“Florida Saints Enjoy Area Conference,” Ensign, Sept. 1980, 76–77
If you followed the bumper stickers on the cars you’d reach your destination. “Happiness Is Family Home Evening,” they said, and “Have You Hugged Your Child Today?” The cars were traveling in long lines past citrus groves and tourist attractions to the Lakeland Florida Area Conference, June 28 and 29, 1980. Eight leaders were coming from the headquarters of the Church, including President Spencer W. Kimball and three others who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, and the Saints in Florida didn’t want to miss them.
In all, 12,500 people came to the conference, crowding into the main arena of the Lakeland Civic Center and its two large overflow areas.
In a Sunday address Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve commented on the impressive attendance. “My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord for what has happened here this day.” He then recalled that when he was called in 1934 to preside over the Southern States Mission, he was responsible for five states “and we didn’t have a sign of a district. And now to come back here and see this great multitude and see the Church growing like it is … [makes] my heart thrill for the program!”
Traveling to the conference with President Kimball and Elder Richards were President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency; President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Paul H. Dunn and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Sister Shirley W. Thomas, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and Sister Norma B. Smith, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
The conference was held in four sessions: a priesthood session and a women’s session that were held on Saturday evening, and two general sessions on Sunday.
In his priesthood address, President Kimball spoke of the priesthood. “We have the power of the priesthood. It doesn’t matter what position we hold. But it does matter what kind of men and boys we are and how well we honor the priesthood. No man will ever reach godhood who does not hold the higher priesthood—an elder, seventy, a high priest. And today is the day to get it and to magnify it.”
Then President Kimball explained what it means to magnify the priesthood: “Too many of us just hold the priesthood. That’s all we do. But we must magnify it. To magnify means to build up, to make strong and powerful. … Make it so big and great and so wonderful that your whole life will be advanced by it.”
The brethren listened attentively while the prophet spoke. Some of them tended babies so their wives could better enjoy the women’s session, which was being held at the same time. Near the front were seated rows of missionaries.
In this same session President Benson spoke of basic priesthood responsibilities. “Our standard of emulation should be Him whose servants we claim to be,” he said. He then discussed four responsibilities that will help us live a more righteous life: “One, be true to your priesthood covenants. Two, delegate righteously in your priesthood responsibilities. Three, do your duty as citizens. Four, follow the counsel of the priesthood leadership over you.”
Following Elder Benson, Elder Wirthlin spoke on the power of priesthood quorums, saying, “If a man’s priesthood quorum functions properly, a man sustained by the brethren of his quorum should not fail in any phase of his life’s responsibilities.”
The session closed with a men’s chorus, their combined bass resonating throughout the hall. In this, as in every session, the choirs and their music greatly contributed to the worship of the occasion.
Following the priesthood and women’s sessions, the missionaries set up tables to share information and pamphlets with the members and their nonmember friends. Although the hour was late, many of the Saints lingered to spend time with family and friends.
In an address the next day, President Benson reminded the congregation that “salvation is a family affair.” He then explained what a person can do to strengthen his family: “Parents, spend more time in the home.” Have “daily family devotion in the home.” Parents, be diligent in giving “instruction in life’s problems.” And take care to have “family recreation and cultural activities together.”
Elder Richards bore testimony of the joy of family exaltation, and President Kimball continued his theme. “Draw your families close around you,” he counseled. “If there be misunderstandings, clear them up. Forgive and forget. Don’t let old grievances canker your souls and infect them; don’t let past hurts destroy your love and your lives.”
In a Sunday morning address, Sister Smith spoke of being prepared for the coming of the Lord. “When the day comes for you, … what will your face report? Rejoicing, because you’re prepared for the day of the Lord’s coming, or disappointment, because you needed more time?”
Sister Thomas also spoke on preparedness. Said she, “The sort of strength that we can give to our families as we prepare them in faith is expressed very well in … the dedicatory prayer in the Kirtland Temple: ‘We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.’”
President Romney centered his Sunday afternoon remarks around the “great principle of repentance.” He gave examples from the Book of Mormon of how repentance can work, citing the experiences of Enos, the Nephite followers of King Benjamin, and Alma the Younger. “True repentance, followed by baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, brings forgiveness,” he said. “Such repentance is impossible without faith in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Dunn showed how the principle of repentance had been effective in the life of an inactive man as he returned with his family to full fellowship. The key in his reactivation was the concern a fellow Saint had shown for him. Also valuable was the power of prayer. Elder Dunn related a lesson his father taught him years ago: “‘Paul, remember this as you go out into the world: if you’re going to do battle on the world’s ground, you’ll always lose. If you’ll do battle on the Lord’s ground, you’ll always win.’” He explained that prayer can put us on the Lord’s grounds, and then asked: “Whose ground are you on?”
As the area conference came to a close, President Kimball said with tenderness, “We ask our Father to give you all the blessings that you deserve. … Let me express … my deep affection and love for each of you and thank you for coming to this great conference.”
Following the prayer, the choir began to sing “God Be with You,” and the Saints spontaneously joined in. President Kimball turned and looked obviously touched. He pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, waved at the crowd. Some of the small children waved back.
“It’s been a glorious, memorable occasion,” President Kimball said. “And it’s one that I think not one of us will soon forget.”