News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pittsburgh Stake Conference, August 29-30, 2015

Stake conference is a meeting that happens twice per year. It includes all the members of the stake, or a certain geographic area. The Pittsburgh Stake includes the City of Pittsburgh, Monroeville area, McKeesport, Monongahela, Uniontown, Greensburg, everywhere in between these cities, and Young Single Adults and Spanish speakers from an even greater area.

At this stake conference, we had a visiting General Authority, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy, part of the general leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was accompanied by Elder Daniel F. Dunnigan, member of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy.
From left to right: Elder Dunnigan, Elder Hallstrom, President Peterson, President Paul, President Cavalier

As a resource for the members of the Pittsburgh Stake and anyone else interested, we are providing an overview of the talks that were delivered during the meeting, as we have in past stake conferences.

Note: Many of these summaries were provided by the speakers themselves, but the summaries of talks by Elders Hallstrom and Dunnigan were written by a person listening to the conference. If you were there, hopefully you gained some different points and insights. Feel free to share them in the comments!

Saturday Night Adult Session

President Ron Paul reminded us about what it means to hasten the Work of Salvation. He referenced Elder Teh's message delivered at stake conference a year ago when the stake was split. We have been instructed that “the time has come to refocus on the fundamental principle that membership in the Lord’s Church means being called to be fully engaged in His work of salvation.” (source) The work of Salvation is defined by five important categories:
  1. Member missionary work: Our words and actions provide experiences for others to see how we practice our discipleship of Jesus Christ.  The injunction of Paul is to “Be thou an example of the believers.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
  2. Convert retention: Those who join this church, enter the waters of baptism, and receive the Holy Ghost, are no longer foreigners, but become fellow citizens within the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).  Let us ever be mindful and sensitive to the needs of our new converts. 
  3. Activation of less-active members: 3 Nephi 18:31-32 reveals what the Savior feels towards those who have strayed from the church. We are eternally grateful for our members who leave the comfort of the ninety and nine to rescue the individual lost sheep.
  4. Temple and family history work: The eternal blessings of temple attendance are numerous.  There is more work to be done with family history work. If you have not started indexing, go to and get going.  Additionally, at the end of last quarter, 1% of our stake submitted names to the temple.  There is clearly an opportunity for us here to provide the blessings of temple ordinances for our ancestors.
  5. Teaching the gospel: Starting in 2016, there will be an adjustment in the church teaching curriculum that will help teachers to teach more like the Savior taught with more class participation. There will be more to come on this new curriculum.
The Lord is hastening His work in its time (D&C 88:73), and we should continually ask ourselves, “What can I do to keep up with the hastening of the work?”

Message from Bishop Yeth Phetsomphou (Greensburg Ward): Bishop Yeth spoke briefly regarding the role of the ward council in the work of salvation. He shared a personal experience in how the ward council discussed the need to purchase a bunkbed for him and his brothers, when they first arrived in the United States as refugees. The ward council should help govern ward activities/programs and in responding to member's needs. The same concept is also taught in the Book of Mormon, "And the church did meet together oft, to fast and pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls." (Moroni 6:5)

Message from Sarah Bringhurst (Pittsburgh 7th Ward): Family councils are essential in the work of salvation for God's children. To unite the desires and intents of the hearts of all family members should be the ultimate goal. Family councils should be customized to meet the needs of each family member. References:

Testimony from Sister Rosie Johnson (Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission): Sister Johnson bore powerful testimony of reading the Book of Mormon. She concluded with this quote from a talk by Elder Kevin W. Pearson:
Begin again to prayerfully study the Book of Mormon and live its teachings every day, every day, every day! I testify of the profound power in the Book of Mormon that will change your life and strengthen your resolve to follow Christ. The Holy Ghost will change your heart and help you see “things as they really are.” He will show you what you need to do next.
Instruction from Elder Hallstrom: Elder Hallstrom talked about the five elements of the work of salvation, which he emphasized are not in competition with each other but are equally important:
  1. Member missionary work
  2. Convert retention
  3. Reactivation of those who do not participate regularly
  4. Family history and temple work
  5. Teaching the gospel
He reminded us that the Lord will hasten His work in His time. Especially at the highest levels of leadership in the church, the Brethren recognize and remember that this is the Lord's work, not theirs.

