It’s a great blessing for my wife, Ellen, and me to be with you today, our dear friends who are part of the seminaries and institutes around the world. We feel so very fortunate to be able to work together with you in teaching this remarkable generation of young people. Thank you so very much for who you are and for all the good that you do.
On the night of His betrayal, our Lord offered one of the most sublime prayers ever given:
“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. …
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”1
In this prayer, brothers and sisters, our Savior clearly acknowledged the preeminence of unity among His followers.2 Unity is about becoming; it is an attribute that must be nurtured and developed, individually and collectively. To assist us in that development, for several years now, one of our system priorities has been to establish and to cultivate unity with those with whom we work, serve, and teach.
We are so very pleased with how faithfully you have responded to this system priority. We know how you’ve tried to grow in love and unity for one another as you’ve worked and taught together, and because of this, those whom we serve and teach have been greatly blessed. We have witnessed a steady, consistent growth of unity in all aspects of our work, and we believe that our hearts have been “knit together in unity and in love one towards another”3 more than ever before. We sincerely thank you for all of your efforts.
However, with all of the progress we have made to establish and cultivate unity, we still had a strong feeling among us that a focus on unity should continue as one of our system priorities. Each time we met and counseled together to discuss what this system priority should be, there were a number of things that became clear.
We remembered that Elder D. Todd Christofferson had taught an important truth about unity when he declared, “We will become of one heart and one mind as we individually place the Savior at the center of our lives and follow those He has commissioned to lead us.”4
We were also mindful that Elder Russell M. Nelson had taught us last year to “harmonize our efforts” with the current teachings and priorities of the prophets.5
These inspired teachings and feelings provided direction in the development of the system priority for this year, which is: Strengthen unity—harmonize our efforts with prophetic priorities and the direction of those appointed to lead us.
Brothers and sisters, our beloved prophets and apostles and leaders are speaking to us! I know that the Lord has and will continue to reveal His will to those whom He has chosen to lead us. We must love, seek for, and follow their direction. Last February, our Commissioner, Elder Paul V. Johnson, shared with us this wise advice: “It is also critical to listen carefully as we receive counsel from our leaders. Think of the grounding and shaping we in CES have received over the years from the prophets and seers who have spoken directly to us. From ‘The Charted Course of the Church in Education,’ and including the many, many messages since then, we have been blessed with important direction, inspiration, and, sometimes, needed change.”6
This is how we can strengthen unity. If we will listen carefully, we will learn the will of the Lord as it is given from our leaders. If we humbly seek to understand its application to us in our own individual circumstances and pray for guidance, the path we should follow will be made known to us. The success of this system priority this year will depend upon our commitment to obey this counsel.
We are profoundly grateful for the way many of you have already tried to apply this system priority, and the blessings that have followed have been truly remarkable. I would like to share three examples of how harmonizing our efforts with our leaders’ counsel and direction increases unity and blesses the lives of our youth and teachers.
Brother Brandon Goss, a seminary principal in the U.S. Northern Plains Area, took very seriously Brother Webb’s invitation to find ways for students to have a meaningful experience studying the Book of Mormon. He invited all of his students to purchase another copy of the Book of Mormon to give to someone else with an invitation to read it. He encouraged his students to prayerfully select verses that they felt would be of value for someone who had never read the Book of Mormon before and mark and annotate those verses in the other copy that they would give away.
Brother Goss shared the following account of a student who accepted this invitation:
“Holly Joy Rohan wanted to learn more about what we believed as members of the Church and decided to attend some of our Church meetings and participate in some of the activities. During this time, one of my students, Dillon Rogers, gave Holly Joy his prepared copy of the Book of Mormon with the verses that he had personally marked and annotated.
“At first, she didn’t open it or read it. However, after a period of time, another one of my students, Heather Ashby, gave Holly Joy a copy of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, which she read, and she fell in love with the standards of the Church. This made her want to start reading the Book of Mormon, and after a few months, she had read it from cover to cover.
“By reading the Book of Mormon and the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, she received a witness from the Spirit and knew this was the Lord’s Church. She was baptized on January 10, her 18th birthday. One of my students, Jackson Gaskill, baptized her. Almost every seminary student attended her baptism to support her. It was awesome!
