Church Consolidated Meeting Schedule

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In his closing address in the April 1979 General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball said:

 

ImageBeloved brethren and sisters, this has been a glorious conference. We are grateful to all who have taken part in any way. My heart has rejoiced, and my thoughts have been inspired to turn to many things, as what has been said and sung has deeply touched me.

Now, my brothers and sisters, it seems clear to me, indeed, this impression weighs upon me—that the Church is at a point in its growth and maturity when we are at last ready to move forward in a major way. Some decisions have been made and others pending, which will clear the way, organizationally. But the basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals.

We have paused on some plateaus long enough. Let us resume our journey forward and upward. Let us quietly put an end to our reluctance to reach out to others—whether in our own families, wards, or neighborhoods. We have been diverted, at times, from fundamentals on which we must now focus in order to move forward as a person or as a people.  (“Let Us Move Forward and Upward,” Ensign, May 1979, p. 82; emphasis added)

 

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In March of 1980, the first of several organizational changes were made.  That month, the consolidated meeting schedule was implemented in the United States and Canada.  The rest of the church began implementation in May.

 

Appearing in the Ensign magazine was the following:

 

 

 

Church Consolidates Meeting Schedules

(Ensign, March 1980, pp. 73–78)

 

A schedule combining meetings into a three-hour Sunday block has been introduced throughout the Church.

The First Presidency announced the changes in a letter accompanying instructions for stake presidencies and bishoprics. Wards and branches throughout the United States and Canada are implementing the program March 2. Those outside the U.S. and Canada will begin May 4.

The Churchwide initiation of the program follows several months of pilot studies in which selected stakes tried variations of the program—with marked success. Attendance at sacrament meeting and Relief Society increased an average of 10 to 15 percent in the pilot areas. Priesthood, Young Men, Young Women, and Sunday School attendance rose 8 to 10 percent. Primary also had an increase, though slightly lower. The consolidated schedule increased Church attendance among the less active, with fewer people leaving or skipping meetings.

The new schedule groups sacrament, Sunday School, Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary meetings into a specifically divided three-hour time block. Ten-minute breaks separate the meetings. Local leaders are being given two options of how to arrange the meetings. In the first option, called Option A, all ward members are together for sacrament meeting. The ward then separates into Sunday School classes (for those twelve and older), Primary classes (for those under twelve), and nursery (ages eighteen months to three years). While Primary and nursery children stay in sessions lasting one hour and forty minutes, those over twelve attend Sunday School classes and then regroup for quorum, Relief Society, and Young Women meetings.

 

 


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Option A







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Option B


 

In the second option, Option B, ward members first meet in priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary meetings. Sacrament meeting is held last.

Under the new program Junior Sunday School is discontinued, since children are taught on Sundays in Primary. Prayer meetings for all organizations are also discontinued. Young Men and Young Women weekday Mutual activities will usually be held on a ward activity day. One day of the week other than Sunday or Monday may be designated as ward activity day, on which activities for organizations or the entire ward, as much as possible, are scheduled.

The consolidated meeting schedule reemphasizes personal and family responsibility for learning, living, and teaching the gospel. It also allows Church members more time for personal gospel study, service to others, and meaningful activities.


Objectives of the Schedule

The instructions for stake presidencies and bishoprics indicate the purpose and major objectives of the new schedule:



“The purpose of the consolidated meeting schedule is (1) to reemphasize personal and family responsibility for learning, living, and teaching the gospel and (2) to allow Church members more time for personal gospel study, for service to others, and for meaningful activities. The major objectives of the new schedule are to—

“1. Help every Latter-day Saint home become a place where family members love to be, where they can enrich their lives and find mutual love, support, appreciation, and encouragement.

“2. Emphasize home-centered Sabbath activities.

“3. Make more flexible a weekday activity program for all members.

“4. Reduce the amount of travel by Church members and provide opportunities for family members to travel together and participate in Church activities.

“5. Conserve energy resources and reduce the nonessential costs required for members to participate in Church activities.”



