“There is No Bomb in Here”
Harold B. Lee served as First Counselor to Joseph Fielding Smith in the First Presidency (1970–72), back in the days when General Conference was held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. As one General Conference convened, the City Commissioner of Public Safety received a phone call. A voice said: “There is a bomb in the Tabernacle and it is going off in twenty minutes.”
As you can imagine, the Commissioner quickly sent the bomb squad over to the Tabernacle. The plan, no doubt, was to evacuate the Tabernacle and to find the bomb as quickly as possible. Thus, upon arrival, a member of the squad hurriedly entered through the Choir door of the Tabernacle and quietly found his way down through the Choir loft and to President Lee. He leaned over to President Lee and said: “We’ve had a tip there is a bomb in the building going off.” And by now, of course, there were fewer than twenty minutes before the explosive would detonate.
Hearing the report, President Lee simply sat still for a moment. He then turned to the man and said: “There is no bomb in here. Relax.”
The squad member then found his way back out of the Choir loft, down to the bomb squad, and reported: “He says there is no bomb in there.” And the squad leader exclaimed: “He says there is no bomb. Who is ‘he’?” Well, it was President Lee, of course. Despite the apparent threat to thousands of lives in the Tabernacle, he had been assured through the Spirit that there was no actual threat, and on that basis dismissed the warning. Conference continued uninterrupted.[i]
“Dear Tommy, I Am Now at Peace”
In 1969, Thomas S. Monson of the Twelve titled his talk for Conference, “Mrs. Patton, Arthur Lives.”[ii] The Mrs. Patton he referred to was a real person he had known many years earlier, but she was not a member of the Church. Elder Monson thus had no expectation that she would ever hear his talk, but he addressed her as a way to strengthen all members in hope and love as they faced life’s challenges.
Here’s the backstory. As a boy, Elder Monson and his friends had known an older boy, Arthur Patton, and had looked up to him. Arthur had enlisted in the navy during World War II, and his widowed mother had placed a blue star in her front window, an emblem that signified her son was wearing the uniform of his country and was actively serving. When young Tommy Monson would pass by Mrs. Patton’s house, she would often open the door and invite him in to read the latest letter from Arthur. Her eyes would fill with tears, and she would ask Tommy to read the letter aloud.
Arthur was eventually killed in the war, in 1944, lost at sea as his ship was attacked in the South Pacific. Mrs. Patton took down the blue star from its place in the front window, and replaced it with a gold star, indicating that her son had been killed in battle. Elder Monson reports: “A light went out in the life of Mrs. Patton. She groped in utter darkness and deep despair.”[iii]
Learning the news of Arthur’s death, young Tommy Monson walked to her home, wondering what words of comfort he could possibly offer her. He later reported: “The door opened, and Mrs. Patton embraced me as she would her own son. Home became a chapel as a grief-stricken mother and a less-than-adequate boy knelt in prayer. Arising from our knees, Mrs. Patton gazed into my eyes and spoke: ‘Tommy, I belong to no church, but you do. Tell me, will Arthur live again?’ To the best of my ability, I testified to her that Arthur would indeed live again.”[iv]
Now, twenty-five years later, and having lost all track of Mrs. Patton, Elder Monson had decided to tell this story in the April Conference of 1969. He reported that he had no idea of her whereabouts, but still addressed her directly, saying: “Mrs. Patton, wherever you are, from the backdrop of my personal experience, I should like to once more answer your question, ‘Will Arthur live again?’”[v]
Elder Monson then quoted many scriptural passages bearing witness of the resurrection, of everlasting life, and of the comfort and peace that come from the Savior. Then, addressing her directly, he said: “Mrs. Patton, do not grieve as you think of your boy in the depths of the Pacific or question how God’s purposes can be fulfilled.” He added: “God has not forsaken you, Mrs. Patton. He sent his Only Begotten Son into the world,” and “his words to . . . his disciples today bring comfort to you: ‘… I am the resurrection, and the life’ (John 11:25-26).” After bearing witness of Jesus Christ, Elder Monson ended with: “In his blessed name I declare to you the solemn and sacred truth: Oh, Mrs. Patton, Arthur lives!”[vi]
That was Elder Monson’s message to Mrs. Patton, a message he knew she wouldn’t hear, but that could at least be a source of comfort and peace to members of the Church as they heard her story and his message to her.
