Chapter Forty-Five: Meeting the Needs of a Worldwide Church

“Chapter Forty-Five: Meeting the Needs of a Worldwide Church,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 591–600

“Chapter Forty-Five,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 591–600

Chapter Forty-Five

Meeting the Needs of a Worldwide Church

Church membership had reached 3,321,556 when Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church at the end of 1973,1 and it continued to grow rapidly under his leadership. By the early 1980s the Church was gaining over a quarter of a million new members each year. In 1982 Church membership passed the five million mark. Such growth within a single decade posed many challenges: How could the General Authorities effectively maintain contact with the rapidly expanding number of Church units and Saints throughout the world? How could Church programs and activities best meet the needs of members living in widely varying circumstances? How could the blessings of the temple be placed within their reach? The growing Church needed expanded leadership to help meet the challenges of a new era.

First Quorum of the Seventy Organized

The growing number of stakes and missions in the Church put additional time pressure on the General Authorities. There were more stake conferences for them to attend and more mission districts that needed supervision. Five high priests had been called in April 1941 to serve as Assistants to the Twelve to help with expanding administrative duties. As the Church continued to grow over the years, additional Brethren were called to this position. By October 1976 there were thirty-eight Assistants to the Twelve (see current Deseret News Church Almanac):

  1. Marion G. Romney

  2. Thomas E. McKay

  3. Clifford E. Young

  4. Alma Sonne

  5. Nicholas G. Smith

  6. George Q. Morris

  7. Stayner Richards

  8. ElRay L. Christiansen

  9. John Longden

  10. Hugh B. Brown

  11. Sterling W. Sill

  12. Gordon B. Hinckley

  13. Henry D. Taylor

  14. William J. Critchlow, Jr.

  15. Alvin R. Dyer

  16. N. Eldon Tanner

  17. Franklin D. Richards

  18. Theodore M. Burton

  19. Thorpe B. Isaacson

  20. Boyd K. Packer

  21. Bernard P. Brockbank

  22. James A. Cullimore

  23. Marion D. Hanks

  24. Marvin J. Ashton

  25. Joseph Anderson

  26. David B. Haight

  27. William H. Bennett

  28. John H. Vandenberg

  29. Robert L. Simpson

  30. O. Leslie Stone

  31. James E. Faust

  32. L. Tom Perry

  33. J. Thomas Fyans

  34. Neal A. Maxwell

  35. Wm. Grant Bangerter

  36. Robert D. Hales

  37. Adney Y. Komatsu

  38. Joseph B. Wirthlin

Added responsibilities were also given to the seven General Authorities who constituted the First Council of the Seventy. In September 1961 President David O. McKay announced that these Seventies had been ordained to the office of high priest and given the authority to organize stakes and wards, including setting apart stake presidents and bishops, under the direction of the Twelve.2 Previously the First Council supervised stake seventies quorums throughout the Church but had not been given authority to set in order stakes and wards.

In 1975 President Spencer W. Kimball announced that the time had come to organize the First Quorum of the Seventy. These Brethren would assist the existing Seven Presidents of Seventy in furthering the Lord’s work, “especially in the missionary area.”3 The First Presidency subsequently stated that members of the First Quorum of the Seventy were to have the same authority as Assistants to the Twelve.

At the October 1976 general conference, President Kimball announced that the First Presidency “felt inspired to call all of the Assistants to the Twelve into the First Quorum of the Seventy.” President Kimball continued, “With this move, the three governing quorums of the Church defined by the revelations,—the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the First Quorum of the Seventy,—have been set in their places as revealed by the Lord [see D&C 107:22–26]. This will make it possible to handle efficiently the present heavy workload and to prepare for the increasing expansion and acceleration of the work, anticipating the day when the Lord will return to take direct charge of His church and kingdom.”4 As part of an ongoing process, more members were added to the First Quorum of the Seventy at each of the next several general conferences.5

Keeping in Touch with Saints throughout the World

While members of the Seventy were providing needed help at Church headquarters, steps were also being taken to strengthen links with far-flung local units. Regions, which had been operating welfare projects since 1936, and areas, which had been coordinating missions since the 1960s, were reorganized. Then each mission area was placed under the personal supervision of a General Authority. In 1966 eleven of these Brethren were living outside the United States. By 1975 regions and stakes were also brought under the jurisdiction of these resident General Authorities, or Area Supervisors.6

