“Mississippi Area Conference: The Message Was Love,” Ensign, July 1980, 77–79
“Mississippi,” goes the saying, “is like coming home.” And there in early May, against a backdrop of magnolia blossoms and honeysuckle, members of the Church gathered together with a prophet of God, in a mood unmistakably “family”: brotherhood and sisterhood.
They came to the area conference in Jackson, Mississippi, from six southern states—Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. But they left reminded of their common citizenship in the Lord’s church and unified by counsel to strengthen one another and nonmember friends and neighbors. Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy gave this summary of the meetings: “The message of this great conference has been one of love.”
In addition to President Kimball and Elder Pinegar, other general Church leaders at the May 3 and 4 area conference were President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency; Elder Mark E. Petersen and Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Presidency Of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Sister Shirley W. Thomas, second counselor in the Relief Society; and Sister Norma B. Smith, second counselor in the Young Women.
It was clear from the Saturday afternoon women’s session that a singularly tender feeling would come often and easily throughout the conference. Elder Faust, suggesting that current desires for “liberation” might not be limited to either sex, spoke of universal “human concerns” for fulfillment, recognition, and achievement. He listed the particular gifts of women: sensitivity, insight, special talents for teaching and rearing children, the Creation of ideas and things of beauty, and “their supreme trait”—their great capacity to love. “Surely these womanly traits need to be recognized and valued more highly, for, in my opinion, there are none greater.”
Also in the women’s session, Sister Thomas referred to President Kimball’s admonition to the women of the Church to be “sister scriptorians.” She noted the efforts of early Relief Society sisters to gather and store grain and asserted that, similarly, we today must also “glean, gather, and store the word of the Lord against a time of need.”
Sister Smith counseled mothers to examine their “language of love.” “Our young people need to know in plain language that they are loved,” she said, “that you care about them, not just the things that they do.” Speaking to the young women, she urged them to so live that they could have “all the happy surprises that living the gospel can bring.”
The women in the audience seemed particularly grateful and eager for counsel on their roles and responsibilities. Elder Asay discussed Doctrine and Covenants section 25 as the Lord’s “voice unto all.” From that section he named ten specific instructions of the Lord to women.
Reminding each to be “a comfort unto … thy husband” (D&C 25:5), he cited the example of Sister Camilla Kimball at the time of President Kimball’s calling to the Quorum of the Twelve. President Kimball described her great capacity for understanding and encouragement during that intense time by saying, “My wife was my salvation” (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977, p. 191).
Paying tribute to a special grandmother (a “queen of women”), to his mother, and to his wife, President Tanner said, “I often wonder if women realize what it means to a husband to have a loving wife encourage him and express confidence in him. … A mother must realize that every word she speaks, every act, every response, and every mood—even her appearance and dress—affects the lives of the children and the whole family. She must be strong, joyful, sweet, kind, loving, and considerate, always showing great faith in God.”
The same warmth pervaded the powerful testimonies borne in the priesthood session Saturday night. Elder Petersen reminded the brethren that they are “custodians of a great, new revelation from God”—the restored gospel. Continuing in the theme of the earlier meeting, he said, “It’s remarkable how many times [Christ] tells us that we must have love in our ministry, love in our hearts.” The key to priesthood power, concluded Elder Petersen, is love at home; it is “basic to our success as priesthood ministers in the church of Christ.”
Elder Pinegar urged each father not to be a “casual leader,” but to organize his time so he could have regular interviews with his children and evaluation periods with his wife. He concluded by quoting the prophet’s words at the missionary meeting earlier that day: “We’re not just fooling around,” said President Kimball; “we’re really engaged in the work of the Lord.”
Recalling how his parents had prepared him for baptism at age eight, President Kimball counseled fathers in the priesthood session to teach their sons the value and honor of the priesthood. “Sometimes we find people who make light of it,” he said, “who speak of it in disparaging terms.” But the priesthood is “holy and sacred; it is glorious above expression.”
In a touching, fervent conclusion Saturday evening, President Kimball stressed again: “This is very important—very, very important. I hope that you will remember that that was one of the last things I ever told you: Keep the commandments and keep your boys working toward the priesthood.”
In his opening remarks at the Sunday morning session, President Kimball reminisced briefly about Church growth in his lifetime, and then called for the members to “arrange to see” that there would someday be a “chapel on nearly every corner” throughout the world. He encouraged them in their “proselyting adventure,” but added this sobering admonition: “We think there is a great possibility … that the members of the Church may not have been doing their whole duty” as missionaries. “Every man and woman should return home from this conference with the determination that they will take the gospel to their relatives and friends. If they do not, they must consider that they are not in total favor with their Heavenly Father.”
Noting the South’s tradition of strong families and respect for parents, Elder Pinegar related several stories about the blessings that come from honoring our parents, he counseled the sons and daughters in the audience to “recognize the love our parents have for us” and to “have faith in our parents. … Obedience,” he said, “is the greatest measure of our faith” in them.
Elder Mark E. Petersen discussed the meaning and responsibilities of being the Lord’s covenant people. “As the covenant people of the Lord,” he asked, “what is our present status?” Are we keeping our commitments or have we yielded in part to the adversary? “We must ever be on guard against the devil—he is real and he is mean.” Elder Petersen reminded the Saints in some detail of the physical and spiritual dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. The Word of Wisdom, he said, is “the Lord’s order of life” for his covenant people.
Speaking eloquently in the Sunday afternoon session, President Tanner considered the growth of the Church and the opposition it faced in its early years, opposition that came, he said, because Satan “knew that this was the church of Jesus Christ … and the effect it would have on people throughout the world.” Then he said, “Brothers and sisters, … how would we stand up under that persecution? … What kind of people are we? Are we true to the faith?”
As he concluded, President Tanner outlined briefly why the Church holds area conferences: “To let you mingle together. To let the President of the Church, the prophet of God, be in your midst.” And so you can “know that the work of the Lord is going forward.”
Elder Asay spoke of the “grandchildren grove”—long-lived pecan trees planted by one generation and not fully enjoyed until two generations later. Seeds of righteousness, he said, should be taking firm root in our families now, so that future generations will have a heritage of example, prayer, regular home evenings, and missionary service to build on. “Don’t forget that we owe a debt to those who have gone before. And the best way to repay them is to do for our children what our fathers did for us.”
Noting that these are unsettling times economically, Elder Faust asked, “What is the best thing to do in the worst times?” His answer was an explanation of the blessings of keeping the law of tithing, “a money law” but, more importantly, “a law of faith and obedience.” He also reminded the Saints of “the great companion law of tithing—the law of the fast,” from which come “blessings that are unique and different and separate” from those of tithing.
Elder Faust bore testimony of “the most solemn and complete knowledge I have—that God lives, that this is his work, and that President Kimball is his prophet.”
President Kimball began his brief concluding remarks by thanking the audience for coming. “My beloved brothers and sisters, whom I love with all my heart,” he said, “again we express affection to you—because we feel it very deeply.” That affection, multiplied by eight thousand Saints, came back to him as he stood to go. They stood, too, and waited as he looked and waved. Love of the gospel, of the prophet, and of the Lord was more than enough reason for coming to mingle together at the Mississippi area conference.(Photography by Fredrick W. Rich.)