Episode 172: The ever-expanding BYU Speeches collection with curator Charles Cranney

Listen to excerpts from classic BYU devotional and forum addresses in this Church News podcast, which explores the history of BYU’s collection

Every week devotional speakers enlighten, instruct and uplift students at Brigham Young University. But these BYU Speeches are not only for the student body, they are recorded, curated and digitally shared for the world at large.

With over seven decades of devotionals from Church leaders, BYU presidents, professors, scholars and invited guests, there are thousands of speeches. And now, with the archive expanding to include Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and French translations, the speeches team is ready to share the talks with even more listeners.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Charles Cranney, senior manager of Digital Media at BYU Brand & Creative, as well as excerpts from past BYU devotionals. The episode explores the history and highlights speeches from BYU’s ever-expanding collection.

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Charles Cranney: Nearly every day, we get an email from somebody that said, “This is the talk that just really was heaven-sent for me today.” That’s a common phrase we hear: “heaven-sent.” Think about it — someone at BYU is asked to give a devotional on campus. Most of those invited know it will be the only time they will ever be asked. So many of these talks have been prepared as if it will be the only such talk they will ever give, kind of like the “Last Lecture” series that other universities have. And what an honor and great privilege it has been to be bathed in the gospel light through these BYU speeches.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you 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.

Every week, accomplished speakers enlighten, instruct and uplift students at Brigham Young University. But these BYU speeches are not only for the student body; they are recorded, curated and digitally shared for the world at large through the website. With over seven decades of devotionals from Church leaders, BYU presidents, professors, scholars and invited guests, there are thousands of speeches. And now with the archive expanding into translations in Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and French, the speeches team is ready to enlighten even more listeners.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Charles Cranney, senior manager of digital media at BYU Brand & Creative. He joins us to explore the history and highlight speeches from this ever-expanding collection. Welcome, Brother Cranney. It’s so nice of you to join us.

Charles Cranney: Great to be here today. Thank you.

BYU combined choirs sing at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m hoping you can start and just tell us a little bit about the BYU speeches collection.

Charles Cranney: Well, we started our website back in 1996. We had all of these wonderful books that we’d been doing on these annual speeches. And then we talked to our people who had recorded them and said, “Hey, can we combine these two things together?” And they gave us this rich, rich library of audio files that go clear back to 1946. I think our first audio file is with J. Reuben Clark. And then — so we started the website in ’96, and then in 2012, we combined with BYUtv. And so now we have audio, we have text and we have video. We now have a rich resource of over 2,500 speeches that have been given over a vast amount of time, 70 years or so. And they have been wonderfully accepted by our audiences.


Sarah Jane Weaver: As I was preparing for this podcast and perusing some of your offerings, I felt so nostalgic. I couldn’t believe — it was interesting; I got to relive some devotionals that I attended as a student at BYU in the early ’90s. And then I got to discover devotionals that I had never heard, that were before my time. Is that something that people are able to do through this resource, is connect with people that they may have remembered or some people that they didn’t even know personally?


Charles Cranney: Sure. I have one experience when I was a missionary in Australia, back in the mid-70s. I had this cassette tape that I wore out. It was of Elder Hugh B. Brown giving his seminal talk “The Profile of a Prophet.” And even to this day, I can quote it with all of the cadences that he has and everything else, because I wore that cassette tape out.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, tell us more about you. How did you get involved in this?

Charles Cranney: I started at BYU as a writer and editor back in 1980, in August of 1980. So I’ve been on this project for about 43 years. So a lot of those devotionals that you can listen to, I listened to it live. And we printed this book for so many years, and it was so popular, but by the time the digital communication started coming, we knew that there was a larger audience that could find the benefit of these wonderful talks that have been given. And that’s why we started the webpage. And I’ve been leading different teams now that have purveyed the speeches for that amount of time, since 1996.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, you have a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications and public relations from BYU. And so you and I are not so different. We’re involved in an industry that has changed. I remember I started at the Church News in 1995, and we published a single print publication. It was a tabloid once a week, and everything we offered was in that print edition. If you couldn’t get your hands on the physical copy, you didn’t read what we had. And we would try and send it around, and we hoped people got it. But it wasn’t very long before we started glimpsing some opportunities with the internet. And then we started understanding that we had opportunities with other mediums, including this podcast. And now we actually translate everything we do into Spanish and Portuguese.

