here) at our stake conference this past weekend. He was joined by Elder Nolan D. Archibald of the Seventy. In the Priesthood Leadership session, Elder Oaks indicated that ours was likely the last stake conference he would ever attend, owing to the size of the church and other ways of apostles’ addressing conferences (presumably through video links).
We had heard that before, of course. When Elder Packer visited Michigan over ten years ago he addressed priesthood leaders from all over the state and said that apostles would no longer travel to US stake conferences, and he indicated the coming of video stake conferences (which has happened)would replace such visits. Since then, we have had two apostles visit our stake (including Elder Oaks this week). The other was Elder Eyring a number of years ago when one of his children lived in our area.
Elder Oaks was delightful. I heard him speak in our adult session on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning. In both meetings he was highly complimentary of his companion, Elder Archibald (who also gave awesome talks, one about grace and the atonement and one about our terrific youth), our stake presidency (who are awesome) and about those who participated by speaking or providing music in the meetings.
It is wonderful to have visiting general authorities and to see them differently than we do in General Conference. In his formal addresses, Elder Oaks appears to me as he did when he was leading BYU and I was an underclassman: stern and scholarly. In person he was clearly knowledgeable, but he was not stern. In fact, he entertained the adult session quite wonderfully, sharing his experiences from the last 28 years as an apostle. In the Sunday session, he had engaging stories for the children and the youth. His humor was self-deprecating, including a letter he shared from a ten-year old girl in England who wrote she could tell he was an apostle because he was clean and his head was shiny.
My wife helped to prepare and serve him dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday; he was gracious and grateful. He complimented their efforts and thanked them for their willingness to meet some specific dietary requirements. He spoke highly of the stake president’s family who hosted him. And he shook many, many hands.
In each meeting before it began, he went through the chapel shaking as many hands as he could get to. He shook the hands of each of the choir members on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He greeted each person with a warm, “Welcome to conference” or “Welcome to church!” And after the meeting he waited in the chapel to shake more hands.
Of course he also taught us. Building on Elder Archibald’s talk on grace and the atonement, Elder Oaks taught about the importance of the Third Article of Faith and its succinct clarity regarding the blessings of the atonement: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind can be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.3?lang=eng#2
He explained that his first assignment as an apostle was to prepare a discussion of justice, mercy and the atonement to be presented to all the general authorities. He spend several months preparing, and read all the standard works (in their entirety) looking for references to those three topics. He then presented a 45 minute talk on the subject. He suggested that the third Article of Faith makes clear the universal blessing of the atonement, and the proper relationship between our obedience and the Lord’s sacrifice; both are required for our salvation.
In the Sunday morning session, he taught a number of things but the one that sticks most with me was his challenge to the teenagers to learn and remember Doctrine & Covenants 38:42: “And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Even so. Amen.”
He made several key points about this verse: First, we should take steps to separate ourselves from the wickedness around us; we should shun evil and resist temptation. Second, the saving of ourselves in this verse is not salvation – only Jesus Christ can do that for us. We save ourselves by separating ourselves from evil, and we cannot depend on someone else to do it for us; we must choose to do it. Finally, the third sentence refers to moral cleanliness, but is not limited to priesthood holders who bear the emblems of the sacrament, though it includes them. He also said that it includes young women who – in the Lord’s own time and according to His timetable – may also bear the vessel that will hold a spirit child of our Father in Heaven. (In making this point, he did not state the motherhood = priesthood argument. He did clearly say we do not know why priesthood is reserved for men.)
It was wonderful to have Elder Oaks among us. I understand the size of the church makes it difficult for apostles to be everywhere we might wish them to be, but I am grateful for the chance I had to be where I was last weekend to hear and see him.