President Milan F. Kunz and his wife, Sister Leslie Kunz, will soon serve as temple president and matron of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, the same temple where as an Area Seventy he chaired the open house and dedication committee prior to its 2016 dedication.
And President Pierre F. Bize and Sister Brigitte D. Bize will hold similar positions in the Paris France Temple, where they had attended earlier this year — prior to their new calls — during a vacation in their homeland and reconnected in heaven-like reunions with longtime friends not seen for several decades.
The Kunzes and Bizes are among 63 couples of recently called temple presidents and temple matrons coming from the four corners of the Earth and from all walks of life — each with their own stories about temple experiences and temple importance — as they gathered for the 2019 Temple Leadership Seminar.
The temple’s covenants, ordinances, blessings and sealing powers are all the more etched in their hearts and minds as the couples have been taught by President Russell M. Nelson, his counselors in the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in seminar training sessions.
“It’s important for us to know that families are forever,” said Sister Kanisia R. Bahn, the newly called Suva Fiji Temple matron.
Added her husband, President S. Anil Bhan, the new Suva temple president: “The door of the temple is the gate to heaven. And I agree that there we are linked together with our ancestors and with our children and future descendants.”
This year’s seminar was held Oct. 15-17 under the direction of President Russell M. Nelson and key instruction was offered by members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Other General Authorities and general officers and members of the Temple and Family History departments also provided training.
“This week is an opportunity for us to learn our duties and our priorities and to learn about the temple covenants and the special opportunities for patrons who come and enter into those covenants there for themselves and what it really means to them individually and to their families, to the Church and to the community,” President Kunz said.
In addition to training and instruction, the couples received reassurance and loving encouragement.
“It’s an interesting process to receive this type of calling that you don’t expect, one you don’t really volunteer for,” Sister Bize said. “You go through several stages of thinking — the one we feel now is that we feel grateful that we were chosen to do the work, and we feel like we have a lot to learn. Hopefully, we will be up to the task.”
She said she spoke to Elder David A. Bednar — the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who chairs the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council — about her sense of inadequacy with the new calling.
“He said that feeling inadequate or feeling like you don’t know something is actually a good thing,” she said. “So it makes me feel at peace — to actually feel that I don’t know as much, so that I need to rely on the Spirit.”
Sister Kunz echoed a similar sentiment. “I just want to feel the Spirit tell me I can do this and reassure me,” she said. “I want to feel the Lord’s Spirit, that I can do this and that He is right there with me. That’s all I need.”
The 63 recently called temple presidents and matrons will begin their three-year assignments on Nov. 1 across six continents.
Last year, 69 couples participated as the largest-ever gathering for the annual training seminar.
Seminar sessions and events are held in the Salt Lake Temple as well as nearby Church headquarters locations such as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Church Office Building, the Conference Center and the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
This year’s 63 couples will serve across the globe, from Aba, Nigeria, to Winter Quarters, Nebraska.
Nearly half — 29, to be exact — will be serving in the United States, with three in temples in Canada. Seven have been called to preside in Mexico, and 11 more couples throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Rounding out the worldwide assignments are the four couples to serve in Europe, two in Africa, three in Asia and four in Australia and the South Pacific islands.
Two couples of the 63 are preparing to serve in temples not yet dedicated — President Ramiro Antelo and Sister Elvira Avalos Antelo in the Arequipa Peru Temple and President Pedro J.C. Penha and Sister Sonia Tepedino Penha in the Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple.
Learning from the Spirit
Elder Bednar taught that even more important than what is spoken of by those instructing is that which is taught by and received through the Holy Ghost.
President Bhan said during the seminar he received direction that touched his heart. He plans to share this “with our brothers and sisters, so they can be motivated to utilize the temples more often in this time period.”
Sister Bahn said her highlight came from “the words of the prophet — when he said that you are called by prophecy and by revelation.”
Of being taught directly by President Nelson, she continued: “To me, that’s a great thing, because sometimes we put ourselves down, and we forget that the Lord knows the heart. So it’s a great lesson for me to know that the Lord knows each one of us.”
“The Lord knows the heart.”
President Bize said that throughout the seminar, “I started feeling like I am becoming a temple president,” moving away from his long-time missionary-minded focus from first growing up and later serving in Church callings in France, then as a bishop in San Francisco and later as a mission president in Tahiti.
“I was like a fish in a bowl — in my own little place — and now it seems like I have been taken from that bowl and put in a different place,” he said of the new assignment. “It has started to sink in for me now as a temple president — it’s a different focus, a different mindset, where I need to be even more kind, more loving and more outgoing.”
For Sister Kunz, the temple continues to center on love. “It is all about love, about making sure everyone feels the Lord’s Spirit the minute they walk in,” she said.
Added President Kunz: “The doctrine and the gospel of Jesus Christ is love, and that’s what people must feel when they come to the temple —Jesus’ love.”
Representative of that divine love are the temple covenants, as supported by the temple ordinances. “God has not changed the covenant that He has established — it’s all on His terms, we enter into it, and as we keep those covenants, then we have all the blessings available to us from our loving Father in Heaven and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Another impression was understanding the many Latter-day Saints worldwide who will be attending the temple for the first time each year — including thousands of 11-year-olds, new converts and new missionaries.
“So there’s an emphasis and focus on those new people coming and making sure they have a wonderful experience, as well as those who are coming back to the temple,” President Kunz said.
“We just have to be sensitive to each patron’s needs, sensitive to the Spirit to be guided to know what we need to say and do to help that patron have an edifying and uplifting experience at the temple.”