The instructions also state: “Local leaders should use their own initiative to solve specific local problems. Leaders have the responsibility to follow the guidelines for consolidating meetings provided, but they should rely on inspiration to find ways of making the schedule work successfully in their areas.”


Suggestions for Individual and Family Sabbath-Day Activities

Because the new schedule will give families time together on Sundays, parents will want to plan activities for the Sabbath that will spiritually strengthen the family. They may wish to spend some time with the family each Sunday in gospel discussion and instruction, under the direction of the head of the household. They may use the scriptures, the most recent general conference talks, family home evening manuals, Church publications, and other publications as a resource.

Other appropriate Sunday activities include (1) writing personal and family journals, (2) holding family councils, (3) establishing and maintaining family organizations for the immediate and extended family, (4) personal interviews between parents and children, (5) writing to relatives and missionaries, (6) genealogy, (7) visiting relatives and those who are ill or lonely, (8) missionary work, (9) reading stories to children, and (10) singing Church hymns.

Single adults will also wish to spend their time on the Sabbath day in study and in such other activities as those suggested above. Under the direction of the ward single adult committee, they may also hold firesides, give service to the sick and elderly, and participate in other appropriate Sabbath-day activities.

Many activities are not appropriate on the Sabbath day, such as gardening, family parties, and household projects. Families may wish to plan family household and recreational activities for Saturday or other weekdays when parents are home with their children.



Guidelines for Leadership and Other Meetings

Guidelines for implementing the consolidated schedule give instructions on holding administrative meetings and special functions. Stake presidency meetings, bishopric meetings, organization presidency meetings, priesthood executive committee meetings, correlation councils, choir practices, firesides, preparation meetings, priesthood leadership meetings, and so forth——all are to follow these guidelines:

“1. High priority should be given to individual and family needs and to those areas of service and activity that relate to the home.

“2. Neither administrative and other meetings nor activities should prevent individuals and family members from caring for basic individual and family responsibilities.

“3. Emphasis should be upon actual service with a minimum of time used in preparation for service.”



Leaders scheduling special meetings are to consider these questions:

“Does the schedule preserve an adequate block of time for all families and individuals on Sunday so they can give attention to gospel study, personal spiritual development, gospel teaching in the home, and appropriate acts of Christian service?” And, “Are leaders able, as much as possible, to go to and return from the Sunday block of meetings with their wives and children?”

 

Leaders are also instructed to observe the following guidelines:

“1. Generally, ward administrative meetings should be held at one of the following times: (a) a designated weekday, (b) on Sunday, when it would least interfere with family travel and home-centered activities, (c) during the week when it would require the least special travel and a minimum of the leaders’ time away from home.

“2. A calendar of activities and meetings should be planned at least three months in advance by stake and ward correlation councils. The activities committee would prepare the activity portion of the calendar. The calendar information should be shared with each family to aid them in planning family activities. There should be a careful correlation between ward and stake meetings and activities.

“3. Insofar as possible stake and ward meetings should be planned to avoid conflict with the Sunday meeting schedules in wards. Saturdays should be reserved for family activities as much as possible.

“4. Administrative meetings should begin and end on time. Agendas should be prepared so that only essential matters are dealt with.

“5. Where unusual distances and other special circumstances exist, consideration should be given to allow flexibility of meeting frequency so that unreasonable demands are not made upon the time and resources of the members.

“6. Where several wards are scheduled in a building, it may be convenient to designate a day of the week for each ward for activities.”

 

“Ready to Move Forward”

The changes in the meeting schedules come at a time when Church leaders—notably President Spencer W. Kimball—have encouraged members to accept change and continued inspired guidance. In April and October 1979 general conferences, President Kimball spoke of pending changes that would enable families to live the gospel more effectively in their homes:

“This impression weighs upon me—that the Church is at a point in its growth and maturity when we are at last ready to move forward in a major way. Some decisions have been made and others pending, which will clear the way, organizationally. But the basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals. …

“Only as we see clearly the responsibilities of each individual and the role of families and the home can we properly understand that the priesthood quorums and the auxiliary organizations, even wards and stakes, exist primarily to help members live the gospel in the home. However, church programs should always support and never detract from gospel-centered family activities” (Ensign, May 1979, pp. 82–83).

