An Apostle’s First Words

When Elder Neil L. Andersen rose to the pulpit last Sunday morning for the first time as a newly sustained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, these were his first words:

My dear brothers and sisters across the world, my knees are weak and my emotions close to the surface. I express my love for you and profoundly thank you for your sustaining vote. In so many dimensions, I feel inadequate and humbled. I take solace that in one qualification for the holy apostleship where there can be no latitude extended, the Lord has deeply blessed me. I do know with perfect and certain clarity through the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, the Beloved Son of God … To those who know me, if ever I have been less than I should have been in your presence, I ask for your forgiveness and patience. I so very much need your faith and prayers in my behalf. I know that I am not what I must become. I pray that I might be willing and moldable to the Lord’s tutoring and correction.

In short, Elder Andersen briefly acknowledged how nervous he was, and then immediately fulfilled the key responsibility of being a Special Witness–he bore a plain, but powerful, testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He concluded his introduction with a genuine prayer for forgiveness and patience from those he may have wronged.

I was so impressed by this opening statement that I was inspired (or maybe just driven by curiosity) to go and seek out the first words of every other living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator on the Earth today. A couple of observations, as well as the quotes from each address (with some minor editing on my part) are presented below. Note that many of these men spoke in General Conference prior to being called as an Apostle.

-The current leadership of the Church consists of those called during the presidencies of David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson. Between President McKay and President Monson, only Harold B. Lee did not extend a call to any of the currently living Prophets or Apostles.

-Only Boyd K. Packer gave his first address as an Apostle during the Priesthood general session.

-In their first addresses as Apostles, Boyd K. Packer (see above) and Henry B. Eyring are the only two who did not mention their new calling immediately. Consequently, their quotations are omitted from the quotes below.

-M. Russell Ballard’s address is by far the shortest, consisting only of a brief testimony.

-Dallin H. Oaks is the only one who was “thrilled” by the call. However, I daresay that his choice of words is more a testament to the fact that he was able to let the call and sustaining vote soak in for over six months because of his judicial duties before speaking in Conference for the first time, than a reflection of his actual feelings at the time he was called.

-Several newly called and sustained Apostles mentioned spiritual experiences with past Apostles that greatly influenced their understanding and appreciation for what their own calling meant.

Thomas S. Monson, October 1963: “Let Him Be Humble

President McKay, President Brown, President Tanner, my brethren, and brothers and sisters, from the depths of humility, and with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, I stand before you and pray earnestly for your prayers in my behalf. All of us are saddened by the loss of President Henry D. Moyle. I also miss the presence of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and President Stephen L. Richards who served in the First Presidency. Some years ago I stood at a pulpit and noticed a little sign that only the speaker could see, and the words on that sign were these: “Who stands at this pulpit, let him be humble.” How I pray to my Heavenly Father that I might never forget the lesson I learned that day!

L. Tom Perry, April 1974: “Build Your Shield of Faith

Thank you, President. This is a general conference in which I find my emotions very close to the surface. I have just been sustained by a vote of the membership of the Church to a position which is overwhelming. I hope under the circumstances it is permissible to be a little personal as I speak this morning…As I was thinking about this assignment, I thought, what if there is some father in the Church who would like to spend some time in family home evening telling about the current members of the Council of the Twelve. This thought startled me. What could he ever tell about me?

Russell M. Nelson, April 1984: “Call to the Holy Apostleship

Saturday of April conference of 1984 has been circled on our calendar for many years, for that date was targeted as the first time in my life that our only son would be old enough to attend general priesthood meeting with me. Last night, that long awaited goal became a reality. Brothers and sisters, little did we know that on that day my name would be presented as a member of the Council of the Twelve…A wide array of feelings has flashed through my heart since I heard the call that will change my life. The first feeling is that of personal inadequacy. That feeling is intensified as I think of the incomparable power of Elders LeGrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen, whose absence we keenly sense. They were, to me, dear friends as well as esteemed leaders. Then, as I look about and see the strength of those more qualified and able than I, I truly am humbled by this calling.

Dallin H. Oaks, October 1984: “Why Do We Serve?

