14 January 2024

The Priesthood—a Sacred Gift

I was asked to speak in our Milnerton ward sacrament meeting today, and to lead a discussion in the Elders Quorum about Pres. Russel M Nelson's October 2023 General Conference talk Think Celestial. Well, let me share my thoughts with anyone else who might be interested to read them and consider my boring observations 😉😉

In the process of preparing, I read a talk by Pres Dieter F Uchtdorf from October 2012 The Joy of the Priesthood and the two talks following it given by Henry B Eyring and Thomas S Monson. The talk Think Celestial also added valuable thoughts, as did going through an articles by Denelson Silva, Seek Diligently and You Will Find, included in the January 2024 Liahona. My thoughts also turned to many exciting experiences that I have had in Heavenly Father's wonderful Creation, and in priesthood service in His great work. Well, I hope that you enjoy my rambling thoughts...

Pres. Uchtdorf started off by recalling how he and some friends restored an antique airplane - a  1937 Piper Cub that had become run down. He shared how it was a great joy to fly it with his teenage son, and be reminded that the Piper Cub was not built for speed - cars on the autobahn in Germany would drive faster than they could fly when facing a headwind. He then related how he had flown in a sophisticated F-18 fighter jet and was reminded that being a jet fighter pilot is a young man’s game. In both the Piper Cub and the F-18, he felt the excitement, beauty, and joy of flight.

This turned my thoughts to many of my experiences working in beautiful forests, beautiful deserts, and many other landscapes created by the Lord. There are wonderful forests in the kloofs of Table Mountain. There is a small desert close to Cape Town - at the Tankwarivier about 200km from Cape Town, and there are delightful forests in the Cedarberg just 50 or so kilometres from this patch of desert.

I recall these Namib Desert dunes in February 1999 that normally are bare sand dunes,
but they looked green following recent rains. 
When close up, we could see how there was a lot of bare ground,
but at an angle the grass was hiding the bare ground making
the dunes or ground look green. This reminded me of what my mother frequently quoted 
'It takes the effort of every blade of grass to keep the meadow green'.
These are some of the wonderful Outeniqua Forests near to Knysna. 
So very different from the Namib Desert.

This also reminded me of some of our experiences visiting different sized wards and branches. When we were married in the Salt Lake Temple, we attended a ward sacrament and testimony meeting in Cottonwood Creek in the Salt Lake Valley. The chapel had more members in it than we have in a very well attended stake conference in Cape Town. There was probably a full Deacons Quorum of 12 deacons serving the sacrament to that large congregation, and probably only one in about 150 people got to share their testimonies compared to about 1 in 10 in our ward. The Elders Quorum was possibly large enough that there might have been two Elders Quorums in the ward. Home teachers probably visited a next-door neighbour, or someone well within walking distance. It would probably be very rare for an elder or high priest in that ward to get to administer or pass the sacrament in the chapel.

Compare that to our time in Nelspruit Branch some 5 years later where I was sometimes the only person, or one of two, blessing and passing the sacrament, and I would drive about 65 kilometres in our little Datsun 120Y to home teach a sister in Sabie, and then about 40 km to visit a brother in Barberton. 

I remember occasionally travelling about 22 kilometres from our home to Koeberg to home teach with Roux Lötter, or going about 100km to try and visit someone in Langebaan. It was a special occasion to see my two grandsons having their first experiences exercising the Aaronic priesthood as Josh blessed and Caleb passed the sacrament with their father Andrew. Then Caleb, then I, and then Andrew spoke in the sacrament meeting today.

Pres. Uchtdorf reminded us that the priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. The men exercising that priesthood are mortal beings who are flawed and imperfect. The bishop, or Primary president acting with authority and keys conferred by the priesthood are here to serve as the Saviour served in Jerusalem, and not to be served. I loved hearing King Charles declare in his coronation as King of Great Britain that 'I am here to serve and not to be served'. The New Testament describes of Jesus of Nazareth served, and we are His agents and need to do as He would do if He were here, serving willingly and devotedly. 

My thoughts turned to our schools here, or anywhere in the world. If a 40-year old person who never had the opportunity to go to school were to decide to go to school, she or he would not be put into a matric or senior class, but in a Grade 1 class in order to learn the basic Three-Rs - Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. It would be hoped that they would take a lot less than 12 years to reach the matric level, but they would be helped along the way by being put into classes with pupils with a similar level of development. That is not through any intent of supremacy or superiority, but out of compassion with the hope that they would become suitably qualified to graduate with a matric so that they can be more valuable in helping to build the nation. 

It is such a blessing to reflect on a significant change in policy since I was a bishop less than ten years ago. There need to be two adults present in any child or youth class or activity. This means that there is a wonderful opportunity for a new or returning member who needs to build or reinforce their Gospel foundation to be one of the two adults in a Nursery, Primary or Youth class or activity. They can serve as Primary secretary or music leader and have the basic Gospel 3-Rs taught together with the children. The Lord knows each member and will guide the Primary president, or youth leader, or bishop, to know who He would have build that spiritual foundation. In a large ward, maybe they could serve as class president or secretary, or in our medium-sized ward as that second adult. 

In learning how to know who to call to serve, the Primary leader should go through Chapter 17 of the General Handbook, but should also go through chapters 1 to 4 for the foundation, and really all chapters to 38 to see where Primary fits in the whole Church. This will help significantly in building the new or returning members, and every member of the ward of branch.

Another wonderful insight that I have had over the years is how my serving in the Church has helped me to learn administrative, teaching and leading skills that were of great value to me in my employment, and many skills that I learned in my employment have been of great value in my service in the Church. I am impressed that the Lord knows every one of Hs children and will guide the Primary president or the bishop in knowing who to call to serve in every calling, and what calling is suitable for every member. I know a member who is baking bread for many people each Sunday morning and so rarely gets to attend sacrament meeting at 09:00. If we met at 17:00 this member would rarely miss a meeting. But if a leader were to ask the Lord, He might well inspire that leader to call this baker to teach, or be that second adult present, in a Seminary class on a Tuesday night. These are some of the blessing of the priesthood keys and responsibilities given to each bishop or organisation president. It is unfortunate that we often focus on what a person does not do or cannot do rather than looking at what the member could become.

Just as I learned about bits and bytes when I first started to use computers, a byte containing 8 bits, with a value of 256, and the Lord would have us magnify or multiply our callings or talents to two, then four, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, maybe even 1024 to form a kilobyte of talent. I suggest that the Lord is not lacking in any skill. He would not be deficient in and type or temperament that we describe in psychology, but that He has a wonderful balance of all types and temperaments. 

Heavenly Father wants His children to become creators of deserts and forests, wards, branches, families, countries, and the world. He knows what we can become and through the priesthood each of us can become everything that He wants us to become, learning as we go by serving as He would, whether in Primary, or exercising the priesthood, or in any way that we can in His Church. He would like us have great joy in flying our Piper Cub or F-16 jet, soaring above the clouds and enjoying the magnificence of His creation below us. I have a special testimony of this, and I share these thoughts in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.