Elder Hallstrom provided examples of ways the work is being hastened in the Lord's time. First he talked about missionary work. In the last two years, the number of missionaries serving went from 58,000 to 88,000. As it's settling from the change in missionary ages, it appears that it will not drop below 80,000, revealing a significant increase in the number of youth willing to serve. This will fortify the rising generation in this magnificent time.

He also talked about temple building, indicating that last weekend the 148th temple was dedicated last weekend in Indianapolis. Regarding family history, he talked about his Aunt Lue, who made painstaking efforts and spent countless hours assembling family history records in years past. Now, however, we are blessed with technology that allows anyone to participate in family history, especially youth. Even if you or others have worked extensively on your own line, there are always more people to find. Family history work is exploding with growth.

These were just a few examples of the ways the Lord is hastening His work. All in all, it is up to us individually to decide if and how we will participate in the work of salvation.

Instruction from Elder Daniel F. Dunnigan: Regarding the hastening of the work of salvation, Elder Dunnigan pointed out that there are more missionaries and more people looking for the gospel. We don't have to "sell" the Gospel of Jesus Christ--it sells itself because it is such a blessing in the lives of individuals and families.

Elder Dunnigan focused his remarks around the Sabbath day, particularly asking us to imagine that we're spending a day with the Savior every week. He quoted from D&C 59:9-13, pointing out that the Lord calls the Sabbath "My holy day." The whole day is the Lord's day. He asked us each to imagine if we were to spend a day in person with the Savior, how would we prepare for that day? We were to consider both spiritual and temporal ways to prepare. Sabbath day observance will help connect us to Heavenly Father and the Savior; if we do not maintain this connection, the world will very easily consume us.
Image depicting the Last Supper. Imagine spending a day with the Savior. How would you prepare?

Elder Dunnigan concluded by stating that Jesus Christ has paid the ultimate price for us, and we honor it with the Lord's Day. What can we consistently offer up as a gift, sign, or expression of our love for Him?

Closing remarks from Elder Hallstrom: Sabbath day observance is not a new program of the Church; rather it is a doctrine that has been underutilized by members of the Church. In asking us to recommit to the Sabbath day, he and other Church leaders are not dictating a list of dos and don'ts. Rather, they ask that we be practical, evaluate our individual situation, and consider how the Sabbath is a sign between us and the Lord. We should continue to make the Sabbath a delight. (See President Russell M. Nelson's most recent general conference talk, Exodus 31:16, Isaiah 58:13.)

Elder Hallstrom concluded with a powerful testimony and counsel that we just continue doing what is right, moving in the right direction, furthering our connection with and faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Sunday General Session

Message from President Peterson (stake president): When it comes to member missionary work we find that the Lord provides so many steps along the way. Who prepares individuals to hear the gospel? Our Father in Heaven. Who teaches the gospel to those who are investigating the church? The full-time missionaries. Who converts the heart of an investigator to accept and know that the Lord's gospel is true? The Holy Ghost. So what steps as members are we specifically responsible for in regard to missionary work? We are asked to simply identfy who is ready and then invite.

Yet the Lord is ready to help us with these two steps as well. President Henry B. Eyring, 1st Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, stated that—We need to exercise our faith that the Lord has prepared people around us to be taught. He knows who they are and when they are ready, and He can guide us to them by the power of the Holy Ghost and give us words to invite them to be taught . . . I testify that the Holy Ghost will direct you to those who seek truth as you pray and work for that guidance. (“How Great Shall Be Your Joy,” Ensign, Feb. 2011, 4)

We ask that as you pray in the morning and at night, in your normal routine of the day, will you please add this question to your prayers, as an individual, then as a family, "Father, we know thou hast been preparing those in our lives to hear the gospel, and we know that thou knowest who they are. Wilt thou help us know, and reveal to us, who thou has prepared to hear the gospel?"

