Church growth pervasive, steady

"What a privilege it is to serve in the kingdom of God. In this work it is the Spirit that counts."

General Conference, April 6, 1986

Growth of the Church during the 8 1/2 years of President Ezra Taft Benson's administration was pervasive as well as steady.

Easing of international tensions and the changing of the world complexion facilitated the spread of the gospel to areas previously inaccessible and the strengthening of the Church where it had already been established. Nations previously closed to missionary work became accessible to the preaching of the gospel.

A dramatic indication of that expansion was the establishment of eight new missions in the former Soviet Union. They were the Russia Moscow, Russia St. Petersburg and Ukraine Kiev missions in February 1992; the Latvia Riga, Ukraine Donetsk and Russia Samara missions in July 1993; and the Russia Novosibirsk and Russia Rostov na Donu missions this year.

The German Democratic Republic (now part of re-unified Germany) in October 1988 granted the Church the right to do missionary work and to allow members living in the country to serve as missionaries elsewhere in the world. The Church received legal recognition in the Hungarian People's Republic June 1, 1988, allowing it to meet without interference and to proselytize among the people. The first LDS meetinghouse in Hungary was dedicated Oct. 17, 1989. Czechoslovakia granted official recognition to the Church on Feb. 21, 1990, and a new mission was created there as well as in Poland and Hungary in July 1990, and in Bulgaria July 1, 1991.

On the African continent, the first stake in western Africa was organized in Aba, Nigeria, on May 15, 1988. It was the first stake in which all the priesthood leaders were black. During President Benson's presidency, several missions were organized in Africa: Zaire Kinshasa and Zimbabwe Harare, July 1987; Liberia Monrovia, March 1988; Mascarene Islands and Nigeria Aba, July 1988; Kenya Nairobi, July 1991; Cameroon Yaounde, February 1992; and Nigeria Ilorin and Nigeria Jos, July 1992.

Temples in operation increased from 36 before President Benson became president on Nov. 10, 1985, to 45 in April 1993, with the dedication of the San Diego California Temple, the last temple to be dedicated. Two other temples, in Bountiful, Utah, and Orlando, Fla., are nearing completion, with the dedication of the Orlando temple announced for Oct. 9-11 of this year. Ten more temples are planned or under construction. During President Benson's presidency, 10 temples were announced and nine were dedicated.

Temples dedicated during his presidency included: Seoul Korea, Dec. 14, 1985; Lima Peru, Jan. 10, 1986; Buenos Aires Argentina, Jan. 17, 1986; Denver Colorado, Oct. 24, 1986; Frankfurt, Germany, Aug. 28, 1987; Portland, Ore., Aug. 19, 1989; Las Vegas, Nev., Dec. 16, 1989; Toronto Ontario, Aug. 25, 1990; and San Diego California, April 25, 1993. He personally dedicated the Denver and Frankfurt temples, and broke ground for the temples in San Diego and Bountiful, Utah.

During the time President Benson led the Church, its worldwide membership increased from 5.92 million at the end of 1985 to 8.82 million as of May 30 this year.

The number of full-time missionaries serving worldwide also increased significantly, from 29,265 at year end 1985 to 48,708 in January 1994. When President Benson became president, there were 1,570 stakes in the Church. As of May 30 this year, there were 1,980. Missions increased by nearly a third, from 188 in 1985 to 304 when new missions created this year become operative in July 1994. The largest increase of new missions came in 1990 with the creation of 29 missions. In 1994, the largest group ever of new mission presidents - 136 - representing 22 nations, were assigned to serve in 46 lands.

Here are some other significant milestones during President Benson's presidency:

He issued with his counselors in the First Presidency "an invitation to come back" directed to those who had become less active, who were critical and prone to find fault, or who had been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions, December 1985. (Please see separate story on page 5.)

He was sustained in a solemn assembly as president of the Church at general conference April 6, 1986; he continued emphasis on the Book of Mormon, approved a change in age groupings and terminology in the single adult program and encouraged application of welfare principles.

The First Presidency on Feb. 12, 1986, authorized temple blessings to worthy members whose spouses are less-active or non-members, so long as the spouses give written permission.

He presented a major address on the U.S. Constitution at a BYU Devotional Assembly Sept. 16, 1986. The speech was published as an important part of the Church's celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution. A similar speech was delivered at October 1987 general conference.

It was announced Oct. 4, 1986, that stake seventies quorums would be discontinued and that emphasis would be given to member participation in all missionary activities. Stake mission programs were revamped to more effectively nurture, support and encourage members in missionary service.

An appeal was issued April 3, 1987, at the Regional Representatives Seminar to apply teachings of the Savior in reaching out to Church members who have strayed. At that seminar Church leaders were urged to carry out the mission of the Church with its three dimensions - to proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints and redeem the dead - and thus invite all to come unto Christ by making and keeping covenants.

Family history was emphasized during President Benson's presidency; forms and materials were redesigned in 1988. Record extraction by volunteers and advancements in computer technology greatly facilitated personal efforts to link ancestral lines and perform temple ordinance work for the dead. The percentage of temple ordinances done from members' own family history research as opposed to record extraction increased significantly.

A computerized scripture program was released in April 1988, making it possible to instantly search the standard works for any word or combination of words.

The number of administrative areas around the world increased from 13 at the beginning of his administration to 23 by 1994.

The Second Quorum of the Seventy was organized at general conference April 1, 1989. The new quorum was initially composed of 36 members already serving under a five-year call. At the conference, it was explained that more brethren would be added to the quorum from time to time and would also serve under a five-year call. It was further explained that the First Quorum of the Seventy would continue to function much as it had previously, with its members called from the Second Quorum of the Seventy or from the priesthood at large.

A new budget program effective Jan. 1, 1990, eliminated the need for local Church units to raise their own operating funds. Instead, expenses for almost all activities, programs and physical facilities were to be paid from general Church funds.

The sesquicentennial of the founding of the Relief Society March 17, 1842, was observed in 1992 with various worldwide events.

The centennial of the Salt Lake Temple was observed in 1993.

Ground was broken April 9, 1993, for the Ezra Taft Benson science building on the BYU campus.

The former Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City, after extensive renovation and refurbishment, was dedicated June 27, 1993, and renamed the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Its new use included Church office and meetinghouse facilities, a theater showing a new Church history motion picture, and a facility to introduce novices to family history research.

The First Presidency issued important statements pertaining to symposia, Church discipline, use of the King James Version of the Bible in English, divorce clearance process, opposition to legalized gambling, and encouraging the keeping of the Sabbath Day holy.

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