Six months later President Kimball told Regional Representatives:

“We see ourselves as positioning our people so that the Latter-day Saints can give greater attention to family life, can focus more on certain simple and basic things, can render more Christian service, and can have greater effectiveness in all these things—through the process of simplification, scheduling, proper priorities, and by honoring the priesthood line” (Address delivered at Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 5 Oct. 1979, in Salt Lake City).

The consolidated meeting schedule has been designed to help fulfill those purposes.

 

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In the 1980 May Ensign, the following was reported:


 

 


Report of the Regional Representatives’ Seminar



(Jay M. Todd, “Report of the Regional Representatives’ Seminar,” Ensign, May 1980, 99–101)

 

The following materials and observations are from the presentation on the consolidated meeting schedule:

1. Elder Neal A. Maxwell—“At the time the new consolidated schedule was approved by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, it was made clear that its purposes were to provide ‘more time for giving attention to family life, individual study, self-improvement, and Christian service.’ We are mindful that the consolidated schedule would save much in the way of costs of gasoline, but this was not the basic purpose. It is true that circumstances in which the saints live vary widely. But the basic purposes of the Church remain unchanged. In the Book of Mormon we read about how the Sabbath was basically the teaching and learning day: ‘And there was one day in every week set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together’ (Mosiah 18:25). In the future, what is in our power by way of assembling ourselves together may not even be what is feasible today. But a family-centered Sabbath has been and always will be desired; so will a scripturally centered Sabbath. We hope that as we now have a fresh opportunity to study the scriptures that we will do so. We have a chance to sink our root system in the rich soil of the scriptures and become more firmly anchored therein under the consolidated schedule. Also, under this new schedule, it will be important to expedite meetings without making them seem rushed. Children are still to be blessed in fast meetings.

“Space considerations require thoughtful attention. Thousands of dollars have been saved from purchasing dividers by having the Primary hold split sessions. Clearly, there are balances to be struck which we think are best determined locally. One of them, for example, is between the legitimate and competing needs of having continuity in our Primary teachers, on the one hand, and not having those sisters go forever without the privileges of participating in Relief Society, on the other.

“A balance also needs to be struck in having active Scouting and exploring programs which require regular activities, on the one hand, and not badgering busy high school students with too many activities, on the other.

In sum, the consolidated meeting schedule is an opportunity of major proportions. I reflect that in the past years we have stretched or pulled or strained to gain a percentage point here or there in a particular church program; now we have an inspired consolidated meeting schedule that actually raises attendance 10 to 15 percent, or higher in some cases. We should welcome this opportunity with arms reaching out as never before to all who are in need of our fellowship.”



2. Elder Dean L. Larsen—“One of the things I have noticed is that there is a tendency by some to think that the Church is dramatically different now that we have the consolidated meeting schedule. That simply is not true. We are still carrying on many of the functions that we have had in the Church. The new consolidated meeting schedule has not changed the basic Church, and it has not given license for aberrations in established, prescribed programs.”

3. Elder Dean L. Larsen—“There is something about the consolidated meeting schedule that has an appeal to those who have not been participating with us before. We don’t know all the reasons for this, but there is something about the newness and the innovation that has this appeal. Thus, right now during the so-called honeymoon period, while this new appeal is still there, it is crucial that we organize to take full advantage of this reactivation opportunity. And the place to do that on the ward level is in the ward correlation council meeting. We hope we will all be alerted to this opportunity for reactivation.”

4. Does the consolidated meeting schedule allow for special classes for inactive and prospective elders? “Yes. Ward Temple Preparation seminars and Gospel Essential classes can be held concurrently with the regular ward Sunday School classes, or they can be scheduled during other hours not designed for ward meetings.”

