I worked for the Church for 45 years (3 years part-time and 42 years full-time).
My mission to Guatemala from 1974–1976 set the course for my career. I spent most of my mission among the Cakchiquel Indians in central Guatemala. A linguist from BYU spent a few weeks in Guatemala to teach a dozen missionaries same basics of the Cakchiquel language, then left us on our own to learn the language. A few of us excelled, and by the end of my mission, the Church asked three of us to translate the missionary discussions.
I returned to BYU after my mission and worked part-time for the Church translation division and changed my major from business to Spanish and linguistics. I spent the next few summers in Guatemala either working for the Church translating the Book of Mormon, compiling a Cakchiquel-Spanish-English dictionary, or doing linguistic studies just for the fun of it. After I received my bachelor’s degree, I stayed in Provo and earned a master’s degree in instructional science. My intent was to build a business by developing language learning systems. But the Church offered me a full-time job and I spent the rest of my career involved with translations and Church publications.
For a few years, I supervised translators in Latin America and Africa. I later project managed non-English publications, assigning them for translation and coordinating the steps of translation, typesetting, graphic design, printing, and distribution. I helped develop computer tracking systems to manage these stages of production. I helped realign production, printing, and distribution to save millions of dollars in printing and distribution costs. For several years, I traveled three or four weeks a year to Church printing and distribution centers.
I later worked with the Church auxiliaries (Relief Society, Primary, Sunday School, Young Men, and Young Women) to develop Church programs, leader training, and other resources. I helped establish Church efforts on the internet and in social media and later was the director of LDS.org. I have had broad experience in my 40-year professional career, including translation, publishing, project management, product management, marketing, communications, and social media. My responsibilities included developing and implementing Church resources and making sure they are translated and available worldwide. For most of my career, I managed the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. Other assignments included both project management and product management for resources such as leader training, Sunday programs, curriculum for the home and church, scriptures, magazines, and other materials used in the home. For most of my career, I also coordinated the official letters and notices sent from headquarters to stake and ward leaders. My final position was the director of communications and messaging, helping improve messaging to members and leaders.
My offices have been on the following floors of the Church Office Building: 21, 23, 24, and 25, and short time on the second floor of the west wing.
“Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:29). Sometimes when working on an assignment or walking from the Church Office Building to the Church Administration Building, I would sense a feeling of importance—not of myself, but of the important work I had been tasked to do.
I had the privilege of a front-row seat to many important efforts. I met with the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Authorities, and General Officers to discuss important issues, create documents and plans, and make presentations to help Church leaders make decisions. It was an amazing blessing.
I considered my job almost a calling. Over the years, I often felt the tug of entrepreneurship—and I had small opportunities to be involved in some outside efforts along with my employment with the Church—but I felt impressed to continue my career at the Church.
Arthur Brooks, who teaches a course on happiness at Harvard University, says that there are two elements that make work meaningful: earned success and service to others. Earned success is success based on diligent effort, where people use skills that match their interests and passions that lead to upward mobility in life. Service to others means that one’s work makes life better for others. My work for the Church was meaningful on both counts.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner.”
I worked in the following departments: Priesthood and Family Department, Curriculum Department, Translation Department, and Materials Management. The following is a summary of the key responsibilities I held:
- Translation. Managed translators in up to 60 languages.
- International Publications. Coordinated the graphic production, printing, and distribution of materials in up to 185 languages. Realigned printing and distribution across countries in Latin America and the Pacific to save millions of dollars.
- Publications and Media Project Office. Led a consolidated project management office for 8,000 projects per year (printed, audiovisual, website, event, and worldwide broadcasts).
- LDS.org, Defined the early vision and processes and completed a major upgrade of the Church website from 2003–2008.
- Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. Developed the process to (1) define the materials needed by members in developing and established areas of the world and (2) give priority and order to the translation of materials into languages.
- Leader Communications. Managed the approvals and distribution of official letters and notices from headquarters to local leaders. Served on the Communications Review Committee (CRC).
- Priesthood and Auxiliary Division. Worked with the General Presidencies of the five general organizations. I led teams to develop and implement several key Church initiatives, such as ministering, the combination of the elders quorum and high priest groups, and the implementation of the two-hour Sunday schedule. I also directed the development of resources to help members and leaders with sensitive issues such as abuse, incarceration, disabilities, LGBT, mental health, pornography, safe media use, and suicide.
