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What the Worldwide General Conference Choir Taught Me About Unity During Isolation

by | Apr. 09, 2020

It was the conclusion of the last session of April 2020 general conference and President Henry B. Eyring announced that the closing song would be a prerecorded version of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” by the Tabernacle Choir and six other choirs from around the world.

Prior to the song, President Russell M. Nelson offered his closing remarks. Between a renewal of his invitation to participate in a global fast on Good Friday and eight new temple announcements, I had completely forgotten about the special recording of the hymn.

So, when the Tabernacle Choir began their number, I didn’t think twice about it, assuming the song would be performed in a traditional manner.

But then, suddenly, these Latter-day Saints from Accra, Ghana, came on the screen. The sight of them standing before the Independence Arch, singing how grateful they were for a prophet—this man who had just bestowed upon us an apostolic blessing—was so strikingly beautiful, that for a moment, I forgot to breathe.

An overflowing love for these Church members, for our prophet, and for God himself seemed to take over me as I watched these Saints sing. I loved the way they stood before the camera boldly, as though their whole souls depended on it, testifying that “when dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us and threaten our peace to destroy,” there is still hope.

I felt, just as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said during the Sunday morning session of conference, that there is reason to hope, “Because the Restoration reaffirmed the foundational truth that God does work in this world," and that "we can hope, we should hope, even when facing the most insurmountable odds.”

The scene in the video changed, and Latter-day Saints in Mexico City, Mexico, were now before my eyes. I may not understand Spanish, but I felt completely certain that deliverance—whether that is from our own personal moments of anxiety and despair, or in the grand scheme of these latter days—is nigh.

Briefly, I looked at my parents, who were also wiping away tears from their eyes, moved as I was by the song. This year, our family didn’t have our typical gathering during general conference, as we have tried to do our best with social distancing. Our home, which would normally be filled with sisters, brothers, in-laws, and nieces and nephews, was much quieter than usual. And while we gathered in our separate homes to talk between the Sunday sessions, conference without them just wasn't quite the same.

I will be the first to admit that I have had it easier than most during this pandemic. But no matter how hard I or others try to stay positive during this time, COVID-19 wreaks havoc in one form or another in the lives of many. Out of necessity, our worlds have become smaller. And no matter how often we reach out to one other through text, video chats, or calls, I think all of us, to some degree, have felt a certain void deep in our hearts at the natural separation this situation has brought upon us.

There is something missing by not being able to associate in person with our coworkers, at not being able to talk face to face with our friends over dinner, and not being able to visit a neighbor in their home. And there is a hole of sorts that we have all felt as we have been unable to worship with our fellow Latter-day Saints in our chapels and in our temples, where we feel for a moment that the veil between us and heaven is just a little bit thinner.

But as I watched those beautiful Saints in Accra, Ghana; Mexico City, Mexico; Seoul, South Korea; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Frankfurt, Germany; and Auckland, New Zealand sing that we will praise and rejoice in this glorious gospel, I realized quite suddenly that my world is not small. Although we might physically be far apart, the love we feel for each other can span across oceans and continents as we shine the light of Christ within us in our own spheres of influence.

A choir of Latter-day Saints in Auckland, New Zealand, sings "We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet," at a beach at Wenderholm Regional Park. The song was recorded to a track by the Tabernacle Choir prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and was the closing song during April 2020 general conference. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

It was as though, in that moment, my Latter-day Saint family and the Spirit enveloped me in warmth and reminded me that I am not alone. I felt a conviction that no matter how diverse we are in backgrounds or cultures, we have one thing in common: we are all brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus Christ, and we thank our God for our prophet.

Natalie Martinez Pedersen, a member of the New Zealand choir, spoke of how the power of music unites us during this time.

“Singing together creates feelings of unity and closeness, something that we all need even more as we sit in our homes in isolation,” she told Newsroom.

Tracy Browning, a member of the Relief Society's general board, also shared on social media how the performance of this hymn has changed her.

"This multicultural, multilocation choir rendition of ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet' was a particularly tender highlight moment of this past weekend's conference for me," she said. "I felt deeply impressed with the beauty and diversity of God's children. Diversity is wonderfully harmonized when we are focused in the same direction."

COVID-19 might keep us apart for the time being. But just as those Saints sang on the beaches of New Zealand or in the historic market square of Windecken, Germany, and around the world, we can join our voices with theirs. We can worship our God. We can testify of Jesus Christ.

A choir of Latter-day Saints in Frankfurt, Germany, sings "We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet," at the historic market square of Windecken, a district of Nidderau, Germany. The song was recorded to a track by the Tabernacle Choir prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and was the closing song during April 2020 general conference. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

As we participate in the worldwide fast this Friday, we can also remember that there are millions of Latter-day Saints and members of other faiths doing the exact same thing with us, even if we can’t see them. And we can believe and rely on the blessing President Nelson left us with at the close of general conference.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I express my love for you,” he said. “During this time of tension and uncertainty, and invoking the authority vested in me, I would like to confer upon you an apostolic blessing.

“I bless you with peace and increasing faith in the Lord. I bless you with a desire to repent and become a little more like Him each day. I bless you to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness. Should there be illness among you or your loved ones, I leave a blessing of healing, consistent with the will of the Lord.

I so bless you, adding once more my expression of love for each of you, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Featured image by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
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Danielle Christensen

Danielle is a features writer and editor for LDS Living. Previously, she served as web producer for Church News, where she managed their website and social media platforms. Danielle is a graduate of Brigham Young University in English and has been published with Deseret NewsChurch NewsBYU Magazine, and Spires Intercollegiate Arts and Literary Magazine.

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