So, tell us how your work has expanded by technology.


Charles Cranney: Well, I started to work at BYU with a noncorrecting Selectric typewriter. And about three years later, we got these IBM PCs with five-and-a-quarter-inch discs. And I was kind of enamored by the technology, and all the other editors and writers in our department were scared about it, and I kind of enjoyed it. And so I became their helper with those and learning how to write things and be able to correct them and all without having to put in correcting tape and everything else.

And so, after that, I just became enamored with the technology. So when these technologies first started coming out, I was on the first team that formed the first BYU webpage. And then, of course, I went to BYU speeches after that. I got involved in film work, because now you could do things that would take a million-dollar studio, you could do for much less than that. Taught some classes in it. And just became super involved in digital media, because I realized how powerful this was to be able to, instead of printing 8,000 annual speeches books, or something like that, that we could reach many, many more thousands that were going there. 

And then as we started developing, for several years now, we’ve had a lot of people that have written to us and said, “How come these aren’t in Spanish?” or “How come these aren’t in Portuguese or French or Chinese?” And they are pleading with us to be able to do that. And so this initiative that we started this last year with the College of Humanities, we are now starting to translate the speeches as well.

BYU students listen in the Marriott Center to Sister Neill F. Marriott, former Young Women general presidency second counselor, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. | Matthew Norton/BYU, BYU Photo


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, I’m convinced that there is a whole generation of those of us who are over 50 who are the only people on Earth who understand what the term “Reveal Codes” means, like those early days when you were using WordPerfect and you had to actually see what you’d done on the computer. You know, my three kids, they type a lot of their speeches on their cellphones. And so technology has certainly expanded and changed the work we do and the way we do it. I’m interested in knowing a little bit more about the history of BYU speeches.


Charles Cranney: Yes. Well, for many, many years, there’s always been a devotional or a forum given at BYU weekly. And that’s been going on for more than we even have record of, I believe. We do have a speech, a printed speech, of Karl G. Maeser that goes clear back to 1891 that’s on our speeches site. But then we started gathering these audio files. And one that we just really enjoyed, the story is that in 1953, Elder Matthew Cowley came to BYU five times and gave devotional speeches. Interestingly enough, two of the young students who were there was a young freshman student by the name of Dallin H. Oaks, who I think we know now, and also John H. Groberg. And they were there when Elder Cowley gave those wonderful, wonderful speeches.

The thing that’s interesting is, at the end of that year, in 1953, Elder Cowley died at age 56. So we have this rich collection of his last thoughts before he passed away that have really affected generations since that time. And we’ve had so many apostles and prophets that have come since that time. We have dozens of talks that have been given by President Gordon B. Hinckley and many of the other Apostles before they were Apostles. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, we first knew as President Jeffrey R. Holland, and even before that, he was the commissioner of Church education and came down to BYU, and before that, he was the dean of religious education at BYU. And so we have this extraordinary set of talks by Elder Holland that go all the way back to the ’70s and all the way up until more recently.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this summer, when Sister Patricia Holland passed away, I went back and listened to some of the BYU devotionals that they had done together, the “Jeff and Pat Show.” And it was so touching to actually see them standing there together in that way. Now, your oldest audio recording is a speech by J. Reuben Clark, given in 1946. I was so glad that you also mentioned President Oaks, because he is actually the oldest video recording of a devotional that you have, from a talk he gave in 1971. That had to be just a landmark era when suddenly you can hear someone, and then we move to when you can actually see those images.


Charles Cranney: Yes. It was quite a find, just from a couple of years ago, that BYUtv found this video of then-President Dallin H. Oaks, the new president of BYU, and he was introduced by Ben E. Lewis. And often we don’t put the introductions of the speakers on our podcast or our speeches site, just because there’s so much going on. But that was such a delightful introduction to him as the new president of BYU that we left that on there. And you can see his young children standing up and being introduced with his wife, June, and everything else. So we’ve kept a few of those introductions around when they have great historical significance. But we just loved that great find that we had.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And how are these speeches gathered and distributed?

