Amid difficult times, economic turmoil and war, the Church is in good condition with a membership growing in faith and in love for the Lord, said President Gordon B. Hinckley in the opening moments of the 173rd Annual General Conference April 5.
"These are difficult times. The economy is struggling. There is conflict in the world. But the Almighty is keeping His promise that He will bless those who walk in faith and righteousness before Him."
President Hinckley welcomed members of the Church to the worldwide conference. "We are met again in a great world conference of the Church according to the will and instruction of the Lord," he said. "As we do so, the world is in turmoil. There is war and contention. There is much of unrest. Members of the Church family are citizens of many nations. We find ourselves on both sides of a great debate."
President Hinckley spoke in depth about the U.S.-led war in Iraq and its impact on "people of peace" Sunday morning. (Please see report on page 10.)
But, he said Saturday morning, "with all the troubles with which we are confronted, I am pleased to report that the work of the Church moves forward. We continue to grow across the world."
Noting that missionary work continues without impediment, President Hinckley again urged Church members to reach out to those entering the waters of baptism.
"We call upon every member of the Church to reach out to new converts, to put your arms around them and make them feel at home. Bless them with your friendship. Encourage them with your faith. See that there are no losses among them. Every man, woman or child worthy of baptism is worthy of a secure and friendly situation in which to grow in the Church and its many activities."
President Hinckley also praised members for increasing their sacrament meeting attendance. "There is room for improvement, and I urge you to work at it constantly," he said. "Even so, I do not know of another church with as high a percentage of consistent attendance at its meetings."
President Hinckley also said he is grateful for the strength of the youth of the Church. "Sadly enough, some fall between the cracks," he said. "But it is a miracle to witness the strength of our young people in the midst of all of the sordid temptation that is constantly around them. . . . Notwithstanding the allurement of the world in which they live, they remain true to the faith of their fathers and the gospel they love. I cannot say enough of good concerning our wonderful young people."
And despite hard economic circumstances, Church members' faith, shown through the payment of tithes and offerings, continues to increase, he said.
"We are able to go forward with the building of meetinghouses and temples, with our vast education program, with the very many activities which are conditioned upon the tithing income of the Church.
"I promise you that we will not put the Church in debt. We will strictly tailor the program to the tithing income and use these sacred funds for the purposes designated by the Lord."
Speaking of the Church's recent decision to purchase the shopping mall immediately south of Temple Square, President Hinckley said Church leaders feel a compelling responsibility to protect the immediate environs of the Salt Lake Temple.
"We have felt it imperative to do something to revitalize this area," he said. "But I wish to give the entire Church the assurance that tithing funds have not and will not be used to acquire this property. Nor will they be used in developing it for commercial purposes.
"Funds for this have come and will come from those commercial entities owned by the Church. These resources, together with the earnings of invested reserve funds, will accommodate this program."
Then President Hinckley reported that the Church is going forward with the construction of chapels; 400 new chapels will be built this year to accommodate the growth in the membership of the Church.
"We are also continuing to build temples across the earth, and are pleased to report an increase in temple activity. This very important work, in behalf of the living and the dead, is a fundamental part of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Speaking of family preparedness, President Hinckley said Church leaders are pleased to report an increase in preparedness among Latter-day Saints. "This program, which has been advocated for more than 60 years, adds immeasurably to the security and well-being of the Latter-day Saints. Every family has a responsibility to the extent possible to provide for its own needs. We again urge our people to avoid unnecessary debt, to be modest in the financial obligations which they undertake, to set aside some cash against an emergency. We warn our people against 'get rich' schemes and other entanglements which are nearly always designed to trap the gullible."
President Hinckley said he is constantly amazed at the vast amount of volunteer service that Church members give. "I am convinced that volunteer service is the Lord's way of accomplishing His work. The operation of wards and stakes and quorums, and the function of the auxiliary organizations, all move forward under the direction of volunteers. The vast missionary program is dependent on volunteer service."
President Hinckley said the conference marked the second anniversary of the establishment of the Perpetual Education Fund. "I am pleased to report that this program is now going forward on a solid basis," he said. "Some 8,000 young men and women are now in training to improve their skills and their employment opportunities. On average, with the two years of education they are now receiving, they are increasing their income some 4 1/2 times. It is a miracle."
The gospel, said President Hinckley in closing, is the way of peace.
"To the extent we follow it and incorporate it in our lives, to this extent will we be blessed and prospered. What a wonderful thing it is to be involved in this glorious work. Let us rejoice in our great opportunity. Let us serve with gladness."