From locations across the globe on Feb. 25, leaders and participants accessed the 2021 Temple and Family History Leadership instruction session which streamed online.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a virtual RootsTech Connect and Temple and Family History leadership session this year. “Consider how technology has made possible a leadership session involving people from all over the world,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This session “is truly global, and at the same time, it is local,” he continued.
Elder Bednar explained that because of COVID-19, we have been “constrained in some unusual
ways,” yet constraints do not have to be restrictive nor limiting. “If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, then in limitations and in constraints there can be remarkable blessings,” he said. The format, the scope of participants, the number of language presentations held in association with 2021 RootsTech Connect family history gathering “is one of those remarkable blessings.”
Featuring virtual interviews with dozens of individuals, the instruction was streamed to more than 180 countries and in 10 languages. Additional translations are forthcoming.
Viewers have the opportunity to virtually accompany General Authorities and General Officers of the Church on 45 worldwide visits into the homes of people, Elder Bednar stated, “and watch ministering at its finest.”
He called the leadership presentation “a remarkable example of the inspiration that comes when we focus primarily on what can be done instead of what cannot be done” — not just an example of overcoming the restraints on gathering together but also of doing temple and family history work during a period of pandemic precautions.
“This is not a one-time event,” Elder Bednar said of the instruction session and the material available for rebroadcast and referral. “You have an opportunity to go back and review again and again and learn from the example of these great leaders,” he added.
Theme of instruction
Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department, welcomed broadcast viewers and acknowledged a statement from President Russell M. Nelson at the April 2020 general conference as the meeting’s theme: “I promise that as you increase your time in temple and family history work,” President Nelson said, “you will increase and improve your ability to ‘Hear Him.’”
Elder Hamilton remarked that the leadership instruction will help Latter-day Saints to hear Him better as they gather Israel on both sides of the veil and perform temple work. “It may not be what is said but rather what is heard — the quiet promptings and whisperings of the Spirit,” he said. “If you will listen to that still, small voice, the Spirit will teach you all things that are expedient for you. I know that the Lord is anxious to share His knowledge with each of us as we strive to bring about the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.”
In addition to Elder Bednar — who chairs the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council — and Elder Hamilton, other members of that committee led small group discussions with ward and stake representatives, families and youth regarding experiences, perspectives and best practices in temple and family history work. They included Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Terence M. Vinson of the Presidency of the Seventy; Elder Shayne M. Bowen and Elder Adeyinka A. Ojediran, General Authority Seventies; and President Joy D. Jones, Primary general president.
From Salt Lake City, Utah, Elder Bednar and Elder Hamilton visited with Gabriel in Guatemala, Hanae in Japan, Henry in Brazil, Sharmaine in the Philippines, Simon in France and Zoï in Germany, during the youth panel discussion. The youth all spoke in their native languages.
Elder Bednar asked the six youth what they had learned about ‘hearing Him’ while being engaged in family history work.
Henry told how family history involvement has helped him be receptive and responsive to revelation. Elder Bednar added: “If we are living the commandments, we are living in revelation. It is not a rare event, where we have to stop and get ready — it should be a very natural part of our life.”
Sharmaine spoke of limiting distractions from and time spent with social media, and increasing her efforts in prayer, scripture study and family history. She also told how youth in her ward rented an internet café for an activity to help older members work online in building their family trees and uploading photos to FamilySearch.
Simon expressed how he felt love, the power of the Spirit and increased faith while doing family history. “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a principle of action and of power,” Elder Bednar said, adding that preparing names for proxy work when the pandemic limits temple operations “is an expression of faith.”
Zoï related inviting friends not of her faith to join in family history experiences. Elder Bednar applauded her understanding that “family history work and missionary work are the same work.”
As Gabriel spoke of the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil, Elder Bednar explained that those in the spirit world have a keen interest in their descendants being taught the gospel by Church members and missionaries because those living “hold the key to open the door to the ordinances of salvation.”
Hanae reminded us that when one does anything to help another — living or dead — prepare to receive an ordinance and progress along the covenant path, that person is assisting in the gathering of Israel.
Elder Bednar suggested a common theme from the youth discussion was “the power of one person to get things started.”