Charles Cranney: These speeches come about nowadays with BYUtv broadcasting them live. And then after that, that same day, we get a copy of that broadcast. Beforehand, we’ve gotten the text from the author, work with them to make sure it’s the title that they would like, that has good search engine optimization, so that when somebody searches for it, they can find it. And if the author agrees, we sometimes will make little adjustments to the titles. And then once we get those, the day of, we often will post those videos and the audio that day.

After that time, our editors get involved, and they check all the references. And some talks have more references than others. We’re quite proud of the work our editors have done since about 1980, knowing that all of our references are original references. And they’ve been very careful. So you can go to those speeches and know that those references have been double-checked and are accurate and aren’t secondary references. And we put all that together, and then about two or three weeks after the devotional has been given, we post the text of those as well, which also helps with people finding them, because they can search the words at that point.

BYU President Shane Reese speaks during a devotional.
BYU President C. Shane Reese shares three ways to invite God’s direction into one’s life, during a BYU campus devotional held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to deviate here a little because technology is so great now that we can actually bring some of these classic speeches right to our listeners in this podcast. And I want to just bring up a few and have you share some of your favorites from your list. You know, when I think about really, really important speeches, I think about one that was given in May of 1968 by Elder Hugh B. Brown, called “God Is the Gardener.” And this is one of those speeches that I mentioned before that I was introduced to now that I never would have known without this resource.


Elder Hugh B. Brown: Could I tell you just a quick story out of my own experience in life? Sixty-odd years ago, I was on a farm in Canada. I had purchased this from another who had been somewhat careless in keeping it up. And I went out one morning and found a currant bush at least 6 feet high. I knew that it was going all to wood. There was no sign of blossom or of fruit. I had had some experience in pruning trees before we left Salt Lake to go to Canada, as my father had a fruit farm. I got my pruning shears and went to work on that currant bush, and I clipped it and cut it and cut it down until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps.

And as I looked at them, I yielded to an impulse, which I often have, to talk with inanimate things and have them talk to me. It is a ridiculous habit, one I cannot overcome. As I looked at this little clump of bushes, stumps, there seemed to be a tear on each one, and I said, “What’s the matter, currant bush? What are you crying about?”

And I thought I heard that currant bush speak. It seemed to say, “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as large as the fruit tree and the shade tree, and now you have cut me down. And all in the garden will look upon me with contempt and pity. How could you do it? I thought you were the gardener here.”

I thought I heard that from the currant bush. I thought it so much that I answered it. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. If I let you go the way you want to go, you will never amount to anything. But someday, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to think back and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’”


Charles Cranney: That’s a beautiful story that he gives. And the Church will often take the speeches that some of the general officers of the Church have given, and they’ll put it in what was then the Ensign and now is the Liahona. And so you’ll find that in a lot of the Church documents as well, some of the seminal talks that have been given.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And then, just a few short years later, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, in September of 1974, gave another classic talk, titled “But for a Small Moment.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell addresses BYU students in the Marriott Center
Elder Neal A. Maxwell addresses BYU students in the Marriott Center in this file photo. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Elder Neal A. Maxwell: I believe with all my heart that because God loves us, there are some particularized challenges that He will deliver to each of us. He will customize the curriculum for each of us to teach us the things we most need to know. He will set before us in life what we need, not what we like. And this will require us to accept with all our heart — and particularly your generation — the truth that there is divine design in each of your lives and that you have rendezvous to keep, individually and collectively. God knows even now what the future holds for each of us.

If God chooses to teach us the things we most need to learn because He loves us, and if He seeks to tame our soul and gentle us in the way we most need to be tamed and most need to be gentled, it follows that He will customize the challenges He gives us and individualize them so that we will be prepared for life in a better world by His refusal to take us out of this world, even though we are not of it. In the eternal ecology of things, we must pray, therefore, not that things be taken from us, but that God’s will be accomplished.

What, therefore, at times about us now concerning our life, may seem to be unconnected pieces of tile will someday, when we look back, make us realize that God was making a mosaic. For there is in each of our lives this kind of divine design, this pattern, this purpose that is in the process of becoming, which is continually before the Lord but which for us, looking forward, is sometimes perplexing.


Charles Cranney: Elder Maxwell has certainly resonated with me. I had a time in my life when I had friends and colleagues who all of a sudden weren’t treating me so friendly and so collegial. And there’s a talk that Elder Maxwell gave back in the ’80s called “Meek and Lowly,” which became a foundation for me to get through. And the beautiful words of Elder Maxwell settled and grounded me and helped me to dissipate anger and bitterness while I tried to pray with all the energy of heart to be filled with Christ’s love. I’ll never forget that moment.