My dear brothers and sisters, because it was not appropriate for me to commence my Church service until I had concluded my judicial duties in state government, I did not speak at the April conference where I was sustained. Consequently, this semiannual conference is my first opportunity to speak to the general membership of the Church, to express acceptance of my calling to the Council of the Twelve. I am thrilled with this calling. Having been “called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (A of F 1:5), I have gladly forsaken my professional activities to spend the rest of my days in the service of the Lord. I will devote my whole heart, might, mind, and strength to the great trusts placed in me, especially to the responsibilities of a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world.

M. Russell Ballard, October 1985: “In Response to the Call

My brothers and sisters, I am deeply humbled at the confidence of the Lord and my Brethren and pledge to you that I will do the very best I know how. The past nine and a half years, as I have been sent on errands for the Lord throughout the earth, have caused me to know that this Church is filled with righteous, good, dedicated men. Each of us obediently learns that we will come forth as we are called, to try to do the very best we can in our callings, whether it be home teacher, whether it be stake president, or whether it be General Authority.

Richard G. Scott, October 1988: “True Friends that Lift

It is understandable that when one has received a call and been conveyed a trust that will completely change his life forever, feelings would be sensitive and emotions very near the surface.
As I have struggled to begin to understand this sacred assignment and all that it implies, I have spent much time pouring out the feelings of my heart to our beloved Father in Heaven. I have pled that he would guide me and strengthen me that I may serve him and his beloved Son as well as I am able. There has distilled within my mind and heart a resolve that I have covenanted with the Lord to obey. It is to live to be worthy to know the will of the Lord and to live to have, with his help, the capacity and courage to carry out that will—and to desire nothing else.

Robert D. Hales, April 1994: “The Unique Message of Jesus Christ

It is time for my response. Nineteen years ago, after my being set apart by the Quorum of the Twelve in the temple as an assistant to the Twelve Apostles, Elder LeGrand Richards gave me two pieces of wisdom that have come to me over and over in the past fifty-some-odd hours that I have known of this call. First was, “Oh, to be a boy and have your whole life ahead of you.” I was forty-two years of age. I am now sixty-one and am once again a boy. There are men sitting on this stand who have been Apostles and in the First Presidency for half my age.

Jeffrey R. Holland, October 1994: “Miracles of the Restoration

My beloved brothers and sisters, this is my first opportunity to stand before you since the events of June 23 altered the course of my life and of my service forever. That was exactly one hundred days ago, and every one of those days I have prayed to be worthy of and equal to this sacred responsibility. Perhaps you can understand the immense personal inadequacy I feel and the deep, often painful examination of my soul I have experienced.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2004: “The Opportunity to Testify

My dear brothers and sisters, here in Salt Lake City and around the world, it is good to be with you. I extend my love and my greetings to Elder Bednar and Elder Robert Oaks in their new callings. To describe my inner feelings, I would say I am calm as a hurricane, or even better, I am happy and frightened. In one sentence, I need your prayers; I need the Lord.

David A. Bednar, October 2004: “In the Strength of the Lord

Brothers and sisters, my heart is filled to overflowing, my mind is spinning, my knees are weak and wobbly, and I find that words are totally inadequate to communicate effectively the feelings and thoughts I desire to share with you. I pray for and invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost for me and for you as I speak with you briefly this Sabbath morning. In the hours since President Hinckley extended this new call to serve, I have heeded the admonition of Nephi to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23) with a greater sense of purpose and intensity than I have ever done before.

Quentin L. Cook, October 2007: “Live by Faith and Not by Fear

Dear brothers and sisters, I join with you in expressing my love and sustaining support to President Eyring and his family. President Hinckley extended this call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve late Thursday afternoon. I cannot possibly articulate the kaleidoscope of feelings I have experienced since then. There have been sleepless nights and much prayer. My spirits have been buoyed, however, by the knowledge that President Hinckley is the prophet and that the membership of the Church will be praying for me and my family.

To say that I feel deeply inadequate would be an understatement. When I was called as a General Authority in April of 1996, I also felt unequal to the calling. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reassured me then that the most important qualification for all of us serving in the kingdom is to be comfortable in bearing witness of the divinity of the Savior. A peace came over me at that time and has stayed with me since because I love the Savior and have had spiritual experiences that allow me to testify of Him. I rejoice in the opportunity to bear witness of Jesus Christ in all the world (see D&C 107:23), notwithstanding my inadequacies.

