Called by some as “a missionary choir like no other,” the 364-voice ensemble singing at the Saturday afternoon session of October 2022 general conference featured teaching missionaries, service missionaries and senior missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The missionaries ranged in age from 18 years into the 80s. The 140 teaching missionaries are currently assigned to the Provo Missionary Training Center and preparing for assignments across the world. The remaining service and senior missionaries are serving assignments along Utah’s Wasatch Front, from Weber County to Utah County.
Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, said the blending of voices and visual appearance of the missionaries together was both purposeful and meaningful.
“The members of this choir — proselyting, service and senior missionaries — joined together to sing in a way that uplifted and inspired us all,” he told the Church News. “Speaking metaphorically, each missionary is a vital voice in the ‘choir’ of missionary service, each lending spirit and strength as they join in singing the song of redeeming love to a world in dire need of the redemptive power of Christ.”
‘One’ missionary choir
When mention is made of full-time missionaries, thoughts often first go to those serving in proselyting or teaching assignments worldwide.
Worthy young men ages 18-25 and young women ages 19-25 may serve a service mission for six to 18 months, as close to full time as their capability and circumstances allow. Service missionaries live at home and serve locally, and each young man or young woman is provided a customized mission experience uniquely tailored to his or her talents, skills and gifts.
As of Aug. 30, 2,238 young service missionaries were in 234 service missionary areas across the globe.
The choir singing at the Saturday afternoon session reflected how some missionaries serve despite one of a variety of physical, mental or emotional circumstances — without sight, with Down’s syndrome, with autism, or in wheelchairs.
“I have been so excited about this choir, because it’s the first time we’ve shown that no matter your circumstances, you have an offering to give and you can be a missionary,” said Katie Bastian, music manager with the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department.
Many individuals — for a variety of reasons — feel like they’re not meant for a proselyting mission, she added. “But all of these service missionaries and senior missionaries are giving in ways that they are able to, with the skills they have. And in a lot of cases, they are making connections that will shape their future.
“So, this is an opportunity to show everybody that this is ‘one’ missionary choir — it’s not separate, and it’s exciting.”
Not only were proselyting, service and missionaries standing side-by-side in the choir — there were several sets of family members singing together in the choir, including a grandmother and her grandson and two pair of siblings positioned next to each other during the session performance.
Elder Brayden Rawlings, 18, of Spanish Fork, Utah, is training and learning German at the Provo MTC for his upcoming assignment to the Germany Berlin Mission. His brother, Elder Hunter Rawlings, 20, is fulfilling a number of service-mission assignments in and around his hometown, including at the bishops’ storehouse, the family history center and the Payson Utah Temple.
The two learned of the choir — and the possibility of singing together — when Elder Hunter Rawlings was given an application to participate in the special missionary choir for conference. Service and senior missionary candidates were contacted well before the MTC group.
“I thought that was cool and wondered if I could apply at the same time,” said Elder Brayden Rawlings. “So we both applied at the same time. Even before I came to the MTC, I was singing with the service missionaries — I got a tiny head start.”
He said he has been excited to sing with his older brother. “It’s been awesome, because he’s a great singer,” the younger Elder Rawlings said. “Through high school, we never got to sing together because we didn’t take the same choir classes. So, it’s just really cool to be able to sing with him and share our testimonies together.”
And share more than just a special choir experience. “We’re excited that we’re serving missions at the same time.”
Hymns, rehearsals and memorization
For the Saturday afternoon session, the choir memorized four selections — “Called to Serve” (Hymns, No. 249), “Faith in Every Footstep,” “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” (Hymns, No. 270), and “Hope of Israel” (Hymns, No. 259). Ryan Eggett, who leads the Provo MTC choir, directed the combined choir, with Joseph Peeples and Andrew Unsworth as organists.
Choirs from the Provo MTC have sung previously for general conferences, several times with Eggett directing and several times earlier under the direction of preceding choir director Douglas Brenchley.
“This could be the most unique choir a general conference has ever had,” Eggett said.
Missionaries from the MTC participating in the special conference choir had just five rehearsals in the days leading up to conference weekend to practice and memorize their parts and lyrics.
“We tell them at the start, ‘In five rehearsals, you’re going to have five songs memorized that you’ve never sung before,’” Eggett said.
Yes, five songs. Besides the four selected numbers, the choir also memorized the congregational hymn — “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (Hymns, No. 66) — “because they’re filmed frequently during that number as well,” he added. “There are camera shots of the choir.”
The service and senior missionaries had about a month’s head start in learning and practicing the numbers in Salt Lake City, an advance time not afforded their MTC counterparts because the latter are in training there for only a handful of weeks.
‘A sacred communication’
Elder Nash reiterated President Russell M. Nelson’s emphasis that the decision to serve a mission — whether a proselyting or service mission — will bless the missionary and many others. The President of the Church has also acknowledged the irreplaceable service of the senior missionaries.
“I wholeheartedly believe that, as President Nelson teaches, the gathering of Israel is the greatest work and the greatest cause on the earth today,” Elder Nash said. “This generation was reserved to come to earth at this time to help turn the tide by bringing Christ’s light, goodness, truth and power to a world that desperately needs His light, goodness, truth and power.”
Elder Nash said he is both inspired and encouraged when he listens to missionaries sing in any setting — from general conference to mission conferences, and from MTC devotionals to zone or district meetings.
“They are consecrated servants of God. He loves them. He labors alongside them,” he said.
“The Lord says that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto Him. When His servants sing, it becomes a sacred communication, a prayer, an anthem to our God. And to get to be a part of that sacred communication by hearing them sing edifies and encourages me.”