Episode 26: Elder Cook on how revelation prepared the Church for COVID-19, will be significant going forward

As the Lord has hastened His work in recent years, revelation has guided the creation and implementation of new initiatives and directives in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joins this episode of the Church News Podcast, saying these inspired efforts now form an interlocking pattern of strength that continues to sustain and support members facing the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This revelation, which helped prepare the Church for the pandemic and guided leaders through this unique time in history, will also be significant going forward, says Elder Cook. “You can see the Lord’s hand in guiding us,” he explains.

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Transcription:

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”

As the Lord has hastened His work in recent years, revelation has guided the creation and implementation of new initiatives and directives in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Those inspired efforts now form an interlocking pattern of strength that continues to sustain and support members facing the COVID-19 global pandemic.” Recently, he said, “This revelation will also be important going forward.”

Elder Cook was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 2007, and has served as a General Authority since April 1996. Before full-time church service, Elder Cook, an attorney by profession, served in senior executive leadership positions and led major health care systems in California. We are thrilled he would join us today to talk about revelation in The Church of Jesus Christ. 

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits in his office at the Church Administration Building on June 24, 2020.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits in his office at the Church Administration Building on June 24, 2020. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Cook, I love the phrase you use: “interlocking pattern of revelation” that prepared us for this most important time. Let’s begin today by talking about this interlocking pattern of revelation and looking back at specific examples. As we review these examples, we can also listen to the words of President Russell M. Nelson. Those are the words he shared as part of the original announcements of these initiatives and directives. So let’s begin, Elder Cook, with you looking back.

2:16  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Let me just do that and look at the time frames of those a bit and where we’ve all lived through this pandemic. But just think: In April of 2018, we had the final announcement to the Church that we were having the combined priesthood quorums: elders quorums and high priests, and that made it so that the men and the women were on equal footing.

2:40  

President Russell M. Nelson: Regardless of your individual circumstances, each of you is a member of a priesthood quorum with a divine mandate to learn and to teach, to love and to serve others.

Tonight we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively. In each ward, the high priests and the elders will now be combined into one elders quorum. This adjustment will greatly enhance the capacity and the ability of men who bear the priesthood to serve others. 

These modifications have been under study for many months. We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for His Saints.

These adjustments are inspired of the Lord. As we implement them, we will be even more effective than we have ever been previously. We are engaged in the work of Almighty God.

4:03  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: So the Relief Society had one presidency, the elders quorum had one, you didn’t have a high priest [presidency] and a different group. And there were other reasons for doing it, but just think about that in that regard. And at the same time we had ministering. Now, we knew, and the Twelve had talked about this and we knew that we needed to move in a little different direction than home teaching and visiting teaching. We just knew that was the case. 

4:35  

President Russell M. Nelson: For months we have been seeking a better way to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of our people in the Savior’s way.

President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them. Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as “ministering.”

Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters and by the incomparable power of the priesthood. We all need such protection from the cunning wiles of the adversary.

5:25  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: But ministering ended up being so powerful. Now, you just think: If we’d gone into the pandemic, and we’re trying to maintain home teaching and visiting teaching, when you couldn’t even go to somebody else’s house, but ministering you could. And I love the fact that it’s a way of loving and sharing, that if you’re looking at some of the principles we’re thinking about, and lift and bless, and when it’s appropriate, invite somebody to the next ordinance. That’ll take them along the covenant path. So love and share, and when appropriate, invite somebody to go to that, that next one, 

Then you go to October with the expanded responsibilities of the elders quorum and Relief Societies, the bishop is now delegating to them much of the work of salvation.

6:18  

President Russell M. Nelson: In each ward, the Lord’s youth battalion is led by a bishop, a dedicated servant of God. His first and foremost responsibility is to care for the young men and young women of his ward. The bishop and his counselors direct the work of the Aaronic Priesthood quorums and the Young Women classes in the ward.

The adjustments we will now announce are intended to help young men and young women develop their sacred personal potential. We also want to strengthen Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Young Women classes and provide support to bishops and other adult leaders as they serve.

The First Presidency and the Twelve are united in endorsing these efforts to strengthen our youth. Oh, how we love them and pray for them! They are the “hope of Israel, Zion’s army, children of the promised day.” We express our complete confidence in our youth and our gratitude for them.