- Communications, messaging, and implementation. Worked across departments to unify Church messages. I was also a de facto director in the Church Communication Department as a bridge between the two departments. Directed the efforts to work with Area Presidencies to adapt and implement programs and products in a way to better meet the needs of areas.
The following is a list of the specific positions I held:
Contract and Part-time positions:
- Contract Translator, Emerging Languages, Translation Division, Materials Management Department, April 1977–August 1979.
- Production Coordinator and Translation Team Lead, Translation Division, Materials Management, May 27, 1978–August 1980. I coordinated translation and production in the Provo, Utah, regional office. I helped develop an integrated word processing and typesetting system on the IBM 370 computer for 14 American Indian languages. I developed a means for coordinating graphics production and printing with the main office.
- Master Scheduler, Materials Management Department, August 18, 1980, to January 1, 1982.
- Translation Supervisor, Translation Department, January 1, 1982, to January 1, 1983.
- Director of Publications and Media Project Office, Curriculum Department, January 1, 1983, to August 1, 2010.
- Director of LDS.org and Internet Coordination, Curriculum Department, January 1, 2003, to January 1, 2008.
- Director of Worldwide Plan for Church Materials, Curriculum Department, August 1, 2010, to April 18, 2012.
- Director of Product Awareness and Evaluation, Priesthood and Family Department, August 1, 2010, to May 1, 2015.
- Director, Priesthood and Auxiliary Division, Priesthood and Family Department, August 17, 2015, to June 28, 2020.
- Director, Communications and Messaging, Priesthood and Family Department, June 29, 2020, to June 2022.
- Director, Communications and Messaging, Priesthood and Family Department, June 29, 2020, to September 30, 2021.
- Director, Communications and Covenant Path (Implementation and Area Support), Priesthood and Family Department, September 30, 2021, to June 2022.
I wrote a more complete work history with more names, dates, and details and submitted it to my department leadership and the Church Archives. This chapter is a condensed version of that.
From April 1977 to August 1979, I was a contract translator to translate Church materials into Cakchiquel. I worked on the Book of Mormon and other scripture translation in Guatemala the summer of 1976. I also translated the Church’s temple ceremonies. I continued working on Cakchiquel translations for several years. The summer of 1978, I returned to Guatemala to produce audio recordings of written translations in Cakchiquel. (See the section “Translator, Linguist, and Cultural Anthropologist” above.)
While a student at BYU, from September 1978 to August 1980, I worked part-time for the Translation Division, Materials Management. I coordinated translation and production in the Provo, Utah, regional office. I helped develop an integrated word processing and typesetting system on the IBM 370 computer for 14 American Indian languages. I developed a means for coordinating graphics production and printing with the main office.
The process at that time for publishing a book involved setting type in a single column (called “slix”) and cutting and pasting the type onto artboards to form pages (paste-ups). I worked with graphics production in Salt Lake to develop a more automated process, whereby a computer program would calculate the lines on a page and produce the composed page with headings, footers, and page numbers in place. I helped develop an integrated word processing/typesetting system using BYU’s IBM 370 mainframe computer to produce full-page paginations. We used this system to produce books in 14 Latin American native languages (20 translators). My job was to coordinate all the production with translators, proofreaders, and graphics production in Salt Lake. I trained translators and inputters on the use of the system, trained proofreaders, and approved publications as ready to be printed. This new typesetting pagination system became the standard practice by 1981.
Scheduled, monitored, and reported on non-English publications projects in the headquarters production system. Planned and scheduled over 350 projects per year through translation, production, printing, and distribution. Helped modify the Martin Marrietta TRMS computer system for use by project managers in workload planning, controlling, tracking, and reporting. Helped streamline processes to reduce production time and expense..
On August 18, 1980, I accepted a full-time position with the Church. My responsibilities were to schedule, monitor, and report on non-English publications projects. This included manuals, books, bulletins, magazines, pamphlets, missionary tracts, forms, and so forth in 76 languages. (All the languages except those that were translated and printed overseas.)
The following was my journal entry from August 22, 1980, after my first week on the job:
I just finished my first week on the job. I think I will enjoy working with my coworkers. (1) There are really some good people to work with. (2) The main challenge I will have is to get all the departments working together, rather than independently. (3) Coordinating efforts could save work for everyone by reducing the number of production steps. (4) We also need to develop better tracking and reporting procedures so we can keep closer track of the projects.
I also began cross-pollenating ideas. I found that if you spread your idea (or an idea of someone else) in the right way, you could get people to buy into it and help develop it. Pretty soon, everyone would come together and improve on the idea, and everyone was behind it.
