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What President Hinckley taught me in an interview where he asked — and answered — all the questions

As my family returned from a short trip to Southern Utah last weekend, I saw a sign for one of the Church’s historic sites — Cove Fort. Instantly, my mind returned to a time — more than two decades ago — when I learned one of the most important lessons of my career as a young reporter assigned to cover President Gordon B. Hinckley at the restored fort his grandfather had built in 1867.

The 1996 event was staged to welcome the participants of a 75-wagon procession, which had left Logan, Utah, earlier in the month and was crossing the state pioneer-style in horse-drawn wagons. While the wagon train was crossing Utah, President Hinckley was visiting Church members in 17 countries on two continents, dedicating the Hong Kong Temple and breaking ground for another in Spain.

During this time, I was in Salt Lake City trying to learn how to do my job. Cove Fort was my first out-of-the Wasatch Front assignment. My editor gave me two-fold instructions. First, he said, bring back a good story. Second, he said, “stay out of President Hinckley’s face.”

I arrived at Cove Fort on time. The wagon train, however, was delayed. So I accepted an invitation to cool off inside a local home.

I hadn’t been there long when President and Sister Marjorie P. Hinckley came into the cool living room. Sister Hinckley sat on the couch next to me, President Hinckley in a chair nearby. After introductions, President Hinckley’s secretary spoke: “While we are waiting,” he said to me, “do you have any questions for President Hinckley?”

My mind went blank. I didn’t have any questions. I tried to think of just one. Fast.

But instead of questions, I kept hearing my editor’s instructions: “Stay out of President Hinckley’s face.” I knew a good Church News reporter would certainly have a question for the president of the Church, so I thought harder. My head began to feel hot. Panic filled my body. I was dizzy.

Finally, I said, “No.”

President Hinckley looked at me with great empathy. He, too, knew a good Church News reporter would have a question for the president of the Church.

“Would you like to know about my family’s history at Cove Fort?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. The celebration honors Ira and Adelaide Hinckley, who lived in the fort with their family for many years. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah.
Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. The celebration honors Ira and Adelaide Hinckley, who lived in the fort with their family for many years. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo: Marianne Holman Prescott

In 1867, Brigham Young sent President Hinckley’s grandfather, Ira N. Hinckley, to build the fort at Cove Creek on the well-traveled trail from Salt Lake City to southern Utah, he explained.

And so the interview continued, with President Hinckley asking the questions and answering them. Finally, President Hinckley said, “I think that ought to do it.”

Within the hour, President and Sister Hinckley joined the wagon train. He then addressed 10,000 people, the largest crowd to ever gather at Cove Fort. I was struck, however, with the sense that President Hinckley — a man who led a Church of millions — also cared about the one.

That’s what I know now that I didn’t know more than two decades ago. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Church of 16 million individuals who seek and receive inspiration, act in faith, and are strengthened by others reaching out to the one.

It was something President Kevin B. Pack of the Madrid Spain Mission noticed after traveling with Elder David A. Bednar in May 2016.

“It was not so much what he said, but what I observed him do that had an impact on me,” said President Pack. “Wherever he went, I noticed that he looked for opportunities to minister to ‘the one.’

“That one person was different wherever he went,” President Pack continued. “The one included a bishop leading a small congregation and feeling the weight of his calling, a missionary wanting to know he was in fact called of God, a less-active member he met on the street of Las Palmas, a nonmember of the Church wanting to know what he needed to do to believe, and even my own children. I believe Elder Bednar came to Spain to minister to individuals, and I observed this firsthand on multiple occasions while with him.”

I too have observed this as I have had the opportunity to write about the men and women called to lead The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They preach to thousands while ministering to ones.

Sometimes that one is someone they meet on a plane or in an airport or Latter-day Saint chapel. Sometimes it is a person they invite to their office or the child they pick out of a crowded congregation. Sometimes that one is me.

“A hallmark of the Lord’s true and living Church will always be an organized, directed effort to minister to individual children of God and their families,” said President Russell M. Nelson in his April 2018 general conference address. “Because it is His Church, we as His servants will minister to the one, just as He did. We will minister in His name, with His power and authority and with His loving-kindness.”

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