“The story doesn’t end there. After Holly Joy was baptized, she accepted Brother Webb’s invitation to study the Book of Mormon again and also purchased another copy to give away to someone else. When she had finished marking and annotating all of her chosen verses, including writing her personal testimony in her other copy of the Book of Mormon, she kept it and prayed to know who she should give it to.
“Holly Joy was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting and invited a nonmember friend by the name of Maddie O’Brien to come to Church with her to hear her speak. After the meeting was over, she asked Maddie what she thought about Church. Maddie said that she felt so peaceful and warm and wanted to learn more about it and asked Holly Joy if she had a copy of the Book of Mormon that she had mentioned in her talk. Holly Joy told her to stay right there, and she ran out to her car to get the Book of Mormon she had prepared to give away. She came back and gave it to Maddie and pleaded with her to read it. Later that same night, Holly Joy sent a text message to Maddie asking if she had opened the Book of Mormon. Maddie sent back a text message that read, ‘Have I opened it? I’m in Alma 24, and I have about 50 sticky notes of questions for you. When can I meet with the missionaries?’
“The next day in seminary, Holly Joy told the students about sharing her prepared copy of the Book of Mormon and read to them the text message that Maddie had written the night before. The Spirit was very strong in our class that day.
“Maddie was baptized just a few weeks later by Dillon Rogers, the one who had given his prepared copy of the Book of Mormon to Holly Joy. Maddie is now enrolled to take seminary this upcoming year.”
Brothers and sisters, this is a powerful example of what can happen when a teacher harmonizes their efforts with the will of the Lord through a leader, humbly seeking to understand its application for his or her own individual circumstance. Brother Webb has extended another invitation to us today, to help our students have a meaningful study of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is similar to the one he gave last year. My hope is that you’ll respond to his invitation this year in a similar way you responded to his invitation last year. I know that doing so will bring about very similar results, and what a blessing that will be!
Another example I would like to share of how this system priority has already been applied comes from an experience that occurred at a husband-and-wife convention in the U.S. Arizona South Area last January. The area director, Brother Wes Wright, and members of his training council wanted to review Sister Linda K. Burton’s 2013 S&I August broadcast talk, “Home, a Glimpse of Heaven,” and they thought it would be a good idea to have a sister from the area lead the review. After some discussion, they decided to assign Sister Laura Wright, the area director’s wife, and she accepted.
Brother Kelly Haws was present at the convention when Sister Wright reviewed Sister Burton’s talk with the area. He was so impressed with her presentation that when he learned that she and her husband would later be visiting Salt Lake City, he invited them to come to the Church Office Building so that we could film an interview with her. You can probably imagine how frightening it would be for someone to do something like that, but a promise from her husband of a new dress, as well as a promise of chocolates from Brother Haws, helped her to accept.
On the day of the filming, we spent about 30 minutes asking questions and having her respond about her experience of reviewing Sister Burton’s talk and some of the impressions she shared with the area. Brothers and sisters, I wish we had more time today for you to see and listen to the entire interview. Our plan is to make it available for area directors to consider using it in an area husband-and-wife gathering. Now, please listen carefully, brothers and sisters, for some of the prophetic priorities, as well as their application, that Sister Wright discovered from her study of Sister Burton’s talk.
Laura Wright: “One of the things Sister Burton said was she shared when her father was a seminary teacher and how her mother’s excitement and joy in reliving those experiences was just as great as his. I loved when she talked about when she was a seminary teacher. Her husband would come every morning and set up tables and chairs and call her every afternoon: ‘How did it go?’ ‘What did they learn?’
“I think the prophetic priority is making our home a glimpse of heaven. That’s what the title of her talk was, and the way to do that is to start with one little part. How can I become more involved in making my home a glimpse of heaven?
“Sister Burton’s mother didn’t always go to seminary, but she knew about it. So, share with each other. Find one little thing that you want to do that she said to make your home more cheery. She shared Doctrine and Covenants section 25 and gave a list of five beautiful things that Emma Smith was told. I don’t think every cheery home will have the same ingredients, but those are five key ingredients that we’ve been given that will help us obtain the objective. We will be able to bring students and our children.
“I am grateful for all the seminary teachers that have taught our children, and institute teachers. I’m grateful for their homes; I’m grateful for their wives because they are bringing all of us together in unity to Christ.”