5. How does the consolidated meeting schedule affect family home evening? “Guidelines for family home evening remain unchanged. Families should continue to hold family home evening on Monday evenings, using the manual and other approved materials. As in the past, occasional family activities may be appropriate on Monday evenings in addition to gospel instruction. Family study of the gospel on Sunday is part of keeping the Sabbath day holy and should be encouraged in addition to family home evening.”

6. How can ward and stake leaders hold the necessary meetings and still maintain the spirit of the family Sabbath? “Priesthood and other leaders should be careful to schedule necessary meetings at times that do not interrupt family Sabbath activities. Careful planning will avoid lengthy meetings. Generally, times immediately before or after the combined meetings can save on travel and minimize the disruption of family worship. In areas where travel is not a significant problem, early morning hours may provide the best time for extra meetings.”

7. Should meetings or other activities be scheduled during the Sunday School period? “Only the approved Sunday School classes, using the approved curriculum, are to be conducted during the Sunday School period. Such functions as bishop’s meetings, executive committee meetings, ward correlation council meetings, choir practices, etc., should not be scheduled during this period.”

8. A bishop reported, “We try to keep our Sundays free from any leadership or organizational meetings. On the weekday Mutual night, we have found a way to consolidate other necessary meetings and on that night we hold priesthood executive committee meeting, ward correlation council, and welfare services meeting. Our ward officers and teachers come to Church on Sunday and then generally on our Mutual night once or twice a month. The rest of the time is left, for other duties relating to Christian service and being together with their families.”

9. “Women are not to be members of Sunday School presidencies. Men are not to be called to serve in Primary presidencies.”

10. What about the basic teacher development course? Elder Dean Larsen—“We are not using more Sunday School space than before consolidation. There should be no reason why space cannot continue to be provided for teacher development, and certainly we do not wish to lose the teacher development basic course which should be and is implemented under the direction of the Sunday School and should continue to be a part of that regular curriculum.”

11. Barbara Smith, general president of the Relief Society—“Many people call and ask about the stake Relief Society board—what is it composed of? We want members to know it should include the executive officers, plus at least eight other members, so that it is a board of twelve members. We hope Young Adults are considered for Relief Society presidencies and for teaching positions. They have much vitality and enthusiasm to give, while the older sisters can give stability and maturity.”

12. “Ward and stake Relief Society choirs may still be organized to provide music for stake conferences, sacrament meetings, funerals, and other occasions.”

13. Elaine Cannon, general president of the Young Women—“Stake advisers for Young Women are now generally not needed. If they are deemed necessary in a large stake, their responsibilities would be assigned by the stake Young Women Presidency. The same is true of ward structure; advisers are needed only when the young women population demands.”

14. The Young Women’s current manuals have twenty-two lessons. What shall they teach for additional lessons? “Provide weekly spiritual experiences for young women from the following sources: age group manuals, ‘The Latter-day Saint Woman,’ Gospel Principles, ‘My Personal Progress,’ Young Women Guidebook (youth leadership lessons), Church magazines, talks from general women’s meetings, approved films from meetinghouse library, Teaching, No Greater Call, and guest speakers, occasionally invited to a class or combination of classes as approved by the bishopric.”

15. Elder Neal A. Maxwell—“A very important role is played by the bishop’s youth committee and much of the planning for youth on the ward level will occur there. We see the ward activities committee as becoming more and more crucial as the bishopric uses them do some significant things.”

16. “Those who should attend the bishopric youth committee meeting are the bishopric, the chairman of the ward activities committee, ward Young Men and Young Women presidents, the first assistant to the bishop in the priests quorum, the presidents of the teachers and deacons quorum, and Young Women class presidents.”

17. What is the recommended way to treat youth firesides? Elder Robert L. Backman—“I don’t think there needs to be much change from the way we have done this before. A caring bishopric, caring for both the needs of the families and the needs of the youth, can see the need to continue these important firesides at an appropriate frequency.”

18. Does the new consolidated meeting schedule do away with any ward and stake activities such as plays and roadshows? “No. There continues to be a need for appropriate high quality activities. Some events, such as athletic contests, play rehearsals, etc., may need to be scheduled at other times during the week. Such scheduling should be approved by the bishopric through the correlation council.”

