The life & ministry of Gordon B. Hinkley

My church has many wonderful educational materials. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church is one of these series of materials. This year we are studying Gordon B. Hinkley. Tomorrow I am giving the lesson in Relief Society. The chapters I am teaching on are the “Historical Summary” and “The Life & Ministry of Gordon B. Hinkley” There are about 25 pages of information in these 2 chapters, plus footnotes (5 0r 6 pages). But, I am so very excited to get to study this wonderful man and his teachings!!!

I probably had a personal testimony of President Hinkley being a prophet of the Lord before I personally had a testimony of Joseph Smith Jr being a prophet of the Lord.

You see, part of my story is that I was born into membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But, we were not active attending members most of my childhood. My mother made sure that my sister and I attended enough to be baptized, and I knew that my mother believed. When we were in Van Buren she would always attend and take us with her, but when we were in Arizona and southern Arkansas it was random. Then when I was 15 years old or so, I had some questions about things and instead of going to a member of the Bishopric, or even to anyone to get those questions answered, I just quit going to church. I wandered around spiritually from that time until after my mother died in 1995. At that time I did get a testimony that Heavenly Father was real and I started sporadically attending the church again myself. In the summer of 1996 I was asked to chaperone a Tri-Stake Youth conference that was to be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There President Hinkley attended and talked with us at a university. I only saw him from a distance, but I knew from the moment he walked into the stadium, that he was a prophet of God!! I never forgot how I felt that day, even when I was in some of the worst parts of my life later in 2003 through 2006.

So I am going to share most of my lesson here with you:

June 23, 1910 – Born to Bryant S. Hinckley and Ada Bitner Hinckley in Salt Lake City, Utah.

When Gordon Bitner Hinckley was born on June 23, 1910, he was his mother’s first child, but eight older siblings welcomed him into the family. Gordon’s father, Bryant Stringham Hinckley, had married Ada Bitner after the death of his first wife, Christine. Ada and Bryant had four more children after Gordon, and they raised their large family with love—and without distinctions such as half brothers and half sisters. From his earliest days, Gordon learned to treasure his family.

1922 – Attends a stake priesthood meeting with his father and gains a testimony of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Of this experience he said:

“When I was a boy, twelve years of age, my father took me to a meeting of the priesthood of the stake in which we lived. I sat on the back row while he, as president of the stake, sat on the stand. At the opening of that meeting, the first of its kind I had ever attended, three or four hundred men stood. They were men from varied backgrounds and many vocations, but each had in his heart the same conviction, out of which together they sang these great words:

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!

Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.

Blessed to open the last dispensation,

Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

“Something happened within me as I heard those men of faith sing. There came into my boyish heart a knowledge, placed there by the Holy Spirit, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of the Almighty.”

His mother died of cancer in 1930 at the age of 50, when Gordon was 20.

1933 to 1935 – Served as a full-time missionary in the European Mission, spending the entire time in England. While on his mission, words from his father encouraged and inspired him: ‘Be not afraid, only believe’ (Mark 5:36) and “Forget yourself and go to work.”

Gordon and Marjorie Pae were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 29, 1937

Gordon and Marjorie established a home of love, mutual respect, hard work, and gospel living. Daily family prayer provided a window for the children to see their parents’ faith and love. As the family prayed together, the children also sensed the nearness of their Father in Heaven.

Church service was always a part of life for Gordon and Marjorie. Gordon served as the stake Sunday School superintendent and then was called to the Sunday School general board, where he served for nine years. He later served as a counselor in a stake presidency and as stake president, while Marjorie served in Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society. Their children witnessed Church service as a joyful privilege—a model they would each follow in their adult years.

October 5, 1961 – Ordained an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve by President David O. McKay.

On July 15, 1981, after serving in the Quorum of the Twelve for almost 20 years, Elder Hinckley received another surprising calling. President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Church, asked him to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency, in addition to Presidents N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney. This was an unusual but not unprecedented departure from the pattern of having two counselors. President Kimball and his counselors were not well physically and needed extra support in the Presidency.

At his first general conference in this new capacity, President Hinckley remarked: “My only desire is to serve with loyalty wherever I am called. … This sacred calling has made me aware of my weaknesses. If I have offended at any time, I apologize and hope you will forgive me. Whether this assignment be lengthy or brief, I pledge my best effort, given with love and faith.

In the April 1982 general conference he counseled:

“We live in a society that feeds on criticism. … I urge you to see the big picture and cease worrying about the little blemishes. … These are only incidental to the magnitude of [Church leaders’] service and to the greatness of their contributions.

December 2, 1982 – Called to serve as the Second Counselor to President Kimball.

November 10, 1985 – Called to serve as the First Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson.

June 5, 1994 – Called to serve as the First Counselor to President Howard W. Hunter.

March 3, 1995 – Becomes the senior Apostle at the death of President Hunter.