Elder Neal A. Maxwell: The rest, the peace promised by Jesus to the meek, though not including an absence of adversity or tutoring, does, therefore, give us a special peace which flows from “humbleness of mind” (Colossians 3:12). The meek management of power and responsibility relieves us of the heavy and grinding chains of pride; however glitzed and polished, they are still chains.

Meekness also protects us from the fatigue of being easily offended. There are so many among us just waiting to be offended. They are so alerted to this possibility that they will not be treated fairly, they almost invite the verification of their expectation. The meek, not on such an alert, find rest to their souls from this form of fatigue.

Bruising as the tumble off the peak of pride is, it may be necessary at times. Few of us escape at least some of these bruises. Even then, one must next be careful not to continue his descent into the swamp of self-pity. Meekness, instead, enables us after such a tumble to pick ourselves up — but without putting others down blamefully. Meekness mercifully lets us retain realistic and rightful impressions of how blessed we are, so far as the fundamental things of eternity are concerned. We are not then as easily offended either by the disappointments of the day, and the disappointments of the day seem to come in a sufficient and steady supply to all of us.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think there are so many moments that are unforgettable from these devotionals. You know, we mentioned Elder and Sister Holland, and they gave a talk in February of 1982 called “The Inconvenient Messiah,” that has been shared and reshared in recent years.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks at Brigham Young University in the Marriott Center.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks at Brigham Young University in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: For my purposes today, I have labeled my remarks “The Inconvenient Messiah.” I wish to speak this morning of the demands of discipline and discipleship, of the responsibilities we have to face when we choose to follow Jesus Christ. In the Savior’s life and in ours, Satan counters such discipline with temptations of an easier way, with temptations and offers of “convenient Christianity.” It is a temptation Jesus resisted, and so must we. Life was very inconvenient for Him, and, unless I miss my guess, it will often be so for you and for me when we take upon us His name.

And sometimes the cost is very high. It was for Christ, it was for Joseph Smith. It is not easy to go without things — without physical gratifications or spiritual assurances or material possessions — but sometimes we must since there is no guarantee of convenience written into our Christian covenant. We must simply work hard and do right, as Abraham Lincoln said, and sometime our chance will come. And when we have tried, really tried, and waited for what seemed never to be ours, then the “angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:11). For that ministration in your life, I pray.


Charles Cranney: Elder Holland’s and Sister Holland’s talks were some of the beloved talks, partly because Elder Holland, of course, is a great communicator, as was Sister Holland, but part of it was the connection that they had together. Part of it was that they were talking to an audience of beloved students that they so loved while they were serving at BYU. And anytime they have come back, or Elder Holland has come back as an Apostle, that love that He experienced as president of the university has radiated back to the current students that come.

I think the same thing can be said of President Dallin H. Oaks, who also was president of Brigham Young University. When he comes back, he just glows with that afterglow of having served those students for all of those many years. And so those talks just become really special to all of us because of that long history of speaking with these beloved students at BYU.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Another classic talk — and this is one that was given during my time as a BYU student. I was in the Marriott Center; I’ll never forget it — and it was from Sister Janet G. Lee, who is the wife of President Rex E. Lee. And in that very, very sweet devotional in January of 1992, she addressed the topic “Knowing When To Persevere and When To Change Direction.” I mean, what classic advice for university students.


Sister Janet G. Lee: How many times are we, as Heavenly Father’s children, immobilized because the choice we had in mind for ourselves just isn’t available to us, at least not at the time we want it? Is progress halted when acceptance into a chosen major is denied, when enrollment in a required class is closed, when a desired job just doesn’t come through, when that dream date doesn’t progress beyond friendship, or when the money hoped for isn’t there? Are we ever, for reasons that are hard to understand or beyond our control, faced with a set of circumstances that we did not have in mind for ourselves?

But if I could turn back the clock, would I also have to trade in what I have learned? I wouldn’t want to give that part back. Always having our first choice might mean giving up unknown benefits. As Emerson said, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.”

I bear my testimony that God lives, that He hears and answers our prayers, that He will help us through life’s challenges because He loves us and He wants us to return to Him. It is my prayer that we will color our lives in a beautiful way with whatever colors are available to us.


