The announcement of the Anchorage Alaska Temple reconstruction got me thinking.
Writing for LDS Living has given me a unique perspective, and it is one I do not take for granted. For the last several years I’ve been entrenched in Church announcements, updates, and policy changes. And while I’m more than a few steps removed from the official Church Newsroom and the Church Administration Building, I do recognize that I’m more in the know than many of my friends and family, just by the sheer fact that I analyze almost every major Church announcement typically within minutes of its publication.
And at this point, not a lot catches me by surprise. But the reconstruction of the Anchorage Alaska Temple did. The announcement stated that the Church will be building a new temple, but instead of closing the current one and tearing it down, they are building an entirely new structure—across the parking lot where a meetinghouse currently sits. The current temple will still be operational while the new structure is under construction.
So, if I understand things correctly, the Church will tear down the meetinghouse, build and dedicate a new temple, and then tear down the temple that was first built and dedicated in 1999.
After the announcement, I had family members ask me about the temple “decommissioning,” and I read online comments from perplexed readers about the temple ”rebuild,” “renovation,” or “remodel.” Even the Church’s use of the word “reconstruction” confused me, and I think part of that comes from the fact that it’s a new process. It’s not one I’ve seen the Church implement before.
But after this unique announcement, I did start reflecting: What Church announcements have caught me off guard, and why? Here are a few examples that came to mind.
1. Administrative changes (and reversals)
It goes without saying that in a time when we are experiencing so many announcements and administrative changes in the Church, there are bound to be times when changes are reversed. Instead of stubbornly holding to changes that are unhelpful or even harmful, in recent years the Church has not shied away from reversing some of their administrative changes or announcing further adjustments after the fact.
The instruction to reinstate prayers before second-hour Sunday meetings, the discontinuation and then reinstatement of the Saturday evening session of general conference, and the preservation of the Manti Utah Temple murals all come to mind as examples of administrative changes that came with a later clarification, adjustment, or outright about-face.
I personally love the idea of Church leaders embracing the fact that, while we believe they are led and guided by the Lord, they are still mortal women and men, and they are not afraid to make adjustments when deemed necessary in the many nuanced roles they find themselves in as they lead the Church.
2. Churchwide implementation of For the Strength of Youth (FSY) conferences
For the Strength of Youth (FSY) conferences have been happening internationally and among select communities in the United States for many years now. The idea for those conferences came from the BYU-sponsored Especially for Youth conferences that have been held each summer at universities around the US since the early 1980s.
For me, this feels like an obvious example of Church leaders and administrators taking a step back to see the bigger picture, finding a good thing already happening in the world, and then—rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel—adopting the model to suit and bless additional members of the Church worldwide.
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The Saints volumes are yet another example of an innovative use of existing Church resources. The Church has ample talented historians and vast resources dedicated to studying and researching primary documents and materials important to the Church’s history. Much of that information has existed in more scholarly forms like research papers, difficult to access historical documents, university literature, and dense history books, but the facts around more controversial topics like polygamy and race that were easy for the general public to come by sometimes included misinformation, gave more opinion than fact, or excluded important context.
The Saints books don’t shy away from those more delicate subjects, and they also include more background, rely on source material, and are written in a more colloquial style so more members can truly understand our shared Church history—the good and the sensitive.
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4. The announcement of the Ephraim Utah Temple
When the Ephraim Utah Temple was announced in May 2021, for many Church members—myself included—it felt like a serious departure from the norm, since the temple was not announced during general conference. And while it had been over a decade since a temple was announced outside of conference (the Payson Utah Temple was announced by President Thomas S. Monson on January 25, 2010), I was surprised to learn that it had only been a decade since this had happened.
In fact, I learned that it wasn’t until the presidency of Thomas S. Monson, who announced 40 out of 45 temples during general conference, that announcing new temple locations in general conference became the norm instead of the exception. But for me, the Ephraim Utah Temple announcement was a refreshing reminder that just because it’s the norm doesn’t always mean it has to be the hard-and-fast rule.
► You may also like: How rare is it for a temple to be announced outside of general conference?
5. Simplified “For the Strength of Youth” content
Since it was first published by the Church in 1965, the For the Strength of Youth booklet has always included some prescriptive content. For instance, the first edition had reminders about etiquette, such as, “it is not polite to run in and out of motel or hotel rooms late at night, making a disturbance which keeps other guests awake.”
Sections with statements of the Church’s standards on appropriate dress, dating, language, sexual purity, mental and physical health, and Sunday behavior were added over time, and many looked to the booklet as their authority on these matters.
But the latest version of For the Strength of Youth, announced by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the October 2022 general conference, is a departure from what we’ve known and expected that booklet to be, but—in my opinion—in all the best ways. Fifty-seven years after it was first published, For the Strength of Youth has a new subtitle: A Guide for Making Choices.
It’s also based on gospel principles, agency, and inspiration, and encourages youth to deepen their conversion by learning correct principles and the blessings that result from living those principles—and to act on the spiritual promptings they receive as they study the guide. With such a huge emphasis placed on young women and men in setting personal goals and planning activities through the Church’s Children and Youth program, it only makes sense that the Church is more focused on youths’ personal revelation and agency as they choose how to look, behave, and interact with others in a way that Christ would.
► You may also like: How ‘For the Strength of Youth’ has changed over the years
6. Senior service missions available to members around the world
In May of 2021, the Church announced that all senior members of the Church around the world could now serve as service missionaries. I immediately found myself scratching my head: I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t already the case, and that opportunities to serve a service mission had previously been limited to senior couples in certain countries.
When service missionary opportunities first became available to senior couples and sisters decades ago, there must have been a logistical reason to limit it to the United States, Canada, and a few other areas. But with the worldwide Church membership we have today, this was an administrative change that just made sense. I was glad to see Church leaders taking a look at policies and standards already in place for senior missionaries and knew that those leaders must have been asking questions and reevaluating the necessity of a limitation.
► You may also like: Here’s where the Church needs senior missionaries right now
7. Video messages from President Nelson
As a Church, we are accustomed to hearing from many of our leaders—especially our prophet—twice a year during general conference. We also have the opportunity to hear from the President of the Church at the First Presidency Christmas devotional and periodic worldwide devotionals.
But President Nelson has made a concerted effort to connect with Church members and individuals around the world in additional ways. His “Give Thanks” video on the healing power of gratitude and his Christmas videos have allowed people to hear the insightful, thoughtful, and inspiring messages from a living prophet more regularly.
The “Give Thanks” video message was the first from President Nelson and came during the throes of a worldwide pandemic. The impetus for this video may very well have been the need to get creative in finding ways to connect with Church members and like-minded believers, but it was also very inspired. In fact, as retold by Sister Sheri Dew and Brother Michael Colemere on the Church News Podcast, less than 24 hours after a holiday message was first suggested to him, President Nelson had ideas. He said the video needed to be 11 minutes long and included suggestions about what day it should be released, what time of day, and other extraordinary details. Details that don’t play to YouTube’s algorithm or traditional rules for success. And yet, it worked phenomenally, to the tune of 1.7 million video views.
That is precisely why this and the other announcements surprised me—because they strayed from my expectations in happy ways. They filled a need I couldn’t see was there. These changes from the norm feel inspired, and they have strengthened my testimony that our Church leaders are wise on their own but are also communicating with heaven often. And these types of announcements make me excited for future ones.