“President Gordon B. Hinckley: Fifteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 2
On Friday, 3 March 1995, President Howard W. Hunter passed away, leaving mortality at 8:35 A.M. at his apartment. President Hunter’s death, from natural causes associated with prostate cancer, drew to a close his nine-month, five-day leadership of the Church that began 30 May 1994, the day President Ezra Taft Benson died. Thus passed the mantle of priesthood leadership of the kingdom of God on earth to President Gordon B. Hinckley.
At the death of the President of the Church, the First Presidency is dissolved and priesthood leadership in the Church at that moment reverts to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Order within the Quorum of the Twelve is by rank of seniority from the time members are called to the Quorum, the members of which are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church. At the death of the President of the Church, counselors in the former First Presidency who are Apostles and numbered within the Quorum of the Twelve return to their order within the Twelve.
Consequently, on Sunday, March 12, President Gordon B. Hinckley, as President of the Twelve, called a meeting of Quorum members, each of whom individually holds in trust all of the keys of the priesthood of God on earth. They met to reorganize the First Presidency. They then ordained and set apart President Gordon B. Hinckley as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson acting as voice.
President Gordon B. Hinckley then set apart Thomas S. Monson as First Counselor in the First Presidency, and as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and he set apart James E. Faust as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Boyd K. Packer was set apart by President Hinckley as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve.
On Tuesday, March 7, President Hunter’s body lay in state in the large reception room in the Church Administration Building, where 25,212 people in attitude of mourning and respect filed by the bier. On Wednesday, March 8, preceding President Hunter’s funeral and prior to the closing of the casket, Richard A. Hunter, a son of President Hunter, offered a family prayer. As the noon hour approached, a cortege followed the hearse carrying President Hunter’s coffin to the Tabernacle for funeral services that were widely televised in Utah and carried over the Church’s satellite network to locations throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
President Gordon B. Hinckley presided at and conducted the funeral. The Tabernacle Choir sang “I Need Thee Every Hour,” followed by an opening prayer given by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve. The first speaker was Jon M. Huntsman, President Hunter’s former stake president and a family friend. He was followed by the choir singing “How Great Thou Art.” The next speakers were Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve and President Boyd K. Packer, who were followed by the choir singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” President Hunter’s counselors, President Monson and President Hinckley, then spoke, followed by the choir singing “Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide.” The closing prayer was by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve. The cortege then journeyed a little over a mile eastward to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where John J. Hunter, a son of President Hunter, gave the dedicatory prayer at graveside, concluding a day of solemnity and great appreciation for the life and ministry of President Hunter.
President Hinckley now comes to the office of President of the Church at age eighty-four. Behind him are nearly thirty-seven years of service as a General Authority of the Church since he was sustained an Assistant to the Twelve on 6 April 1958 at age forty-seven, over thirty-three years since he was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 5 October 1961 at age fifty-one, and nearly fourteen years of service in the First Presidency. In 1981, at age seventy-one, he was called as an additional counselor in the First Presidency to serve President Spencer W. Kimball. In December 1982 he became Second Counselor to President Kimball, followed by a call in 1985 to serve as First Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson. In 1994 he was called to serve as First Counselor to President Hunter. President Hinckley has thus served as a counselor to three Presidents of the Church. He was born 23 June 1910 in Salt Lake City. President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, are the parents of five children.
President Monson, First Counselor to President Hinckley, has served as a General Authority for over thirty-one years since being sustained on 4 October 1963 at age thirty-six to the Quorum of the Twelve; he nears completion of nearly a decade of service in the First Presidency. In 1985, at age fifty-eight, he was called as Second Counselor to President Benson, and in 1994 he was called as Second Counselor to President Hunter. With this call again to the First Presidency, President Monson begins his service as a counselor to a third President of the Church. He was born 21 August 1927 in Salt Lake City. President Monson and his wife, Frances, are the parents of three children. He is sixty-seven years of age.