Charles Cranney: That talk is one that a lot of people still access all of the time now. Another talk that I just really have loved is a talk by then a professor by the name of Wendy Watson, who became Wendy Watson Nelson, President Nelson’s wife. And as a professor, she gave a talk called “Change: It’s Always a Possibility!

Sister Wendy Watson Nelson speaks in the BYU Marriott Center
Sister Wendy Watson Nelson speaks in the BYU Marriott Center in this file photo. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU


Sister Wendy Nelson: Through clinical research, I have found that change is most likely to occur when we are invited to a reflection. Through the process of reflection, we can become aware of ourselves and others in a whole new way. When I read Alma, I experience him as a man who is passionate about change and a man expert in the art of inviting others to reflect — ­reflections that increase the likelihood that people will change.

How does Alma invite these change-inducing reflections? One way is through his use of questions. In Alma, Chapter 5, alone, over 40 of his questions are offered — questions like: “Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14). And: “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).

Through the process of persistent questioning, he invites us to reflect over and over again: on our status with the Lord, on our spiritual growth and development, on things that need to change or have changed — and before we know it, our desire for more change increases.

The next time you want an incredible experience with reflection — to see just what it feels like to be invited and enticed to change, to have your stance of “I’m just fine” or “I can’t change” persistently chiseled away at — read Alma, Chapter 5 — maybe several times. Notice how your thoughts about yourself and your possibilities for change are altered through Alma’s relentless questioning. I love Alma. I love his devotion to change, and I love his use of questions, which invite reflection.


Charles Cranney: And that still resonates with many, many people and helps all of those who are experiencing the challenge of trying to change, with her professional experience in that but also her spiritual experience. Combining the study and faith together became a very powerful talk.

Other talks that have been just great ones: Sheri Dew has given a couple of talks at BYU that have been very beloved. I could go on and on and on. We’ve had many of the Apostles who have given great stories. We’ve had so many from President Hinckley — “The Loneliness of Leadership.” Or “Peter, My Brother” [from President Spencer W. Kimball]. Or “The Widow’s Mite” [By President Hinckley]. You could go on and on with those.

I remember when Elder Maxwell passed away. It happened right before BYU Education Week. And we were still printing books at that point in time, and within three weeks, we printed a whole bunch of books, some of Elder Maxwell’s 20+ talks that he had given at BYU. And I was pleased when his wife asked for copies to distribute to each of her family. So there are these rich collections. It’s almost hard to talk about which ones are, like, most popular or anything else, because they’re all wonderful talks.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so glad you mentioned some of these classic talks, which are all relevant in the time and place they’re given, because speakers seek and receive personal revelation as they determine what to talk to. I’m especially glad you mentioned President Hinckley. I loved his talk titled “The Widow’s Mite.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley speaks to the students at BYU on Oct. 31, 2006, at the Marriott Center. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


President Gordon B. Hinckley: The fact is that tithing is the Lord’s law of finance. It came of revelation from Him. It is a divine law with a great and beautiful promise. It is applicable to every member of the Church who has income. It is applicable to the widow in her poverty as well as to the wealthy man in his riches. It is simple of understanding. One need only compare it with the income tax to recognize the simplicity that comes of the wisdom of God in contrast with the complexity that comes with the so-called wisdom of men.

I hold in my hand a widow’s mite. It is very small; I know you cannot see it. It is about the size of a penny. It was given me in Jerusalem many years ago, and I was told that it is genuine. I had it framed, and I keep it in my office as a constant reminder of the fearsome responsibility of spending that which comes of the consecrations of the members of the Church. Most of the wonderful, faithful Latter-day Saints who pay their tithing are men and women of modest means. They not only pay their tithing, but they also make many other contributions for the strengthening of this work.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you also happened to mention the talks given by Sister Sheri L. Dew. As a young reporter for the Church News, I covered a talk she gave in 2003. She was then second counselor in the general Relief Society presidency. And today, she’s my boss, as the executive vice president of Desert Management Corp. But that talk was titled “You Were Born To Lead, You Were Born for Glory.”


Sister Sheri Dew: Do you know what we believe? Do you know there is power in the doctrine of Christ to change and to overcome weakness? Do you realize the scriptures contain the answer to every life dilemma? A casual understanding of the gospel will not sustain you through the days ahead, which is why it is imperative that you immerse yourself in the word of God.

