Elder David A. Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, taught together in the March 2 opening session of RootsTech’s Family Discovery Day.
Elder Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chair of the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council, explained that a gospel dispensation is a period of time in which priesthood authority, saving ordinances, and doctrinal knowledge are found on the earth. “In every dispensation gospel truths are revealed anew — or dispensed — so that the people of that period are not entirely dependent upon past dispensations for knowledge of Heavenly Father’s plan.”
“Apostasy from the truth occurred in each previous dispensation,” said Sister Bednar. “The work of salvation … continues into this final dispensation.” She added that the purpose of this final dispensation is to gather God’s family together on both sides of the veil.
Elder Bednar explained that covenant-keeping Latter-day Saints are the seed of Abraham and are to assist in the latter-day gathering on both sides of the veil. This is accomplished as they bear witness of Christ, preach the gospel worldwide, and link families together by completing temple work for deceased ancestors. He said, “We have been given much, and much is required of us. We are the gatherers.”
Elder and Sister Bednar shared several examples of “gathering” — the collecting of names, information and memories for family history, and the linking of eternal families through temple ordinances.
“Our message today is: You can do this,” added Sister Bednar. “We have a tremendous responsibility to help others gather God’s sons and daughters, and He is providing resources and tools to accomplish this great latter-day work.”
Sister Bednar then discussed some practical aspects of how to do the work of gathering, demonstrating a few of the simple “non-tech” and “high-tech” methods. She first asked her husband to share something meaningful about one of his ancestors.
Elder Bednar told the story of Luke Syphus, his third-great-grandfather from England who was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, baptized, married and — while immigrating to Australia with his wife — became acquainted with a man, Joseph Ridges, who was not a member of the Church. Luke and Christianna Syphus faithfully ministered to Joseph Ridges and his wife, who subsequently were converted to the gospel.
Syphus and Ridges established a lumber business north of Sydney. Ridges also built an organ which he later donated and delivered to Temple Square for the old adobe tabernacle. Brigham Young later asked him to design and help construct a newer, larger organ for the new Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Sister Bednar asked Elder Bednar to summarize his feelings in two or three words after sharing that story. “Gratitude, simplicity and love,” he responded.
She then invited members of the audience to share one of their own relative’s story with someone sitting nearby and then summarize their feelings about the experience in a word or two.
“Notice how these very simple conversations — stimulated by inspired questions — can invite our friends and family members onto a path of discovery, giving them an opportunity to act and thereby open their hearts to the power of the Holy Ghost and the spirit of Elijah,” Elder Bednar said.
Eric Chamberlain of Kaysville, Utah, shared the story of his own third-great-grandfather, Josiah Miller Hoyt, to his twin 11-year-old daughters Alexis and Raya during the session. “He had some struggles with friends that were not faithful and he wanted his children to be faithful,” he said afterward. “I want nothing more than to have my children be faithful and experience the gospel like I have.”
The twin daughters are preparing to go to the temple, as allowed by the Church’s recent change in age-class progression. “I’m hoping this will get them excited to see temple and family history work as something they want to do rather than an obligation they have to do,” Chamberlain said. “I hope they feel the spirit of Elijah, because I know it’s contagious.”
The Bednars guided Discovery Day attendees to open the Family Tree app on mobile phones, first to the “Find A Relative” feature. Elder Bednar said that of the 7,822 attendees using the app feature, he was related to 3,702; Sister Bednar noted her relatives totaled 4,152.
The brief exercise impressed Julianne Buttars and Holland Miller, two 15-year-old young women from Spring Creek, Nevada, attending Discovery Day with the Elko Nevada East Stake.
“I learned I’m related to a lot more people than I thought I was,” Buttars said afterward. “I thought my family (research) was all done because we have an aunt who that’s all she does, but I got to see that I’m related to over 900 people here, and it was kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment.”
Added Miller: “I don’t know much about my family — my mom’s side of the family is all adopted, so I don’t know a lot. It touched me coming out here and finding out whom I’m related to.”
Elder Bednar also demonstrated the app’s Ordinance Ready feature that helps Church members to take names to the temple for ordinance work such as proxy baptisms and sealings of spouses and of children to parents.
“These are just two of the many features on the Family Tree app that allow you to discover, to gather and to connect with each other,” Sister Bednar said. “Please explore this app with your family, and again — You can do this.”
Sister Lynn Schlick, a senior missionary from Birmingham, Alabama, who specializes in family history support by answering worldwide calls to the FamilySearch help desk, underscored the “You can do this” message. She serves at home while helping care for her husband, Donald, a four-year cancer survivor. “There are different people in different circumstances,” said Sister Schlick of those she helps, “and I can feel the Spirit give me the message they need. Truly they can do it, no matter what the circumstances are. The Lord provides the way.”
Sister Bednar testified: “I know God lives. I know that He is anxious to help us discover, gather and connect. It is part of His plan for this latter day, and we are the gatherers.”
Elder Bednar promised divine help to do the work. “I promise that as you consistently act and do the very simple things you know you should do, you will become ever more effective in the work of gathering Israel and you will help many individuals and families on both sides of the veil. Your capability and service will be magnified,” he said. “I promise the doors will open, heavenly help will be available to you, and you will be blessed to know that you can do this.”