The image of young Rigdon Lewis faithfully conducting quorum business from the pandemic-safe comfort of his living room recliner perhaps doubles as the perfect representation of the 2020 Latter-day Saint youth experience.
A deacon’s quorum president from Shelley, Idaho, Rigdon is seen conducting a virtual quorum meeting with his cellphone in one hand, notes in the other hand — and strategically placed pencil clutched between his toes.
The phone’s camera captures the young priesthood leader in his white shirt and tie. Below and out of view, Rigdon is wearing sweats or pajama bottoms.
But the good-natured photo also symbolizes the resilience and resourcefulness that continues to be demonstrated by the youth of the Church.
The Church News recently spoke with the Young Women and Young Men general presidencies about lessons learned during 2020 — and the opportunities awaiting Rigdon and legions of his fellow youth in 2021.
In 2020, youth learned how to gather virtually, and that will continue, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon said. “We will need the class presidencies and quorum presidencies and their creative thinking so we know how to best gather.”
President Cordon’s counterpart in the Young Men general presidency, President Steven J. Lund, added that the circumstances of the past year prompted historic changes.
The world is never going to be the same,” he said. “But that’s not a bad thing because we are discovering how to do things better than in the past. This cadre of youth are pioneers who are helping discover our way forward into the exciting world the Lord is opening before us.”
Lessons from 2020
One of the many blessings President Cordon has witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic is youth developing the Christlike attribute of empathy and awareness of others. “In their own lives, they’ve realized this is hard. They’ve been able to look outward and realize they can be empathetic to people that are really struggling also,” she said.
As youth come out of isolation, they will likely encounter others who still feel isolated, said President Lund. “After suffering the pandemic, our hearts will be turned more towards those who are isolated for any reason, because we all now know the numbing pain of being alone.
“I think we’ll be a better Church, and we’ll be better people because of it.”
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, believes 2020 provided defining opportunities for youth to reach out to one another. “They have been placed in a position to help people and be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” he said.
Many young holders of the Aaronic Priesthood, for example, have gained deeper appreciation for the power of administering the sacrament as they have seen that weekly ordinance frequently moved from the meetinghouse to living rooms.
The pandemic has taught youth that “they are resilient” and “they can do hard things,” said Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency. They are “uniquely equipped” for this time in the history of the world. “They have ways to contribute, to lift and to connect with others that are unique to their generation.”
Instead of asking “What can I gain from this?” during lessons or activities, she hopes youth continue to ask, “How can the Lord use me to help build His kingdom and strengthen others and share my testimony of Jesus Christ?”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not stifled the Lord’s work, noted Sister Rebecca L. Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency. “The ‘new normal’ is going to be the ‘new great.’ They’re part of this — they’re part of figuring out what it is and how this great work is moving forward.”
For Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, the past year has caused him to focus on Joseph’s Smith prophecy that “no unhallowed hand” (or global pandemic) can stop Christ’s work from going forth “boldly, nobly and independent.”
“President Russell M. Nelson has asked the youth to join the Lord’s battalion to gather Israel,” he said. “Going forth ‘boldly, nobly and independent’ has never been more important. This is not a time to retreat from service. It is a time to charge forward.”
Moving forward in 2021
As youth transition into a new year, President Cordon encourages them to look to the 2021 youth theme “A Great Work.”
Doctrine and Covenants 64:33-34 states, “Be not weary in well doing,” she said, “so continue the effort because it is ‘a great work’ — and as you do this, you’re answering the call of a Prophet to be part of the great battalion to gather Israel.”
Now beginning their second year of the Children and Youth program, young men and young women have the opportunity to be more unified than ever before.
“We have the same cause,” Sister Craig said. “It’s not programs. It’s not Scouting and Personal Progress. It’s becoming more like Jesus Christ. It’s a higher and holier way.”
And when working together, “we’re better,” added Sister Craven. “For youth to have that companionship, to have that support, wherever they are, is going to be critical as we move forward in these last days.”
Brother Corbitt encourages the youth to look at their fellow young men and young women “as Heavenly Father sees each of His children.” Practice considering what they can become.
“In His boundless wisdom, Heavenly Father determined that the best way to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life is to let us serve each other,” he said.
She extended an invitation: “We invite all the Young Women leaders to memorize the Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme, and the Young Men leaders to memorize the Young Women theme, and all the way down to the youth. They’re powerful statements to help us know who we are, what our purpose is, and that we belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Brother Wilcox added he hopes the Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme will become elemental in a young man’s daily life. “I can’t imagine how much better the Church and the world would be if every young man in the world woke up in the morning and said: ‘I am a beloved Son of God, and He has a work for me to do.’”
Expect the Children and Youth initiative to evolve in its second year, said President Lund. New features are being added frequently to help young people live the gospel, care for those in need, invite others to hear and unite families for eternity.
“Children and Youth is simply a vehicle for engaging each other in the work of salvation and exaltation,” he said.