In his first public address as President of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to Church members Tuesday morning, Jan. 16, in a live telecast from the Salt Lake Temple waiting room, where he announced that his counselors in the newly reorganized First Presidency are President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor.
As senior member, President Oaks will hold the title of President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but his service in the First Presidency necessitates the appointment of an Acting President of the Quorum. President M. Russell Ballard, the next in seniority, now has that role.
By way of introduction, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said President Nelson was set apart by the quorum on Sunday, Jan. 14, as the 17th President of the Church, after which the quorum set apart President Oaks and President Eyring. The actions took place in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple.
“Words are inadequate to tell you what it felt like to have my Brethren — Brethren who hold all of the priesthood keys restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith in this dispensation — place their hands upon my head to ordain and set me apart as President of the Church. It was a sacred and humbling experience,” President Nelson told Church membership.
The new Church President recounted that it was then his responsibility to discern whom the Lord had prepared to be his counselors. “How could I choose only two of the 12 other Apostles, each of whom I love so dearly?”
He expressed gratitude to the Lord for answering his prayers and for the willingness of President Oaks and President Eyring to serve with him in the presidency.
“President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has resumed his place in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and has already received major assignments for which he is uniquely qualified,” President Nelson said. “I pay tribute to him and to President Eyring for their magnificent service as counselors to President [Thomas S.] Monson. They have been totally capable, devoted and inspired. We are very grateful for them. Each is willing to serve now where he is needed most.”
The appointment of President Ballard as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve is “consistent with the order of the Church,” President Nelson said. “The First Presidency will work hand-in-hand with the Twelve to discern the will of the Lord and move His sacred work forward.”
At the beginning of his address, President Nelson paid tribute to President Monson. “No words can do justice to the magnitude and magnificence of his life,” he said. “I will forever cherish our friendship with gratitude for what he taught me. Now we must look forward to the future with complete faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Church this is.”
Later in the announcement, President Nelson expressed gratitude for the prayers that have been offered for the Church leaders and cited one such prayer by a boy named Benson, age 4.
He quoted these excerpts from a letter from Benson’s mother to President Nelson’s wife, Sister Wendy Nelson:
“Heavenly Father, thank you … that President Thomas S. Monson could see his wife again. Thank you for our new prophet. Help him to be brave and not scared that he’s new, and help him to grow up to be healthy and strong. Help him to have power because he has the priesthood. And help us to always be nice.”
President Nelson said he thanks God for children like this and for parents who are committed to “righteous, intentional parenting.”
“For every parent, teacher and member who carries heavy burdens and yet serves so willingly — in other words, for each one of you — I am most humbly grateful,” he said.
He invited Church members to think about “the majestic manner by which the Lord governs His Church.”
“When a president of the Church passes away there is no mystery about who is next called to serve in that capacity,” he commented. “There is no electioneering and no campaigning, but only the quiet workings of a divine plan of succession — put in place by the Lord Himself.”
With each day of service, an Apostle learns and prepares for more responsibility in the future, he said, adding that it takes decades of service for an Apostle to move from the junior seat to the senior seat in the circle.
“During that time, he gains firsthand experience in each facet of the work of the Church,” he said. “He also becomes well acquainted with the peoples of the earth, including their histories, cultures and languages as assignments take him repeatedly across the globe.”
Noting that he has served in the quorum under five previous Church presidents, he said he has watched each president receive and respond to revelation.
“The Lord always has and always will instruct and inspire His prophets,” he declared. “The Lord is at the helm! We who have been ordained to bear witness of His holy name throughout the world will continue to seek to know His will and follow it.”
Addressing each member of the Church, the new President said, “Keep on the covenant path.”
“Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual privilege and blessing available to men, women and children everywhere.”
The new First Presidency wants “to begin with the end in mind,” President Nelson said, and added it was for that reason they were speaking from a temple.
“The end for which each of us strives is to be endowed with a power in a House of the Lord, sealed as families — faithful to the covenants made in a temple — that qualify us for the greatest gift of God, that of eternal life.”
He said ordinances and covenants of the temple are key to strengthening marriage and family and ability to resist the attacks of the adversary. “Your worship in the temple and your service there for your ancestors will bless you with increased personal revelation and peace and will fortify your commitment to stay on the covenant path.”
He invited and pleaded with any who have stepped off that path to come back.
“Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there is a place for you in this, the Lord’s Church,” he said. “You and generations yet unborn will be blessed by your actions now to return to the covenant path.”
The new Church President said God cherishes His children and wants each to return home to Him, adding that the “grand goal” of the Church is to help each to come back home. “I express my deep love for you — love that has grown over decades of meeting you, worshipping with you and serving you.”
He spoke of the Church’s divine mandate to go to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, helping to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming.
“This we will do with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he pledged, “knowing that He is in charge. This is His work and His Church. We are His servants.”
He concluded by declaring his devotion to the Father and the Son. “I know Them, love Them and pledge to serve Them — and you — with every remaining breath of my life.”
Each of President Nelson’s counselors then spoke briefly.
“I have sat beside President Nelson in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for almost 34 years,” said President Oaks, who was sustained to the quorum on the same day as President Nelson. “I know his love of the Lord Jesus Christ and his commitment to our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. I know of his love of the people. I know of his wisdom. I feel privileged to be called as a counselor to President Nelson in the First Presidency.”
He said he likewise feels privileged to be able to work with President Eyring, whom he loves and respects.
“With all my heart I pledge my loyalty and support for President Nelson’s loving and inspired leadership,” he said. “I rejoice in the opportunity to give my full efforts to bear witness of Jesus Christ and proclaim the truth of His restored gospel.”
President Eyring spoke of it being a great time in the history of the Church.
“Prophets in the past have said that the best is yet to come, and it proved true,” he said. “That is so because it is the Lord who leads His Church. He watches over all of His Father’s children in the world and He qualifies and calls His servants to lead, inviting God’s children to come home in heaven to Him.”
He noted that Joseph Smith, the first prophet in this dispensation, could speak to all members of the Church in one place.
“In just a few years, there were faithful members in nations across the world,” he said. “Today, President Nelson addresses vast numbers of members who worship in thousands of buildings.”
Growth in and numbers of members across the world are visible miracles, he said, “but the greater miracle, and the one which will accelerate, is the growth in faith in Jesus Christ.”
“The Lord has prepared and chosen President Nelson to lead in that growth. He knows and loves the Lord. The growth will come as we each pray, work and live to have the Holy Ghost as our companion in our lives. We are promised that blessing as we renew and remember covenants we make in the sacrament and in holy temples, and so have the Spirit to be with us.”
He said every association he has had with President Nelson and President Oaks has increased his ability to remember the Savior, keep sacred covenants and find joy in the influence of the Holy Ghost.
He expressed gratitude for the increase of that blessing in his life and testified of the Savior and His Atonement, declaring that it is the Lord’s true Church and that President Nelson was called of God with the keys passed to him from Joseph Smith through a line of prophets.
“We are becoming ever more nearly as one in love through the gospel of Jesus Christ working in our lives,” he said. “I express my love for the Lord and for His loving prophet.
“This is a great time in the history of the Church, and yes, the best is still to come, because of our faith in the Lord, His Church this is.”