"Saturday of April conference of 1984 has been circled on our calendar for many years, for that date was targeted as the first time in my life that our only son would be old enough to attend general priesthood meeting with me," President Russell M. Nelson said the first time he stood at the pulpit in general conference as an apostle. "Brothers and sisters, little did we know that on that day my name would be presented as a member of the Council of the Twelve."
The announcement came as a surprise to then-Elder Nelson and his family, and the phone began ringing frequently in between conference sessions. "Our married daughters telephoned us between sessions. One who was expecting a baby, said, 'Daddy, I was so shocked by that announcement—I think I am going into labor.'"
Then, Elder Nelson humorously added, "That she did. So, President Hinckley, your announcement from the First Presidency should get credit at least for 'an assist.' Our twenty-second grandchild arrived safely last evening!"
While humorous and surprising, Elder Nelson's story of being called as an apostle also carries deep spiritual messages and shows the humility of this great man, as do the experiences shared by all apostles the first time they spoke in general conference as an apostle.
A wide array of feelings has flashed through my heart since I heard the call that will change my life. The first feeling is that of personal inadequacy. . . .
Fortunately, these feelings are blanketed by feelings of faith, for I know the words of Nephi are true: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.) I have implicit faith in the Lord and in His prophets. I have learned not to put question marks but to use exclamation points when calls are issued through inspired channels of priesthood government. . . .
Feelings of commitment well up from the depths of my soul. My sweetheart, Dantzel, and I first made those covenants in the temple of the Lord over thirty-eight years ago, to consecrate our lives to the service of the Lord. Today, I reaffirm that promise, to give all I have to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth. In accepting this call, knowing that challenges, charges, and keys will be conferred and that buffetings will likewise come, I commit my effort, my energy, and my all.
Lead image from Deseret News by Spenser Heaps. All other images from lds.org
My dear brothers and sisters, because it was not appropriate for me to commence my Church service until I had concluded my judicial duties in state government, I did not speak at the April conference where I was sustained. Consequently, this semiannual conference is my first opportunity to speak to the general membership of the Church, to express acceptance of my calling to the Council of the Twelve.
I am thrilled with this calling. Having been “called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (A of F 1:5), I have gladly forsaken my professional activities to spend the rest of my days in the service of the Lord. I will devote my whole heart, might, mind, and strength to the great trusts placed in me, especially to the responsibilities of a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world.
I will keep my covenant to take his name upon me and always remember him. And I will go wherever I am sent to teach of him and offer the ordinances by which we take his name upon us and promise that we will always remember him and keep his commandments.
Another interesting story about President Eyring comes from when he was first called to the First Presidency. While taking the garbage can back to the house from the curb, President Eyring's Wife, Kathy, told him he had a call on the phone. As Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring recall in I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring:
“Can you take a message?” he replied.
“It’s the office of the First Presidency,” Kathy said with a note of urgency. “I think you’d better take it.”
Hal grasped the phone in one hand, still holding the garbage can in the other. He heard the secretary to the First Presidency, Michael Watson, say, “President Hinckley would like to talk to you.” After an uncomfortable silence on Hal’s end, President Hinckley came on and declared, without introduction, “I’d like to ask you to join President Monson and me in the First Presidency.”
At what otherwise might have been a moment of profound thoughts and feelings, Hal faced an analytical dilemma. President Hinckley hadn’t spoken his name, either first or last. Given the improbability of his being called to the First Presidency, he had to wonder whether Brother Watson had connected President Hinckley to the wrong man. It had happened before. . . .
“President Hinckley,” Hal blurted out, “are you sure you’re talking to the right person? This is Hal Eyring.”
“I know who this is!” President Hinckley replied. The ensuing conversation was short. Hal accepted the call, saying he would do anything President Hinckley asked and that it would be an honor to serve with him and President Monson.
My brothers and sisters, I am deeply humbled at the confidence of the Lord and my Brethren and pledge to you that I will do the very best I know how. The past nine and a half years, as I have been sent on errands for the Lord throughout the earth, have caused me to know that this Church is filled with righteous, good, dedicated men. Each of us obediently learns that we will come forth as we are called, to try to do the very best we can in our callings, whether it be home teacher, whether it be stake president, or whether it be General Authority.
