As we prepare for general conference in a few days, we look forward to another solemn assembly and an opportunity to sustain our new prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. Learn what a solemn assembly is and why we hold them.
For those who stopped by for a quick overview of what a solemn assembly is and how it works, check out the four questions and answers below. For a more in-depth explanation and history, go to the second page!
1. What is a solemn assembly?
Mormon Newsroom defines a solemn assembly as “a sacred meeting held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, most often at a general conference after a new Church president begins his service. In these meetings, Latter-day Saints around the world gather to show support for the new Church president and others included in the Church’s worldwide governing body including general membership from age 8 and older.”
In this weekend’s solemn assembly to sustain President Russell M. Nelson as the prophet, we will each have the opportunity to raise our hand with other Saints as a promise to support him. President Hinckley explained in 1995 that a solemn assembly is “a gathering of the membership where every individual stands equal with every other in exercising with soberness and in solemnity his or her right to sustain or not to sustain those who, under the procedures that arise out of the revelations, have been chosen to lead.”
Solemn assemblies are held under the direction of the First Presidency.
Note: A temple dedication also includes a solemn assembly, marked as a special occasion by the Hosanna Shout and the wording found in the temple’s dedicatory prayer. See more on the next page.
2. Where can solemn assemblies be held and who can participate?
Though we most often associate them with the Salt Lake Tabernacle or the Conference Center, solemn assemblies can be held in temples, stake centers, or other places. In the solemn assembly that will be held in the Conference Center this weekend, members around the world will be invited to participate. As it was explained by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1986,
“Many are seated in their homes, listening to the conference. All of you, wherever you may be, are invited to participate in this solemn and sacred undertaking when we sustain a new President of the Church together with other officers. . . Wherever you are, you are invited to stand when requested and express by your uplifted hands whether you choose to sustain those whose names will be put before you.”
3. Why do we hold solemn assemblies to sustain a new prophet?
Elder David B. Haight explained that “solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church.”
They are a way for members to practice the law of common consent, as explained byMormon Newsroom:
“These meetings are held, in part, to follow the teaching that ‘all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith’ (Doctrine and Covenants 26:2). Common consent in the Church is an agreement among the members and leaders of a congregation, local or worldwide, regarding proposed assignments given to people within that congregation. Individuals choose to accept an assignment, and fellow members then have the chance to show support for that decision.”
We know, however, that solemn assemblies are not the only place that we raise our hand to sustain the prophet and apostles. We also do so in ward, stake, and area conferences. Former Church Historian and Recorder Elder Marlin K. Jensen explains the purpose of these additional opportunities, and why the solemn assembly vote is so significant: “As members regularly sustain the leadership of the Church, they will have an opportunity to renew the commitments they made in this solemn assembly.” In other words, similar to the way that the sacrament is a renewal of our baptismal covenant, the sustaining we participate in during local church meetings remind us of the sustaining we did during the solemn assembly—the promise we made to support our Church leaders.
President Hinckley felt this was very important, and reminded us that “the procedure of sustaining is much more than a ritualistic raising of the hand. It is a commitment to uphold, to support, to assist those who have been selected.”
4. How does a solemn assembly to sustain a new prophet work?
If you’re not sure how you will be asked to participate in the solemn assembly and sustaining, have no fear! Elder David B. Haight gave perhaps the best summary of what happens in his 1994 talk:
“There is a pattern to solemn assemblies that distinguishes them from other general Church meetings where we sustain officers of the Church. That pattern, which was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is that the priesthood quorums, commencing with the First Presidency, stand and manifest by the uplifted right hand their willingness to sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator, and uphold him by their confidence, faith, and prayers. The priesthood quorums of the Church so manifest by their vote. Then the general body of all the Saints stand and signify their willingness to do the same. The other leaders of the Church are similarly sustained in their offices and callings.”
Twenty years earlier, in 1974, Elder N. Eldon Tanner shared an additional reminder about the sustaining vote,
“Everyone is perfectly free to vote as he wishes. There is no compulsion whatsoever in this voting. . . After all the quorums have so voted, a vote will then be called of the whole congregation, those bearing the priesthood and those not bearing it. All will arise. Those voting to sustain will raise their right arms to the square, to witness that they sustain the officers for whom they vote. After they lower their hands the opposing vote will be called for and will be manifested by raising the right arm to the square.”
Because of the unique process of solemn assemblies, they can take quite a bit of time, but as N. Eldon Tanner shared in the 1974 solemn assembly, “but if we are in the frame of mind and spirit which we should be in, I am sure it will not be tedious.”
For a more detailed description of this process, check out “The Sustaining of President Harold B. Lee” on lds.org.