Latter-day Saints around the world gathered as "one great family" Oct. 5-6 for the Church's 172nd Semiannual General Conference and, in its closing moments, heard President Gordon B. Hinckley as he challenged them "to rise to the divinity within you."
The conference — called "a tremendous occasion" by President Hinckley — marked the first time many members across "this vast and beautiful world" participated live in the proceedings via satellite and will be remembered for policy changes regarding missionaries and temple recommends.
"What a wonderful conference this has been, my brothers and sisters," said President Hinckley in his Sunday afternoon closing address. "As we return to our homes and to our daily activities, each of us should be a better individual than we were when the conference opened."
President Hinckley presided over the four general sessions, two each on Saturday and Sunday, and the priesthood session Saturday evening. During the two-day conference, 23 General Authorities and two general officers delivered 30 messages. President Hinckley spoke four times and his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, each spoke twice.
Conference messages were translated simultaneously in 58 languages — an increase in 18 languages from conference proceedings in April. In addition, talks were translated for the first time from the Conference Center; a team of translators had long used a facility in the basement of the Tabernacle to interpret the talks.
"All who have spoken have done very well," said President Hinckley. "The prayers have been inspirational. The music has been magnificent. But what matters most is what may have occurred within each of us as a result of our experience. I, for one, have made a stronger resolution within myself to be a better person than I have been in the past."
Conference highlights included:
• President Hinckley announced that effective Nov. 1 temple recommends will remain valid for two years instead of one.
• President Hinckley announced that the practice of missionary farewells is to be discontinued. The departing missionary will be given the opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting planned by the bishop, but parents and siblings will not be invited to speak. Elaborate open houses after the sacrament meeting at which the missionary speaks should be discontinued.
• Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, announced that the Church is raising the bar that is the standard for missionaries called to serve. "We cannot send you on a mission to be reactivated, reformed, or to receive a testimony," he told prospective missionaries. (See report on page 16.)
President Hinckley confirmed this standard change in his priesthood session address.
• Elder Ben B. Banks was named an emeritus General Authority and released from the Presidency of the Seventy.
• Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf was sustained to the Presidency of the Seventy.
• Five new General Authorities were called to Second Quorum of the Seventy: Elder Craig C. Christensen, Elder James M. Dunn, Elder D. Rex Gerratt, Elder Daryl H. Garn, Elder Spencer V. Jones.
• Five members of Second Quorum of the Seventy were released from their callings as General Authorities: Elder Richard D. Allred, Elder Athos M. Amorim, Elder L. Edward Brown, Elder Earl M. Monson and Elder Jerald L. Taylor.
• A new Young Women general presidency was sustained: Sister Susan W. Tanner, president; Sister Julie B. Beck, first counselor; and Sister Elaine S. Dalton, second counselor. Released after five years of service were Sisters Margaret D. Nadauld, Carol B. Thomas and Sharon G. Larsen.
• Because of his assignment in the Philippines Area Presidency, Elder Richard J. Maynes was released as second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency. Called to replace him was Elder Val R. Christensen.
• During conference, 21 Area Authority Seventies were released.
• President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that through the Perpetual Education Fund, some 5,000 men and women living in Third World countries are being educated who otherwise might not have had the opportunity.
• President Hinckley asked all members to hold family home evening. In areas with large numbers of Church members, he requested that public school officials and others not schedule activities on Monday.
• Millions viewed General Conference via satellite in more than 5,140 meetinghouses on every continent. Members in Romania, Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga received their first live conference broadcast.
• Conference ended with a closing plea from President Hinckley, asking members to be better. "I challenge every one of you who can hear me to rise to the divinity within you," he said. "Do we really realize what it means to be a child of God, to have within us something of the divine nature?
"I believe with all my heart that the Latter-day Saints, generally speaking, are good people. If we live by the principles of the gospel we must be good people, for we will be generous and kind, thoughtful and tolerant, helpful and outreaching to those in distress. We can either subdue the divine nature and hide it so that it finds no expression in our lives, or we can bring it to the front and let it shine through all that we do."