President Faust, Second Counselor to President Hinckley, has served as a General Authority for nearly twenty-three years since being sustained an Assistant to the Twelve on 6 October 1972 at age fifty-two. On 1 October 1976, at age fifty-six, he was sustained to the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and on 30 September 1978, at age fifty-eight, he was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in which capacity he has served for nearly seventeen years. President Faust was born 31 July 1920 in Delta, Utah. He and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of five children. He is seventy-four years of age.
President Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, has served as a General Authority for nearly thirty-four years since being sustained an Assistant to the Twelve on 30 September 1961 at age thirty-seven. He has served in the Quorum of the Twelve nearly twenty-five years since being sustained to the Quorum on 5 April 1970 at age forty-five. He was called to serve as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1994 because the President of the Twelve, President Hinckley, was serving as First Counselor in the First Presidency to President Hunter. President Packer was born 10 September 1924 in Brigham City, Utah. He and his wife, Donna, are the parents of ten children. He is seventy years of age.
On Monday, March 13, at 9:00 A.M., the day following the reorganization of the First Presidency, the new First Presidency, joined by members of the Quorum of the Twelve, held a media conference in the lobby of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to announce the previous day’s action.
In rising to give a statement he had prepared, President Hinckley said:
“One cannot come to this sacred office without almost overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Strengthened resolution to go forward comes from the knowledge that this is the work of God, that he is watching over it, that he will direct us in our efforts if we will be true and faithful, and that our accountability is to him.
“With that assurance we reach out to our own people and to those of goodwill throughout the world, in that spirit of love and brotherhood which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. …
“As the Church moves forward on its divinely appointed mission, I do not anticipate any dramatic change in course. Procedures and programs may be altered from time to time, but the doctrine is constant. We are dedicated, as have been those before us, to teaching the gospel of peace, to the promotion of civility and mutual respect among people everywhere, to bearing witness to the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the practice of his teachings in our daily lives.
“We are concerned with the quality of family life within so many homes. The home is the seedbed of all true virtue. If proper values are not learned in the home, they are not likely to be learned anywhere.
“We are grateful for the faith and the strength of the people of this church. They now number some nine million in approximately 150 nations and political entities. The membership is growing consistently and solidly. We are confident that this will continue as the Church stands as an anchor of truth in a world of shifting values and standards.
“We are particularly proud of our youth. I think we have never had a stronger generation of young men and women than we have today. For the most part they are true to the faith of their forebears. Surrounded by forces that would pull them down and tremendous pressures to pull them away from time-tested virtues, they are going forward with constructive lives, nurturing themselves both intellectually and spiritually. We have no fears or doubts concerning the future of this work.
“If we have offended any, we apologize. Our only desire is to cultivate a spirit of mercy and kindness, of understanding and healing. We seek to follow the practice of our Lord, who ‘went about doing good’” (Acts 10:38).
Regarding his new calling, President Monson said: “It is a privilege for me to be serving with President Gordon B. Hinckley. We have served together in one capacity or another for many, many years. He is a man of enormous talent and one who has the capacity for reaching out and lifting up. He is a man also of great spirituality as well as capability in a realm of areas. I believe that we are poised on the edge of a great new movement of spirituality and expansion of the work of the Lord under his leadership. Also, I am pleased to serve with James Faust, another colleague of many years. … I assure each of you that my heart is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, and I likewise have a great feeling of love and respect for the leaders of other religious faiths in our area and in this marvelous community which headquarters The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Regarding his new calling, President Faust said: “I’m greatly humbled and honored to be invited, in fact called, by President Hinckley to serve as one of his counselors. President Hinckley and I have been working together for over forty years, before either one of us was a General Authority. I know of his heart and I know of his soul. I know of his commitment. I know of his faith. I know of his capacity. As President Monson has indicated, he and I have also had a long and treasured association, almost as long as that which President Hinckley and I have had together. I wish to pledge to President Hinckley my total devotion and support and express my love to the membership of the Church worldwide and to all of the people of good faith everywhere. … We feel much comforted and strengthened by our brethren who also hold the holy apostleship, members of the Council of the Twelve. I pledge my complete and total devotion to this work.”
