'Stand as witness by sustaining prophet'

When we sustain the President of the Church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that comes through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant. - Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve

Elder Haight offered this counsel during the Saturday morning session of the October 1994 general conference. During that Solemn Assembly session, members of the Church throughout the world sustained President Howard W. Hunter as prophet, seer and revelator.

Just six months later, in the April 1995 general conference, members again sustained a new Church president - President Gordon B. Hinckley. On that spring morning, young women of the Church were asked for "the first time in history to stand as a separate group" to raise the uplifted hand, said Young Women Gen. Pres. Janette Hales Beckham.

"I asked myself at that time when I saw the young women stand up, `Do the young women understand what it means to sustain?' " she added.

It was because of this question that the Young Women general presidency developed the theme for the 1996 General Young Women Meeting on March 30: "Stand as a Witness by Sustaining the Living Prophets." The theme is even more significant in that President Hinckley will be the main speaker during the general meeting.

"When you sustain the prophet, you're making a commitment that you'll abide by his teachings," Pres. Beckham explained. "It should show in your behavior. Sometimes you may have a testimony of the prophet, but it's not evident. It's not affecting the way you act. It should."

To discuss what it means to sustain a living prophet and the importance of following his counsel, the Church News met with Pres. Beckham; her counselors, Virginia H. Pearce and Bonnie D. Parkin; and Coleen Menlove of the Young Women General Board and a member of the General Young Women Meeting Committee for 1996.

"Often, when I meet with young women, we talk about the Young Women Theme and what it means to stand as a witness of God," Pres. Beckham said. "We would like young women to connect those ideas - standing as witnesses of God and sustaining the prophets. One way you stand as a witness of God is by sustaining the prophet, by following his teachings."

In speaking of the word sustain, Sister Pearce used the metaphor of the sustaining pedal on a piano. "The sustaining pedal prolongs the effects of the note," she explained. "So when young people sustain the living prophet, they prolong the effects of the prophet's counsel.

"When We incorporate his message into our lives, it becomes bigger and louder and more rich. We're asking young women to listen to the prophet with new ears. Then find a personal message and act on that message by living it. Then they can reflect on the change in their behavior and their feelings."

Obtaining a testimony of the prophet is an individual responsibility, Sister Parkin added. "A testimony of the prophet is critical. Only the Holy Ghost can give it to us."

She related the account of a young woman who saw her mother reading a book and crying. "Why are you crying?" the young woman asked. "Because I'm reading about a man whom I love who is the prophet of God," was the mother's reply.

"How could she love a man so much whom she's never even met?" the young girl wondered.

Sister Parkin added: "President Hinckley has said that every person has a right to a personal witness. In order to have a personal witness, you have to ask for one."

Sister Menlove spoke of the importance of listening to the prophet during the General Young Women Meeting - and after. "It's not only in that meeting, but also the following week at conference and other times when the prophet speaks."

In speaking of their desire for young women to listen for a personal message, the general presidency shared a letter to Pres. Beckham from an LDS young woman that exemplifies the hoped-for result: "As I was jotting down some key, inspiring phrases quoted by our Prophet of the Lord, I noticed that almost every line I wrote down had the word will! Not can, should, would, could, might. Nothing can measure up to the word will!"

Young women such as this one can receive encouragement from living the counsel of the prophet - regardless of personal circumstances, the general presidency said. "You feel that you have the capacity to make a difference in your own life by the way you choose to respond," Pres. Beckham added. "Once you know that, then you have courage and confidence about the future."

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