“Houston Area Conference Report,” Ensign, Aug. 1979, 72–73
For 17,000 Texan Latter-day Saints, the recent June 23–24 Houston Area Conference, the first in the continental United States, was the fulfillment of a long-anticipated spiritual feast.
For many, it was also the first opportunity to see and hear President Spencer W. Kimball. They also heard five other General Authorities and two general auxiliary leaders speak at the two day conference held at Houston’s Summit sports center.
The messages given reiterated familiar themes: strengthen and prepare families and homes, and teach the gospel.
President Spencer W. Kimball, who spoke at all four sessions, emphasized individual righteousness and responsibility in his address at the first of two general Sunday sessions.
“It depends almost wholly on you,” he told the 17,094 attending the morning session. “To some extent we have been bypassing our neighbors,” he said.
“Every man and woman should return with the determination that they will take the gospel to their relatives and their friends.”
Another primary duty is for parents to instruct their children correctly, he said. “It isn’t enough to go to Sunday School and sacrament meeting, as important as that is. Our children should also be taught the gospel by their parents.”
That message was similar to those he gave briefly at a Saturday afternoon session for women aged twelve and older, and at greater length at a Saturday night priesthood session.
He told priesthood brethren that when he was a youngster his father took him to Salt Lake City and introduced him to President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors, and to store clerks. “My father was proud of me,” he said—and that pride made young Spencer Kimball proud of himself and his family heritage. That trip and another to San Francisco “have remained in my memory all these years,” he said.
He encouraged fathers to likewise spend time with their children and to encourage their sons to serve missions. “I won’t be totally satisfied until all the boys are convinced and are ready to go when they are nineteen years of age.” He also urged older couples to serve missions. “Many people are—what do you call it?” he mused, turning to Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who sat behind him. “Retiring,” Elder Hinckley prompted. “Yes,” the president continued, using a word evidently not considered much in his busy eighty-four years. “They are retiring too early. They could go on missions.”
President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke to women Saturday about the importance of motherhood, and to the general session Sunday afternoon about the importance of prayer.
“No one will ever reach … perfection except those who communicate with and are guided by the Lord,” he said. “God assists every soul who learns to walk the path of prayer.” How a person prays is not as important as the spirit he has in doing it, he said. “I know that prayer is the pathway to God. There have been times when it was very difficult for me to get through to God. It took fasting and prayer,” he said. He had to learn, he explained, to be as earnest in saying “Thy will be done” as he was in saying “My will be done.”
President Ezra Taft Benson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, told priesthood brethren that “there are some of us … who do not take the priesthood as seriously as we should.” He cited three “imperative, important responsibilities:” obedience to priesthood covenants, governing righteously in priesthood stewardships, and following the counsel of presiding officers.
Sunday morning he counseled those attending to spend more time with their children, to have daily devotion in the home, to instruct children in the home—particularly in “problems of sex relationships”—and to have family recreation and cultural activities. (“Many parents have turned the musical education of their children over to the local rock music station,” he quipped.)
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve, speaking—on his birthday—at the women’s meeting, addressed remarks to unmarried women in the Church. “Stop wandering around in the wasteland of self-pity,” he said. “If you are single, remember that all of the unhappiness in the world isn’t found among the single. …
“Don’t give up hope and don’t give up trying, but do give up being obsessed with it.”
At the Sunday afternoon session, Elder Hinckley bore testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and said that bearing such testimony is “the great and overbearing responsibility” of Church membership. Although the message of the gospel is the divinity of Jesus Christ, “I sometimes think that with our emphasis on programs we’re prone to think more of the mechanism than the message,” he said.
Elder Dean L. Larsen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and former mission president in Texas, said Saturday night that he saw “evidences of [moral] deterioration” in Houston. “It will be your responsibility to hold the line, to maintain and foster an environment in which good can flourish.”
The next day, Elder Larsen counseled the Sunday morning congregation to “check your vital signs” and thus monitor spiritual status. It isn’t necessary, he said, for a member to “carry an official, significant assignment in the Church.” Instead, ask, “What things are you doing to reach and bless the lives of others?”
Elder F. Burton Howard, also a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, encouraged fathers to instruct their children spiritually by “communicating the contagion of the gospel.” He told how his father demonstrated love for the gospel and Church leaders by taking the Howard children to meet Spencer W. Kimball, then an apostle, at Independence Rock, Wyoming.
“Home must be a workshop, not a lecture hall,” he said. At the Sunday afternoon session, he talked about missionary work and urged those who had not served missions to consider serving.
The two women speakers at the conference sessions were Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, and Elaine Cannon, general president of the Young Women. Both spoke at the women’s session, which 5,875 women attended.
“Relief Society has been carefully shaped and refined,” through its years of growth, enabling it to help women in the Church, Sister Smith said. She urged women to attend Relief Society and lauded the work of women who help others. “The Lord has given us a responsibility to continue the work of compassionate service.”
Sister Cannon explained some responsibilities of taking on oneself the name of Christ. “When we take on us his name, we take on us the responsibility of helping mankind,” she said. “It becomes increasingly clear to me that the work of women is as vitally important in the plan of life, in the kingdom, as is the administrative and ordinance work of the priesthood. We love; we comfort; we nurture; we support; we provide the atmosphere which can make it heaven on earth.”
Four Regional Representatives also spoke at the priesthood and general sessions. An all-Texas choir performed at the Sunday sessions.
Between the conference sessions, many families ate sack lunches—some on the lawn, basking in Houston’s humid June heat, and others eating picnic lunches by their cars in the Summit’s ample parking lot.
As the conference ended, Saints from many Texas cities returned happily to their homes. They’d gone to hear the word of the Lord, and they’d not been disappointed.