D. Todd Christofferson, April 2008: “Born Again

Fifteen years ago I stood for the first time at the pulpit in the Tabernacle as a newly sustained Seventy. I was 48 years old. I had thick, dark brown hair. I thought I understood what it meant to feel inadequate. At the end of my five-minute remarks, my shirt was dripping with perspiration. The whole thing was something of an ordeal. However, today, in retrospect, it seems a comparatively pleasant experience. When President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder David A. Bednar were first sustained as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a witness of the divine origin of their calls came to me during the session. I was also given in that moment an understanding of the surpassing sacredness of the call and service of an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not have the words to express that understanding because it was communicated Spirit to spirit without words. To think of it now reduces me to a depth of humility I have never before experienced, and I plead with my Heavenly Father to sustain me as He ever has that I might measure up to something that is far beyond my native capacity and be able to focus outwardly, losing myself in your service. I trust in Him, and I know that His grace is sufficient, and so I here unreservedly commit all that I have and am to God and His Beloved Son. I also commit myself, my loyalty, my service, and my love to the First Presidency and to my Brethren of the Twelve.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this, Scott. It touched me and I appreciate it. I was also deeply impressed by Elder Andersen’s first words.

  2. As much as I loved Elder Holland’s talk, Elder Anderson’s touched me in a very powerful way – both his opening words and his recognition of the goodness of all around and among us. He spoke of things that have been weighing heavily on my soul, and I connected with him as he spoke in a way that is not common for me.

    I deeply appreciate this, Scott. I rarely connect with someone as they speak like I did with Elder Anderson, but this post gave me a bit of that experience for each of the current apostles – and it was neat to experience it in this way. We truly are led by humble men of God.

    Thank you.

  3. Great contribution Scott. I didn’t catch the power of that testimony by Elder. Andersen the first time around (likely impacted by three rambunctious children who were also “listening”). Thanks for giving me another shot to be impacted. Wonderful.

  4. Scott, nice to see all of these testimonies on the same page. These are wonderful men who have all inspired me to do better in my own life. Thank you for this, today, as we think about the Savior during this Holy Week.

  5. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for posting this. Much to reflect upon.

    On a related note, I was touched by the genuine humility of Elder Andersen’s plea for forgiveness for ever being less than he should have been, and have no doubt that he will be a beloved servant for many years to come.

  6. Imagine that Oaks had “never served as a full-time missionary, bishop, stake president, mission president, seventy, or member of the presiding bishopric before being called,” as Dr. B reported.

  7. Thanks for this. I hadn’t remembered Elder Hales’ poking fun at the age of the other apostles. That was fun to read.

    The other thing that struck me is that President Monson has been an apostle for more years that I have been alive. I turn 37 years old in the fall, and am feeling pretty ancient. So, this was a somewhat shocking revelation.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I was struck by Elder Nelson being called at the same time his son was first old enough to attend priesthood meeting. If that had happened to me, I would have been an apostle at age 39!

    (Cool idea to do this; thanks.)

  9. Ryan Bell says:

    Elder Andersen was the first person I’ve had contact with to become an apostle. And to be frank, my contact with him (when he was a visiting general authority to my mission in Portugal) came in the form of a mild bit of public rebuking that stung my pride some. That experience remains very vivid in my memory. I’ve retold that story a few times, not in the spirit of a grudge, but that of a funny, embarrassing moment (and it was funny, and embarrassing). I have carried no offense with me, but have remained a slight bit ambivalent about the experience, all these years later.

    When Elder Andersen’s call was announced, I joked with a few of my family that I am now in that vaunted position in the church of having been offended by an apostle.

    In that context, I thought it was really sweet to hear Elder Andersen’s opening words, asking for forgiveness, patience, faith and prayers. I have never borne any ill will toward this man, and he needs no forgiveness from me. But I still think it’s a beautiful thing that he expresses that possibility with such humility and contrition. I’ll gladly raise my arm to the square when they read his name every six months from here on out.

  10. Researcher says:

    That’s a lovely collection. Thank you.

  11. Ryan Bell returns to BCC! How’s it going, man.

  12. That is a great collection.

    I would also be interested in seeing the apostles actual first words – like from when they were babies learning to talk.

    COOK – “Dad”
    SCOTT – “Car”
    BEDNAR – “Mommy”
    MONSON – “Widow”

    etc.

  13. What a fascinating and worthwhile project! I wish I had thought of it. Thank you for assembling these.

    Several of them are aware that the reason they are there is because someone else is not. They appear sincere in missing those who have just passed away. And although they all speak of inadequacy, the repetition doesn’t feel formulaic to me. They sound sincere. The calling as apostle is not an award for past achievement, but a huge new responsibility. I like that they all seem very aware of that.