On November 10, 1980, the Master Scheduling section was combined with Publications Coordination of the Curriculum Department and our offices were moved from the 25th floor to the 24th floor. I was assigned to coordinate Spanish translation, Emerging Languages, and all non-English production in Salt Lake, including the international magazines.
On January 1, 1981, the Church established the Salt Lake Printing Center (formerly Deseret Press) as part of the Printing Services Division of the Materials Management Department to do all Church headquarters printing. It was a mammoth operation, and it was humbling to think that our Publications Coordination team would be responsible for all the work that went there to be printed. One of our first projects was to adjust the schedule for the Spanish Liahona magazine to get it in the hands of subscribers a month earlier.
In January 1981, we combined several specification documents together into a single form named Job Ticket. I helped modify the Martin Marrietta TRMS computer system for use by project managers in workload planning, controlling, tracking, and reporting. We streamlined processes to reduce production time and expense.
During that time, there was a big expansion in the number of languages into which we translated Church materials. For each new language, it required developing type fonts and computer systems to determine how to hyphenate words.
At that time, the Church rivaled any major publishing house. The Church produced over 125,000 printed pages of materials a year in 185 languages (with 29 different writing systems), including four monthly magazines (one of which was translated and published in 42 languages). The Church had 35 full-time editors, 70 full-time graphic designers and production artists, nearly 1,000 translators and interpreters, and hundreds of internet developers, information architects, and visual designers.
On May 24, 1982, I transferred to the Translation Division. My director was Eb Davis, whom I worked for previously when I was a contract translator. My first assignment was for 21 emerging languages in Latin America and the South Pacific, which at that time included 40–50 translation workers. I was responsible for linguistic research and decisions on cultural and political matters. I traveled worldwide to identify publication needs in countries of responsibility and to locate and train translators. I enjoyed my fellow translation supervisors, Lowell Bishop, Ralph Richards, and David Frischknecht and enjoyed working with people in the field.
August 30 to September 13, 1982, I traveled to Latin America on a Church trip to through all the areas where I supervised translation work, except for Peru and the South Pacific. I met with mission presidents, stake presidents, translators, and distribution center managers to coordinate the work being done, and to assign new work. In Paraguay, I coordinated the Guarani translations. In Bolivia, I worked with Quechua and Aymara. In Ecuador, I coordinated the work in Quichua. In Panama, I followed up on the Kuna translations. In Guatemala, I was not permitted to leave Guatemala City because of unrest in some of the outlying areas. So, all I could do was meet with the translation coordinator, José Obando, in Guatemala City about Cakchiquel, Quiché, Kekchí, and Mam. It was difficult to go to Guatemala and not be able to go to the Cakchiquel area to see the people I loved. In Mexico, I went to Merida to work on Mayan and explore needs for Tzotzil. A stop in Haiti was to coordinate work in Haitian-Creole.
We had three supervisors over the 60 languages. In October 1982, one of the supervisors, David Frischknecht, was promoted to manager and given responsibility over Samoan, Tongan, and Tahitian translation that had been recently moved to Salt Lake. Another supervisor was reassigned. That left me alone to supervise 60 languages.
In December 1982, Eb Davis reorganized the Translation Division, and I began supervising all the phase 1, 2, and 3 languages in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. From February 8 to March 1, 1983, I traveled to Africa. Africa had 472 million people and was the fast-growing continent in the world. People in the 52 countries in Africa spoke 1,583 languages. There were two missions serving the continent. The Africa West Mission served the countries of Nigeria and Ghana, and the South Africa Johannesburg Mission served the countries of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The other 48 countries were under the jurisdiction of the International Mission. I went to Kenya to meet with translators and missionary couples there about translating a few basic materials into Swahili and Kisii. The Church was just getting established in Kenya and wasn’t yet legally registered. I then flew to Johannesburg, South Africa. The Church had been there for 120 years. There were three thriving stakes, and a temple soon to begin construction. I met with Church employees and ecclesiastical leaders there to discuss priorities and concerns with the Afrikaans translations. I did some research on the music traditions among the blacks and identified the tonic solfa notation to be used in the hymnbooks. James Van Zyl, president of the Soweto Branch took me into Soweto for meetings with the Sotho South translators. I then flew to the coastal town of Durban to meet with the Zulu translators in the Kwa Mashu branch. I also took photographs of members to be used in the missionary flipcharts. I also met with the Xhosa translators in Durban. I then flew to Harare, Zimbabwe, to meet with Shona translators. There were political problems in the country. Many of the white leaders were leaving the country, but many blacks were being baptized. On the return trip, I stopped in New York City to tour the Jehovah’s Witness Printing Facility in Brooklyn and learn more about their extensive translation efforts.
