Scott Taylor: Just how historic was the May 15 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults with President and Sister Nelson?

A question came to the Church News: When was the last time that a President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke specifically to the faith’s young adults?

In other words, how historic, how unusual was the May 15 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, featuring messages from President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson?

The event for ages 18 to 30 was noteworthy and historic — for the first time in more than two years, the Conference Center was filled to capacity. For the first time in memory, young adult Latter-day Saints within a 90-minute driving radius from Salt Lake City were called on to flood Temple Square before, during and after the devotional.

The messages were equally noteworthy and potentially life-changing — President Nelson counseling his listeners to “decide what kind of life you want to live forever” and then providing three fundamental truths to help them prepare and follow their course:

  • “First: Know the truth about who you are. 
  • “Second: Know the truth about what Heavenly Father and His Son have offered you.
  • “And third: Know the truth related to your conversion.”

And Sister Nelson challenged young adults to experiment for three days in asking themselves one question that could change their lives: “What would a holy young adult do?”

Sister Wendy W. Nelson, left, and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wave to the attendees after Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sunday, May 15, 2022.
Sister Wendy W. Nelson, left, and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wave to the attendees after Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sunday, May 15, 2022. Credit: Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Read more: President Nelson asks young adults, ‘Decide what kind of life you want to live forever’

It wasn’t the first time President and Sister Nelson have addressed a worldwide devotional for young adults. They did the same five years ago, when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a year away from becoming the Church’s President.

“While the world is filled with uncertainty, there need not be uncertainty in your heart and mind about what is true and what is not,” President Nelson said in the Jan. 8, 2017, devotional broadcast from the BYU Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.

He referred to a challenge he had given almost a year earlier in a similar worldwide devotional, reminding young adults to “rise up as the true millennials you were born to be” and to learn from the prophets, understand the importance of divine law and study the Savior.

And Sister Nelson, a professor of marriage and family therapy for more than 25 years, shared her “Aunt Wendy’s four truths about love and marriage.”

First Presidency counselors, Apostles and General Authority Seventies have long been sharing messages broadcast to young single adults in large-scale devotionals — and in firesides, as similar instructional gatherings were called before that.

Just four months ago, six Apostles led same-day devotionals for Latter-day Saint young adults livestreamed across six continents — all on Sunday, Jan. 9.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Dale G. Renlund will stream independent messages to areas representing all six major continents on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Dale G. Renlund will stream independent messages to areas representing all six major continents on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Archive and online searches suggest more than two decades have passed since a President of the Church has taught globally gathered young adult Latter-day Saints — and even then, the audience wasn’t quite the same.

On Nov. 12, 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed youth and young single adults ages 14 through 25 in a worldwide fireside from the Conference Center which had just been dedicated and opened that year.

“I think there never before was a meeting anything like this in this Church,” the then-90-year-old Church leader started. “There are so many of you here tonight. How good you look.”

Telling his listeners that while they should seek A’s in their educational efforts, “I will give you the B’s.”

  • “Be grateful.
  • “Be smart.
  • “Be clean.
  • “Be true.
  • “Be humble.
  • “Be prayerful.”

And he closed his message with a prayer and blessing for the youth and young single adults, asking God the Father directly to “please help them to walk in paths of truth and righteousness and keep them from the evils of the world. … Bless them that they may walk acceptably before Thee as Thy cherished sons and daughters.”

It was a landmark address for that generation that resulted in all sorts of honeybee visuals and a book from President Hinckley, with “Way To Be” expanded to a list of nine “Be’s.”

That was 21½ years ago — those ages 14 to 25 who watched or listened to that address have aged out of the “young adult” status and are in their mid-30s to 40s today.

Not only did the audience’s age ranges differ between the 2000 and 2022 devotionals, but the delivery methods show how technology has changed.

The 2000 event was broadcast live via the Church’s satellite system throughout North, Central and South America, with the video in English and audio-only portions in 13 languages available on the Church’s website. It was rebroadcast a week later to stake centers in the Church’s Europe areas, while videocassettes of the broadcast were later distributed to Church units in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

And while again on the satellite system and broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the recent May 15 devotional was also available on YouTube for live and on-demand streaming as well as via video and audio-only files in 39 languages in Gospel Library. No waiting for videocassettes this time.

So, no, the May 15 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults wasn’t the first time a President of the Church has taught such an age group. And, yes, it was still historic, momentous messaging.

With means and platforms more readily available to reach and teach a global audience, certainly a similar devotional from a Church president to young adults won’t take another two decades.

And just like the “Be’s” of 2000, expect to see, read and hear about labels like “child of God,” “child of the covenant” and “disciple of Jesus Christ” and the question of “What would a holy young adult do?” throughout 2022 and years to come.

— Scott Taylor is managing editor of the Church News.