I understand the source of the call. I have learned during the past nine and a half years that this is our Heavenly Father’s church. The errands that I have been sent on to act in the name of the Lord enable me to witness to you today that I know, as I know that I stand before you, that Jesus is the Christ, that he lives. He is very close to this work and very close to all of us who are asked to perform the work throughout the earth in his name.
My beloved brothers and sisters, this is my first opportunity to stand before you since the events of June 23 altered the course of my life and of my service forever. That was exactly one hundred days ago, and every one of those days I have prayed to be worthy of and equal to this sacred responsibility. Perhaps you can understand the immense personal inadequacy I feel and the deep, often painful examination of my soul I have experienced.
Obviously my greatest thrill and the most joyful of all realizations is that I have the opportunity, as Nephi phrased it, to “talk of Christ, … rejoice in Christ, … preach of Christ, [and] prophesy of Christ” (2 Ne. 25:26) wherever I may be and with whomever I may find myself until the last breath of my life is gone. Surely there could be no higher purpose or greater privilege than that of “special [witness] of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:23). . . . I do promise you—as I have promised the Lord and these my brethren—that I will strive to live worthy of this trust and serve to the full measure of my ability. . . .
In a rapid sequence of events that Thursday morning, President Hunter interviewed me at length, extended to me my call, formally introduced me to the First Presidency and the Twelve gathered in their temple meeting, gave me my apostolic charge and outline of duties, ordained me an Apostle, set me apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, added a magnificent and beautiful personal blessing of considerable length, then went on to conduct the sacred business of that first of my temple meetings, lasting another two or three hours!
To describe my inner feelings, I would say I am calm as a hurricane, or even better, I am happy and frightened. In one sentence, I need your prayers; I need the Lord.
Having received a call and been given a sacred trust that will completely influence my life forever, my feelings are tender and my emotions often close to tears.
I have a great sense of inadequacy, and I have felt a sweet agony from a deep and often painful examination of my soul during the many hours which have passed day and night since Friday morning this week.
After President Gordon B. Hinckley extended the call to me to become an Apostle and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, I left my busy office to share this totally unexpected news with my beloved Harriet. At this most important time in our lives, we have cherished the quiet sacredness of our home as a place of refuge and of defense.
Brothers and sisters, my heart is filled to overflowing, my mind is spinning, my knees are weak and wobbly, and I find that words are totally inadequate to communicate effectively the feelings and thoughts I desire to share with you. . . .
In the hours since President Hinckley extended this new call to serve, I have heeded the admonition of Nephi to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Ne. 19:23) with a greater sense of purpose and intensity than I have ever done before.
I have reflected on the teaching of Paul that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27). This morning I take great comfort in knowing that I am one of the truly weak things of the world. . . .
As your arms were raised to the square on Saturday, I felt a sustaining influence flow into my soul that was most remarkable. Few of you know who I am, yet you know from whom the call has come, and you are so willing to sustain and support. I express my thanks to you and pledge my whole soul and all of my energy to this sacred work.
President Hinckley extended this call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve late Thursday afternoon. I cannot possibly articulate the kaleidoscope of feelings I have experienced since then. There have been sleepless nights and much prayer. My spirits have been buoyed, however, by the knowledge that President Hinckley is the prophet and that the membership of the Church will be praying for me and my family.
To say that I feel deeply inadequate would be an understatement. When I was called as a General Authority in April of 1996, I also felt unequal to the calling. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reassured me then that the most important qualification for all of us serving in the kingdom is to be comfortable in bearing witness of the divinity of the Savior. A peace came over me at that time and has stayed with me since because I love the Savior and have had spiritual experiences that allow me to testify of Him. I rejoice in the opportunity to bear witness of Jesus Christ in all the world (see D&C 107:23), notwithstanding my inadequacies.
Fifteen years ago I stood for the first time at the pulpit in the Tabernacle as a newly sustained Seventy. I was 48 years old. I had thick, dark brown hair. I thought I understood what it meant to feel inadequate. At the end of my five-minute remarks, my shirt was dripping with perspiration. The whole thing was something of an ordeal. However, today, in retrospect, it seems a comparatively pleasant experience.