7:28  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: So missionary work, which is really sharing the gospel — that’s the term we want to use if we can — and temple and family history work, caring for those and preparing people to meet God and the ministering side of that. And so, Relief Society and elders quorums are now doing that. And just think, it wasn’t very long ago that Relief Society had one counselor that was over education, and one counselor was over homemaking. And now it’s sharing the gospel, and temple and family history work. And it’s always been meeting the need. It’s always been caring for those who are in need. It’s always had that, but what a blessing that is. 

In a devotional message, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told BYU-Idaho students if they focus their life on the Savior, they will find themselves on the “Sunny Side of the Street” and have joy — just like his wife, Sister Mary Cook, above.
In a devotional message, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told BYU-Idaho students if they focus their life on the Savior, they will find themselves on the “Sunny Side of the Street” and have joy — just like his wife, Sister Mary Cook, above. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

And then, in October of 2018, we had the change to what we can call the integrated curriculum. I like to think of it as the home-centered, Church-supported, where we’re taking one hour that used to be in the Sunday block, and it’s really in the home. And we have a curriculum for it that is powerful, and that the family can study with great diligence, and we have the two hours, but in that second hour, everybody’s on the same page. Everybody’s got the same curriculum. Everybody’s learning the same kinds of things, maybe refining them for their particular needs.

8:53  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And in this clip on home-centered church, we hear not only from President Nelson, but also from you, Elder Cook.

8:59  

President Russell M. Nelson: As Latter-day Saints, we have become accustomed to thinking of “church” as something that happens in our meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home. We need an adjustment to this pattern. It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward and stake buildings.

9:26  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: To accomplish these purposes — described by and under the direction of President Russell M. Nelson — the Sunday meeting schedule will be adjusted in the following ways, beginning in January 2019.

The Sunday Church meetings will consist of a 60-minute sacrament meeting each Sunday, focused on the Savior, the ordinance of the sacrament and spiritual messages. After time for transition to classes, Church members will attend a 50-minute class that will alternate each Sunday. 

The announcements made today will result in profound blessings for those who enthusiastically embrace the adjustments and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

But what a blessing that was. And so we’re coming into the pandemic, and now we have a curriculum, we have a sanctuary of faith, we have a place of learning. All that we’ve desired for such a long time: To transform homes into the principal place where the gospel would be lived. The Twelve have always wanted that. And I know when we were working on honoring the Sabbath, in the early days of that, and President Ballard was leading that effort. And everything we were coming up with, in terms of how do you honor the Sabbath? How do you do better? You had to influence the home. We had to get away from people thinking all you have to do is send your children to church and then everything’s fine. You’ve really got to do it in the home.

Nathaniel and Felicity Hancock, along with their children William, Cameron, Andrew and Hannah, watch from their home in Sandy, Utah, as President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Nathaniel and Felicity Hancock, along with their children William, Cameron, Andrew and Hannah, watch from their home in Sandy, Utah, as President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

11:14  

President Russell M. Nelson: We look to the future with enthusiasm. We’ve been motivated to do better and to be better. The new home-centered, Church-supported integrated curriculum has the potential to unleash the power of families, as each family follows through conscientiously and carefully to transform their home into a sanctuary of faith. I promise that as you diligently work to remodel your home into a center of gospel learning, over time your Sabbath days will truly be a delight. Your children will be excited to learn and to live the Savior’s teachings, and the influence of the adversary in your life and in your home will decrease. Changes in your family will be dramatic and sustaining.

12:14  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Well, that was the purpose. We didn’t have revelation (that) there was going to be a pandemic. But you look back and you see the pandemic, and what we were trying to do in terms of moving things to the home-centered, Church-supported, the pandemic made a necessity, and very rapid order. We don’t know why we have the pandemics, we don’t know why we have these things. But I think we need to learn from them. And I think that’s one of the things we will learn, is that it’s blessed us with our home-centered, Church-supported, and really have sanctuaries of faith in our home.

(We) had some adjustments with the youth. I think one that was most touching to me was having to move forward in progression, to have them in the year when they’re all the 11 year olds, moving at the same time. My visual memory is probably stronger than on that than anything else. Seeing pictures from across the Church of 11-year-olds that they had to put boxes in the baptismal font so that their heads were above the waters, some of the young 11-year-old women. There’s one video that I’ve seen where their mother tells her that she’s going to get a limited-use recommend, and she just breaks down and cries. I think the power of that, and then moving forward in age groups, so that you become a teacher at the same time, you become a priest at the same time as your peers, as your friends. I think that it has been incredibly powerful as well. 