When we know who is ready from the Lord to hear His gospel, we can also ask Him how we should proceed to extend an invitation. I know He will help us know what to say and what to do. He personally helped me already in identifying and inviting people I know.

For “there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who . . . are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” (D&C 123:12) And, "Angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the prucpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory." (Alma 13:24)

The Lord will "prepare", the missionaries will "teach", the Holy Ghost will "convert", and we are invited to identify and invite, with the Lord's help through a simple prayer that we are willing to act on in faith. We love and appreciate all you do. We feel there are great blessings and growth that await our Pittsburgh Stake.

Message from Sister Kim Tolliver (youth speaker, Monongahela Ward): Summary coming soon

Message from Sister Marietta Closson (stake Relief Society president): Sister Marietta Closson spoke on the subject “That they may always have His Spirit to be with them,” noting from a CES talk by Elder Henry B. Eyring that the Savior offers us the sacrament covenant to “always remember Him” and the warning to “pray always” so that we will place our reliance on Him rather than on ourselves. The emphasis was on what a great gift the Holy Ghost is to us and how it can direct us in all aspects of our lives. She pointed out that we are living in troubled times, but by living a Christ-centered life and remembering to pray continually, read the scriptures daily, holding Family Home Evening, and attending the temple as often as possible, we can feel peace no matter what is going on around us. Challenges and trials are an important part of our mortality and allow us to prove ourselves. The Holy Ghost is a guiding light given to us to make the most important choice--who we will serve.

Message from President Cavalier (stake presidency): President George Cavalier taught about the blessings of following and achieving each of the stake goals set forth for 2015. His talk centered on the three Family History goals set forth for this year:
  1. Each stake member is asked to index at least 500 names from the Family Search program. 
  2. Enter one family story into our Family Search program. 
  3. Prepare and submit one of our own family members’ names for temple work. 
Additionally, President Cavalier speaks of some of the personal experiences he has had with his own family dealing with their own Family History.

The scriptures he used are:

Testimony from Sister Rosie Johnson: Sister Johnson again bore a beautiful testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the Lord's church upon the earth today.

Testimony from President Bradley K. Johnson: President Johnson reminded us that the missionaries love serving in our stake. He is inspired by the missionaries and new members of the church, and shared some examples.

Talk by Elder Daniel F. Dunnigan: Elder Dunnigan spoke of his father, who joined the Church in his 70s, just a few years before he passed away. He referenced and quoted from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, "The Laborers in the Vineyard":
My beloved brothers and sisters, to those of you who have been blessed by the gospel for many years because you were fortunate enough to find it early, to those of you who have come to the gospel by stages and phases later, and to those of you—members and not yet members—who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.
The ultimate blessing of the Gospel is that we can live forever with our families. He bore a powerful witness of God's love and care for us individually.

Talk by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom: Elder Hallstrom addressed the doctrine of reverence. Reverence does not equate with being quiet at church; rather, it is a very comprehensive idea--it is profound love and respect for deity. A reverent life is shown through
  • our daily efforts that reflect our love for the Father and the Son,
  • our desire to live consistently with what we know (even though there is a gap between what we know and how we act--lessening that gap is part of the purpose of our lives), and
  • how we treat other people.
Reverence is shown in multiple types of worship:
  • Public worship: we strengthen one another (at church, for example)
  • Family worship: the family is the best place for the Gospel to be taught
  • Personal worship: ultimately, coming unto the Savior is an individual and personal responsibility
Scriptures that establish a pattern for reverence: 
We live in a world that can confuse us, that can cause us to forget who we are and what is important. We should not fear; we have everything we need to be successful. He shared more about his grandparents, who suffered some great heartache but, rather than becoming bitter, their reverence turned them closer to God. Whatever happens to us, we must still love God, love our Savior, and desire to follow Them.

Much more was heard and felt at stake conference. Please feel free to share your insights below.

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