Church's past is 'prologue to the future'

During the 20th century the Church has enjoyed phenomenal growth, and "what we've seen in the past is but prologue to the future."

"All that we've done in the past," explained President Gordon B. Hinckley in a recent Church News interview, "will seem small compared with what will be accomplished in the future."

As the Church News completes its yearlong series on the Church in the 20th century, President Hinckley was asked to comment about the Church during this century and what lies ahead in the next century.

"I have great confidence in the future," President Hinckley said as he was interviewed in his office in the Church Administration Building. "I believe we are on the threshold of great days ahead. I see bright days ahead.

"These are wonderful times," President Hinckley continued. "The Church is moving forward. We're blessed of the Lord. What a marvelous age in which we live, with all that science has done, with all that education has done, with all of the wonderful skills that have been developed among the people.

"And on top of that, blessed by all of those remarkable achievements, we have the restored gospel, with all of its keys and authority to move forward this work. I know of no one else so richly blessed in all the history of mankind as we are.

"As I've said before, this is a great season in the history of the world and a great season in the history of the Church."

Now in his 90th year, President Hinckley has a perspective of the Church unequaled by anyone living today. He has been involved, either as a General Authority or as an employee, in the workings of the Church for nearly 65 years, including more than 41 years in its leading councils as a member of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve or as an Assistant to the Twelve.

He was a young man of 25 when he went to work for the Church in 1935. "I knew all the First Presidency, all the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Council of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric. I've been here a long time and I've seen it all from the days of President Heber J. Grant to the present.

His experiences in those early days have sharpened his appreciation for what has happened in the Church through the years. "You can't appreciate the growth until you look back to the earlier times. The Church was small. . . and to see the way it has grown since then is absolutely phenomenal."

President Hinckley respond-ed to a number of questions about the future of the Church as well as the past, including:

Church News: "As we stand on the threshold of a new century and a new millennium, what are your feelings?"

President Hinckley: "I am excited. The very concept of being present to step over the threshold of one century to another and from one millennium to another is for me a wonderfully exciting thing. I just feel so fortunate to be able to do that."

Church News: "What lies ahead for the Church in the 21st century?"

President Hinckley: "Pro-gress, growth, strengthening and a large membership. All of these things."

Church News: "What should members be doing as we embark into the 21st century?"

President Hinckley: "The first thing is to live the gospel. If they will live the gospel, nearly everything else will take care of itself. I think our people must also develop greater love and tolerance and respect for those of other churches.

"Our people are very good people. I've seen them everywhere the Church is organized, and they're just wonderful. They're faithful. They're devoted. They make every effort to move this work forward, and as they do so, they add strength to the cause and a new dimension to their own lives, which is tremendously beneficial and heartening. Everywhere our people are, they ought to be good citizens. That's one of our cardinal doctrines. They ought to be contributors to the society of which they are a part."

Church News: "What would you like to see the Church accomplish in the next century?"

President Hinckley: "There's no question that the Church will grow in size. I want to see it spread over the earth. It must go on growing. It has to go forward to accomplish its purpose and the destiny which the Lord has set for it."

Church News: "Is there anything you'd like to accomplish personally as you move into the new century?"

President Hinckley: "I'd like to work a little harder. I'd like to do a little more than I'm doing. I know I'm getting old. That's becoming more obvious, but I'd like to do more. President [Spencer W.] Kimball said to me once after he had recovered from that cancer operation on his throat, 'I wasn't afraid of dying, but I was afraid of meeting the Lord and having to give an accounting of what I'd accomplished.' Now, that's just the way I feel."

Church News: Do you see the great proliferation of temples continuing into the 21st century?"

President Hinckley: "We'll continue to build temples. I think not on the scale that we're involved in it now. There's never been anything like it in the past. I don't know that there will ever be anything quite like it in the future."

Church News: "Looking back, what factors do you think have contributed to the

phenomenal growth of the Church in this last century?"

