a hospital. I do not recommend it to anyone he said drawing knowing laughter from the audience. He said physicians involved in the Jan. 24 surgery have warned him that he may have continuing problems.
But he advised conferencegoers that his talk should not be regarded as my obituary. I look forward to speaking to you in October. (The churchs semiannual conference will be held in October.)
Despite the January surgery the LDS leader was recovered sufficiently that by March 12 he was in Santiago Chile to preside over the rededication of an LDS temple there. Colleagues then described him as absolutely amazing.
As he reminisced President Hinckley credited his obedience to gospel principles for his rise in the church and the unexpected blessings that have ensued.
He said the address was one of more than 200 conference addresses he has presented since being called as a general authority in 1958. I have dealt with a great variety of subjects but running through all has been a dominant thread of testimony of this great latter-day work he said.
During his time as a church authority he said he has hosted and mingled with presidents prime ministers and ambassadors as well as having walked among the impoverished and poor of the Earth and shared with them my love my concern and my faith. I hope I have made at least a small difference.
During his tenure the church has created several humanitarian service projects such as the Perpetual Education Fund and greatly expanded humanitarian aid for many people around the world.
President Hinckley shared some notations from his personal journal in the 1950s when he was serving in a stake presidency illustrating the close association he then had with many of the churchs top leaders.
Such an opportunity could not now be had by anyone because the church is much larger he said. The term of his service has seen enormous growth in the church with a commensurate increase in the number of general authorities.
He spoke of a patriarchal blessing he received as a boy of 11. It is personal and I will not read extensively from it. However it contains the statement: The nations of the Earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear.
Later after a mission in England he traveled for a time in Europe and was able to bear his testimony in Berlin and Paris and then again as he was in Washington D.C. He felt this had fulfilled the promise in his blessing he said.
That proved to be a mere scratching of the surface. Since then I have lifted my voice on every continent in cities large and small all up and down from north to south and east to west across this broad world . . . It is all a miracle.
President Hinckley said his challenge to church members last year to read or re-read the Book of Mormon has produced remarkable results. I trust and hope that we have drawn closer to God because of reading this book.
His closing comments consisted of a strong testimony to the truths of the Latter-day restoration of the gospel. The vision given the Prophet Joseph Smith in the grove of Palmyra (N.Y.) was not an imaginary thing. It was real. The resurrected Lord and his father the great God of the Universe appeared to the young prophet and opened the dispensation of the fulness of times he said.
The Book of Mormon is all that it purports to be . . . The priesthood has been restored under the hands of John the Baptist and Peter James and John. All of the keys and authority pertaining to eternal life are exercised in this church . . . This church which carries the name of the Redeemer is true.
His conference address struck a note of accord with thousands of church faithful in the Conference Center and listening to the proceedings in nations around the globe.
Among those still commenting on the talk as they exited the center were Elder Daniel M. Jones and his wife JoAnn of Cedar City. He was sustained Saturday as a member of the churchs Area Seventy.
I thought (his talk) was wonderful JoAnn Jones said. He has such a love for the people.
His words were not the least bit self-aggrandizing; he just wants us to be more like Jesus Christ Elder Jones said.
Jason Almberg of Salt Lake City welcomed the personal reflections of the prophet as a chance to get to know him better. We dont often hear too much about the personal life of the prophet he said.
His friend Cesar Valenz of Costa Mesa Calif. agreed that the talk had the sense of an older person who knows he will be going and doesnt want to leave this Earth without sharing this testimony. He wants to finish in a good way.
Ive grown up with (President Hinckley) as the prophet said Natalie Nelson of Phoenix a student at Brigham Young University. It was a really neat experience to be in the Conference Center and it was perfect what he shared.
Her companion Harold Avell of Monroe La. also a BYU student said he enjoyed the personal twist to Sundays remarks. I was interested in what he read from his old journals.
It was great. I felt so much emotion. I saw tears running down the faces of men who were listening said Graciela Gutierrez who was shepherding a group of five seminary students from the Cerritos Calif. 2nd Ward.
One of those students Alexander Avila said this was an experience he would hold dear to my heart. He (the prophet) assures everyone. He makes us feel special.
Sue Jarvis who was enjoying the spring air between sessions on a Temple Square wall (being unable to get tickets into the Conference Center) had old memories stirred as President Hinckley talked. I worked in the Church Office Building in the 1950s. I saw him then as a humble servant of the Lord. And now hes president. Hes just so sweet.
Jarvis who was with her husband Steve said that for a bit she wondered if the revered leader were actually giving an obituary talk but felt good when President Hinckley assured church members he expects to be still at his post fulfilling his calling for some time to come.
E-mail: tvanleer@desnews.com

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