Now the Children and Youth: We had the guidance, we knew that we were going towards that, but it didn’t start till Jan. 1, 2020. And I think I’m more concerned about relaunching parts of that. Has the pandemic blessed some of it? I think [it has blessed] some in the home, in terms of goals and growth in the various areas that we want them to — whether it’s spirituality or education. Activities are the one that is hurt in all this, the one that has been diminished. But we’ve just had revelation that’s been remarkable and wonderful. President Nelson has been at the forefront of that, the Twelve has been totally involved. And in Priesthood and Family, we’ve been very involved with those things I’ve just been going through.

14:31  

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students and faculty during a campus devotional on Nov. 10, 2020.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students and faculty during a campus devotional on Nov. 10, 2020. Credit: BYU Photo

Sarah Jane Weaver: And it feels like these things come line upon line, that they build upon one another, and that the Lord is directing all of this, correct?

14:39  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: That’s it. That’s it, and we felt the guidance and again, going back to trying to honor the Sabbath: Much of the this was going into the Lord and saying, “How can we help people on the Sabbath?” And what followed was revelation on a whole host of areas.

14:55  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And can you speak about President Nelson’s leadership at this time in particular, and how essential it has been to the Church and its members?

15:03  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: I love working with President Nelson. I’ve loved him for so long. And I’ve had a relationship with him for such a long time. I like to describe him a little bit. He’s very capable. He’s also very decisive. And you cannot have been an open-heart surgeon and not be decisive. I don’t think you can sit there with the open heart and say: “Boy, this looks unusual. Let’s go have a committee meeting.” He is very decisive. But unlike people who are capable and decisive, sometimes, they can even be arrogant. He’s exactly the opposite. He’s humble, and so capable and decisive and humble. And when the Lord either directly or through the Holy Ghost gives him guidance and direction, he’s going to follow it. And he lives close to the Spirit. And so when things come up to the Council, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, this humility that he has just permeates. He wants to do the will of the Lord, finding out what the Lord would want, having the blessing of the Holy Ghost and sometimes revelation, and the Holy Ghost is revelation, but revelation of all kinds, let me put it that way. And then to take action, and to move forward. And as a result of that, all of these interlocking patterns that really have been such a blessing in the pandemic, but what a great servant of the Lord, what a joy it is to work with him and in some things, and I’ve worked with him very closely on some of that. And I know personally that he’s been guided and has received revelation, and I can testify of that.

16:42  

Sarah Jane Weaver: So much of President Nelson’s ministry has been marked by these global ministry tours where he gets out and is out among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Cook, you had an opportunity to travel with him on a ministry to Central and South America and to see what he does with members, one-on-one and in large groups. And the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented President Nelson and the First Presidency and in fact, all the members of the Quorum of the Twelve from going out into the world and connecting with members of the way you all like to. And so, connecting with members looks a little differently right now. Can you talk about what that looks like? And how you are accomplishing that?

17:24  

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, right, along with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, say goodbye at the end of a Latin America Ministry Tour devotional in Quito, Ecuador, on Aug. 26, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, right, along with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, say goodbye at the end of a Latin America Ministry Tour devotional in Quito, Ecuador, on Aug. 26, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

Elder Quentin L. Cook: I think that there are two parts of it that jumped into my mind as you’re asking that question. One is: We have learned things about reaching people virtually that we probably couldn’t have reached any other way. And I think missionaries have learned that, I think we will be advanced. You remember President Kimball used to talk about the Lord is going to provide new inventions for us, and we’ve got to learn how to use them and we’ve got to use them so they’ll bless people. So I think that’s one thing that we will look back and realize that, but I also think that there’s been another kind of blessing, and that is because we’re not all traveling, the Twelve has been together more often and been able to take some matters — and working with the First Presidency — of reaching some wonderful, heaven-blessed, Holy Ghost-inspired resolutions to some things in a wonderful way. It has felt very inspirational, and guided and blessed from heaven in doing that. And we’re soon probably going to be out again, and in the past, before the pandemic, there were always several of the members of the Twelve out somewhere in the world. So you’d have a Thursday meeting and you might have, you often had a quorum, but you sometimes didn’t have much more than that. We’ve had all twelve of us there for this whole period. So that’s a blessing.

18:45  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now let’s look at the things that have happened and how foundational they are to the future of the Church. Can you take a few minutes, Elder Cook, and look forward?