Added Elder Hamilton: “I am amazed at the power of the youth of the Church, and their ability to see so clearly what needs to be done and then their willingness to just go forward in faith and do it, and just do it the best they can.”
Apostles’ example and instruction
Elder Stevenson shared his family’s love of one of their great aunts, whose testimony of the Book of Mormon inspired generations of her posterity. His wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, framed copies of a picture of this dear aunt and gave one to each of their young granddaughters to serve as an inspiration from her example.
“We have been amazed at how [through this gift] they have become connected to her and how her attributes and testimony of the Book of Mormon has affected their desire to instill those attributes and to become more familiar with the Book of Mormon themselves,” he said.
Elder Stevenson encouraged listeners to find application from the experiences and perspectives of the other RootsTech participants from across the globe. “Please consider the opportunities in your life and in the lives of your family that will lead to the windows of heaven opening and pouring down upon you. The promises have been made to us from our living, loving Prophet.”
Elder Renlund reviewed instructions — from the revised General Handbook and a May 26, 2020, letter from President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — on how a ward organizes the efforts for the work of salvation. The elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies lead out, under the direction of the bishop and the ward council.
He detailed the frequency and participants — including youth representatives — for meetings on the ward’s mission and temple and family history efforts. The purpose is to counsel on how to implement a ward mission plan and a ward temple and family history plan developed under the ward council’s direction and to coordinate efforts for both.
Simple ward plans are better and should address fundamental questions such as “Who can we help?” and “How can we help?” said Elder Renlund, underscoring the wide range of potential individuals and efforts.
“Promises from the Lord through living prophets give us the assurance that as we increase our personal time in temple and family history work and help others do the same through our callings in the Church, we will receive and improve our ability to ‘Hear Him,’” Elder Renlund said. “This is a spiritual work that relies on and fosters revelation.
What Church members are doing
Led by General Authorities and General Officers, the global group discussions provided insights and experiences in temple and family history efforts from individuals, families and local leaders. Following are brief mentions from the instruction’s English broadcast.
Living four hours from the Manila Philippines Temple, the Reyes family has made regular temple visits and taken advantage of the patron housing there. While the time and distance can mean family members are tired upon arrival, the realization of the family’s efforts in preparing names for temple work provides an encouraging motivation to begin the proxy ordinances promptly.
As a young married couple in the United Kingdom, the Fletchers have enjoyed blending separate family trees together and starting their own “My Family” booklet with details, stories and memories of parents and grandparents.
The Sorias in the Philippines, who together serve as stake temple and family history consultants, emphasized the importance of praying for the Lord’s help in His work, and then seeing His hand breaking barriers and preparing ways for family history successes.
Julie Lock of New Zealand joined her stake temple and family history consultant, Diane Hooper, “who has been an absolute blessing to me … and to open up all these avenues, because I would still probably be sitting here just floundering.”
Three leaders in Florida’s Tallahassee 3rd Ward — Bishop Landon Mauler, Relief Society presidency counselor Debbie Silk and temple and family history leader Craig Allen — highlighted work of salvation efforts with the sisters and the youth, including simple discussions and activities. “They are a force in our ward with temple and family history work,” said Allen of the youth, “and they encourage others to do it in their own homes.”
Joining representatives from the Colfax Ward in North Carolina, youth temple and family history consultant Eli Harris related “these really cool activities where we put in the local newspaper or social media that we were doing a family history activity at our church, and lots of people showed up. And it was really fun to go to the different classes and learn.”
Invitation, promise, witness and blessing
In his closing remarks, Elder Bednar invited listeners to consider two questions — “What have I learned, and what will I do with the things that I have learned?”
He promised inspiration to those who reflect on and review the things they learned. “But even more importantly, this is not simply to have additional knowledge in your mind. This is to be reflected in your faith as a principle of action. What will you now go and do that will bless and benefit many other people on both sides of the veil?”
His hope, he added, is that every individual of every age — not just those in leadership positions viewing the session — will benefit from the instruction in helping him or her become “a more devoted disciple of Jesus Christ” and “to see the importance of this eternal work of providing saving ordinances and the associated covenants to all of our Heavenly Father’s children, again on both sides of the veil.”