Meridian Picks Top Ten LDS Stories of the Year

It’s that irresistible time of year again when no self-respecting editors can resist the urge to compile their top ten stories of the last year.  We have given into the temptation—as we do every year—and make no promises that we’ll ever resolve to do differently.  Looking back over the year

Meridian’s editors have huddled and come up with our picks.

These are not ranked in sentimental order.  The losses of our dear apostles and Sister Hinckley are felt deeply by all of us, because all three of these wonderful Saints ranked first in our hearts.  We do, however, boldly put the dedication of the Ghana Temple in a top spot as the story that signals a new era for the Church in Africa, where the growth in members points to a significant future for the spread of the gospel.

For those of us in attendance, it was like drinking in pure joy. 

Meridian staff have been privileged to be on the front lines at many of these events with our camera and pen, so that you, our Meridian readers, could be there, too. We have followed President Hinckley into the White House, watched LDS teens perform at Radio City Music Hall and interviewed William Billy Johnson (who held on to the gospel for 14 years in Ghana and had developed 10 active congregations before missionaries arrived in 1978).

New temples were announced this year, one to be built in Draper in the Salt Lake Valley and the other in Twin Falls in Idaho.  A temple was dedicated in Copenhagen, Denmark in May, which would have certainly been in our top ten if we had a story to which to point you.

You’ll notice that not included in our list of top ten were stories about Church members in the news, though we followed them avidly.  We ran two cover stories on Ken Jennings’ Jeopardy! winning streak, watched Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts sweat in the heat of the battle over the definition of marriage, followed Sen. Orrin Hatch’s equally hot seat as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and saw Sen. Harry Reid get voted in as the new Senate Minority Leader.  Former Utah governor, Michael Leavitt, has been nominated for a Cabinet seat as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services and awaits what could be a grueling confirmation process. 

The search is still on for 19-year-old Brooke Wilberger, a BYU student apparently abducted last May in Corvallis, Oregon.  Josh Horton returned wounded from Iraq to his home where his wife had delivered quints.  Quarterback Ben Olson chose the Bruins and Stephen L. Covey is breaking sells records with his new book on leadership called The Eighth Habit.

Church members do find themselves, sometimes for good or ill, in the national news spotlight, yet our top stories do not go there.  These picks mirror the rolling forth of the kingdom.

1.  Dedication of the Ghana Temple

Over the course of its history, Africa has suffered from every sort of misery from corrupt government, malnutrition, civil war, witchcraft, and slavery to AIDs, ignorance and brutalilty.  Elder Glenn L. Pace described what the temple in Ghana would mean, saying,

’When that temple on Independence Avenue is dedicated it will be like an atomic bomb has been dropped right in the middle of Satan’s stronghold in West Africa. It will be the most significant thing that has affected West Africa since the atonement and resurrection of Christ. It will be the beginning of the end of Satan’s hold on these countries.”

“You’d think you couldn’t possibly run the Church in a place like this,” said Sister Christine Skelton,” a senior missionary and wife of the secretary to the Area Presidency. The people have no phones. Few of them have addresses; they are just at the end of the dirt road or around the corner from the orphanage. When we were in the Philippines, one of the stake president’s address was “back of the Coca Cola factory.” That’s how it is here.

Church membership in the West Africa region is 100,000, but one senses as you move among these people that this is a situation much like the brother of Jared.  Their faith and pleading prayers called down the powers of heaven in their behalf.  Despite the emormous obstacles an environment like West Africa poses, a temple could not be withheld from them.  This is their day.

William Billy Johnson, one of Ghana’s earliest believers, said the day of the temple dedication “I cannot hold my tears.  The members are rejoicing.  Those beyond the grave are rejoicing.  The heavens are rejoicing.”

This link leads to an entire series on Ghana and the dedication.

 2.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell Dies after a Long Battle with Leukemia

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve died July 21, 2004.To know him was to know a master of words, eloquent in speaking but able to make anyone, regardless of culture, faith or station in life, feel unconditionally accepted and important. He was the consummate educator and statesman whose death came after a long battle with a deadly illness.

