On 6 April 1951 the Church was in a unique position. It was time for the 121st Annual General Conference and the Church lacked a President, George Albert Smith having died just two days earlier. It did not, however, lack a leader. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was now the Presiding Quorum of the Church and David O. McKay was the Quorum's President, the senior Apostle in all the world. In the course of the Conference, a Solemn Assembly was held during which the First Presidency was reconstituted and David O. McKay was sustained as the new President of the Church with Stephen L. Richards as First Counselor and J. Reuben Clark, Jr. as Second Counselor.
Here, then, are three addresses by President McKay to the Conference: a short Introductory address opening the Conference; an Explanatory talk discussing J. Reuben Clark's call as Second Counselor when he had already served many years as First Counselor; and a Benedictory discourse setting the tone for President McKay's Presidency.
This is the opening session of the One Hundred Twenty-first Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are convened in the tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
As you all know, through general announcement already given, last Wednesday, April 4, at 7:27 p.m., there came to a close, on his eighty-first birthday, the earthly career of our beloved leader, President George Albert Smith. A few moments after his heartbeat stopped one of his daughters--I am not clear this morning whether it was Emily or Edith -- said, with aching heart, "This is the only way father could attend conference." Though his chair is vacant this morning let us hope that the influence of his Christ-like character will pervade every heart and his high ideals be an inspiration to us all. Truly he was a noble soul, happiest when he was making others happy. In his daily life he strove sincerely to apply the teachings of Jesus to "love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength . . . and thy neighbor as thyself."
President Smith's passing leaves the Quorum of the First Presidency disorganized, and the presiding authority of the Church now rests with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At a meeting this morning at nine o'clock this Council requested that the counselors to President Smith conduct the exercises of this General Conference.
President Clark, will you please come forward and take your place?
(Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr., then took a seat by President McKay on the upper stand.)
All of the General Authorities of the Church are in attendance.
Elder Joseph Anderson is the clerk of the conference.
These services, and all general sessions of the conference, will be broadcast in the Assembly Hall and in Barratt Hall over the loud speaking system and by television.
This service and all general sessions of the conference will be broadcast over station KSL, Salt Lake City, and by arrangement through KSL over the following stations:
In Utah: KSUB at Cedar City, KSVC at Richfield, KJAM at Vernal, KBUH, Brigham City, and KVNU at Logan.
In Idaho: KGEM at Boise, KID at Idaho Falls, KEYY at Pocatello, KBIO at Burley, KVMV at Twin Falls, and KRXK at Rexburg.
We are grateful to the stations named for their cooperation in broadcasting these proceedings and we thank them for their services which will continue throughout the conference. In the interest of time, however, we shall not repeat this announcement at every session.
All general sessions will also be televised over the KSL television station channel 5.
The choir singing for this morning's session will be by the Brigham Young University combined choruses with Elders Newell Weight and Crawford Gates conducting and with Elder Frank W. Asper at the organ.
We will begin the morning services by the Brigham Young University combined choruses singing: "Thanks Be To God," conducted by Elder Newell Weight.
The opening prayer will be offered by President Jared J. Trejo of the Southern Arizona Stake.
Before proceeding further with the exercises of this session, I am prompted to say a word in answer to a question which undoubtedly is in every one of your minds. Particularly to those not members of the Church, and to members of the Church as well, may I call attention to the policy of the Church with regard to choosing of counselors.
A PRESIDENT NAMES HIS COUNSELORS
When a President is chosen and sustained (that includes the president of the Aaronic Priesthood who is the Bishop of a Ward, also Presidents of quorums or superintendents or presidents of auxiliaries) it is the practice of the Church to let the president name his counselors.
Anticipating that the Council of the Twelve would grant to me that same privilege, I thoughtfully and prayerfully considered what two men would be most helpful and most contributive to the advancement of the Church. The impression came, I am sure, directly from Him whose Church this is, and who presides over it, that the two counselors whom you have this day approved should be the other members of the quorum of the First Presidency. Both are members of the Council of the Twelve, though counselors might have been chosen from High Priests outside that presiding body.
I chose these two members from the Council of the Twelve -- two men with whom I have labored closely for many years, whose worth, whose ability I know. I have been associated with Elder [Stephen L.] Richards directly in Church affairs and in presiding positions for over thirty years. I have been associated with President Clark in two quorums of the First Presidency for over sixteen years. With these and other facts in mind, the question arose as to the order they should occupy in this new quorum.
Each man I love. Each man is capable in his particular lines, and particularly with respect to the welfare and advancement of the Kingdom of God.
SENIORITY IN THE COUNCIL OF TWELVE
I realized that there would be a question in the minds of some as to which one of the two should be chosen as first counselor. That question resolved itself in my mind first as to the order of precedence, seniority in the Council of the Twelve Apostles. That should make no difference according to the practice of the Church, because members of the Council had heretofore been chosen irrespective of the position a member occupied in the Council of the Twelve. And, as I have already said, high Priests have been chosen even as first counselors who were not members of the Council.
I felt that one guiding principle in this choice would be to follow the seniority in the Council. These two men were sitting in their places in that presiding body in the Church, and I felt impressed that it would be advisable to continue that same seniority in the new quorum of the First Presidency. I repeat, not as an established policy, but because it seemed advisable in view of my close relationship to these two choice leaders.