In October 1983, I was asked to be the manager of international production in the International Publications office. In this role, I was responsible for assigning and tracking 8,000 publications and audiovisual projects per year in 149 languages. I assigned the work (roughly 2,000 projects at any given time) by issuing Job Tickets to the offices in Salt Lake and 45 other translation, printing, and distribution centers throughout the world. We then monitored the work, reported progress to various levels of management, and kept historical records of what was done. During the translation and production processes, we acted as the clearinghouse for questions from the field. Our work directly affected the activities and workload of 750 employees. This was a temporary assignment, to last about a year. My task was to evaluate processes and determine what should continue as is, make changes where necessary, and computerize the entire operation.
I also supervised the Input Section, which consisted of six amazing typists who input written translations into word processors. Some of them could type languages they didn’t know up to 90 words per minute. I was also responsible for the subscription campaigns for the International Magazines.
I maintained the Non-English Authorized List, which was a complete list of authorized materials in phase 3 languages. The list was a resource to the areas to manage inventories at distribution centers.
I developed a computer system, which we called the WIZARD, to automate the functions of assigning projects, controlling specifications, tracking progress, preparing management reports, and storing historical data.
I also made major reassignments in printing worldwide to decrease costs and increase quality. We identified a way to reduce the import tax on sending printing negatives from Salt Lake to the areas. We found a paper substitute called Transtar that could be used to directly burn the printing plates without the need for negative films. Being a paper product, it could be imported without duties.
When I accepted the position, our staff consisted of myself, a supervisor of audiovisual, and five clerks. By computerizing and automating most of the clerical functions, we were able to reduce the five clerks to two and concentrate on higher-level activities.
May 7–24, 1984, I took a work trip through Central and South America for International Publications to coordinate the printing and distribution of Spanish materials that were translated and prepared in Salt Lake. We were able to identify many ways to increase the quality of work, decrease already reasonable costs, and improve service. We determined that by printing the hardbound Spanish books in Colombia rather than in Mexico, we could save over $100,000 a year. We later identified other cost savings by shifting some of the printing from Peru to Colombia. I then travelled to Costa Rica and Guatemala to help coordinate the printing and distribution for Central America. While in Guatemala, I was able to attend a district conference in Patzicía and see many people I knew and loved from the Cakchiquel area. I noted good progress since I was last there four years previously. The economic situation had improved some. The people dressed better, were cleaner, and many had been able to make improvements to their homes. The membership was growing, and new leaders were developing. Two branches had been formed out of the previous one branch. Mauro Choc and Alejandro Choc were the branch presidents of the two Patzicía branches. I had a long talk with both. It was satisfying to see them as branch presidents. I had worked hard with them when I was a missionary, and they were teenagers. Now they were working with the teenagers to help them prepare for missions.
I had the privilege of working with the following Executive Directors in the Curriculum Department:
- 2006–2007: Elder Jay E. Jensen. I also worked directly with Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi. Elders Russell M. Nelson and David A. Bednar were on the Priesthood Executive Council (PEC).
- 2008–2009: Elder Spencer J. Condie. I also worked directly with Elders Yoshihiko Kikuchi and Paul B. Pieper.
- 2010–2011: Elder Paul B. Pieper. Also worked with Elders Christoffel Golden, Yoshihiko Kikuchi, and Per G. Malm.
The following sections describe the work I did in the Curriculum Department.
In August 1984, the International Publications function was transferred to Publications Coordination in the Curriculum Department. I was the manager of International Production
November 5–20, 1984, I traveled to New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji for three weeks. I met in New Zealand to evaluate the Church printing center in Auckland, and refine procedures for coordinating schedules, quantities, printing, and shipping of materials to Samoa, Tonga, and Tahiti. We identified ways to save costs, while maintaining an acceptable standard of quality. I then went to Samoa and Tonga to work out details with the distribution centers and evaluate the printing of the Church magazines. I then went on to Fiji to meet with Church leaders and identify needs for Fijian and Hindi translations.