What Elder Monson didn’t know was that Mrs. Patton was still alive and that she was then living in California. He also didn’t know that she had Latter-day Saint neighbors. He also didn’t know, and could not have known, that these good neighbors had invited Mrs. Patton to their home to watch a session of Conference. And these neighbors could not have known who was speaking in that session, or what they would speak about. And yet, there sat Mrs. Patton, watching Tommy Monson, now an apostle of the Lord, speak directly to her on television.
A short time later, she wrote to “Dear Tommy,” saying in part:
“I don’t know how to thank you for the comforting talk you gave. It was wonderful of you to think of us. I have had many questions over the years, and you have answered them. I am now at peace concerning Arthur. … God bless and keep you always. Love, Terese Patton.”[vii]
Nearly twenty years after these events, Thomas S. Monson (now in the First Presidency) shared this episode, remarking that it shows “the manner in which our Heavenly Father blessed and provided for her, a widow, in her need.”[viii] It was a miracle the Lord had performed directly through General Conference.
“One Rainy Night in Germany”
Years ago, a member of the Church named Percy K. Fetzer attended the priesthood session of General Conference. He arrived early with his friends, and they had two hours to wait before the meeting would begin.
As they sat, Percy Fetzer shared with his friends an experience from his missionary days in Germany, many years earlier. He described how one rainy night he and his companion were to present a gospel message to a group assembled in a schoolhouse. A protester had broadcast falsehoods concerning the Church, however, and, as a result, a number of people in attendance threatened violence against the two missionaries. At a critical moment, a woman—a widow—stepped between the elders and the angry group, and said: “These young men are my guests and are coming to my home now. Please make way for us to leave.”
The crowd made way for them, and the missionaries then walked through the rainy night with this widow, arriving at length at her modest home. She placed their wet coats over the kitchen chairs and invited the missionaries to sit at the table while she prepared food for them. After eating, the elders presented a gospel message. A young son of the woman was invited to come to the table, but he refused. Instead, he huddled behind the kitchen stove to stay warm.
As he finished his recollections, Percy Fetzer remarked: “While I don’t know if that woman ever joined the Church, I’ll forever be grateful to her for her kindness that rain-drenched night thirty-three years ago.”
Having shared this reminiscence, Percy Fetzer and his friends then began listening to the conversation of the brethren in front of them. One of them asked the friend sitting next to him, “Tell me how you came to be a member of the Church.”
The friend answered: “One rainy night in Germany, my mother brought to our house two drenched missionaries whom she had rescued from a mob. Mother fed the elders, and they presented to her a message concerning the work of the Lord. They invited me to join the discussion, but I was shy and fearful, so I remained secure in my seat behind the stove. Later, when I once more heard about the Church, I remembered the courage and faith, as well as the message, of those two humble missionaries, and this led to my conversion. I suppose I’ll never meet those two missionaries here in mortality, but I’ll be forever grateful to them. I don’t know where they were from. I think one was named Fetzer.”
At that point, with tears coursing down his cheeks, Percy Fetzer tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him. He announced simply: “I am Bruder Fetzer.” The two were rejoined, now one in the gospel, thirty-three years after that one rainy night in Germany. And it was General Conference that brought them together.[ix]
These are impressive miracles, demonstrating the Lord’s intimate interest in each one of His children and His desire to touch and bless their lives. It is humbling to read of them.
But there are two other types of miracles to mention, as well, regarding General Conference. Both of them are highly sacred.
“Moments Too Sacred to Recount”
First, it is actually a miracle that we even have living prophets, seers, and revelators and a chance to join with them in Conference twice a year. The vast majority of people on the earth have no idea that such representatives of the Lord even exist . . . and yet we get to see them and learn from them all the time. Indeed, the great majority of people who have ever lived have not had prophets at all. We are fortunate beyond measure to live when we live and to know what we know—and we rejoice in it. It is humbling to contemplate our unique privilege.