19. What is the policy regarding competitive athletics and sports? “Competitive sports programs should continue to receive emphasis and support at all levels of play, including stake, region, multiregion, etc. The scope of the program for a given area should be determined by the Executive Administrator, Regional Representatives, and stake presidents involved. Aaronic Priesthood quorum and Young Women leaders maintain stewardship for all young men and young women between the ages of twelve and eighteen. They will determine the extent of the Young Men and Young Women sports program. It is to be organized, implemented, and supervised by the ward or stake Activities Committee.”

20. How often should priests, teachers, and deacons quorums meet on a week night to participate in Scouting, Venturing, Exploring, and other activities? Elder Robert L. Backman—“The Aaronic Priesthood quorums will usually meet weekly, on a week night other than Monday, in addition to their regular quorum meeting on Sunday—unless travel or other restrictions require meeting only once a week.”

21. What about holding Primary on stake conference days? Elder Dean L. Larsen—“The initial guidelines did carry a notation that Primary on stake conference days was to be discontinued, but that was in error. What we have called junior Sunday School and is now Primary may be held on the same basis as in the past on stake conference Sundays for the children who have been attending those services.”

22. A bishop—“Our Primary leaders are saying, ‘We never had this kind of reverence on Tuesday afternoon, our usual Primary time. On Sunday, those children are prepared to have a spiritual experience, and we don’t have the kinds of problems we formerly had.’ “

23. If a child turned three years old in January 1980 and has been enrolled in Sunday School, what Primary class will the child attend? “The child should attend the nursery until the beginning of the next curriculum year; then he would be enrolled in the Sunbeam class. Three-year-old children should be enrolled in Primary according to the entrance and enrollment policy as stated in the Primary Handbook, page 38.”

24. What do we do with the twelve-year-old boy who graduates from Primary in midyear and enters course 12 “Under the consolidation meeting schedule, a boy who reaches the age of 12 after the start of the curriculum year will become a member of the Sunday School and enter course 12 at that time. He will move to course 13 with the rest of the class at the beginning of a new curriculum year, regardless of how long he has been in course 12.”

25. Will there still be ward choirs? “Yes, ward choirs continue to be an essential part of the Church program. It is recommended that choirs sing in sacrament meeting at least twice a month. Special choirs, soloists, or groups may be used on those Sundays when choirs do not sing. Practices may be held at any time convenient to the members; however, they should not be held during the Sunday School hour.”

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In the April 1980 General Conference, Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the Seventy delivered a significant talk about the underlying principle regarding the change to the consolidated meeting schedule:

 

 

Self-Accountability and Human Progress

Elder Dean L. Larsen
Of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy

(Ensign, May 1980, 76-77)

My comments today will bear upon President Kimball’s challenge to us to rise above the plateaus we have been on. They will relate also to the added flexibility and freedom we are being encouraged to assume in the new pattern of Sunday worship and weekday activity. I’ll speak to the principle which undergirds these new developments. Latter-day Saints understand that mortal life was purposefully designed to place us in circumstances where we can be individually tested and where, by the exercise of the agency God has given us, we can determine what our future possibilities will be. The ancient prophet Lehi understood this when he said to his son Jacob, “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death” (2 Ne. 2:27).

He further explained that men “have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law … according to the commandments which God hath given” (2 Ne. 2:26).

On one occasion the Lord explained that it was his desire that “every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency … given unto him, that every man may be accountable” (D&C 101:78).

When we understand what is right and what is wrong, we are in a position to exercise our freedom in making choices. In so doing, we must stand accountable for our decisions, and we cannot escape the inevitable consequences of these choices. Such freedom to exercise moral agency is essential in an environment where people have the highest prospects for progress and development.

By our very endowment as children of an Eternal Father, we have had implanted within our souls the urgency to be free. It is natural for us to want to be accountable for our own fates, because there is a whispering within us confirming that this accountability is absolutely essential to the attainment of our eternal destiny.