After President Hunter’s funeral, President Hinckley found comfort in the temple. Alone in the meeting room of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple, he pored over the scriptures and meditated on what he read. He reflected on the life, ministry, and Atonement of Jesus Christ. Then he studied the portraits on the wall, depicting all the Presidents of the Church from Joseph Smith to Howard W. Hunter. He recorded this experience in his journal:

“I walked around in front of these portraits and looked into the eyes of the men there represented. I felt almost as if I could speak with them. I felt almost as if they were speaking to me and giving me reassurance. … I sat down in the chair which I have occupied as first counselor to the President. I spent a good deal of time looking at those portraits. Every one seemed almost to come alive. Their eyes seemed to be upon me. I felt that they were encouraging me and pledging their support. They seemed to say to me that they had spoken in my behalf in a council held in the heavens, that I had no need to fear, that I would be blessed and sustained in my ministry.

“I got on my knees and pleaded with the Lord. I spoke with Him at length in prayer. … I am confident that by the power of the Spirit, I heard the word of the Lord, not vocally, but as a warmth that was felt within my heart concerning the questions I had raised in prayer.”

After this experience he again recorded his thoughts: “I feel better, and I have a much firmer assurance in my heart that the Lord is working His will with reference to His cause and kingdom, that I will be sustained as President of the Church and prophet, seer, and revelator, and so serve for such time as the Lord wills. With the confirmation of the Spirit in my heart, I am now ready to go forward to do the very best work I know how to do. It is difficult for me to believe that the Lord is placing me in this most high and sacred responsibility. … I hope that the Lord has trained me to do what He expects of me. I will give Him total loyalty, and I will certainly seek His direction.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley was set apart as President of the Church on March 12, 1995, and the next day he spoke at a press conference and answered reporters’ questions. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reported that “near the end of a warm, often witty, always winning exchange on a wide-ranging number of questions posed in this news conference, President Hinckley was asked by a reporter, ‘What will be your focus? What will be the theme of your administration?’

“Instinctively he answered, ‘Carry on. Yes. Our theme will be to carry on the great work which has been furthered by our predecessors.’”

President Hinckley was true to that pledge. With respect for the prophets who had gone before him, he carried on with the work they had done. And with faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ, he followed revelation to perform that work in new ways.

President Hinckley disliked the rigors of travel, but his desire to serve among the Latter-day Saints was more powerful than his desire to stay home. He said that he wanted to “get out among our people to extend appreciation and encouragement, and to bear testimony of the divinity of the Lord’s work.”

In addition to using long-established means of communication, President Hinckley embraced innovations. For example, he saw the Internet as a means of bringing the Church closer to its members and sharing the restored gospel with those of other faiths. During his administration, the Church launched LDS.org, FamilySearch.org, and Mormon.org.

President Hinckley stated: “None of us … knows enough. The learning process is an endless process. We must read, we must observe, we must assimilate, and we must ponder that to which we expose our minds.”  He also said: “Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching.”

President Hinckley desired to provide more spiritual nourishment for Latter-day Saints throughout the world. In 1995 he enthusiastically approved a plan to publish a new series of books that would provide Church members with a gospel library. The Church soon began publishing this series, called Teachings of Presidents of the Church, of which this book is a part.

In the general Relief Society meeting held on September 23, 1995, President Hinckley said:

“With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this, we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history.”

With this introduction, President Hinckley read, for the first time in public, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

In the October 1997 general conference, President Hinckley made a historic announcement: the Church would begin to build smaller temples around the world. He later said, “The concept of small temples came, I believe, as a direct revelation.” In 1998 he announced that 30 new smaller temples, along with other temples already planned or under construction, would make “a total of 47 new temples in addition to the 51 now in operation.” To the delight of all who were listening, President Hinckley then added, “I think we had better add 2 more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2,000 years ‘since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh’ (D&C 20:1).” Then he promised, “There will be more yet to come.”

On January 1, 2000, President Hinckley, his counselors in the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles published a proclamation titled “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.” Of the Savior, they declared, “None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.”

On October 1, 2000, President Hinckley dedicated the Boston Massachusetts Temple, the 100th temple in operation. Before the end of the year 2000, he dedicated two more temples. When he died in 2008, the Church had 124 temples in operation, with 13 more announced. President Hinckley had been involved in the planning and construction of most of them, and he had personally dedicated 85 of them and had rededicated 13 (8 of the rededications were of temples he had previously dedicated)

On June 23, 2004, the day President Hinckley turned 94, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given in the United States. In response he said: “I [am] deeply honored to receive this prestigious award from the President of the United States. I am profoundly grateful. In a larger sense, it recognizes and honors the Church which has given me so many opportunities and whose interests I have tried to serve.”66 He saw this award as symbolic of the growing positive reputation of the Church and evidence that it was indeed being brought out of obscurity.

January 27, 2008 – Dies at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Funeral services were held in the Conference Center and broadcast to Church buildings around the world. The Tabernacle Choir sang a new hymn as part of the meeting, titled “What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?” The words of the hymn were written by President Hinckley—his final testimony of Jesus Christ to his friends who had looked to him as a prophet:

What is this thing that men call death,

This quiet passing in the night?

’Tis not the end, but genesis

Of better worlds and greater light.

O God, touch Thou my aching heart,

And calm my troubled, haunting fears.

Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,

Give strength and peace beyond my tears.

There is no death, but only change

With recompense for victory won;

The gift of Him who loved all men,

The Son of God, the Holy One

 

 

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