January 18 to February 7, 1990, I traveled through Latin America to evaluate the use of the curriculum materials and to review procedures relating to translation, production, printing, and distribution of printed and audiovisual materials. I visited eight cities in 16 days: Mexico City; Guatemala City; Bogota, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In 1992, we completed the development and implementation of the custom FOCMAN project management system, using the FOCUS programming and reporting language to report on data in TRMS. We integrated other management systems into it to manage the thousands of non-English publications for the Church each year. We later named the evolved system TIMS (Tracking and Information Management System).
March 18–28, 1993, I traveled to Colombia and Guatemala. I attended a four-day training seminar held in Bogota, Colombia, for Materials Management personnel from the South America North area. I also reviewed the status of the printing of Spanish hardbound books. As a result of my trip to Colombia in 1985, it was determined to consolidate the printing of hardbound books for all Spanish-speaking countries. On June 26, 1998, Kris Christensen at the Salt Lake Distribution Center wrote the following memo to my manager: “At the request of five Distribution Center Managers in South America North Area, and Jose Jimenez, I have been asked to convey to you their feelings of appreciation for the service that Larry Richman provides for them. They’ve highlighted three separate people they feel they can call and get prompt response and resolutions to difficult problems. I believe 20 to 30 minutes were spent in praise of Larry at our Distribution seminar held in Quito, Ecuador. You should be aware of the feelings of those people.”
From May 23–28, 1993, I attended the FUSE 1993 Educational Conference and International Users Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. I also gave a presentation titled “A FOCUSed Look at Dates.” I had been frustrated by the lack of documentation about how to use dates in the FOCUS programming language, so I researched how to use the various date formats and gave a presentation on my findings.
On April 26, 1994, I attended the All-Church Coordinating Council meeting with President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson, all 12 Apostles, and most of the Seventy. President Hinckley spoke about the finances of the Church and how he marvels at the way the Lord provides for the financial security of His Church. He compared the law of tithing with the way the government collects taxes. The tax code is so complex that people devote their entire lives studying and applying it. In contrast, the Lord’s code on tithing is very simple. It is found in seven verses of Doctrine and Covenants 119, and the entire code on the disposition of tithing is found in the one verse of Doctrine and Covenants 120. He mentioned that he was the oldest living Church employee, having been hired by the Church in 1935 upon returning from his mission. He compared the number of employees and the work of the Church from 1935 to 1994. In 1935, President Heber J. Grant personally dedicated the two new meetinghouses built that year. In 1994, there were requests for 498 new meetinghouses.
On December 1, 1995, I was offered the position of manager of international distribution, a new position created to coordinate distribution worldwide. Church headquarters was taking an increasing role in coordinating distribution internationally among the 45 Church distribution centers. The job would have meant a lot of travel, especially in the first year or two, as I would have had to travel to many of the 45 distribution centers. My job would be to establish a common inventory control system to be used by all the centers, develop ways to coordinate inventories within and among the centers to reduce inventory levels, streamline order processing between centers, reduce backorders, and ensure that customers get the materials they need on time. Many millions of dollars could be saved annually by consolidating inventories and making global decisions on printing and stocking inventories. Ultimately, I decided not to take the job.
From December 3–7, 1985, I traveled to Bogota, Colombia to make final arrangements for the printing of Spanish hardbound books for Latin America and determine how to establish a central stock of Spanish materials to serve the emergency needs of all Spanish distribution centers. We found ways to save on bulk mailing rates for the Church magazine and combine the printing for the five countries. I also evaluated several recording studios in Bogota and found talent and directors that could be used to produce audiovisual products in Bogota rather than in Salt Lake.
Although these work trips were long, and I did not enjoy being away from my family, I was able to perform a good service for the Church and help get better quality materials to the Saints at a lower cost. Travel helped me keep current with what the areas needed from Salt Lake. It helped them gain new ideas as I cross-pollinated ideas and methods I had seen used successfully in other countries.
On July 21, 1994, my director, Kai Andersen, received the following letter from an employee of Mountain Fuel:
Dear Mr. Anderson:
I am writing to express my appreciation to your employee, Larry Richman. A few weeks ago, I was referred to Larry as a possible source for information as we look at coordinating a new referencing numbering system for our company. After returning from vacation, I finally met with Larry this morning and received an overview of the Production Coordination area.
I am amazed that your staff has such a comprehensive plan in place. Nearly every concern and possible challenge we face is already being addressed and clear directions are in place. Larry has shared many innovative ideas and insights that will help us as we begin developing our own system.
It is refreshing to find individuals such as Larry Richman who are capable and willing to help. Thank you for encouraging this attitude in your organization.