The existence of laws, regulations, and procedures has never been sufficient to compel men to obedience. Productive obedience comes through the exercise of free will. Elder Albert E. Bowen of the Quorum of the Twelve once said:

“It is a truism that no law is any better than the people who administer it. Howsoever well framed a law may be or however worthy its purpose, it can degenerate into utter futility unless wisely administered by those sympathetic with its purposes” (The Church Welfare Plan, Sunday School manual, 1946, p. 115).

We are told in the scriptures that prior to the creation of this earth, fully one-third of all the hosts who contemplated the challenges of mortal life allowed themselves to be deluded into thinking that there were acceptable alternatives to the essential risks that accompany the exercise of agency and free will (see Abr. 3:27–28; Rev. 12:4). The price they paid is beyond comprehension. Today we are being encouraged to accept greater responsibility for the allocation of our time, for our spiritual development through personal and family study of the gospel, and for giving loving Christian service. We must be willing to respond to this new challenge. Our willingness to accept this added accountability will exert an influence that will reach far beyond our Sunday worship service and religious life.

Unless we retain a vibrant desire to be free, and unless we understand and practice the principles that give life to essential freedoms, we have little reason to hope they will endure. If we allow ourselves to accept dependency and regulation and to cease valuing independence and self-accountability, then we are vulnerable to the forces that destroy freedom. If righteousness is judged primarily by the degree to which one responds to programmed activity, then a condition develops within which opportunities for progress decline. The resulting tragedy affects the mortal potential of man and has a profound effect on his eternal possibilities as well.

Programmed behavior cannot produce the level of spiritual development required to qualify one for eternal life. A necessary range of freedom and self-determination is essential to one’s spiritual development. With an understanding of correct principles and an intrinsic desire to apply them, one must be motivated within himself to do many good things of his own free will; for, as the revelation says, the power is in him wherein he is an agent unto himself (see D&C 58:27–28).

In preserving our freedom for self-determination, we cannot ignore the need for carefully ordered structure and procedure within government or any other organization. A careful balance must be maintained between that which is ordered for the welfare of the group and that which is reserved for the conscience and the incentive of the individual.

This necessary balance of freedom and restraint is essential to right relationships within families and communities, and it cannot be ignored in our assignments within the Church.

I have pondered the injunctions that have come to us in recent months from leaders of the Church to simplify and reduce the number of programmed activities prescribed for the members. There seems to be a sensitivity to the need for maintaining this essential balance. We have heard increased emphasis given to the need for individual initiative and accountability within families. In his concluding remarks at the April 1979 general conference, President Kimball said:

“The basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals. …  

“… Our individual spiritual growth is the key to major numerical growth in the kingdom” (Ensign, May 1979, p. 82).

I rejoice in the spirit and intent of this instruction from a living prophet. I see in it the purposeful effort to preserve our individual accountability in the context of our Church membership and religious life.

When members of the Church exercise self-determination in their application of gospel principles they need not relax in their compliance with these principles. In fact, optimum progress can only occur when conditions are ideal for it, and these conditions must include the necessary degree of freedom and self-accountability. Anything less will guarantee stunted spiritual growth.

We must understand that as freedom for unrestricted development is enhanced, the possibilities for failure are also increased. The risk factor is great. The ideal cannot be achieved otherwise. Celestial attainment can be reached in no other environment.

We have inspired leaders today who are reconfirming the fact that there is no ultimate safety in programmed security where others assume accountability for our direction and performance.

Those who insist that a Church program exist for every contingency and need are as much in error as their counterparts who demand that government intervene in every aspect of our lives. In both instances the ideal balance is destroyed with a resultant detriment to human progress.

These are essential truths which our leaders are reinforcing for us today. These are challenging truths. They demand much of us. They press us to make our lives better by our own initiative and by our own efforts. They make no unconditional promises.

At the same time, our obedience to them preserves for us the elements of life which make individual progress possible. They make life purposeful and full of promise. They lead to eternal progress. Humanity cannot fulfill its destiny when these truths are disregarded and abused. I cherish them with all my soul and am unreservedly committed to their promulgation among all the peoples of the earth. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.