“Regional Meetings—On Strengthening Families,” Ensign, Aug. 1980, 77–78
Their purpose is to discuss local problems and pool local strengths. And the regional meetings held throughout the Church this year, themed to individual and family growth, did just that.
No two meetings were alike. Brief instructions from Salt Lake City indicated that “department sessions should be organized to meet local needs.” So the presentations, given by local people, dealt with local needs and local ways of filling those needs.
Talks and workshops focused on a group of goals approved by the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. The goals, entitled “Basic Points of Emphasis for Individual(s) and Family,” encourage individual progress and family preparedness and togetherness. Leaders discussed ways of helping members select goals and follow through with them. The four goal areas are missionary work, genealogy, temporal and spiritual welfare. (For specific goals, see “Basic Points of Emphasis,” Ensign, June 1980, p. 70.)
Lyle K. Porter presides over both the Albuquerque New Mexico and El Paso Texas regions. “But although the theme was the same in both regional meetings,” he says, “the ways of presenting it were different.” The planning committee for the El Paso meeting decided to choose one goal from each of the four areas of emphasis (getting out of debt, for example), and center plans and discussions around them. During the general sessions of the regional meeting, individuals gave ten-minute presentations on each of the selected goals. During departmental sessions, each group again concentrated on those goals, discussing how their quorum, auxiliary, or ward could best help people implement them.
The Albuquerque meeting was different, Brother Porter says, in that no specific goals were singled out, and no group goals were set—all of the goals were discussed on a more general level. But in that region, local leaders felt a need to devote time to workshops on leadership training. So they prepared workshops on ten leadership skills and scheduled them so that each person could choose and attend three of them.
“I’ve received a lot of favorable comments about the meetings this year,” Brother Porter says. “Because of the specific training and discussions that took place and the goals that we set, we’ll feel the good effects of the meetings all year long.”
Sidney B. Henderson, who presides over the Chico, Santa Rosa, and Napa California regions, says he’s amazed at the people’s ability to take the brief instructions from Church headquarters (less than 1 1/2 pages) and come up with such wonderful departmental sessions. At first, he says, some of the leaders were concerned that the meeting outlines didn’t give detailed instructions for the departmental sessions as in years past—only general suggestions were given. But as they studied the “Basic Points of Emphasis” and considered ways their organizations could adapt them to local situations, they became excited about tailoring the discussions to their own needs.
In the Toronto Ontario and Montreal Quebec regions, much attention was also given to ways the “Basic Points” could strengthen families. But in addition, leaders discussed the consolidated meeting schedule, the youth programs, and implementation plans for the new bishops’ central storehouse in the area. The mission presidents from local missions were there to give encouragement and training on missionary work. Regional Representative Elden C. Olsen says that the meetings were especially successful this year because instead of programming too heavily, discussion leaders allowed plenty of time for questions and answers.
A regional meeting is planned for every region in the Church—but missions that are comprised only of branches and districts are not part of the regional structure. Mission leaders have three options to choose from regarding regional meetings: to attend a regional meeting in a nearby region, to hold their own meeting on a missionwide basis, or to present the material to members at regularly scheduled district conferences.
Leaders in the Canada Halifax Mission decided to have their own meeting this year, and, appropriately, the theme of sacrifice played a big part in it. Over one hundred leaders gathered from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. For some, it was quite a journey. Some of them drove eight hours across Newfoundland, rode all night on a ferry from Port Aux Basques to Sidney, New Brunswick, and then drove another seven or eight hours to Moncton, New Brunswick, where the conference was held. And then they had the same two-day trip back home. They stayed with local members overnight.
According to mission president James A. Kenning, mission leaders did all they could to make the excursion worth it. They planned the meeting so that everyone would have something specific to contribute, and round-table presentations and discussions also involved everyone. The mission conference lasted longer than most regional meetings, but there was a lot to discuss: they talked about the difference Relief Society could make in the lives of women; they planned activities for the year for Young Men and Young Women; they taught clerks their duty; they discussed how to improve family and home life. Elden C. Olsen, Regional Representative of a neighboring region, presided at the conference and spoke about how to lead like the Savior leads. The feeling afterwards was that the meeting was going to make a big difference.
One side benefit of having all the leaders gather to one place, says President Kenning, was that it was the first time many of them had ever seen an LDS meetinghouse. Their ohs and ahs over the brand-new chapel in Moncton, complete with piano and organ, indicated their motivation to go back home and work for meetinghouses in their own areas.
But there’s more to regional meetings than just talk. Philip F. Low, who presides over the Indianapolis Indiana Region, says highlights of his meeting were the musical and cultural presentations. During the opening session, members of local stakes presented a twenty-minute musical program about families. And in the closing session, they had a twenty-minute slide presentation, complete with music and sound effects, about the history of the Church in Indiana—beginning with Zion’s Camp and Joseph Smith’s travels through the state. Those in attendance were happy to know how their state figured into the Sesquicentennial history of the Church.
Brother Henderson says he also encourages music and skits. In the three regional meetings under his direction, fifteen-minute skits emphasizing something taught or discussed during the meeting were part of the concluding sessions. Each of them was different—written and produced by the local members.
The 1980 regional meetings were characterized by dedication, originality, and inspiration. “I’ve heard only good comments about our meetings,” says Brother Henderson. “Of course, the meetings weren’t perfect, but this was my fifth year of regional meetings, and I can say that these were the best ones we’ve had.”