This spring, I spent two weeks at the United Nations as a White House delegate to an international commission. As I listened to women from around the world debate complex social problems, I didn’t hear them raise one issue that couldn’t be solved by living the gospel. Not one. There is power in the word of God.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And, you know, we also were introduced to a leader who, in 2004, would become a very young Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Elder David A. Bednar gave a speech in 2001 that also became a classic: “In the Strength of the Lord.”

Charles Cranney: Elder Bednar, as president of BYU–Idaho, came down and spoke and gave us a hint of what was coming, I think. His testimony of Jesus Christ in that talk was remarkable.

Elder David A. Bednar speaks inside BYU’s Marriott Center.
Elder David A. Bednar speaks inside the Marriott Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on Feb. 4, 2007. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


Elder David A. Bednar: Now, brothers and sisters, I believe the second part of the journey — this process of going from good to better — is a topic about which we do not study or teach frequently enough nor understand adequately.

It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us — and to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power.

Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints — for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. And I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. There is help from the Savior for the entire journey of life — from bad to good to better — and to change our very nature.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, have we missed any that you love?

Charles Cranney: Well, we would have to have a podcast of about 10 hours if we went through that, but there are a couple. You must listen to the talk “Miracles” by Elder Matthew Cowley.


Elder Matthew Cowley: Now, miracles are commonplace, brothers and sisters. Just commonplace. A few weeks ago, I sat in my front room and had Dwight Eisenhower come right into my front room. I saw him sworn in as president of the United States. I saw the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue better than the people who were standing right there at the side of the avenue, trying to see the parade over other people’s shoulders. All right in my own front room. If I would have told you that would be done, If I would have told you 25 years ago that would be done, in this year 1953, I know what you would have told me.

Well, no man invented those elements out there. Man has invented instruments whereby he harnesses those elements, but he never invented the elements; they are eternal. They have been there all the time. And if I can turn a little gadget and bring the president of the United States into my front room, God can bring Himself within the vision of men. The Master can come within the range of man’s vision because They have as much control over those elements out there and more control than man does himself.

God does have control of all of these elements. You and I can reach out. If it is His will, we can bring those elements under our control for His purposes. I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. And if there was ever a miracle in the history of mankind, that miracle is this Church, which has grown to its present greatness in the earth.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m so glad that we got to hear that excerpt from Elder Cowley. I have to tell you my favorite BYU devotional of all time, one which brought me peace and showed just how in tune the leaders of the Church are, is one that President Russell M. Nelson gave in September of 2019 called “The Love and Laws of God.” What a beautiful, beautiful talk that was.

And wasn’t it great that he chose that venue to actually clarify some things that had been on his mind to help students understand a 2015 decision by the First Presidency that impacted the LGBTQ community, and then to explain in a very public place why that decision was reversed.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, before President Nelson speaks at a devotional at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


President Russell M. Nelson: My dear brothers and sisters, divine laws are God’s gifts to His children. Just as our family’s rules kept our children safe as they grew to adulthood, just as divine laws governing the heart and the flight of airplanes keep you safe on the operating table or while traveling, abiding by God’s laws will keep you safe as you progress toward eventual exaltation. Let me say it as succinctly as I can: As you abide by God’s laws, you are progressing toward exaltation.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that God “institute[d] laws whereby [we] could have a privilege to advance like himself.” God’s greatest blessings are reserved for those who obey His laws. As He explained: “For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:5). God’s laws are motivated entirely by His infinite love for us and His desire for us to become all we can become.

It is precisely because we do care deeply about all of God’s children that we proclaim His truth. We may not always tell people what they want to hear. Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth. God has not changed His definition of marriage. God has also not changed His law of chastity. Requirements to enter the temple have not changed. And our desire for there to be love at home and harmony between parent and child has not changed.

Though we of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cannot change the laws of God, we do have the charge “to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:33). Thus we can adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so. You have recently seen such examples. Because the Restoration is ongoing, policy changes will likely and surely continue.