I hope you get a sense of Sister Wright’s love and excitement for what Sister Burton taught us last year as you watched that clip. It came as a result of her willingness to carefully listen, to study, and to seek for prophetic priorities that she could apply in her life. Now, please watch this final clip of Sister Wright’s interview, where she was asked to share her thoughts about why she felt it was important for a husband and a wife to go together to see and to hear the S&I August broadcast or the Evening with a General Authority each year.
Sister Wright: “Well, the biggest comment I have is we are a team at home; we become a team at work. Everything that he does at work, he brings home, and it affects me, and we grow together. How hard it would be if he were the only one growing. If I were just at home, and especially when we had young kids—we called it the mommy robot years, when I changed the same diapers and I wiped the same nose every day. And it’s hard to live like that, to be the wife at home. And when he comes home and can share that with me, it is wonderful. But when I get to go too, and we can hear it at the same time, and we can both feel inspired, taking time at a husband-and-wife convention to write down a goal or goals from what we’ve just experienced together, it’s so much better in setting the path. Make a goal, and then we make a plan, and it’s growing our relationship, it’s growing our family, and it’s growing him professionally as a teacher and a leader.”
Sister Wright stated very well an important message we wanted to share with spouses today. Our hope is whenever there’s a worldwide S&I inservice meeting, such as the August broadcast or the Evening with a General Authority, that you’ll make every effort, when circumstances allow, to attend these events as a couple. Carefully listen and discuss with each other ways to harmonize your efforts with prophetic priorities and the direction of those appointed to lead us in every applicable aspect of your lives. Find ways to grow together in this wonderful work!
And this final example that I want to share with you today comes from Brother Rob Elzey, our area director in the U.S. Utah Valley Central Area. In an effort to prepare for a rich, personal experience with this system priority, he sent out a packet to all of his teachers of the talks given during the past five years by Church leaders to our organization. He instructed them to read each talk, ponder, search, and record their findings as they identified prophetic priorities for S&I and come prepared for the first day of their summer inservice to share what they had discovered. He also included worksheets in the packet to help each teacher list and organize all of their discovered priorities.
Over the weeks, as his teachers worked to complete this assignment, Brother Elzey received a number of emails like this one from Brother Gary Little, a seminary principal of the Pleasant Grove Utah Senior Seminary. He wrote: “I cannot thank you enough for inviting us to study these talks from the General Authorities to us! It is changing me! It is giving me courage and direction I didn’t know was available and that I needed desperately. The timing of this invitation was perfect! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
And this one was sent from Brother Ron Bartholomew, an institute teacher at the Orem Utah Institute of Religion. He wrote: “As I have immersed myself in the study materials you provided for us, I have felt strengthened, edified, inspired, the list goes on. I am so grateful for this particular inspiration. This has been the most meaningful assignment I have been given since the readings for PDP [Professional Development Program]. I can’t thank you enough. It has been amazing, edifying, and miraculous.”
Brothers and sisters, these are only a few of the examples of what happens when there is a sincere desire to strengthen unity by harmonizing our efforts with prophetic priorities and the direction from those appointed to lead us. I invite each of us to study this system priority and deepen our understanding of its meaning and importance. Can we begin to see how this system priority will help us to more fully accomplish the objective of S&I?
I testify that if every area, every council, every faculty, every individual will think about, will talk about, and will pray about what prophets and leaders are teaching us and how to implement what they’re asking us to do, an even greater outpouring of the Spirit and power will be given to bless us and strengthen us, as well as our beloved youth and young adults of the Church. I know that we’ll be guided by the Spirit as we prayerfully and willingly seek for ways to accomplish the will of the Lord as it’s taught to us by our leaders. I bear witness that as we harmonize our efforts to carry out their direction, we, along with those whom we love, serve, and teach, will be unified and better prepared to take full advantage of the marvelous blessings that will be poured out upon us. I testify that this is true and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Redeemer of all mankind, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2014 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/14. “Strengthen Unity—Harmonize Our Efforts with Prophetic Priorities and Direction from Those Appointed to Lead Us.” English. PD10051052 000
2. See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2003), 41–42.
3. Mosiah 18:21.
4. D. Todd Christofferson, “Come to Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 38.
5. Russell M. Nelson, “Teaching Youth in the Day of the Wave” (Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 6, 2013); lds.org/broadcasts.
6. Paul V. Johnson, “Responding Appropriately to Change” (evening with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Feb. 8, 2013); lds.org/broadcasts.