“That ‘Tabernacle Feeling’—In Ann Arbor, Michigan,” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 65–67
When 14,436 people left Ann Arbor’s Crisler Arena after the September 20–21 area conference, they carried with them a clear vision of their missionary responsibilities.
“Every man, woman, and child should return home from this conference with the determination that they will take the gospel to their relatives, to their friends,” President Spencer W. Kimball had told them. “If they do not, they must consider they are not in total favor with their Heavenly Father.”
President Kimball said that the Lord’s injunction to warn our neighbors is a commandment—“it is not left to our own discretion or to our own pleasure or to our convenience.” And he repeated earlier requests that “every family, every family, every night and every morning as the family has its family prayer and secret prayers, pray to the Lord to open the doors of the other nations, so that their people, too, may have the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have also urged that every young man in the Church plan on a mission—not half of them, not a third of them, but every one of them—and many more of the young women, too.”
Eyeing nearby Michigan Stadium (capacity 101,701) as he left, one conference-goer remarked: “If we all become the kind of missionaries President Kimball wants, we’ll be holding our next conference over there—with standing room only!”
Meeting with the prophet, with seven other General Authorities and leaders from Church headquarters, and with so many other Church members was a rare experience for most. “It’s like bringing the West to Michigan,” one said. Another, who has seen the Church in the area grow from a solitary branch in Detroit, said: “This is the feeling you get in the Tabernacle. I never knew we’d get it here.”
That “Tabernacle feeling” was indeed very strong in Ann Arbor those two days—that tingling feeling of testimony and recommitment and enthusiasm.
Besides taking home the prophet’s missionary charge, the people also carried another clear message: now is the time for the Saints to put their houses in order, to strengthen their families.
“Draw your families close around you,” President Kimball told them. “If there be misunderstandings, clear them up. Forgive and forget. Don’t let old grievances canker your souls and destroy love and life. Put your houses in order. Love one another.” He told the brethren in the priesthood session to be “loving, kind, and affectionate fathers and husbands,” and to see to it that “your wives are not left burdened, that your children learn to work, and I mean really work. Responsibility will develop great characters in them.”
In the women’s session, President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency, counseled the sisters to follow the example of Eve: to be mothers, to teach their children the gospel, and to pray, worship, and labor with their husbands. To labor with your husband, he explained, “means more than physical labor. It connotes purpose, understanding, cooperation, and love. … In Latter-day Saint families, the husband and the wife must be one. They must labor toward the same objectives.”
Other speakers also addressed important family concerns. Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged families to build their eternal homes according to the perfect blueprint given by the Master Architect: to establish a house of prayer, of fasting, of faith, of learning, of glory, of order, and of God (see D&C 88:119). “If we’re to have a house of order,” he said, “let there be time for our families; let there be time for our daily employment and our daily tasks; and let there be time for God.” If we do, he promised, we will be successful.
Speaking on the eternal nature of the family and the importance of celestial marriage, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave two measuring rods for families: first, “every important decision in life should be made on the basis of the effect it will have on the family unit.” Second, “everything in the world that strengthens the family, that leads to purity and chastity and integrity and love in the family unit, … is of God. Everything in the world, whether it is political or religious or whatever name it bears, that is designed to weaken the family unit and lessen the ties that should exist between husband and wife and parents and children, … is of the evil one.”
Paying tribute to his own “full-time” mother, Bishop J. Richard Clarke of the Presiding Bishopric acknowledged that some women must work because they have no other choice. “If you haven’t any choice,” he said, “then don’t have a guilty conscience about it. If you do have a choice, then by choice reconsider your decision and the heavy responsibility that you have, so that you do not give away your great stewardship opportunity.”
Sister Barbara B. Smith, general Relief Society president, expressed her concern that too many LDS women feel pressured, burdened, and depressed. She challenged the sisters to remember that happiness is a principle of our faith, and listed seven ways Relief Society teaches women to live happily: it encourages them to sow good works, speak kindly to one another, seek recreation, look for the good, ask in faith, share with love, and live righteously.
Duties, responsibilities, and blessings of the priesthood were a major theme during the priesthood session. President Kimball urged the brethren to make the priesthood a sacred, beautiful, important part of their lives. He told them that instead of merely holding the priesthood, they should magnify it, making it “so big and so great and so wonderful that your whole life will be advanced by it.”
Willingness to serve and personal preparation are requirements for becoming a royal priesthood, Elder Monson said. He encouraged the men and boys to prepare by controlling their thoughts and by studying the scriptures. He urged them to be actively involved in the “great rescue mission” of saving everyone within their influence. “Look at your brethren and see them not as they are, but as they surely might become. … Recognize that there is that spark of divinity in every person, active or inactive,” he said.
Addressing his remarks specifically to the young men, Elder Robert L. Backman of the First Quorum Of the Seventy and general president of the Young Men said that Aaronic Priesthood holders don’t have to wait until they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood to start enjoying priesthood blessings in their lives. He explained that there is nothing more spiritual than their callings to preside at the sacrament table and perform the ordinance of baptism. “What a power you’ve been blessed with!” he said. “You’re entitled to be sustained by the Lord and to have his sacred power manifest through you.”
Other gospel and doctrinal themes also surfaced frequently during the conference. President Romney answered the question “Do Mormons believe in Christ?” by reviewing Latter-day Saint scriptures that testify of the Savior. “In the light of these divine teachings,” he asked, “can there be any doubt that we believe in Jesus Christ? We not only believe in him, we know him. He is the rock of our salvation. He is the head of this Church. … This knowledge is within the reach of every person.”
Continuing the theme of testimony, Elder McConkie explained that a true testimony comes by revelation, and that it “opens the door to a rebirth of the spirit.” When we are spiritually reborn, he said, “we leave the carnality and the evil and the corruption and the wickedness and all that is in the world, and we forsake the world, and we come into the kingdom of God on earth. And we pledge and determine with all the power and capacity that our whole souls possess that from this moment forth, we will walk in paths of truth and virtue and rectitude and do the things that the Lord wants us to do.”
Bishop Clarke cautioned the Saints against being selective when it comes to following the living prophet. We must “have the faith to follow that prophet even when we may not fully understand.” And Sister Elaine A. Cannon, general Young Women president, encouraged the Saints to study their patriarchal blessings and discover “what Heavenly Father has to say to you specifically.”
Also addressing the conference were Sister Camilia E. Kimball; D. Arthur Haycock, personal secretary to President Kimball; and three Regional Representatives: George W. Romney, Philip F. Low, and Karl R. Anderson.
During the emotional impromptu singing of “God be with You,” which has become a tradition at area conferences after the closing session, time seemed to stand still. President Kimball waved his white handkerchief in farewell. His own tears told those who could see them that he was as unwilling to leave as the Saints were to see him go. Thousands of white handkerchiefs reverently waved back.
As they left the beautiful setting in Ann Arbor, 1965’s “All-American City,” thousands of Saints carried with them the assurance from a prophet of God that “the work is pleasing to our Heavenly Father as we are doing it. We hope to continue to please him in this way.”