A vast, virtual audience listened on Tuesday as a Latter-day Saint Apostle and an Anglican cleric discussed the lessons learned by Nephi, millennia ago, when he obeyed the Lord’s seemingly impossible commandment to build a ship — “from scratch.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Rev. Andrew Teal, chaplain and lecturer at Oxford University’s Pembroke College, are fellow scholars and theologians. More important, they are great friends — both driven by a common, Christian impulse to connect with and lift others.
The two men’s virtual dialogue (which included an examination of Nephi’s ship-building) keynoted Brigham Young University’s 31st Annual International Society Conference, held online April 6-7 — just days after Elder Holland spoke to the worldwide Church for general conference. This year’s conference addressed the theme “Gathering Light and Truth from All Nations.”
Given their respective ministries, it is a subject both Elder Holland and Rev. Teal can authoritatively explore with conviction. Their friendship deepened almost three years ago when Elder Holland delivered several lectures at Oxford at Rev. Teal’s invitation, including a Christmas sermon at Pembroke College Chapel.
“Andrew is, simply and truly and affectionately, one of the best friends I have in the Christian world,” said Elder Holland at the beginning of their discussion, which stretched across two continents. The Apostle participated virtually from his office in Salt Lake City.
Rev. Teal, who joined the online discussion from England, spoke of his friend’s capacity “to tell the truth in love.”
The Anglican priest, who has read the Book of Mormon multiple times, referenced Elder Holland’s instruction that living scripture is not about, say, archeology or proving one’s point. “It’s about having the grace to hear scripture speak to you.”
Elder Holland, who served a full-time mission to England, commented on his own ongoing scripture study. Each day he reads from the Book of Mormon and, as part of this year’s “Come, Follow Me” outline, the Doctrine and Covenants. “And, in honor of my love for [Rev. Teal] and my devotion to things British, I am also studying the Oxford Study Bible, which is based on the Revised English Version. It is a delightful work which I am loving very much.”
Rev. Teal recounted the experience of Nephi, found in the 1 Nephi: 17, where the young prophet was commanded by God to build a ship. Nephi did not have the tools or raw materials on hand to build a ship. But he “did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord.” Without hesitation, he commenced the grueling task of making tools from ore and the skins of beasts.
And so it is with all who wish to connect with God and obey His commandments, taught Rev. Teal. “It is going to be a lengthy journey, which God will prepare for at every point.”
Smiling broadly, Elder Holland noted that he has heard many sermons on Nephi’s obedient ship-building. “But this is the first time, I think, that an Anglican priest has taught that lesson. In fact this may be a ‘first’ in all of known ecclesiastical history!” he said with a laugh.
The Book of Mormon account of Nephi and the ship, he added, is similar to many other “great movements” in scripture and in life — including Christ’s own mortal ministry. “Everything starts small and is challenging. There are no free passes. … It is hard work all the way.”
When asked how people can gather light and truth, Elder Holland answered that his friend, Rev. Teal, is an example of one who manages difficult questions with gentleness and grace, remaining open to any and all sources from which those inquiries and answers might come.
Rev. Teal said he encourages people to listen to the messages of the Church’s full-time missionaries, regardless of their own religious beliefs. Don’t be brittle. Strive to be open and authentic. “The world can get so disenchanted — and our job is to re-enchant them and sing a love song of Jesus to our world.”
Never feel discouraged when questions regarding religion and beliefs seem to go unresolved, taught Elder Holland. “Things work out in the end. And if things don’t seem to be working out, it is because it is not yet the end.”
The Apostle added that all people, regardless of their respective religious traditions, arrive on earth with a common connection and premortal experience. Be patient with one another and avoid making harsh judgements. “If we do,” he said, “we are very likely to be making those judgments in ignorance.”
Both religious leaders spoke of their own experiences of discovering “irrepressible joy” in witnessing different manifestations of religious devotion from all corners of the globe.
Never pass on an opportunity to learn from another’s testimony of God — even if it is phrased in different language from one’s own, said Elder Holland.
“The reason there is light everywhere — and the reason we should look for it and embrace it, wherever we can find it — is because God is our Father, and we are His children. He has tried to share His light broadly in every age and era.
“We have much more in common to bind us together than we have as differences to keep us apart.”
Love people enough to share the truth — but don’t try “to trap them” with truth, added Rev. Teal. Besides the Tuesday’s dialogue between Elder Holland and Rev. Teal, BYU’s International Society Conference included presenters from a variety of countries and religious traditions examining the varied ways to gather divine light and truth.