  14. Reading the comments above, a few things come to mind:

    1. If you didn’t follow the link on Elder Nelson’s talk, you should. For brevity, I cut out a very entertaining part.

    2. I imagine that President Eyring felt awfully young and inexperienced when he was called to serve in the 1st Presidency with President Hinckley and President Monson.

    3. The couple of times I’ve been called to positions of leadership in the Church, nearly every bad thing I’ve ever done came rushing to my mind and I felt a horrifying guilt and need for repentance. I cannot imagine how much greater that feeling must be for an Apostle–even if it is mitigated by an increased understanding and witness of the Atonement.

    4. I have a strong testimony that baby Tommy Monson’s first word was, in fact, “Widow.”

    5. Ardis’s comment about these men knowing they are there because someone else is not is very profound and sobering. There is no call in the Kingdom other than Prophet and Apostle that is so inherently linked with the death of another person, much less one who is loved by millions of people. What a weight.

  15. “There is no call in the Kingdom other than Prophet and Apostle that is so inherently linked with the death of another person, much less one who is loved by millions of people. What a weight.”

    Scott (and Ardis), I appreciate that statement greatly, as one of the main reasons I think I connected with Elder Anderson so strongly is that I miss Elder Wirthlin so much – and Elder Anderson’s plea to accept those among and around us no matter our differences reminded me so much of Elder Wirthlin’s reference to God’s orchestra and the non-piccolos.

    Having said that, I hadn’t considered how the weight of “filling Elder Wirthlin’s shoes” must bear down on Elder Anderson. I hope my reaction doesn’t add to that weight, even as I’m sure it does. That’s a sobering thought for me.

  16. The feeling of inadequacy must be overwhelming. Everyone is listening to every word like it is from the Lord himself, kind of like blogging over at T&S.

    I have it on good authority that Monson’s first word was a selection from Shenadoah.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    TStevens, that is the first time I have ever heard that analogy!

  18. But Andersen’ basis for his apostolic calling appears to be nothing more that anyone reading this blog also has (and that many people in the church at large have) – the confidence that comes from confidence that things are as we’re told. In other words a sort of tautology that says I can believe this because I believe it and feel good about believing it; a warm feeling that tells us (and him) that his warm feeling is right. I’m not criticizing Andersen’s perspective since it’s a reflection of what we’re taught to hold as the highest proof of correctness/reality. But I’m massively disappointed that a person who is presented as a Apostle of the Living Christ (and indeed this applies to all twelve of the apostles) can’t offer anything more. If these men are called of God to be special witnesses of the reality of Christ then it seems reasonable to expect them to have HAD some sort of manifestation of that reality and it would not be inappropriate to expect them to SHARE that with the world. Sacred is NOT Secret (even if we seem to treat it as such), and if Joseph Smith can fill the D&C with visions of not only Christ but many other messengers from God, why is stopping today’s apostles and prophets from sharing similar accounts? My fear, in the absence of experience that speaks to some reality and in the presence of a massive effort to convince us that believing is a replacement to knowing (and it’s not) is that God is missing. Why is that?

  19. Peter LLC says:

    Elder Andersen was the first person I’ve had contact with to become an apostle. And to be frank, my contact with him … came in the form of … public rebuking

    Same here. At zone conference one of the missionaries had played a solo on his viola. Afterwards Elder A stands up, rattles off some mission stats and followed up with “Play that on your fiddle!”

    So when he says “I know that I am not what I must become,” he may be discounting the fact that Elder Andersen the Apostle has already moved beyond Elder Andersen the Area Authority.

  20. Antonio Parr says:

    Mark:

    I can’t speak for Elder Andersen, but your characterization of an encounter with the Holy Ghost as a “warm feeling” is inadequate. I have felt sentimental “warm feelings” on multiple occasions. They are sweet moments. However, encounters with the Holy Ghost are almost tangible, and, for me, are accompanied by physical warmth and intellectual enlightenment and an awareness of powerful love and pure light that is so compelling that I have the undeniable sense that something from without is touching my life within. These moments are as real and compelling as anything that I have ever experienced.

  21. This was a great article. Wonder if the opposite has been done, ie. capturing the last words of the recent apostles who have left us.

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