Charles Cranney: President Nelson’s talk, of course, was beautiful there. And I think they have enough time at the BYU devotionals to expand a little more than they would in, like, a general conference, where they have a shorter period of time. And it was nice that he took that opportunity to expand, clarify and help many of those youth who were struggling with understanding what had happened there.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Yes. And he taught us some great doctrine as well. It’s not just BYU devotionals that are in this archive. It’s also forums. First of all, tell us the difference between a devotional and a forum. And then I’d love it if you could share your favorite forum.


Charles Cranney: Well, our rich forums have been a highlight for us as well. We’ve had rabbis, bishops, other friends from religious institutions, business executives, government officials and so much more. I think my favorite forum was a forum by David McCullough, a wonderful biographer, when he talked about “The Glorious Cause of America.” When I was in Russia on a mission, I often used an excerpt from that when he talked about how difficult it was during the Revolutionary War and how George Washington overcame those great odds. And it is told so clearly, so wonderfully, by David McCullough, that I will just never forget it.

David McCullough speaking at BYU in the Marriott Center. Sept. 27, 2005
David McCullough, author of “John Adams” and “1776” speaks at BYU in the Marriott Center on Sept. 27, 2005. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News


David McCullough: Now, we are taught, we honor, we celebrate those great men who wrote and voted for the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. But none of what said, none of what they committed themselves to — their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor — none of those noble words about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all men are created equal, none of that would have been worth any more than the paper it was written on had it not been for those who were fighting to make it happen. The stories of our troops leaving bloody footprints in the snow because they were in bare feet, those stories are true — that’s not mythology.

And I hope that when you read about the American Revolution and all that happened and the reality of those people who were not gods, who were not perfect people; they were imperfect — that’s what’s so miraculous, that they rose to the occasion as very few generations ever have. And I hope you will never ever think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And there’s probably so many other talks that we could mention as we highlight just a few of the many talks that have been given at BYU over the years.

Charles Cranney: I was at a Christmas concert a couple of years ago, and I told Elder [Lawrence E.] Corbridge, who was sitting right behind me — a BYU combined choirs Christmas concert — that we were going to be getting his talk available in Spanish. And he said, “I want to record that myself in Spanish.” And so he’s actually scheduled to come in now and record his talk in Spanish. He also worked with our student translators on the translation to make sure that it said everything that he wanted to. That has been such an inspiring talk, because it so uniquely helps understanding how one can go forth nobly while reconciling all the calumny against the Church. Because it was so well received, we also created an inspiring short excerpt from that, called “The Miracle of the Ordinary.”


Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge: We may all be taken aback from time to time by the extraordinary — such as walking on water, multiplying bread and fish, raising the dead, translating gold plates with special lenses or a stone and a hat, and the visitation of angels. Some people are hard-pressed to believe extraordinary things. While it is understandable that we may be challenged by the extraordinary, we shouldn’t be, because ordinary things are actually more phenomenal.

The healing of the withered hand is not nearly as amazing as the existence of the hand in the first place. If it exists, it follows it can certainly be fixed if it is broken. The greater event is not in its healing but in its creation. How can you believe in extraordinary things such as angels and gold plates and your divine potential? Easy; just look around and believe.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So now, this is just one example of another project that you’ve undertaken, which is to create some shorts from some of these talks.

Charles Cranney: Yes, we have nearly 100 now. We have a student film team, and we hunt through all of the talks to find great stories; stories that have intention and obstacle, stories that build faith. And then we go ahead and produce a little short on each one of them, less than five minutes. And they’ve been quite popular. And even this last May, we’ve been doing YouTube shorts, which are even smaller. We do some that are funny. Like, we had a Mary Ellen Edmunds talk that was only 17 seconds long about a joke that she gave at the beginning of her talk that had over a million lessons on Instagram.

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Mary Ellen Edmunds: I remember a time in the Tabernacle years ago during general conference, a Sunday morning when it was very, very hot. Everyone was fanning themselves with whatever they could find. President Hinckley got up. He looked out over the congregation and said, “It’s hot in here. We know it’s hot in here. We know you’re hot. But you’re not as hot as you’re going to be if you don’t repent.”


Charles Cranney: But we also have little, small one-liners of words of wisdom that we just started last May as well. So, these inspiring shorts were just following the technology. And we’re finding them to be a great benefit, and we hope it leads people to read the whole talk, because that’s where you get the greatest benefit, is when you find all of the efforts that have been given for the whole talk.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You also have some shorts from President Russell M. Nelson. And as we sort of wind up this section where we are playing the words of leaders from these classic devotional addresses, I want to leave the listeners with just one last word from President Nelson. And this is a short and an excerpt from a speech he gave in 1992 called “Jesus the Christ — Our Master and More.”