TWO COUNSELORS COORDINATE
Now I mention this because we do not want any member in this Church, nor any man or woman listening in to harbor the thought for a moment that there has been any rift between the two counselors who sustained President Smith in the Quorum of the First Presidency, and President Grant for the years that we were together with that inspired leader. Neither should you feel that there is any demotion. President [J. Reuben] Clark is a wonderful servant. You have had demonstrated here this morning his ability in carrying out details, and he is just that efficient in everything pertaining to the work.
You should understand further, that in the counselorship of the Quorum of the First Presidency these two men are coordinate in authority, in love, and confidence, in freedom to make suggestions, and recommendations, and in their responsibility not only to the Quorum but also to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the people generally.
They are two great men. I love them both, and say God bless them, and give you the assurance that there will be harmony and love and confidence in the Quorum of the First Presidency as you have sustained them today.
My beloved fellow workers, brethren and sisters: I wish it were within my power of expression to let you know just what my true feelings are on this momentous occasion. I would wish that you might look into my heart and see there for yourselves just what those feelings are.
RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
It is just one week ago today that the realization came to me that this responsibility of leadership would probably fall upon my shoulders. I received word that President George Albert Smith had taken a turn for the worse, and that the doctor thought the end was not far off. I hastened to his bedside, and with his weeping daughters, son, and other kinfolk, I entered his sickroom. For the first time, he failed to recognize me.
Then I had to accept the realization that the Lord had chosen not to answer our pleadings as we would have had them answered, and that he was going to take him home to himself. Thankfully, he rallied again later in the day. Several days preceding that visit, as President Clark and I were considering problems of import pertaining to the Church, he, ever solicitous of the welfare of the Church and of my feelings, would say, "The responsibility will be yours to make this decision," but each time I would refuse to face what to him seemed a reality.
NEED FOR SUPPORT
When that reality came, as I tell you, I was deeply moved. And I am today, and pray that I may, even though inadequately, be able to tell you how weighty this responsibility seems.
The Lord has said that the three presiding high priests chosen by the body appointed and ordained to this office of presidency, are to be "upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church." No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with the head of the Church, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our head. This is his Church. Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration, we cannot succeed. With his guidance, with his inspiration, we cannot fail.
Next to that as a sustaining potent power, comes the confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.
I pledge to you that I shall do my best so to live as to merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and pray here in your presence that my counselors and I may indeed be "partakers of the divine spirit."
SPIRIT OF UNITY
Next to that, unitedly we plead with you for a continuation of your love and confidence as you have expressed it today. From you members of the Twelve, we ask for that love and sympathy expressed in our sacred Council. From the Assistants to the Twelve the Patriarch, the First Council of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, we ask that the spirit of unity expressed so fervently by our Lord and Savior when he was saying good-by to the Twelve, may be manifest by us all.
You remember he said, as he left them: "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."
"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
"That they all may be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:11, 20-21.)
Brethren and sisters, brethren of the General Authorities, God keep us as one, overlooking weaknesses we may see, keeping an eye single to the glory of God and the advancement of his work.
HELP OF MEMBERSHIP
And now to the members of the Church: We all need your help, your faith and prayers, not your adverse criticisms, but your help. You can do that in prayer if you cannot reach us in person. The potency of those prayers throughout the Church came to me yesterday when I received a letter from a neighbor in my old home town. He was milking his cows when the word came over his radio which he has in his barn that President Smith had passed. He sensed what that would mean to his former fellow-townsman, and he left his barn and went to the house and told his wife. Immediately they called their little children, and there in that humble home, suspending their activities, they knelt down as a family and offered prayer. The significance of that scene I leave for you to understand. Multiply that by a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, half a million homes, and see the power in the unity and prayers, and the sustaining influence in the body of the Church.
Today you have by your vote placed upon us the greatest responsibility, as well as the greatest honor, that lies within your power to bestow as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. Your doing so increases the duty of the First Presidency to render service to the people.
EXAMPLE OF SERVICE
When the Savior was about to leave his Apostles, he gave them a great example of service. You remember he girded himself with a towel and washed his disciples' feet. Peter, feeling it was a menial work for a servant, said, ". . . dost thou wash my feet? . . . Thou shalt never wash my feet."
The Savior answered "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."
"Nay then," said the chief Apostle, "Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."
"He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.
"What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." (See John 13:6, 8-10, 7.)
And then he washed his feet, and those of the others also. Returning the basin to the side of the door, ungirding himself, and putting on his robe, he returned to his position with the Twelve, and said:
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
"If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet." (Ibid., 13:13-14.)
What an example of service to those great servants, followers of the Christ! He that is greatest among you, let him be least. So we sense the obligation to be of greater service to the membership of the Church, to devote our lives to the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth.
BLESSING AND TESTIMONY
God bless you, brothers and sisters. May the spirit of this occasion remain in our hearts. May it be felt throughout the uttermost parts of the earth, wherever there is a branch in all the world, that that spirit might be a unifying power in increasing the testimony of the divinity of this work, that it may grow in its influence for good in the establishment of peace throughout the world.
I bear you my testimony that the head of this Church is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know the reality of his existence, of his willingness to guide and direct all who serve him. I know he restored, with his Father, to the Prophet Joseph Smith the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. I know that these brethren whom you have sustained today are men of God. I love them. Don't you think anything else. God's will has been done.
May we have increased power to be true to the responsibilities that the Lord and you have placed upon us, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.