A key development came in 1984 when the world was divided into thirteen broadened areas, each to be headed by a presidency consisting of three Brethren of the Seventy. This change brought new strength to Church government at that level. The knowledge and experience of the General Authorities in the Area Presidencies helped them direct their areas according to the needs and circumstances of the Saints in their part of the world. President Gordon B. Hinckley, second counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball, stressed that the Church’s growth required flexibility in administration, even though its divine mandate did not change.7

The General Authorities were also responsible for administering the numerous departments and committees at Church headquarters. In 1977 the First Presidency announced a delineation between the responsibility of the Presiding Bishopric for temporal affairs on one hand, and that of the Twelve Apostles and Seventy for ecclesiastical and spiritual affairs on the other. Members of the First Quorum of the Seventy received major responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the missionary, temple, and family history programs of the Church as well as for the various departments that directed the work of the priesthood quorums and auxiliaries. As the members of the Quorum of the Seventy assumed this responsibility, the Twelve Apostles were free to give broader attention to the needs of the Church worldwide.

As the Church grew, the expense of bringing local leaders to general conference twice a year became a heavy burden, and Church leaders decided it would be better to train local leaders in their own countries. Beginning in 1971 General Authorities began to hold area conferences around the world. These conferences were held in large auditoriums and sports arenas so many people could attend.

President Kimball and a translator at a Mexico and Central America area conference

Area conferences were not merely for the training of local leaders, however. Local members, many of them from small, remote branches, were grateful to be able to hear the counsel of General Authorities and to congregate with thousands of their fellow Saints. Eventually even area conferences became too large and impractical. By the mid-1980s regional or multiregional conferences, attended by small delegations of General Authorities, began to take the place of the larger gatherings.

In 1975 President Kimball announced that auxiliary conferences at Church headquarters would be discontinued. The conferences had been held annually by the Relief Society, the Young Men (YMMIA), the Young Women (YWMIA), Sunday School, and Primary. Instructions to local leaders from then on were to be given at regional meetings and general conferences.

In the same spirit of consolidation, general conference was shortened in 1977 from three days to two and was held the first weekends of April and October. The April conference, therefore, did not always include 6 April, the Church’s organization anniversary. By holding general conference on the weekends, more stake presidents and others were able to attend since they did not have to leave home during the work week. In conjunction with the two-day semiannual general conference of the Church, limited auxiliary workshops and open houses were conducted on Thursday and Friday prior to the conference.

On a more local level, in 1979 stake conferences were changed from four per year to two. This was done “to ease the burdens of time, travel and money upon members of the Church.”8 By the mid-1980s members of the Quorum of the Twelve increasingly attended regional or multiregional conferences rather than individual stake conferences.9

Activities Refocused

Church leaders continued to take steps to ensure that the objectives of the Church were met without undue demands on the time or finances of the Saints. General Authorities cautioned local leaders not to sponsor youth trips or other elaborate activities that would put a strain on members’ resources. The Young Men and Young Women organizations had previously called music, drama, speech, and sports directors in each ward. In 1977 these callings were discontinued, and three-member activities committees were instituted to coordinate all such activities for each ward. The purpose of these ward and stake committees was to relieve priesthood quorum and auxiliary organization presidencies from the responsibility for ward or stake activities. This allowed presidencies to focus on the duties and responsibilities unique to those they were responsible for. The activities committee, consisting of a chairman, a cultural arts director, and a physical activities director, became a resource to priesthood and auxiliary presidencies and fostered cultural arts, sports, recreation, and physical fitness. Specialists were called to the activities committee on a temporary basis to promote specific activities and events, such as musical or theatrical productions, dances, speech festivals, personal and family fitness, and family activities for the overall good and development of the Saints.

Many Latter-day Saints throughout the world could not enjoy the full range of such activities because they were isolated from other Church members. In many cases, only two or three member families lived in a widespread area and could not conduct the programs of a fully-organized ward. These families held Church meetings in their homes, with all family members taking turns speaking and filling assignments.

In 1978 the Church inaugurated a “basic unit” program to assist such isolated members. This program served Church units in areas of the world that needed to begin simply and progress through various stages of development. A special handbook explained what officers they needed to call and what activities they could conduct at each level of development. A guide for families indicated what meetings should be held if a family were isolated and completely on its own.

