During the past year as she has served as a counselor in the Primary general presidency, incoming Primary General President Susan H. Porter has prayerfully pondered the needs of children around the world.
“I often think about the importance of having tender hearts toward children,” President Porter said. “A lot of them are suffering in so many ways — war, famine, food insecurity, anxiety, family challenges, the pandemic — so, my heart has turned to the Lord, trying to receive revelation as to how we can strengthen and bless His children around the world.”
She has also felt the need to invite children who have been baptized to honor their covenants by participating in the work of salvation and exaltation. “When children are baptized, they are confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” she said. “So, if Heavenly Father views them as ready to be official members of His Church, what are we inviting them to do?
“One thing that has been impressed on our minds over the past year is, how can we strengthen children spiritually?” said President Porter. “When we talk about strengthening the faith of the rising generation, that has to start in Primary.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, President Porter said many children could not participate in Primary. She also saw the challenges that single women faced. Her husband, Elder Bruce D. Porter, General Authority Seventy, died in 2016.
When members were not meeting together in person, she was able to sometimes be with her daughter and son-in-law’s family, but there were many Sundays when she did not have the sacrament in her home.
As she has shared her experiences since her husband died, many women have connected with her, telling her, “My spouse passed away” or “I went through a painful divorce” or “I’m not married, so the fact that you are serving in the Church gives me a better vision that the Church needs me, too.”
Susan Elizabeth Holland Porter was born July 31, 1955, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Hans J. and Charlene Coleman Holland. She grew up in western New York and attended a small branch of the Church about 20 miles (32 km) away from her home.
President Porter was usually the only member of the Church at her school, other than her siblings. In her April 2022 general conference talk, she mentioned sitting in the basement of their old rented chapel for Sunday School with only her friend, Patti Jo.
“I never could have imagined being part of a global sisterhood of millions of women,” she said.
President Porter earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University. She met her husband in a BYU religion class, and they were married on Feb. 2, 1977, in the Washington D.C. Temple.
She worked as a lab assistant before her children were born and later as a part-time math and piano teacher. She also volunteered in her children’s schools and with various community organizations. She and her husband raised their four children in Massachusetts, Virginia, Germany and Utah, and fulfilled Church assignments in the Europe East Area twice.
Elder Porter, who was called as a General Authority Seventy in 1995, was serving as a counselor in the Europe East Area presidency in Germany when his kidneys failed, and they returned to Utah. President Porter supported him as he underwent dialysis in Utah from 1997 to 2010.
A third kidney transplant, donated by their oldest son, allowed Elder Porter to serve as president of the Europe East Area, this time in Russia, beginning in 2014. But in late 2016, he became seriously ill. They returned to Utah, and he passed away about two weeks later, surrounded by his family.
“My life changed overnight,” she said in April 2022 general conference. “I was grieving and felt weak and vulnerable. I pled with the Lord to direct my path: ‘What would Thou have me do?’”
A few weeks later, as she was going through her mail, a small picture in a catalog caught her eye.
“As I looked closer, I realized it was an artist’s rendition of the Samaritan woman with Jesus at the well,” President Porter said in her conference talk. “At that moment the Spirit spoke clearly to me: ‘That is what you are supposed to do.’ A loving Heavenly Father was inviting me to come to the Savior and learn.”
She also told the Church News last year about receiving an impression in her grief: “Do not dwell on what you have lost. Remember the miracles.”
Among those miracles were Elder Porter’s life being spared years earlier. She also realized later that the peace she felt and the sense she wasn’t alone were also miracles.
Read more: The impression Sister Porter received after her husband’s death that continues to carry her
President Porter testified, “Whether we feel that comfort at the time or only recognize His help later, I bear witness that He will come and He will give us comfort and strength in time of need.”
Inviting children to act
As they have met with Primary presidencies, they have encouraged them to prayerfully consider what their Primary children, who have been confirmed members of the Church, can do to honor their covenants. For example, some Primary presidencies have invited the 10 year olds to welcome other children to Primary. In smaller Primaries, older classes have been invited to sit by the youngest children and help them learn the songs.
In leadership meetings, the Primary general presidency has shared, “Prayers in Church meetings should be brief, simple, and directed by the Spirit. Any baptized Church member may offer an opening or closing prayer” (General Handbook 29.6).
“When we share this, we can see the light go on in leaders’ eyes,” President Porter said. “We have seen well-prepared children offer simple, Spirit-filled prayers in sacrament meetings, blessing all in attendance.”
