The 14th annual education conference at Southern Virginia University kicked off Friday with a keynote address by Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and daughter of President Thomas S. Monson.
Hundreds of Latter-day Saints assembled on the university’s campus for the two-day conference, some having come from as far as Florida and California. The conference’s theme, “Be of Good Cheer: The Future is as Bright as Your Faith,” was taken from an address by President Monson’s the April 2009 General Conference.
Other speakers on the conference’s first day included Robert L. Millet, the Richard L. Evans professor of religious understanding at Brigham Young University; Andrew Skinner, executive director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship; and Richard and Kathleen Hinckley Walker, former president and matron of the Salt Lake Temple.
Sister Dibb expounded on the theme in her keynote address, testifying of the joy Latter-day Saints can experience as they live lives of faith centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. She drew upon her father’s stories and teachings to show that Church members can learn to be of good cheer by following the example of the prophet.
Speaking of her father’s famous storytelling, she stressed the importance of discovering and remembering the lessons from his stories rather than the stories alone. “When we listen to him, always ask yourself, ‘what is the lesson he’s teaching? And how am I going to incorporate this lesson into my life?’” she said.
A mother of four and homemaker, having had many responsibilities in the Church throughout her life, Sister Dibb related an experience she had while going through a discouraging time. Facing difficult decisions, she was visiting with her parents when she said her father started to tell a story. Conference participants laughed as she described her initial reaction, exclaiming “Oh no! This is really one of my favorite stories!” While at the time she preferred counsel to storytelling, she said knew what the lesson was. “The lesson is about faith, going forward, and forgetting myself; and that was what I needed to hear.”
Sister Dibb went on to relate the lessons she hoped Latter-day Saints learned from President Monson’s April 2009 conference address, as well as the prophetic promises she hoped they would internalize. She also described how her father maintains a spirit of optimism and cheer despite life’s trials, by doing things such as greeting everyone warmly, visiting those in need, being obedient and patient, listening to uplifting music and being filled with love towards everyone.
“Listen to the words of the prophet and apply [his] words in your life,” Sister Dibb concluded. “For we can go forward with our faith; we have the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have prophets, seers, and revelators to guide us in these latter days, and as we follow their counsel, we can be of good cheer.“
In the first of two presentations during the conference, Robert L. Millett spoke about how cheer and gospel optimism is centered on Jesus Christ when Latter-day Saints learn what it means to exercise perfect faith in Him and His atonement.
Describing the unique nature of Christ’s role as mediator between God and mankind, Millet cited scriptural references to explain that salvation is dependent entirely on Christ’s merit, righteousness and perfection, since mortals could never obtain salvation through their own efforts.
“There is tremendous reason for optimism when I know that I’m not the one that has to save [myself],” Millet said. “I still have to choose wisely, but the greatest choice I have is choosing Christ, as not only my example, but as my advocate, because of His righteousness and because of His merits.”
Millet, who received degrees in psychology and religion from Brigham Young University as well as a Ph.D. in religious studies from Florida State University, acknowledged the challenges and discouragement are inevitably associated with mortality, but explained that faith in Christ allows people to overcome adversity with cheer.
Expounding a quotation from “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, Millet taught, “The reason there can be cheer in [our] lives is because we learn through Jesus Christ to worry less.” He explained that this can only be accomplished by relying fully upon Him and being willing to trust Him to do what we cannot do on our own.
“I trust Christ, and I’m happy,” Millet testified.
Andrew Skinner gave a presentation called, ”Blessings, the Power and Protection that come from our Temple Worship,” in which he discussed the doctrinal foundation of temple worship for Latter-day Saints.
Quoting from President Spencer W. Kimball, Skinner expressed the priority the temple should be in member’s lives, saying, “If you understood the ordinances of the House of the Lord, you would crawl on your hands and knees for thousands of miles in order to receive them.”
Skinner, who received a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Denver, taught that the words ‘temple’ and ‘template’ are both derivatives from the same Latin word templum. Citing this important relationship, he explained, “The temple is a template, or pattern for our journey through mortality and ascent back into the Father’s presence.”
Using scriptural references, stories, historical information and quotations from ancient and modern apostles and prophets, Skinner outlined several “truths” about the temple and teachings found in the temple, which outline the necessity for temple worship among Latter-day Saints. These truths include accountability, our divine nature as sons and daughters of God, knowledge of the plan of salvation and many others.
“I believe the Lord is inviting us to commit to our efforts to qualify for a temple recommend, and then resolve to carry it with us an stand back and watch the Lord work through us to strengthen His kingdom,” Skinner said. “Our temple-recommend interviews are a dress rehearsal for that experience we will have when we surely stand before the great judge and receive questions.”
“Even the temple stones that are put in place are a blessings to all human-kind, not just to Latter-day saints,” Skinner said, summarizing a statement by Elder George Q. Cannon. “It’s a blessing to all people, because it lessens the power of Satan on the Earth, and increases the power of godliness … [This] ought to give us not just optimism, but it should fill us with great joy.”
Richard and Kathleen Hinckley Walker concluded Friday’s program by amusing the conference participants with their story of courtship, marriage and their experiences while serving as president and matron of the Salt Lake Temple.
Having both lost their spouses to unexpected deaths, the Walkers humorously described the challenges and skepticism they faced when Richard’s daughter tried to set them up on a date.
“She said I’ll go out with you if we can go somewhere we can’t be seen,” Brother Walker related as he told of the first time he called to ask Sister Walker for a date. “I’m a smart woman,” she retorted. Brother Walker then said his daughter called him after they had set up their first date and asked, “Dad, did I remember to tell you she’s President Hinckley’s daughter?” He admitted that he would have never made the first call if he had that known that beforehand.
A few years after they were married, they described being overwhelmed when they received the call to serve as president and matron of the Salt Lake Temple.
“We were given the good news and the bad news about our calling before we were set apart,” Richard said. “The bad news was that the Salt Lake Temple is the most complex operation in the Church. The good news was this would be the capstone of our entire life’s service; never before nor after would we have an experience that compared with it, and we can testify it is so true.”
As a result of numerous people asking them how to better understand what is taught in the temple, the Walkers shared their own formula for learning in the temple.
“Everyone should go to the temple seeking an answer to a specific question,” they said. With that question in mind, members should ask what doctrinal principle is being taught, how that principle applies to the Savior and His atonement and how it applies to them individually.
“Then go outside of the temple, and apply it,” they said.
“The theme of this conference is ‘Be of Good Cheer,’” concluded Sister Walker. “Even when we are down-trodden and miserable, we can go to the temple and feel a sense of happiness.”
Audio of the speaker’s remarks is available online.