President Russell M. Nelson: He is Jesus the Christ — our Master and more. We have discussed but 10 of His many responsibilities: Creator, Jehovah, Advocate with the Father, Immanuel, Son of God, Anointed One, Savior and Redeemer, Judge, Exemplar, and Millennial Messiah. He lives. I love Him. Eagerly I follow Him, and willingly I offer my life in His service. As His special witness, I solemnly teach of Him. I testify of Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m sure as all of us hear some of these unforgettable speeches, that this collection has to have helped a whole generation of people grow their testimony or gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How have you seen this happen in the lives of individuals?


Charles Cranney: Nearly every day, we get an email from somebody that said, “This is the talk that just really was heaven-sent for me today.” That’s a common phrase we hear: “heaven-sent.” And just last year, we had some missionaries who were talking to a person who was learning about the Church. And they emailed us and said, “What do we have on Joseph Smith?” And we do have a very rich collection on the Prophet Joseph Smith. We introduced them to the Truman Madsen lectures; there were eight lectures that he gave at Education Week more than 40 years ago. In fact, I listened to them as a returned missionary, right there in the Marriott Center. And that person wrote us back a few weeks later and let us know that they joined the Church, and thanked us for our help.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And as we were preparing for this podcast, you shared a quote from Thomas Gray. I’d love to have you share that with our listeners as well.

Charles Cranney: I love the Thomas Gray quote: “Full many a gem of purest ray serene / The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear; / Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Think about it — someone at BYU is asked to give a devotional on campus. Most of those invited know it will be the only time they will ever be asked. So many of these talks have been prepared as if it will be the only such talk they will ever give, kind of like the “Last Lecture” series that other universities have. Because of that, there are so many gems that you can run into. We hope we’ve brought some out of the caves and we’ve curated them in a way to bring them into the light.

BYU students listen to a devotional address in the Marriott Center.
BYU students listen to President Jeffrey R. Holland deliver a devotional address about forgiveness at BYU on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Provo, Utah. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think that is such a beautiful sentiment as we conclude this podcast. What a joy it has been to hear the words of so many beloved leaders and scholars. All of our listeners can find the full version of each of these talks plus so many, many, many more. Where do they find it? How do they access these, again?


Charles Cranney: If you go to, that’s our main website. But we’ve also curated the talks into nine different podcasts. We have a “Classic Speeches.” We have a “Recent Speeches” podcast. We have others on overcoming difficult times. We have some on Joseph Smith. And, of course, we have a podcast on Jesus Christ. And there have been many testimonies given over the pulpit in the decades at BYU.


Sarah Jane Weaver: An acknowledgement of the Church’s global reach, these speeches are also available in multiple languages.

Charles Cranney: We’re just starting to do multiple languages now. Last year, we started with Spanish and Japanese. Just this last couple of months, we’ve added Portuguese and French and already have several that have been translated, and we’re getting ready to launch them onto the website and onto podcasts as well. Right now, we have a Spanish podcast. We’re using a technique called “neural voices” so that we can use Spanish voices that sound almost human, as close as you can get.

And we’re really excited about the prospects of having more languages. We’re hoping to gather more resources to expand up to 10 to 12 languages. And the fun part of that is it’s all done with student help and the native people volunteering to review those talks. And so it’s becoming quite an educational experience for our students, at the same time an inspirational experience for our students. At the same time, it’s allowing these beautiful talks to go out to the world.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And on that note, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast: We always end with the same question, and we always give our guests the last word. And so we’ll turn the microphone over to you and have you share your testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tell us what you know now, after working with and listening and making BYU devotionals and forums available to a whole new generation of people across the globe.


Charles Cranney: Thank you. I have a great testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. From my early youth, I have felt close to Him and have felt the Spirit manifest to me what He has done for us. And overreaching all of the rest of this, I know that He lives. What an honor and great privilege it has been to be bathed in the gospel light through these BYU speeches. That has helped to reinforce and enhance that testimony that has come through the Spirit. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have 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, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; 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 channels or with other news and updates on the Church on

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