2 former general authorities now bishops

Two former General Authorities are now serving as bishops in the Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake. Elder John Sonnenberg was called as bishop of the Eagle Gate 7th Ward last January and Elder Jacob de Jager as bishop of the Canyon Road Ward on Nov. 7.

Eagle Gate stake includes the Church offices and several high rise apartment buildings near downtown Salt Lake City.Elder de Jager was given emeritus status from the First Quorum of the Seventy at the last general conference. During his final address as a General Authority on Oct. 2, he commented amid much laughter: "In good Western tradition, I now will ride off into the sunset. I know there is a loving priesthood leader waiting at the roadside to call me under inspiration to a meaningful calling."

Following his call to serve as a bishop, he told the Church News, "I am still the `Happy Dutchman,' but I have had a detour on my ride into the sunset."

The "loving priesthood leader waiting at the roadside" was Stake Pres. W. Herbert Klopfer, who presides over a number of former General Authorities in the stake.

They include Elder Francis M. Gibbons, released in 1991 from the Second Quorum of the Seventy, and now serving as high priests group instructor in the Canyon Road Ward; and Elder Douglas H. Smith, released in 1992 from the Second Quorum of the Seventy, serving as high priests group leader in the Eagle Gate 2nd Ward. Stake member Pres. J. Thomas Fyans, formerly of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is serving as president of the St. George Temple. Other stake members include Elder Victor L. Brown, former Presiding Bishop and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy; and Elders Bernard P. Brockbank and Robert L. Simpson, both former members of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

"It is a thrill to work with former General Authorities," said Pres. Klopfer. "They are all tickled to do something. They are so good about it. They serve very well and they are not only appreciative of having something to do, but they also put their whole hearts into it. Probably because of their Churchwide background, they know what it means to serve."

He added that neither Bishop de Jager nor Bishop Sonnenberg had previously served as bishops. "They have to feel their way into the job the same as any other new bishop."

Bishop Sonnenberg is almost as busy as he was when he was a General Authority, said the stake president. "He told me the hardest thing for him is responding to calls in the middle of the night."

Pres. Klopfer said that he felt personal comfort in knowing that two of the stake's more challenging wards - the singles ward under Bishop Sonnenberg, and a ward with about 100 widows and widowers under Bishop de Jager - are well shepherded. "I know the work is being done," commented the stake president.

Serving with Bishop de Jager are his counselors, Byron B. Robinson and James Hooper. Counselors to Bishop Sonnenberg are John Walton and Leo Leonard.

Pres. Klopfer said the stake presidency regularly conducts bishopric training at which the former General Authorities will be instructed in their calling; he teaches them right along with the other bishops.

However, bishop's training won't be new to Bishop de Jager. He observed, "I have trained bishops for 17 years. During that time, I have taught more than 2,000 bishops. Now it is time to put into practice what I have been teaching."

He said as he was issued the call to be a bishop, he reflected on all the young bishops in the Church, and "the thought crossed my mind, `Jacob, you must be a late bloomer.' "

He explained that the 71 widows and 18 widowers in the ward will benefit by "a lot of tender loving care on an individual basis."

"I want my contact to be as personal as possible. My eternal companion, Bea, is very good in personal contacting and reaching out to people, which will be a great help to me."

Bishop de Jager said his guiding light, or Liahona, in life has been the words: "I shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." (Etienne de Grellet, Society of Friends missionary, 1773-1855.)

Bishop Sonnenberg said his guiding light was the words of John K. Edmunds, former president of the Salt Lake Temple, who said, "When you are doing the will of the Lord, the obstacles you meet are never as great as the power behind you."

Bishop Sonnenberg presides over a ward with many returned missionaries. "They are strong and firm in the faith, and we look to developing and building those who have been so steadfast and well-founded in the gospel while serving a mission.

"Here it is more ministering than administering," explained Bishop Sonnenberg. "My experiences as a General Authority and that period of growth have been invaluable in counseling the young people with their demands and problems."

Bishop Sonnenberg was released from the Second Quorum of the Seventy in 1989. Since then he also served as a high councilor and president of the New Zealand Temple. In the past few years, he said, he has enjoyed spending more time with his wife, Joyce, and their family. They changed their plans of spending time in their lake home near Chicago, Ill., to accept his calling as bishop.

Released General Authorities are happy to serve wherever they are called, he said. "General Authorities don't get old; they just keep growing. And as long as members continue to grow, they don't get old either."

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