3,000 youth welcome President Oaks, Elder Bednar to devotional prior to Oakland temple dedication

OAKLAND, Calif. — Fifty-five years ago, a 12-year-old boy named David sat with his mother in the balcony of the 1,600-seat auditorium of the Interstake Center, attending the dedication services of the adjacent Oakland California Temple. He afterward stood outside the temple in hopes of meeting President David O. McKay, then the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who presided over the dedication.

Saturday night, that same David — now Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — returned to the same Interstake Center auditorium for a temple-related event. This time, however, he sat on the stand, joining President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, in speaking to close to 3,000 youth attending a special devotional the night before the June 16 rededication of the Oakland California Temple.

In addition to the leaders and their wives greeting some of the devotional attendees prior to the meeting, Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, got an earlier start. Arriving ahead of a 3 p.m. temple walk-through, they used the extra time to visit the youth already lining up, including the first few who had been there since 8:30 a.m., more than 10 hours before the devotional’s 7 p.m. start.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, speak with youth in a panel discussion during a youth devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday June 15, 2019.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, speak with youth in a panel discussion during a youth devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday June 15, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

“Because I remember what it was like to be one of the young people in the congregation, we went down to shake all of their hands and to say ‘hi,’ ” Elder Bednar said. “It is just so hard to believe that at one point in your life, you’re standing in that line. And then at another point, they’re in that line to see President Oaks — and I’m with him. It is just a surreal and stunning kind of experience.”

President Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, spoke in the devotional, while Elder and Sister Bednar led a panel discussion with a half-dozen young people. Also speaking were a pair of local youth, Ezra Vavao of Fremont, California, and Mason Ellis of Napa, California.

Anxiety and technology

Underscoring the importance of the gathering of Israel, President Oaks cited ways for young people to participate, including sharing the gospel with others, serving missions and — for the gathering “on the other side of the veil” — performing temple ordinances for the deceased.

He also addressed youth dealing with anxiety issues, similar to a message he shared earlier in the week at a BYU-Hawaii devotional. He acknowledged studies correlating the increased use, reliance on and overuse of technology — such as smartphones — with resulting increases in anxiety among youth.

Saluting youth who use handheld devices to read the scriptures and follow Church lessons, he also cautioned against inappropriate use of technology in meeting settings.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to youth during a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to youth during a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

“Don’t be among those who check emails, send text messages, play games or do the many other things that distract us and sometimes others. During sacrament meeting — and especially during the ordinance of the sacrament — we should concentrate on worship and renewing our covenants with the Lord Jesus Christ …

“Keep your line of revelation open,” he added. “Never let anything distract you from that precious protection, promised when we partake of the sacrament in the way taught for that sacred ordinance.”

President Oaks pointed out the perspectives, purposes and promises provided through the restored gospel — including Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness, personal faith in Jesus Christ, the power of the doctrine and the blessings of the covenant path.

“Don’t lose your vision of eternal life and the priority it assigns to marriage and child-rearing,” he said. “In these days — as in many stressful times of the past — young people should go forward with optimism and prepare for a long and productive life. Keep the commandments. Serve missions. Get an education. Have children. Have faith.”

Becoming a light

At the start of her message, Sister Oaks asked how many youth brought with them a name of someone to take to the temple and do ordinance work for and encouraged them to hold the papers or raise their hand for everyone to see.

Holding a portable solar lantern, she spoke on “becoming a light,” and likened pushing the lantern button that increases illumination to the power of increasing our own illumination by drawing closer to the Savior and lighting the spiritual fire within ourselves.

Sister Kristen Oaks, wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds a lantern as she talks to youth about the Light of Jesus Christ during a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
Sister Kristen Oaks, wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds a lantern as she talks to youth about the Light of Jesus Christ during a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

“I am so thankful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the life and light of the world,” Sister Oaks said. “He is the light of the Atonement, who took upon Himself the sins of the world and provided all mankind with the opportunity for eternal salvation.

“He is the light in our temples that connects heaven with earth and the living with those on the other side of the veil. He is the light that leads and directs this church today through a living prophet, his counselors and the Twelve Apostles.

“And He is the light,” she concluded, “that will lead you personally back to your Heavenly Father.”

Youth panel discussion

In their unscripted discussion, Elder and Sister Bednar asked the six youth panelists questions such as how they learned they could “be a light” through their recent temple-focused activities and how the temple open house had helped change them.

Elder Bednar also referenced President Boyd K. Packer’s 2000 parable about the pearl and the box — where a man had a box crafted to display a valuable pearl, only to have onlookers captivated more by the beauty of the box than that of the pearl.

And underscoring that the “box” can be likened to the temple and the “pearl” to ordinances and covenants, he asked listeners how the power of godliness — which is manifest through the ordinances and covenants — helps them in daily life.

Asked after the devotional about the parable, MJ Adams, 12, of Mountain View, California, said, “The Holy Ghost told me that the outside of the temple can be beautiful, but the inside can be so much more, if we are able to listen to the spirit.”

Youth wait in line to attend a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
Youth wait in line to attend a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

Shadrack Brown, 16, of Greenfield, California, drew on his experience as an usher at the temple open house: “I got to see people react to the temple itself, and then when I went into the temple later, I felt the spirit and I wanted to return soon with family names.”

Owen Larsen, 15, of Greenfield, said the power of godliness “is, as we learn in seminary, like putting on the whole armor of God for the day.”

Added Macy Watson, 13, of Mountain View, regarding how she understood the power of godliness: “We can be a light to the people around us, and I try to pray every morning to be a light to those around me. We should lead by example, showing that we know God.”

Youth devotionals prior to dedications

The Saturday night event was the latest of such youth devotionals that have been held — in the place of the former youth cultural celebrations in advance of temple dedications and rededications — across the world in the past 12 months, from Italy to the DR Congo, from Chile to Colombia, and from Brazil to now California.

Not all temple rededications during the past year have included a youth devotional. Saturday night’s did, drawing youth from all over the 25-stake Northern California temple district who came in cars, vans and buses.

Youth wait in line to attend a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
Youth wait in line to attend a devotional at the Interstake Center on the Oakland California Temple grounds on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

By the time doors opened just after 5 p.m., the line stretched from the auditorium end of the massive multi-level meetinghouse on the north point of the 18.5-acre temple grounds all the way to the gates of the temple on the south, then back to the north and around the temple visitors’ center on the opposite side of the Interstake Center.

The youth eventually filled the 1,600-seat auditorium, with a large youth choir seated on one side of the large stage. The back of the stage was open, so that those seated in folding chairs in the building’s larger cultural hall — used years ago by the NBA’s Golden State Warriors as a practice facility — could watch the devotional from behind. Attendees spilled over to watch the devotional broadcast in the chapel and numerous other larger rooms as well.

That broadcast was also relayed to stake centers in the outlying areas of the temple district.