President Russell M. Nelson's final contribution to October 2018 general conference wasn't his concluding remarks and temple announcements in the Sunday afternoon session. Rather, it was the conference's closing hymn he penned, as performed by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square immediately after those remarks.
Those who attended or viewed the Sunday afternoon session may be surprised to learn that the lyrics of “Our Prayer to Thee” came from President Nelson. There was no announcement nor acknowledgement from President Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency who was conducting the meeting, when he announced the meeting's closing speaker, hymn and benediction.
Rather, he simply stated the concluding hymn's title and performing group, although the author would first stand and give his final remarks of the weekend.
It’s not the first time “Our Prayer to Thee” has been sung in general conference. It wasn’t the only prophet- or apostle-penned piece performed in the recent general conference. And it’s not President Nelson's only hymn.
On April 5, 2003, then-Elder Nelson — a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time — concluded his Saturday morning session conference talk with a brief introduction to the musical piece. “I have felt impressed to conclude this message on prayer with a prayer presented as a hymn,” he said, acknowledging the help of Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop and assistant director Mack Wilberg, the latter’s arrangement meshing Elder Nelson’s text with the Joseph Parry’s music.
The hymn’s sheet music was featured on the inside back cover in the following month’s Ensign magazine.
A musical note
Parry was a prominent 19th century Welsh composer and musician and is not to be confused with fellow countryman John Parry, the Tabernacle Choir’s founding director. Actually, the music for "Our Prayer to Thee" is a composition used in a hymn found in the Church's "Hymns" — “O Home Beloved,” No. 337, which is listed as for a men’s choir.
Joseph Parry, who worked, taught and performed throughout Great Britain and the United States, in fact once visited the Salt Lake Tabernacle. In 1898, he adjudicated the third annual Salt Lake Eisteddfod, a local version of the Welsh festivals of literature and music that date back to the 12th century.
“Our Prayer to Thee” has been performed at other major Church events, including the June 2018 Worldwide Devotional for Youth, at which President Nelson and Sister Wendy Nelson spoke.
In a May 2008 Church Educational System fireside for young single adults and high school seniors, then-Elder Nelson spoke on the power and protection provided by worthy music. A choir from the Ogden Institute of Religion sang “Our Prayer to Thee” as the closing hymn.
He preceded the final musical number by saying, “I wrote the words to that song as my prayerful feelings for our Father in Heaven. Please receive this prayer as part of my testimony that God is our Father and that we are His children. I know that He lives. Jesus is the Christ and the Head of this Church that bears His holy name.”
"Our Prayer to Thee" wasn’t the only hymn sung during the October 2018 general conference that was written by a latter-day prophet or apostle. The others include:
- “The Morning Breaks,” Hymn No. 1 as found in "Hymns," was written by Parley P. Pratt originally as a poem that appeared on the May 1840 inaugural issue of the Millennial Star.
- “I Believe In Christ,” Hymn No. 134, was written by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. He shared the text first in his April 1972 conference address titled “The Testimony of Christ.” It debuted as a new hymn — sung by the Tabernacle Choir — at the April 1985 general conference, the same conference where Elder McConkie delivered his final address before passing away 13 days later.
- “This Is The Christ” featured text written by President James E. Faust, with the choral arrangement debuting when he served as a counselor in the First Presidency. The number was featured at the end of the film “The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd,” shown for several years at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building beginning in 2000.
President Nelson, who sang in choirs and musicals in high school and college, plays the organ and piano and has perfect pitch — also known as absolute pitch, it is the ability to identify or play a musical note without a reference note.
And “Our Prayer to Thee” is not the only hymn President Nelson has written. Another is titled “My Message.” Once when accepting an award and allowed 30 seconds or less for a response, he simply recited the brief text as his acceptance remarks.
You can find the lyrics to "Our Prayer to Thee" below.