President Hinckley: "It has grown because it is true. That's the reason it's grown, really, when all is said and done. It appeals to people. When the gospel is explained, they respond. Now, a factor in this growth has been an increase in the missionary numbers. That, without any question, has had its effect. We're better known, we're more respected. The media have given us more attention. People have been made acquainted with what we do and what we teach. I think it's a number of factors that have come together that have made it possible for the Church to grow. The old problems of the past have largely disappeared and people look to us with respect."

Church News: "Do you think the Church has influenced the 20th century?"

President Hinckley: "We're still relatively small in this world of very large bodies, both religious and political but, nevertheless, in the circles in which we move, I think we've had a definite influence and I think that influence will grow tremendously in the future. I'm absolutely confident [of that]. I have every confidence in the generation that is following us, in their faith, in their ability, in their capacity, in their testimony, in their willingness to pioneer, if you please. We have tremendous faith among our young people, the generation of our youth. I think they are just wonderful. They live in a world of terrible temptations. The pressures against them are just terrible. But they have the strength to stand up and face them and they are wonderful young people. I can't praise them enough. They're doing the right thing. They're walking in the faith of their forebears. And that's a great and marvelous and wonderful thing."

Church News: "Are there any particular concerns that you have about Latter-day Saints today?"

President Hinckley: "One of the great challenges that faces us, and I think that faces the Western world, is the family. Keep the family intact and viable and strong. Father, mother, children working together to accomplish something. That's a great challenge, but, by and large, our people are meeting it. I think we're building a future for the Church and also a future for the nations of which we are a part, every nation across the world. No nation is stronger than the homes of its people.

"Challenges come with growth. One of those challenges is building buildings to accommodate our people, meetinghouses, temples, seminary buildings and welfare facilities and all of the things in which we are engaged. Teaching leadership becomes a challenge. As we grow, we have to train leaders all across the world, in their languages. That's a big challenge, and I think we're succeeding at it. I think we are developing strong leaders everywhere. There's also the challenge of keeping the doctrine pure. To keep a uniformity of teaching throughout the Church is a tremendous challenge, and as we expand the number of languages, as we expand the area of the Church, we're constantly faced with that challenge."

Church News: "What has been your greatest joy as you look back over the years?"

President Hinckley: "My greatest joy comes from the faith of the people across the world — to see them, to feel of their hearts, to see that they're trying to do the right thing, trying to rear their children in righteousness, trying to walk in faith. That is the greatest thing this Church can accomplish and the source of greatest happiness.

Church News: "What would you say to the members of the Church as we embark on this new, exciting century and millennium?"

President Hinckley: "We're all in this together. Every man, woman and child who belongs to this Church is a part of this movement. Every man and woman has a responsibility, just as serious in terms of the responsibility as mine in terms of my responsibility, to move this work forward. Now, let's go to it. Roll up our sleeves and work and accomplish it and become as a city set upon a hill whose light cannot be hid from this world. I have great confidence in the common people, and they're doing heroic things."

"And they are blessed for it," he emphasized. "The Lord is blessing them. The faith of our people — what a marvelous thing it is," he reiterated.

The Church president asked that one final point be emphasized. "I want to emphasize, if you would, the great value which I place on my associates, my counselors, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric, the Area Authorities and the great confidence that I have in those who serve as stake presidents, bishops and auxiliary leaders throughout the world."

President Hinckley said he would like to see the Church, as it enters the 21st century, become stronger and more effective speaking out across the world in declaration of the divinity of the Savior of mankind.

On one of the walls of the Church president's office hangs a painting of the Savior. President Hinckley related as he has looked at the painting he has said, "I hope we're doing what you'd like to have done."

"Our job is to just keep moving forward," President Hinckley emphasized. "As I have said again and again, to go forward with faith in the ultimate destiny of this work. What we've seen in the past just indicates something remarkable and glorious and wonderful for the future.

"I think nobody living today can comprehend what it will become. I believe we don't actually realize the magnitude of what's happening. It's really tremendous.

"Oh, it's a wonderful time to be here!" President Hinckley declared.

Dell Van Orden was Church News editor for 23 years, from 1976-1999, and conducted this interview shortly after retiring.

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