The media were invited to ask questions. Excerpts from various answers follow. To a question on the number-one challenge facing the Church, President Hinckley said: “The most serious challenge we face, and the most wonderful challenge, is the challenge that comes of growth. Accommodating the tremendous growth of the Church presents many problems and entails the construction of houses of worship and other facilities—but what a remarkable and wonderful challenge that is. I’m grateful to be able to say that because of the faithfulness of our people in the payment of their tithes and offerings, the Church has had the means to provide that which was needed to accommodate this growth. We are grateful for it.”
In response to a question about taking the Church to lands that are not presently open for the full program of the Church, President Hinckley said: “We go where we’re permitted to go, when we’re permitted to go. And we will be alert to every opportunity that becomes available to us. As we expand, we always go in the front door with full knowledge of government officials and with their encouragement and blessing. That has been our pattern. That is the pattern which we will continue to pursue in the future. We look for opportunities. We feel that wherever we go we bless the lives of the people, we add to the virtues of the nation, and we go to contribute and to build and to not take from them or disrupt; and that will be our continuing policy.”
Responding to a question about the worldwide Church membership, President Hinckley took the occasion to comment on the local leadership of the Church: “It’s a remarkable and interesting thing to observe that there never appears to be any dearth of leadership. This church trains local leaders wherever it goes, and wherever there’s a need for development of organization, we find capable men and women who are ready to take over the reins. And we haven’t the slightest worry or concern really about finding leadership as the Church grows in Mexico, South America, Central America, or anywhere else in the world. It always works out. …”
In response to a question about his possible main focus, President Hinckley said: “Carry On! Our theme will be to carry on the great work which has been furthered by our predecessors who have served so admirably, so faithfully, and so well in the great traditions of this church—building family values, fostering education, building a spirit of tolerance and forbearance among people everywhere, and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is his name which becomes the name of his church and whose teachings and ideals we seek to emulate and promote and will continue to do so.”
Answering a question about whether the Church would follow the current practice of some other churches and reinterpret its position on theological issues, President Hinckley said: “Every church does what it wishes to do. They have freedom to do so. We hope that we will not be blown about by every wind of doctrine and every societal change that will come along, every philosophy of one kind or another, but that this church will remain as an anchor of faith and truth in a world of shifting values. We have as our guide the scriptures, the word of the Lord, given anciently and in modern times. We believe in the principle of modern revelation. We proclaim it as a basic function of the Church under its system of operation and will rely on that as we go forward with our program at home and abroad.”
In response to a question about the key to success for today’s students, President Hinckley said: “Education. Preparation for the future. We live in a very challenging world. It isn’t likely to become less challenging but more challenging. We encourage our young people to educate their minds and their hands, to qualify themselves to take places of responsibility in the society of which they will become a part. It is very important, and in the process of so doing to remain faithful and true in the Church which they love and of which they are members.”
In regard to a question about some women of the Church who because of economic circumstances find it difficult to be at home with their children, President Hinckley was asked his counsel: “Do the best you can. And remember that the greatest asset that you have in this world is those children whom you brought into the world and for whose nurture and care you are responsible.”
In response to a question about the Church’s emphasis on family values, President Hinckley said: “We’ve given great stress over the years [to family values], and I hope that we’ll continue to stress it. It’s so important. The family is the basic element of society. Good homes produce good people. Good homes become the foundation for the strength of any nation. Good homes are certainly the rock-bottom need of our nation and every nation—homes in which there is a father who stands at the head of the home in love and kindness and who assumes the basic responsibility as provider for his family and a mother who stands as the queen of that home, equally beside her husband, and children whom they love and cherish and nourish and who love them in return.”
At the April 1–2 general conference, a solemn assembly will be held through which all members of the Church, those in general assembly at the Tabernacle and those watching or hearing the proceedings on live broadcast or seeing the conference later on videotapes, have the opportunity to personally sustain the new First Presidency and other General Authorities. The prayers and thoughts of members everywhere now go with President Hinckley and his counselors as they guide the affairs of the Church through the inspiration of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose church this is and whose sacred name it bears.