18:54  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Well, I think those things that were decided will do it. But I do think that Zoom and the other things that we’ve learned how to do so well, looking at Priesthood and Family, just let me take an example. I think we’ve always worried about how the organizations, the Relief Society and Young Women and that can really reach more people. I think now with Zoom that we’re going to be able to have them have more contact with a stake leader, a stake Young Women president and or stake Relief Society president in a way they couldn’t have when everything was done by travel. I just think there’s so many. I think I could come up with many examples. But I think across the board it’s going to be, we’re going to find that there’ll be blessings from it. Now, we’ve lost lives and people’s lives have been impacted and their business so I don’t want to sound Pollyannaish when I’m saying that, I know how terrible it’s been and how some of those that we love so dearly have been so adversely affected, but I think we will learn things and we have learned things that will greatly bless us in the future.

19:57  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder Cook, thank you for pointing out that this time when so many people are suffering and longing to be connected and feel isolated, and are dealing with all kinds of other stresses and hardships, that also good things are happening. You know, one of the things we’ve heard about at the Church News is that children are happier because they’re home with their families. I think that many of us will look back on this period, and see that it really was a period for strengthening the family.

20:24  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: I think absolutely, and I think it is, it’s not just that book of Scripture, it’s all the other things that they’re doing together, all the other wholesome kinds of things and paying so much attention to the youth and often helping them with things that they need to bless their lives. But it would be Pollyannaish to not recognize that there’s been some real challenges for many, particularly mothers, as well.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, walk the temple grounds after finishing a tour of the newly renovated Oakland California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, walk the temple grounds after finishing a tour of the newly renovated Oakland California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

20:51  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we talked about that almost a year ago, as the pandemic was first intensifying across the globe. How is your perspective changed in the past year, after seeing this pandemic and experiencing it?

21:04  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Well, I think we’re going so fast still, but it’s kind of hard to just kind of reflect on exactly how it’s changed. I think all of us — and I think it’s important to say this — it’s been very hard because we’re together still and have been this whole year, and we’re together with the Prophet. We have tried very, very hard to not even be with children and grandchildren like we would like to have on a personal basis. And so we’ve followed that, and I think that has been heartbreaking in so many ways. And  we recognize that. And so, I think of the things looking forward, just hugging grandchildren. We’re going to appreciate that like we never (have) and I know my wife will feel that way. But I do think that there are depths of understanding, I think when you see these interlocking patterns, you can see the Lord’s hand guiding us. And the guidance isn’t just for the pandemic, it flows even more significant. Each one of those that we’re talking about will be an enormous blessing now as we go forward.

22:17  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder Cook, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always give our guests the last word. So as we bring this podcast to a close, I’m hoping that you can share your testimony of revelation and the interlocking pattern of revelation that has prepared the Church for and sustained the Church during the COVID-19 pandemic. And we also have our guests answer a most important question. And that question is, “What do you know now?” So after the past year, during this pandemic, and all of the years that you’ve served in the Quorum of the Twelve and as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can you share with us what you know now about revelation?

23:01  

Elder Quentin L. Cook: I always worry about saying too much about sacred things. We know that often, when we receive guidance and receive revelation, it’s something that we should be very careful of. But I would be ungrateful if I didn’t say that I can testify with all certainty, as a sure witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, I know that He lives and I know that He guides this Church. I know that His prophet receives revelation and guidance, and that that revelation has been so significant to guide the whole Church in this critical time. And I’m so grateful that as a quorum and the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, that we’ve had the blessings of heaven to have revelation that has been so directive. 

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talks to members of the media outside of the newly renovated Oakland California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talks to members of the media outside of the newly renovated Oakland California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

I’m grateful that in families all of us can receive revelation for those things we need. In my life, most often, revelation has come when I was trying to bless somebody else. I’ve had some that were just for me, but most, by far, were when I was trying to bless somebody else. And, in an assignment, I think, as a young bishop of having a couple call me as I was about to go catch a plane to go to New York and just desperate to talk to me, and, I had like 20 minutes by the time they would get there and, and praying to know what could I possibly do? You could tell they were heartbroken and getting guidance to know what the issue was and what I should counsel them and, having them come and being able to do that, and I found that we will get the guidance we need from the Lord when we need it, and the Holy Ghost will bless us and in very special ways and that has occurred in an abundance in these last few years. And again, in some ways too sacred to describe, but to have the Lord bless us has been a great privilege. I feel so privileged to have a chance to serve and try and bless lives, try and accomplish things the Lord wants to have accomplished. So I bear my witness of the divinity of the Savior and the revelation that we receive, and that President Russell M. Nelson is His Prophet today and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

25:38  

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.