The solemn assembly you saw Saturday as you watched conference is likely to have been the first you’ve seen.
“We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” [A of F 1:5]
The calling of leaders by God is a sacred part of our church. If we don’t believe our prophet is called of God, there is really no purpose for our church to exist. Being called of God is what makes our church what it is.
We were asked to raise our hands, not to vote, but to covenant that we will support, honor, and follow the prophet who was chosen by Heavenly Father to lead His Church. It is His church, so He is the one who chooses. Our task is to support that choice.
When President Ezra Taft Benson died in 1994, a solemn assembly was held to sustain the new prophet, President Hunter. At this time, Elder David B. Haight explained the assembly to the participants:
“A solemn assembly, as the name implies, denotes a sacred, sober, and reverent occasion when the Saints assemble under the direction of the First Presidency. Solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church. This conference session today is a solemn assembly for the purpose of sustaining a newly called Church President and other officers of the Church….
When we sustain the President of the Church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it also means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that come through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant. David B. Haight, “Solemn Assemblies,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 14”
The pattern used in the solemn assembly was established at the time of Joseph Smith himself. Each quorum stands, one at a time, to sustain the prophet and his counselors. Then, in this assembly, the Relief Society was invited to stand. Finally, the entire body of the church stood in unison, signifying we, as unified followers of our Heavenly Father, supported and honored God’s choice for the leadership of His Church.
It was a privilege and an honor to be given the opportunity to stand before God to make this covenant. The broadcast will soon be available online, so those who were not able to be present at the solemn assembly can take their turn, actually standing wherever they are, and sustain their new prophet.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.