As we think about these living prophets and apostles, it is useful to recall what Neil L. Andersen said at the time he was sustained to become a member of the Twelve. He reported that he had been working with members of the First Presidency and the Twelve for the previous 16 years and that he had learned “from their integrity and righteousness.” He added that he had never observed “any unbridled anger, any desire for private or material gain.” “Never,” he said, “have I seen any personal positioning for influence or power.” Instead, he observed, “I have seen their loyalty and care for their wives and children” and “have watched them untiringly seek first to build up the kingdom of God.”
Elder Andersen then declared: “I have seen the power of God rest upon them and magnify and sustain them. I have witnessed the fulfillment of their prophetic voice. I have seen the sick raised and nations blessed through their authority and have stood with them in moments too sacred to recount. I testify that they are the Lord’s anointed.”[x]
To gather with such prophetic leaders is truly a miracle, and one we enjoy in special measure at General Conference.
“In the Presence of Personages Seen and Unseen”
In addition to gathering with living prophets, seers, and revelators, however, an additional sacred blessing is the miracle of who else is present at General Conference. Wilford Woodruff once reported that “during my travels in the southern country last winter I had many interviews with President Young, and with Heber C. Kimball, and George A. Smith, and Jedediah M. Grant, and many others who are dead. They attended our conference, they attended our meetings.”[xi]
The Saints were not alone when they gathered, and Wilford Woodruff wanted to testify of that. And of course nothing has changed since then. To name just one example, at the funeral of President Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie was given a vision showing him that Joseph F. Smith and others from the spirit world were in attendance.[xii]
The reality of such visitors was underscored by President Harold B. Lee, who—on the occasion of his solemn assembly—spoke of “personages” in attendance who were unseen as well as of those who were “seen.” He added: “Who knows but that even our Lord and Master would be near us on such an occasion as this,” and then quoted the Lord’s statement to an earlier conference of Saints: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me” (D&C 38:7).[xiii]
All of this gives context to President Nelson’s announcement at the beginning of the April 2020 Conference: “I know that God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, are mindful of us. They will be with us throughout the proceedings of these two glorious days.”[xiv]
All of these remarks help us prepare for General Conference more deeply. Hearing them, we know we will not only be gathering with those we can see and hear, but also with others, from the other side of the veil, whom we cannot see and hear—but who will be present nonetheless.
That is the most significant General Conference miracle of all.
Duane Boyce and Kimberly White are father and daughter. Learn more about modern prophets in their new book, The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times.
[i] This episode is recounted in Truman G. Madsen, The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings, “Harold B. Lee,” (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Audio Library, 1999).
[ii] Thomas S. Monson, “Mrs. Patton, Arthur Lives,” General Conference, April 1969, The Improvement Era, June 1969, https://archive.org/details/improvementera7206unse/page/n101/mode/2up, 101–103.
[iii] Thomas S. Monson, “Mrs. Patton—The Story Continues,” General Conference, October 2007, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/10/mrs-patton-the-story-continues?lang=eng.
[v] Thomas S. Monson, “Mrs. Patton, Arthur Lives,” General Conference, April 1969, The Improvement Era, June 1969, https://archive.org/details/improvementera7206unse/page/n101/mode/2up, 102.
[vi] Ibid., 102–103.
[vii] Thomas S. Monson, “Mrs. Patton—The Story Continues,” General Conference, October 2007, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/10/mrs-patton-the-story-continues?lang=eng.
[ix] Thomas S. Monson, who was present during these events, shared this story in his talk, “Missionary Memories,” General Conference, October 1987, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1987/10/missionary-memories?lang=eng.
[x] Neil L. Andersen, “Come Unto Him,” General Conference, April 2009, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2009/04/come-unto-him?lang=eng.
[xi] See G. Homer Durham, ed., The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1990), 289–90. Emphasis added. For further reports of this type, particularly regarding Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, see Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1964), esp. 234, 328, 529.
[xii] This is reported in Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2003), 12.
[xiii] Harold B. Lee, “May the Kingdom of God Go Forth,” General Conference, October 1972, https://www. lds.org/general-conference/1972/10/may-the-kingdom-of-god-go-forth?lang=eng.
[xiv] Russell M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” General Conference, April 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2020/04/media/6147094613001?lang=eng.)