Members all over the world benefitted from the guidance that the basic unit program offered. Even in areas with fully organized stakes, the simplified program was adopted for small groups of members isolated from the majority by geographical settings or language barriers. Gospel Principles, one of six manuals developed for use in small units, became popular among all Latter-day Saints as an excellent compendium of doctrinal teachings. The Church’s favorable experience with an abbreviated program for these scattered units also provided a precedent for consolidating other Church programs.

For decades priesthood and Sunday School meetings had been held on Sunday mornings, and sacrament meetings were held in the afternoon or evening. Relief Society meetings for women, Primary classes and activities for children, and Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) for youth were held during the week. In 1980 the basic ward meetings—priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, Sunday School, and sacrament meeting—were restructured and consolidated to fit into a single three-hour block on Sunday morning or afternoon. Such long-standing traditions as the Sunday School’s half-hour opening exercise were discontinued. The Junior Sunday School was combined with the Primary Association. A youth activity night (Mutual), a monthly Relief Society homemaking meeting, periodic activity and achievement days for Primary children, and occasional other activities continued to be held during the week.

The First Presidency explained that the new Church meeting schedule was designed to give families more time for scripture study, gospel discussion, and other family activities at home.10 The consolidated schedule also allowed Saints to become more involved in community service. Another benefit the schedule provided was reduced travel costs for members and reduced costs of heating and lighting meetinghouses.

Increase in Temple Activity

The 1970s11 were only the beginning of an unprecedented era in temple construction and activity. The Washington D.C. Temple was dedicated by President Kimball in 1974. It was the second twentieth-century temple to have a large priesthood assembly room on an upper floor, the other being the Los Angeles California Temple. It had six rooms for presenting the endowment.

A year earlier, the Mesa Arizona and St. George Utah Temples had been closed for renovation. These temples were redesigned to present the endowment with motion picture equipment. The rebuilding was so extensive that two years later, in 1975, these two temples were reopened for public open houses and then rededicated, the first time this had ever been done. The Laie Hawaii and Logan Utah Temples were similarly remodeled and rededicated later in the decade.

The year 1975 also brought the announcement of three new temples to be built at São Paulo, Brazil, the first in South America; Tokyo, Japan, the first in Asia; and Seattle, Washington, the first in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

Latter-day Saints in these areas were full of gratitude for these long-awaited temples. For example, “A wave of emotion swept through the Area General Conference in Brazil as President Spencer W. Kimball announced March 1 that a temple would be built in São Paulo.

“‘I have an important announcement,’ he said, making it the first order of business, even before the opening prayer. …

“‘A temple will be built in Brazil,’ he said.

“A gasp could be heard across the congregation.

“‘It will be built in São Paulo,’ the president continued.

“By now tears filled the eyes of many. They openly wept for joy.”12

The São Paulo Brazil Temple was dedicated on 30 October 1978.

The pace of temple construction increased as the 1970s drew to a close. Plans for the Mexico City D.F. Mexico Temple were announced in 1977, and the following year Church leaders disclosed that the Jordan River Utah Temple would be built in the southern part of the Salt Lake Valley. The year 1980 brought the unprecedented announcement of seven new temples at once. They were to be built in Atlanta, Georgia, the first in the southeastern United States; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Sydney, Australia; Nuku‘alofa, Tonga; Papeete, Tahiti; and Apia, Samoa. President Spencer W. Kimball declared:

“There now begins the most intensive period of temple building in the history of the Church. …

“We look to the day when the sacred ordinances of the Church, performed in the temples, will be available to all members of the Church in convenient locations around the globe.”13

In the early 1980s Church leaders announced plans to construct even more temples, including one in South Africa and another in the German Democratic Republic (Communist East Germany).

Six temples, an unprecedented number, were dedicated during 1983. By mid-1984 there were twenty-one additional temples planned or already under construction. Completion of these new temples brought the total to forty-seven, compared to only fifteen in service when President Kimball began his administration. The previous record had been three temples being built at once, when the Salt Lake, Logan, and Manti Temples were under construction in Utah during the 1880s. For the first time in the Church’s history, temples would be located on every populated continent.

For years many families had sacrificed most of their material possessions to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip to the nearest temple. Almost a full year’s wages were required for one Tahitian family to travel to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. A shoemaker in Costa Rica had to sell his automobile and his entire stock of shoes in order to take his wife and seven children to the Mesa Arizona Temple so that their family could be sealed for eternity. During the eight-thousand-mile round-trip their group had to sleep in cultural halls and change buses every time they crossed into a new country. These Saints were willing to make extreme sacrifices to receive the sacred blessings available to them only in temples.