When President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder David A. Bednar were first sustained as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a witness of the divine origin of their calls came to me during the session. I was also given in that moment an understanding of the surpassing sacredness of the call and service of an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not have the words to express that understanding because it was communicated Spirit to spirit without words. To think of it now reduces me to a depth of humility I have never before experienced, and I plead with my Heavenly Father to sustain me as He ever has that I might measure up to something that is far beyond my native capacity and be able to focus outwardly, losing myself in your service. I trust in Him, and I know that His grace is sufficient, and so I here unreservedly commit all that I have and am to God and His Beloved Son. I also commit myself, my loyalty, my service, and my love to the First Presidency and to my Brethren of the Twelve.
In so many dimensions, I feel inadequate and humbled.
I take solace that in one qualification for the holy apostleship where there can be no latitude extended, the Lord has deeply blessed me. I do know with perfect and certain clarity through the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, the Beloved Son of God.
There is no man with more love than President Thomas S. Monson. His warmth is as the sunshine at midday. Yet, as he extended to me this sacred call, you can imagine the overwhelming soberness I felt as the eyes of the prophet of God peered deeply into the chambers of my soul. Happily, you can also imagine the love I felt from the Lord and from His prophet as President Monson wrapped his long and loving arms around me. I love you, President Monson.
A few days ago I had the great privilege to meet with the First Presidency and receive this call from our dear prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I want to witness to all of you of the strength and love President Monson had as he said to me, “This call comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am overwhelmed and shaken to my very core to consider the import and significance of those words so tenderly spoken by our loving prophet.
And so it was on Tuesday morning of this week, just after 9:00 a.m. as the Bishopric was beginning a meeting with the Asia Area Presidency, who are here for conference, that I was called to meet with President Monson, along with his counselors. Moments later, as I walked into the boardroom adjacent to his office, I must have looked nervous sitting across the table, as he kindly spoke to calm my nerves. He commented, noting my age, that I seemed quite young and even looked younger than my age.
Then, within a few moments, President Monson described that acting on the will of the Lord, he was extending a call to the Quorum of the Twelve to me. He asked me if I would accept this call, to which, following what I am sure was a very undignified audible gasp, in complete shock, I responded affirmatively. And then, before I could even verbalize a tsunami of indescribable emotion, most of which were feelings of inadequacy, President Monson kindly reached out to me, describing how he was called many years ago as an Apostle by President David O. McKay, at which time he too felt inadequate. He calmly instructed me, “Bishop Stevenson, the Lord will qualify those whom He calls.” These soothing words of a prophet have been a source of peace, a calm in a storm of painful self-examination and tender feelings in the ensuing agonizing hours which have passed day and night since then.
My dear brothers and sisters, thank you for sustaining me yesterday as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It is hard to express how much that means to me. I was especially grateful for the sustaining vote of the two extraordinary women in my life: my wife, Ruth, and our dear, dear, dear daughter, Ashley.
My call gives ample evidence to the truthfulness of the Lord’s statement early in this dispensation: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”1 I am one of those weak and simple. Decades ago, when I was called to be the bishop of a ward in the eastern United States, my brother, slightly older and much wiser than I, called me on the phone. He said, “You need to know that the Lord hasn’t called you because of anything you have done. In your case, it is probably in spite of what you have done. The Lord has called you for what He needs to do through you, and that will happen only if you do it His way.” I recognize that this wisdom from an older brother applies even more today.
Words—at least my words—cannot express the overwhelming feelings since President Russell M. Nelson lovingly took my hands in his, my dear Susan at my side, and extended this sacred call from the Lord that took my breath away and has left me weeping many times these past days.
My dear brothers and sisters, wherever you may be, I would like to express my sincere and deep thanks for your sustaining vote yesterday. Though I feel ineloquent and slow of speech like Moses, I console myself in the Lord’s words to him:
“Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
“Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exodus 4:11–12; see also verse 10). . . .
Though I felt so inadequate for this sacred call, his words and the tender look in his eyes as he extended this responsibility made me feel embraced by the Savior’s love. Thank you, President Nelson. I sustain you and I love you.