Friday, 7 March 2014

A leadership transition without campaigns

While the airwaves have been saturated with political advertisements aimed at winning votes, over 500 members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Northern Tasmania witnessed and participated in the quiet, simple transition of authority from one president to another.

The annual conference of the Devonport Australia Stake of the Church was conducted over the weekend of March 1-2, and presided over by Pacific Area President Elder James J. Hamula of the Seventy. Elder Hamula had been assigned by the First Presidency of the Church to re-organise the presidency of the Devonport Stake, and he was accompanied by Elder Robert J. Dudfield of the Seventy (a former Tasmanian) in this sacred assignment.

Elder Hamula described the process as similar to when the Lord assigned the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king of Israel, as recorded in 1 Samuel 16 in the Old Testament. On Saturday morning, the visiting Elders met in brief interviews with the existing presidency and other Church leaders, including the clerk, executive secretary, patriarch, members of the high council and the bishops. Elder Hamula said that as the interviews progressed, "a tapestry unfolded" until finally, through careful consideration and prayer, the Lord revealed to them who had been prepared to serve as the next stake president.

Contrasting this process with what we see in political, business and even other religious organisations, Elder Hamula said, "There was no political campaigning, no waiting for white smoke. Just the simple, sweet witness of the Spirit that the Lord had called a new leader."

Prior to the announcement of the new stake presidency on Sunday morning, other sessions of the conference were conducted on Saturday to provide training to the priesthood leadership of the stake, and encouragement to youth and adults about engaging in the Lord's hastening work of salvation. Members were blessed to hear from the visiting Elders as well as the mission president, President Maxwell, and his wife, and the temple president, President Hoare, and his wife.

On Sunday morning, members and friends of the Church began to gather from as early as 8am. A choir of children ages 3-12 sang a prelude item, then the meeting commenced at 10am, conducted by outgoing stake president, President Scott Prebble. After a rousing hymn and inspiring opening prayer, President Horsman, outgoing first counsellor, read the local business of the conference. He was followed by Elder Dudfield, who conducted the business of the stake re-organisation.

He began by extending an honourable release to the outgoing stake presidency, President Prebble, President Horsman and President Walters. He expressed his personal appreciation for their service, and invited the congregation to join him in a vote of thanks. He then invited the new stake presidency to stand as their names were announced. President Lionel Walters, former second counsellor to President Prebble, was called as stake president, with first counsellor, Dion Triffitt from Burnie Branch, and second counsellor, Peter Buckley from Devonport Ward. Members were invited to raise their hands to sustain the new presidency, and an opportunity was given for members to offer a dissenting vote. The vote was unanimous in favour of the callings, and then the meeting proceeded.

Left to right: Elder James J. Hamula, President Dion Triffitt, President Lionel Walters, President Peter Buckley and Elder Robert J. Dudfield.

After another beautiful musical item from the children's choir, the outgoing stake presidency and Sister Lisa Prebble, wife of President Prebble, were invited to share their testimonies, followed by testimonies from the new stake presidency and Sister Suzanne Walters, wife of President Walters. Following their testimonies, the congregation was blessed to hear from Sister Maxwell of the Melbourne Mission and President Hoare of the Melbourne Temple, who both encouraged members to engage in the work of salvation.

The congregation stood to sing the intermediate hymn, then Elder Dudfield spoke about the importance of deepening our personal faith in Jesus Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. He encouraged members to follow the invitation of the Area Presidency to read the Book of Mormon twice this year, and advised that the ushers would provide each family with a suggested reading schedule as they left the chapel.

Elder Hamula gave concluding remarks, describing the process of calling a new stake president, and emphasised the essential role that women play in that process. He shared how prior to extending the call to President Walters, he met with Sister Walters to ask searching questions about her husband's conduct as a husband and father. When he was satisfied her report of her husband's conduct was in harmony with the spirit of the call, he asked whether she would sustain her husband if he were to be called to "a significant position in the Church." He explained to the congregation that if, for whatever worthy reason, the wife could or would not sustain her husband, the husband would not be called. He taught that this prerogative should not be abused or used as an excuse to not serve, but should be recognised as a powerful example of the trust the Lord places in the women of the Church.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the congregation mingled, the new stake presidency were set apart and received some brief training, and then the visiting Elders left, trusting that the new presidency would follow the guidance of the Lord and the established procedures of the Church to carry out the work in the Devonport Stake.

President Walters, President Triffitt and President Buckley have been called to preside over the nearly 1,500 Latter-day Saints in Northern Tasmania, with a charge to engage every member in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around them. They were not called because of any worldly qualifications, such as academic degrees or professional experience, and like all other local leaders of the Church, will serve without financial remuneration and in addition to their work and family obligations until such time as they are released by the Lord through His appointed servants. At that time, they may be called to serve in the children's organisation, repairing the hymn books or anywhere else the Lord may need them.

President Walters with two of his predecessors, Scott Prebble and Philip Challis.

Someone once expressed the transition in Church leadership by saying, "One day a peacock, the next day a feather duster," meaning that no calling is of more importance than another in the Church. No other organisation in the world could conduct a transition of leadership in such a simple, ordered and dignified way with the assurance that the essential principles and policies of the organisation would be maintained. In the Lord's Church there is no campaigning, no ladder climbing, no imposing of personal agenda. Just simple, sacred trust in the Lord and willingness to serve where called.

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An article about this transition was printed in the Examiner on Tuesday 1 April 2014 (read here).