President Porter said these experiences help children to live their baptismal covenants. They can serve and lead in ways that are individualized and age-appropriate, according to the inspiration of Primary presidencies, bishoprics and ward councils.
And as a result, those children may feel more comfortable and confident to share the gospel at home or with friends — and lead with righteousness.
“Again, what can we invite them to do? Because it’s often in doing and serving that our testimonies of the Savior and His Church are increased. Children can learn to seek inspiration from heaven,” she said.
Ministering to children
President Porter also feels the importance of Primary leaders and teachers ministering to children. When the pandemic started, some Primary teachers thought their calling was to prepare a 20-minute lesson on Sunday, she said. But in the General Handbook, a Primary teacher is called to minister and teach.
Ministering extends beyond the classroom. Teachers can pray for and care about each child in their classes, visiting them or taking them something from the lesson to show they were missed. Through this love and ministering, children can gain the confidence to say they want to go back to Primary.
“We’re really hoping to empower children to bless their families. If every teacher could issue an invitation to each child at the end of class, to share what they learned with their families or tell their friends about it,” she said, “the children will be empowered to be an influence for good.”
The ward council is also a part of ministering to children, especially with families who are not as active in attending meetings or returning to Church after the pandemic. It would be helpful if the names of children are brought to ward council so that the needs of the whole family are considered, not just the adults.
Another concept President Porter pondered with President Johnson and Sister Wright over the past year was helping children seek and act on revelation. As part of that, Primary leaders can identify when they feel the Holy Ghost is present and then invite the children to point out how they feel the Holy Ghost.
“Perhaps as you have been singing ‘He Sent His Son,’ you stop and you say: ‘Children, I feel a special Spirit in this room. What are you feeling right now?’” President Porter explained.
“Johnny could say, ‘I feel happy.’ And somebody else could say, ‘I feel kind of thoughtful’ or ‘I feel peace. I was anxious when I came to Primary. Now I’m not.’ Or, ‘I was so mad at my brother, but now I can’t remember what it was about.’
“Then you might ask: ‘What do you think that feeling is? Where do you think that feeling is coming from?’ With a few thoughtful questions you can help the children understand that what they are feeling is the Spirit.”
Children and Youth
President Porter says children can be invited to participate in the work of salvation and exaltation. In that way, she will be working more closely with the Young Men and Young Women presidencies to make the progression from Primary be more seamless.
She believes the Children and Youth program can become more simple and focused — it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task or to be viewed as a checklist of items to do. The main emphasis is on strengthening their faith in the Savior by seeking and acting on inspiration about how they can increase as Jesus did, in “wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
Children can be more involved in planning Primary activities, she said, as each ward and each family focuses on the work of salvation and exaltation, with the principles of love, care, invite, unite.
Leaders could ask the children: “What would be an activity that you could invite your neighbor to who hasn’t made it to Primary this year? Who do you know who is in our ward that we could care for as a Primary?” and let them come up with ideas and counsel together.
Read more: Meet the new Relief Society and Primary general presidencies sustained during April 2022 general conference
Before her call as a counselor in the Primary general presidency in April 2021, President Porter had been serving on the Relief Society general advisory council for three and a half years. Her previous callings include ward Relief Society president, ward Young Women president, stake Relief Society presidency counselor, Gospel Doctrine teacher and Primary music leader.
President Porter sees how everyone is involved in one great work, helping bring souls to the Savior. Relief Society members are the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors and teachers of the children and youth, for example. With President Johnson moving from the Primary to become the Relief Society general president, the relationships between the organizations can only strengthen.
President Porter is also looking forward to serving with her counselors — Sister Wright and Sister Tracy Browning. “Both are women of great faith,” she said. “I look forward to counseling with them as we seek the will of the Lord for His children.”
And be prepared to hear her speak more about turning “tender hearts toward the children” — while inviting them to be involved, teaching them to hear revelation, and empowering them to act in righteousness in their families, wards and neighborhoods.
Family: Born July 31, 1955, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Hans J. and Charlene Coleman Holland. Married Bruce D. Porter on Feb. 2, 1977, in the Washington D.C. Temple. They have four children. Elder Porter died in 2016.
Education: Earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1976.
Employment: Worked as a lab assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a part-time math teacher at a private school and a piano teacher. Volunteered with various community organizations.
Church service: Primary general presidency, Relief Society general advisory council, stake Relief Society presidency counselor, ward Relief Society president, ward Young Women president, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Primary music leader.