At his funeral, President Hinckley said,  “I know of no other man of so much good can be said. His genius was the product of diligence…He was a perfectionist, determined to extract from each sentence every drop of nutrition that could be produced. I think we shall not see one like him again.  It’s a miracle we have had him so long.

“When he was diagnosed in 1996, the future looked bleak,” President Hinckley said, but he was given more time and “has accomplished more in these 8 years than most do in a lifetime.”

3.  Elder David B. Haight Passes Away

Just ten days after the passing of Elder Maxwell, on July 31, 2004, Elder David B. Haight died.  At 97, he was the oldest living apostle. “He cannot be in a crowd, or even with an individual, without saying something that would build them collectively or individually,” his son-in-law Jon Huntsman said of him.

At his funeral President Thomas Monson told a memorable story about Elder Haight. President Monson shared a personal memory of a scene featuring David B. Haight.  They attended a mortuary viewing together of a very prominent person who had passed away.  Many were in attendance and the line was long.  After they made their greetings President Monson said, “I saw him cross the hall and go to a viewing where there were but few.”  He introduced himself to the widow, “Hello, I’m David Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve.  I came to extend my condolences and my sincere prayer in your bereavement.” 

“He’d never before met her, but he brought peace to her soul,” said President Monson.  He was remembered as a warm and caring man with a testimony that influenced thousands upon thousands.

4. Calling of  a New Apostle:  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

At the October General Conference two men were called as apostles to join the Quorum of the Twelve.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has a most interesting background, unique in the history of the Quorum of the Twelve.  He joins but ten others who were not born in the United States and is the only one to come out of the former east block of Europe.  

Elder Uchtdorf recently said, “It was in the turmoil of post-World War II Germany when my family first learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. George Albert Smith was the President then. I was only a young child, and we had lost all material belongings twice within only seven years. We were refugees with an uncertain future. However, during those same seven years, we gained more than any amount of money could ever buy. We found a supernal refuge, a place of defense from despair—the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church, led by a true and living prophet.”

Elder Uchtdorf went on to describe those early days in his childhood:  “The Church made an indescribable difference in our then very difficult lives. Even in these trying times, with extreme financial hardship, we were a happy family because of the Church.

5.  Calling of a New Apostle:  Elder DavidA. Bednar

Elder David A. Bednar was called as an apostle at the October General Conference. He is the President of BYU Idaho.

When David A. Bednar was called to be the president of then, Ricks College, he said, appropriately:  “Brothers and sisters, I have been taught since my youth to “follow the prophet.” Never in my wildest imagination, however, did I ever think I would speak in the same meeting with and literally “follow the prophet” as I have been assigned to do today. I pray for and invite the spirit of the Holy Ghost to be with us during our time together, that I may appropriately express the feelings of my heart and that we may understand each other and be edified on this special occasion.

As President of Brigham Young University Idaho, as all of his students will attest, he always started their weekly devotionals with a little item of business.  He would have all the students come dressed as nicely as they possibly could and then he would give them a cue and they would all hold their scriptures up over their heads.  This was a scene that visitors to BYUI never forget.  He wanted the students to make the scriptures an integral part of their lives.  He said, “True teaching is done by and with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. All truth, spiritual as well as secular, is manifested through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a revelator, a teacher, a comforter and a sanctifier. To create an environment where the Holy Ghost can teach, everything done at [BYU-Idaho] must be in harmony with the principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

6.  Dedication of the Manhattan Temple

“Welcome to the most important day in the history of New York City!” said host Dave Checketts at the opening of the jubilee celebration for the Manhattan Temple dedication June 12.  Beginning with the Ghana Temple dedication, President Hinckley had asked that each temple dedication be accompanied by a gala celebration where the youth of the Church could come together to dance and sing, thus imprinting on their hearts the importance of the day forever.

This particular temple is unusual because of its location in midtown Manhattan. Most Latter-day Saint temples are free-standing structures surrounded by manicured gardens in suburban settings. However, the Manhattan temple, similar to the Church’s temple in Hong Kong, was built in an existing building and rises six stories above ground in an urban setting one block west of Central Park. 

