In case you missed it: President Nelson’s Christmas invitation, First Presidency on the Salt Lake Temple renovation, plus 7 more stories

During the week of Dec. 12-18,  President Russell M. Nelson shared a Christmas invitation, and the First Presidency shared an update on the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple.

The Mesa Arizona Temple was rededicated. President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, championed the blessings of religious freedom to students in Rome, Italy. Members in Colombia and Ecuador shared what they learned from Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy encouraged BYU–Idaho graduates to “reject the Gen Z labels and embrace God’s plan for you.”

The revisions to the General Handbook are now complete in English, and the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s Christmas performance was recorded for broadcast next year. In this week’s Church News podcast, Mary Richards shared about her recent move from radio to the Church News.

Read summaries and find links to these nine articles below.

1. President Nelson invites all to ‘make room in your heart’ this Christmas for those struggling to feel the Savior’s love

President Russell M. Nelson shared a Christmas message of joy on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 8 a.m. on his social media channels and the Church's YouTube channel.
President Russell M. Nelson shared a Christmas message of joy on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 8 a.m. on his social media channels and the Church’s YouTube channel. Credit: Russell M. Nelson Facebook

As many are burdened with fear, uncertainty and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic this Christmas season, President Russell M. Nelson shared a message of hope and joy with the world. 

“The Christmas season is near and dear to my heart, as I know it is to many of you,” President Nelson said in a video message released Thursday, Dec. 16. “Given all that we have experienced during this past year and more, may I share a message about how we can help transform lives during this special time of year? As you watch, I invite you to ponder the ways you personally can reach out and help others experience the light of Jesus Christ this Christmas.”

Watch his message titled ‘The Light of Christmas’

2. First Presidency: Work underway on Salt Lake Temple renovation project ‘is truly remarkable’

The south and east sides of the Salt Lake Temple are covered by scaffolding and surrounded by construction equipment as crews continue the renovation project started in 2019. The Tabernacle can be seen behind the temple on the left and the Conference Center can be seen in the background on the right, in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 2021.
The south and east sides of the Salt Lake Temple are covered by scaffolding and surrounded by construction equipment as crews continue the renovation project started in 2019. The Tabernacle can be seen behind the temple on the left and the Conference Center can be seen in the background on the right, in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Two years into the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the First Presidency has announced a new estimated completion date — noting the temple and its surroundings will be completed in 2025.

“Inspired modifications and additions to the project and scope have been made so the temple and Temple Square can serve many generations yet to come,” wrote President Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, in a statement released Monday, Dec. 13.  

Learn more about the renovation and see photos of the December update

3. ‘Astonished, impressed, gratified’: President Oaks rededicates Mesa Arizona Temple

Crowds leave the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Crowds leave the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

After three and a half years of renovation work, the Mesa Arizona Temple is dedicated again as a House of the Lord.

President Oaks presided at the three rededication sessions held Sunday, Dec. 12, offered the rededicatory prayer and was among the day’s many speakers, which included Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Read about the dedication, the youth devotional, the dedicatory prayer, how the Mesa temple was the first to offer ordinances in a non-English language, and the centenarian who attended both the 1927 dedication and the rededication

4. President Oaks champions blessings of religious freedom in address to students in Rome

President Dallin H. Oaks waves goodbye after speaking on religious freedom at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, on Dec. 14, 2021.
President Dallin H. Oaks waves goodbye after speaking on religious freedom at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, on Dec. 14, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The right to freely practice one’s religious faith, President Oaks said on Tuesday, Dec. 14, to an audience at Rome’s La Sapienza University, can be seen “as the grandparent of all the other rights.”

“For us, religious freedom is a fundamental feature of our religious doctrine,” said President Oaks. “The restoration of the fullness of Christian doctrine teaches us that God created and put His children on earth to grow spiritually by making right choices between good and evil consistent with His commandments. 

“Freedom of choice is, therefore, fundamental to God’s plan.”

Find out more of what President Oaks taught in Rome on religious freedom

5. Elder Neil L. Andersen offers healing balm in visit to Ecuador and Colombia

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles smiles as he speaks with South America Northwest Area mission leaders in Bogota, Colombia, November 2021.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles smiles as he speaks with South America Northwest Area mission leaders in Bogota, Colombia, November 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Church members and missionaries in Colombia and Ecuador share how their lives have changed as they move forward acting on the teachings from Elder Andersen’s recent visit. He, his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen; Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy; his wife, Sister Marcia Nielson; and members of the South America Northwest Area Presidency and their wives met with hundreds of Latter-day Saints, missionaries, mission presidents and Church leaders to offer counsel and prayers for an area hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discover what the members there have learned from their counsel

6. Elder Nielson encourages BYU–Idaho graduates to ‘be wise’ and reject the labels being placed on Gen Z

Graduates gather in the I-Center for the first time in two years for BYU-Idaho commencement in Rexburg, Idaho, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Graduates gather in the I-Center for the first time in two years for BYU-Idaho commencement in Rexburg, Idaho, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Credit: Michael Lewis, BYUI

Many of BYU–Idaho’s fall semester graduates’ generation — “Gen Z” — are being labeled the same way as the baby boomer generation, noted Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy. Latter-day Saint boomers were able to move forward in faith, staying close to Jesus Christ, His gospel and His Church, he said.

But, just like Elder Nielson’s generation, today’s young adult Latter-day Saints can make sure the labels of society don’t stick. Elder Nielson encouraged the 2,937 graduates to “reject the Gen Z labels and embrace God’s plan for you.”

Read about BYU–Idaho’s first in-person graduation services since December 2019

7. Revised General Handbook now complete in English following latest updates

The new digital-only General Handbook replaces Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other leaders) and is being revised under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The new digital-only General Handbook replaces Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other leaders) and is being revised under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

With the Dec. 15 publication of its latest set of revisions and updates, General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now complete in English, less than two years after its first partial release.

The revised handbook — which merges, updates and replaces the previous Handbook 1 for stake presidents and bishops and Handbook 2 for all leaders — will be finished in additional languages in 2022.

Explore the recent updates, which range from from interview guidelines to diverse music and online behavior

8. Tabernacle Choir’s Celtic-themed Christmas performance celebrates family, Irish traditions

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells at Temple Square and the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble perform during a taping for the “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” television special at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells at Temple Square and the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble perform during a taping for the “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” television special at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

With singing, instrumental music, bells and trumpets, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Orchestra at Temple Square returned to the Conference Center this week for its Christmas performance after it was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bells at Temple Square and the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble also performed. 

The hour-long Celtic-themed concert broadcast taping, titled “On This Day, Earth Shall Ring,” featured actor Neal McDonough and singer and actor Megan Hilty and highlighted their Irish heritage. The concert is being recorded to be broadcast next Christmas on PBS and BYUtv.

See photos of the performance and learn about their experience with the choir

9. Episode 61: Mary Richards reports — from radio to Church News journalist

Mary Richards joins the Church News podcast to discuss her recent move to the Church News staff where she is working to help create a “Living Record of the Restoration.”
Mary Richards joins the Church News podcast to discuss her recent move to the Church News staff where she is working to help create a “Living Record of the Restoration.” Credit: Church News graphic

Mary Richards spent nearly two decades working as a reporter for KSL NewsRadio in the heart of Salt Lake City.  Her experiences producing numerous radio documentaries that aired between general conference sessions varied from covering the temple dedication in Haiti to exploring the Sacred Grove for the bicentennial celebration of the First Vision, and she was able to see the good work of the Church roll forward. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss her recent move to the Church News staff where she is working to help create a “Living Record of the Restoration.”

Meet reporter Mary Richards