Emotions rose to the surface as the 171st Seminannual General Conference of the Church drew to a close Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7. Addresses delivered by President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, and other General Authorities and auxiliary leaders had inspired and lifted. But if a single defining moment were pinpointed, it would be that in which President Hinckley offered a brief prayer "in these circumstances" at the conclusion of the conference.
The circumstances entailed war. For the 22,000 or so members from the four corners of the earth gathered in the Conference Center for the Sunday morning session, President Hinckley was the bearer of news swiftly spreading throughout the world. "I have just been handed a note that says a U.S. missile attack is under way," he said.
The announcement was startling, although the news of it was expected at some point in the near future. When, one might wonder, had a Church president announced from the pulpit at a general conference that military action was underway, that attacks had begun in a war that nearly the whole world expected to erupt at any moment?
Ever since the conference opened Saturday morning, Oct. 6, ominous war clouds had hung on the horizon. Throughout the sun-filled nearly perfect autumn weekend, those clouds darkened. While the conference congregation assembled at 9:30 a.m. (MDT) Sunday for the seemingly heaven-sent music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's weekly network broadcast, the rumble of war was underway.
It was as if two worlds existed: the one outside where deeds perpetrated by evil's dark forces plunged Earth's inhabitants into battle, and the one inside where messages focusing on the Light of the world and the gospel of Jesus Christ enveloped people in an atmosphere of calm, peaceful assurances. The contrast between the two was practically palpable.
It is for just such times that general conferences are held. In his opening address Saturday morning, President Hinckley identified purposes for gathering in this general conference: "to fortify and strengthen one another, to help and lift one another, to give encouragement and build faith, to reflect on the wonderful things the Lord has made available to us, and to strengthen our resolve to oppose evil in whatever form it may take." (Please see page 5.)
Combined, 33 conference addresses were delivered, each fulfilling its own role in accomplishing those purposes.
Without doubt, everyone present will remember particular moments of the conference: President Hinckley's Sunday morning address, which he titled "The Times in Which We Live," his closing address and the special prayer he offered at the conclusion of the Sunday afternoon session. (Full text of his Sunday morning address is published on pages 16-17; texts of his closing address and special prayer are on page 21.)
After he announced that missile attacks were underway and proceeded to deliver his address Sunday morning, members of the congregation appeared riveted to every word. It seemed impossible that an auditorium seating 22,000 people could be so quiet, so reverent.
Sunday afternoon, after President Hinckley offered the special prayer, numerous members of the congregation wiped tears from their eyes; people were seen handing tissues to others. As people filed out of the building at the end of conference, many talked about the prayer, exclaiming and marveling over how humbling, how wondrous, how edifying it had been to "have President Hinckley pray for us."
Prayers during the conference were especially heart-felt, meaningful and significant. Brethren offering prayers asked, among other things, for blessings to be with leaders of the United States and other nations that they might make good, sound decisions in the midst of international turmoil, suffering and afflictions. Petitions for comfort were made in behalf of those who had lost loved ones, supplications for healing were made for those injured, and blessings for strength and courage were asked for those engaged in recovery efforts and serving in armed forces.
The 171st Semiannual General Conference was, in President Hinckley's own words, "a most remarkable and historic conference."
The following changes were made during the 171st Semiannual General Conference Oct. 6-7, 2001: