After reminding Church members in Florida of the sacrifices of early LDS leaders in the South, President Gordon B. Hinckley told them to focus on the future and to continue to be pioneers.
"We have an obligation, a great work to do," President Hinckley said Jan. 19 at the Jacksonville Florida West Stake conference. "We cannot stand still, we have to move forward. It is imperative we do so."At the conference - the 50th anniversary of the stake's creation - President Hinckley addressed the theme "Salt of the -South/
Faith in Every Footstep."
More than 5,000 members from the six stakes within the boundaries of the original stake attended the two sessions of conference. President Hinckley spoke at both sessions. The capacity congregation gathered in the chapel and cultural hall and in overflow areas - classrooms and a large tent in the parking lot - where the meeting was televised. Many Church members arrived hours early, waiting in unusually cold weather to enter the building. Others weathered freezing temperatures (around 25 degrees) while watching the conference in the tent, which was heated but not enough to offset the unusual cold and wind.
President Hinckley, accompanied by his wife, Marjorie P. Hinckley, and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Dantzel, stopped in Florida on the first leg of a weeklong trip to six Central American countries.
"Today there are 100,000 members of the Church in this great state of Florida. There are 22 stakes, there are four missions and there is a beautiful temple in Orlando," he said. "You are part of the great growth of this Church across the world."
The prophet called the organization of the Florida Stake on Jan. 19, 1947, "a wonderfully significant thing," noting that he and his wife had not planned to stop in Florida until they learned of the stake's anniversary.
President Hinckley shared with the congregation stories and memories of Elder Charles A. Callis, former president of the Southern States Mission and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who helped organize the stake.
"It was the great crown of his life to see a stake in the South, this part of the world which he loved so dearly, among the people whom he loved so dearly," President Hinckley said.
He noted that early stake leaders worked very hard for the Church. It is "wonderful, just wonderful, that this work has been in place in this city of Jacksonville, a stake of Zion for half a century," he said.
"The future lies ahead," he continued. "Let every man and woman and child in this congregation today resolve to make of the work of the Lord in this part of His vineyard better and stronger and greater than it has ever been before."
President Hinckley told the congregation that it will take their individual efforts to move the work forward.
"We do it as individuals. . . ," he explained. "If we all pray, the Church is so much the stronger, and so with every principle of the gospel. . . . God bless you with faith, with testimony, with conviction, with resolution to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. As you do so, others will become interested and accept the work of the Lord, and the kingdom will grow and grow and grow in the great state of Florida."
He explained that the strength of the Church is not found in its physical facilities. "We are building 350 new buildings a year across the world - a tremendous undertaking. But the strength of the Church is not in these buildings. The strength of the Church is not in the temples. The strength of the Church is not on the BYU campus. The strength of the Church is not on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The strength of the Church is in the hearts of the people."
During the second conference session, President Hinckley encouraged members to live every principle of the gospel. He spoke about the Word of Wisdom, the law of tithing and the blessings of temple attendance and temple marriage. Quoting Brigham Young, he said, " `Every principle of the gospel carries with it a conviction of its truth to those who live it.'
". . . Walk in faith and faithfulness," President Hinckley counseled. "Live the commandments. Love one another. Be kind to one another. Be generous toward one another and the Lord will bless you."