Preserved for sacred calling

In the April 1939 general conference the venerable Prophet Heber J. Grant, who had served at that point as President of the Church for more than 20 years, recounted this experience at the death of President Joseph F. Smith, his predecessor:

"I thank God for the remark made to me by President Joseph F. Smith - the last remark that he made before he passed on - `The Lord knows who He wants to stand at the head of His Church, and the Lord never makes any mistakes.' " (See Conference Report, April 1939, p. 19.)Unmistakably, the Lord wants President Howard W. Hunter to stand as the earthly head of His Church for a season, and has preserved him to this sacred calling.

Though ill health has at times seemed to threaten the life of President Hunter, he has always rallied and been preserved, sometimes to the amazement of his attending physicians and his Brethren alike.

Now we know why.

With the death of President Ezra Taft Benson on May 30, 1994, the keys of leadership went immediately to the Council of the Twelve Apostles whose head was President Hunter. Until the reorganization of the First Presidency this week the Council had full authority to direct the Church.

The late President Spencer W. Kimball said of this inspired plan:

"The moment life passes from a President of the Church, a body of men become the composite leader - these men already seasoned with experience and training. The appointments have long been made, the authority given, the keys delivered. . . . The kingdom moves forward under this already authorized council. No `running' for position, no electioneering, no stump speeches. What a divine plan! How wise our Lord, to organize so perfectly beyond the weakness of frail, grasping humans." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 463.)

Our new prophet and president is indeed a man "seasoned with experience and training." In his boyhood days in Boise, Idaho, he learned how to work hard. He labored at odd jobs and never had trouble finding work because his employers soon recognized in him one who was always reliable and willing to do even the menial tasks well.

He excelled in Boy Scouting, and became the second Eagle Scout in Boise. The values he learned in Scouting have been evident throughout his busy life.

He disciplined himself to improve his musical talents, and starting with the piano learned to play the marimba, drums, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and violin. He had his own dance band and toured the Orient before the age of 20.

Though he was unable to gain a formal university education, he learned the banking business on the job, and then determined to gain a law degree. With a wife and small children to support, he continued working, along with qualifying for the college credits he needed before enrolling in the Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles. He graduated with cum laude honors as third in his class, only 2/10 of a percentage point behind the top graduate.

He blended a successful corporate law practice with his family duties, Church service, and civic responsibilities. He served as a bishop, high councilor, and was a stake president when called by President David O. McKay as an apostle during the October 1959 general conference.

During the nearly 35 years he has served in the Council of the Twelve he has traveled widely, visiting nearly every country in the world. His ministry has included such diverse assignments as Church Historian, head of the Genealogical Department and president of the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. He has wielded a significant influence in the Church's interests in Jerusalem through the Orson Hyde Gardens and the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

The records of his sermons and teachings during his ministry in the Twelve show him to be a man of faith and conviction. His has been an undeviating witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ as head of the Church. This was reflected in his press conference statement this week when he called on members of the Church to live with ever-more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed.

This spirit was also reflected in his plea for more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness. He urged those who have transgressed or been offended to come back and to stand with the Church and carry on and be believing.

He also struck a firm theme of greater temple service, inviting members to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants.

President Hunter has, under inspiration, chosen as his counselors Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. These valiant apostles served President Benson so well, and now will sustain and uphold President Hunter with strength and vigor. President Boyd K. Packer as acting President of the Council of the Twelve also adds depth and dimension to the top leadership of the Church.

The Church News expresses loving support for the new First Presidency and invites members everywhere to pray for, and to teach their children to pray for, their success in the arduous task to move the work along. With the hymnist we say:

"God bless our prophet dear,

"May health and comfort cheer

"His noble heart.

"United heart and hand,

"So may we ever stand,

"A firm and valiant band


(See Hymns, No. 24.)

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