On February 10, Russel M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held a special devotional for a historically large Arizona audience at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Some 65,000+ attendees were treated to a local choir and addresses by President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and President Nelson. Both were accompanied by their wives, who also spoke.
At 94, President Nelson does not appear to be slowing down in his ministry, and if anything, has a reputation for fast change. Several new policies, and significant revisions to existing Church programs, have been announced under his tenure, including the replacement of home and visiting teaching with ministering and a more “home-centered curriculum,” as congregations move to a 2-hour Sunday block. President Nelson spoke at length about the blessings of Abraham, inviting the “Arizona Battalion” of youth to “gather Israel on both sides of the veil.”
President Oaks recapped many of the shifts in Church programs, saying, “Change is almost always exciting” as he reminded members that such changes “should help us, but by themselves they won’t get our members to where our Heavenly Father wants us to be.
Sister Oaks spoke about relying on the Lord during times of trial, and Sister Nelson gave some personal insights into being married to a “living prophet of God.”
West Valley resident Ebbi Weiss, of the Sun Valley Ward, Peoria Stake, was touched by Sister Nelson’s address: “Sister Nelson’s talk impacted me greatly because she shared something so personal and so rare. For her to share the way the prophet talks to her is very precious. The way she knows what he needs makes me want to support my husband’s priesthood better.”
The devotional also included a 150-member choir chosen from the East and West Valley.
“It was a tender and humbling experience,” says Tammy Staley, of the West Point Ward, Surprise Stake. “The power was overwhelming.”
Choir member Ann Ashton, of the Dreaming Summit Ward, Goodyear Stake, agrees. A former member of the Mormon Youth Chorus and the Tabernacle Choir, she was impressed by the caliber of musicianship—and a little daunted by the acoustics in the stadium.
“What we heard was not how it really sounded. We felt like our voices weren’t together, and that the organ was a beat behind. As with any large musical group in a massive venue, we had to just watch our director, stay with her, and trust that it sounded right in the audience. I have great respect for the audio engineers who helped us!” she says.
Amy Willardson was one of a select group of YSA Relief Society and Elders Quorum presidents chosen to spend time with President Nelson that day.
“I loved how President Nelson is focusing on making our homes sanctuaries and how the home-based study is encouraging us to be more responsible for our own spiritual growth,” Willardson said. “When he talked about how we are the ‘Arizona Battalion,’ I got goosebumps! We are here on the earth for a purpose and we have the opportunity to be an instrument in God’s hands if we allow Him into our lives!”
Listeners walked away moved. “I feel inspired to be more kind, more loving, and more willing to give,” says Erin Alkema, of the Sun Valley Ward, Peoria Stake. “I think we could all use a little more of that.”