The Freiberg Germany Temple was dedicated on 29 June 1985.

In some countries, such as Korea, government restriction on travel prevented couples from leaving the country at the same time, making it impossible for them to be sealed to each other. In other cases, parents with limited funds had to make the impossible decision of which children to take with them to the temple to be sealed. As new temples began to dot the earth, such hardships were moderated for many Saints.

Advances in Technology

The expansion in temple building14 was accompanied by significant improvements in methods of gathering genealogical information. The computer became an indispensable tool in genealogical research. In 1961, when more names were needed for temple work, Genealogical Society employees extracted vital information from selected parish and civil records. The computer then quickly alphabetized and printed these names. Until 1969 members submitting names for temple work were required to record them on family group records. But with the computerized tracking system in place, the Church decided to allow members to submit individual names. This greater freedom allowed the Saints to accelerate their genealogical activity, so thousands of names were added each year to the Church’s growing database of deceased individuals whose names were cleared for temple ordinances.

By the mid-1970s more than three million endowments for the dead were being performed annually, but less than one million names were being supplied by the Latter-day Saints doing their own genealogical research. The difference was made up by the Records Tabulation Program operated by Genealogical Department employees. General Authorities felt a growing need for Saints to do their own genealogy, in addition to increasing their involvement in temple work.

In 1978 Church leaders urged the Saints to write personal histories, participate in family organizations, and complete their four-generation records. President Kimball also introduced a new Churchwide program that enabled members to “render second-mile service” by extracting names and genealogical information from microfilmed records. This extraction program was to be supervised by priesthood leaders at the local level.15

Since most vital records are arranged chronologically, individual researchers must spend countless hours going through the same records to locate their individual ancestors. With the extraction program, volunteers can extract all the names from the original record. These names can then be sorted by computer for easy reference. The Saints’ involvement in this extraction program helped achieve the goal that each temple district supply its own names for temple ordinance work. To this end, temple service centers were established in conjunction with the São Paulo Brazil, Tokyo Japan, and Mexico City D.F. Mexico Temples to expedite the local processing of names for temple work.

The Legacy of Spencer W. Kimball

Elder Spencer W. Kimball had relatively poor health prior to becoming President of the Church, leading some people to predict that his presidency would not last long. His twelve years as President, however, brought many significant accomplishments and were filled with events that had an unforgettable and far-reaching impact. During his administration, the privilege of holding the priesthood was extended to worthy men of all races (see Official Declaration 2). New editions of the scriptures were printed that included important study aids and additions to the scriptural canon. The First Quorum of the Seventy took its revealed place in Church administration. The pattern of Church meetings was streamlined. Temples in unprecedented numbers provided the highest gospel blessings to Saints around the world.

During the beginning of his administration, the tempo of President Kimball’s life matched the rapid pace of the Church’s growth. As he aged, however, his health declined. President Kimball was inspired to call Elder Gordon B. Hinckley as an additional counselor in the First Presidency.

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in April 1958. Three years later he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and in July 1981 he was called to serve as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball in the First Presidency of the Church.

Spencer W. Kimball died on 5 November 1985 following a lengthy illness. He was deeply missed by the millions who had so gratefully sustained him as prophet, seer, and revelator. Speaking of President Kimball, President Hinckley declared: “For forty-two years he served as Apostle and prophet. His moving example of sincere humility, his outreaching love for people, his quiet and earnest declarations of faith have touched all of us. The majesty of his life was found in its simplicity. There was never any of the ostentatious, the boastful, the proud evident in his character. Yet there was an excellence that shone like gold. He was a man from whose life the husk of mediocrity had been winnowed by the hand of God. I loved him with that love which men in the service of the Lord come to feel and know.”16

In like spirit, Elder Neal A. Maxwell affirmed: “It is not only appropriate but necessary to use some superlatives to describe the ministry of President Spencer Woolley Kimball. … His many accomplishments already vie with each other for preeminence in our memories. …

“… There is a special and discernible dimension of affection for and identification with President Kimball.”17 Elder Maxwell spoke for members of the Church worldwide when he referred to President Kimball as “Spencer the beloved.”18