President Hinckley told the crowd at the Jubilee of his experience receiving the inspiration for the temple in Hong Kong after which the idea of the Manhattan temple was patterned.

“I couldn’t sleep,” President Hinckley continued.  “I prayed very earnestly.  In the middle of the night I awoke.  I got up and took a piece of paper and sketched a temple with a baptistry under ground.  We could put in that building a chapel and a temple with a spire.” 

Almost 54,000 people came to the Manhattan temple open house and around the world over 170 newspapers have covered the story.  After The New York Times and USA Today ran articles on the temple, the floodgates burst open and suddenly the Manhattan temple became a topic for many major media outlets including–CNN, NPR, World News Tonight, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal.  One newspaper called a ticket to the open house “the hottest ticket in town.”

7.  President Hinckley Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

To put it lightly, it was a birthday to remember.  In fact, few people could imagine a better 94th birthday than President Gordon B. Hinckley had as he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House from George W. Bush. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, recognizes exceptional meritorious service.

President Hinckley told reporters, “We received today the very outstanding award and appreciate it very much.  The group who received it are extremely able people and to be counted among their number is a great privilege and a great honor. This is an honor to my church more than it is to me because the Church afforded me all the great opportunities and all of the responsibilities which are wed to this occasion.”

He also added, “This really belongs to those men and women who are engaged in the battle for freedom in other parts of the world.”

8.  First Presidency Statement on Constitutional Amendment

As the meaning of marriage came up for grabs in the United States and Massachusetts sanctioned same-sex “marriage” by a single vote in their Superior Court, the First Presidency issued this statement in July, 

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors a constitutional amendment preserving marriage as the lawful union of a man and a woman.”

Though this official stand came just as the Senate was about to vote on the Musgrave-Allard amendment (SJR 30) which would federally ban gay marriage and free states from being required to recognize other domestic unions.  However, the Church said, “This is a statement of principle in anticipation of the expected debate over same-gender marriage. It is not an endorsement of any specific amendment.”

9.  Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley Dies

Church members did not know that Sister Marjorie Hinckley was failing until the concluding session of April 2004 conference on Sunday.  After presiding over conference with the same warmth, assurance, and prophetic insight Church members count on, President Hinckley finally confided the sobering news about Sister Hinckley’s ill health in the last session on Sunday.

He said that she was missing attending conference for the first time in 46 years, explaining that on the way home from their January trip to Accra, Ghana for the dedication of the temple, “she collapsed with weariness.

  She’s had a difficult time ever since.”

I guess the clock is winding down, and we do not know how to rewind it,” President Hinckley told the congregation. “It is a somber time for me.”

Sister Hinckley died two days later, on Tuesday, April 6, 2004. At her funeral her five children stood at the podium and each took turns paying a tribute to their mother.  Among the many stories they shared about her, they remembered the countless notes she had written her grandchildren and cited this one.  “Tomorrow you will be starting out to conquer a new world. Tuck this five dollars in your pocket.  You may need a bottle of glue to keep yourself together, or to keep your smile glued on.  Good luck. We are so proud of you. Love, Grandma”

 10.  75th Anniversary of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Last year marked yet another milestone in that enduring legacy, which began on radio, spread to television in the 1960’s, and now is available anywhere in the world via Internet streaming. July 18th, 2004, marked the 75th anniversary broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. To allow as many as possible to join the celebration, the broadcast originated from the Conference Center with CBS Radio Commentator Charles Osgood as guest artist. 

It began a year go with the choir’s 75th Anniversary Tour of the Northeastern United States. While in New York City, they received the International Radio and Television Society’s Gold Medal Award in recognition of their 75th anniversary year of broadcasting. Two other prestigious awards followed, with President Bush presenting the National Medal of Arts in an Oval Office ceremony in November, and the induction of the Choir and Music and the Spoken Word into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame at their April Convention in Las Vegas.

On Monday afternoon, July 15, 1929, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir gathered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle to launch what was to become the longest-running network radio program in broadcasting history. While there was undoubtedly much excitement at the prospect of singing to the nation, it seems unlikely that any of the participants could have predicted what a national and even worldwide institution the Choir and its broadcast would become.