Reggie Van Wagoner
Business Office Specialist
Years before, I had worked with Lee Chambers in Correlation to develop a cataloging and numbering system to keep track of all the Church’s publications, videos, websites, and information systems in all languages worldwide. Intelligence was built into the system to be able to sort and filter on the type of item, originating department, and language.
In a meeting on September 7, 1995, Elder Holland conveyed the following to Elder Jack H. Goaslind (our Executive Director) and Ron Knighton (our managing director):
- President Hinckley and President Packer both asked for an earnest effort to be made to redefine the phase lists on the Approved List to enable a more gradual, sequential approval process for authorizing items in approved languages. Elder Holland asked for a preliminary report before October Conference and a final report soon after conference. I responded that we were not working on anything further. Our final proposal had already been submitted.
- Elder Oaks gave commendation in the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to the Curriculum Department staff “for their superb efforts in organizing its analysis of its Approved List items” which he said, “is a double quantum leap ahead in providing clear understanding of the Approved List.” Elder Holland asked that all who have been a part of this work be highly commended for their efforts.
On January 30, 1996, along with other employees, I was recognized with a luncheon and a plaque that read as follows: “In recognition of Larry Richman for your extraordinary effort during 1995 for the Curriculum Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Signed by Jack H. Goaslind, Ronald L. Knight, and Kai A. Andersen. On the back, it read as follows: “Larry has recently worked in developing the recommendations for improving the phase lists. He worked closely with representatives from the Translation Department and the Correlation Department and pulled together the presentation that was enthusiastically received and approved by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. This single improvement will save countless hours of precious translation and production time while helping local leaders and congregations to get only the materials they really need to bring the blessings of the gospel to their lives. He is also working on a plan to simplify the preparation of the annual translation packet, which emphasizes the leadership role of the Area Presidencies in long range planning for translation needs. These accomplishments were done in addition to his constant work keeping our project tracking and information system operational, initiating job ticket instructions, and helping to coordinate Church publications worldwide.”
In 1999 and 2000, we developed the concept for a next-generation project management system to replace TIMS to track Church publications and audiovisual projects. It included adding all the existing products in the distribution center catalog, along with product descriptions and other information. We hired two programmers for two years to code it. We named this custom system PIN (Project Information Network).
In 2000, I helped establish the Church Internet Development Group to manage internet services provided to the Church by M-STAR.
October 27–November 7, 2001, Ron Schwendiman and I made a trip to Germany to implement the PIN system. We installed the program on their computers, provided training, and ensured that the processes were compatible with their local processes. November 29–December 16, 2001, Michael Berry and I traveled to the South Pacific (Sydney, Australia, and Suva, Fiji) to install the PIN system. In September 2002, Frank Armstrong and I traveled through Latin America (Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico) to install the system. In November 2002, Frank Armstrong and Ron Schwendiman traveled to Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines to install the system there.
In the summer of 2002, we vacated the 25th floor of the Church Office Building for a few months while they remodel the floor. We moved to the second floor of the west wing. It took us three full days to move our ten people, computers, office equipment, and 40 file cabinets. Since we then kept track of all the translation projects in the PIN system, we hired part-time workers (including my daughter Jamie) to scan all the Job Tickets from those file cabinets for historical purposes. There was a Job Ticket for each publication and audiovisual item that had been assigned for translation, including the languages and instructions for translation, printing, and distribution.
The Project Coordination division of the Curriculum Department was organized on September 5, 2002. I was named the director of this division, responsible to oversee projects from the mind of the originator to the hand of the user, through the stages of planning, approval, development, production, translation, printing/duplication, and distribution. The intent was to provide better long-range planning, careful coordination, and effective management of Church resources in the development of materials and programs for the Church, including printed, audiovisual, electronic, internet, software, and interactive media projects.
I was also responsible for improvement of the processes and workflows worldwide to increase efficiencies and support the implementation of new technologies used in production processes.
On June 5, 2003, the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, decided that the Curriculum Department would “coordinate the internet activities for the Church.” I was assigned to helped define the vision, principles, governance, and daily operation of the Church internet presence.
I later became the director of LDS.org and other Church web properties. I was responsible for roles, processes, and governance for the development and maintenance of the Church’s suite of websites, including hundreds of domain names, tens of thousands of pages, over a million unique visitors each month, and 10 million page views per month. From 2003–2006, I led the effort to rebuild Church internet sites from the ground up, including new servers, new programming languages, content management software, portal management software, new visual designs, restructured content with simplified navigation, new search tools, and a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Before this time, users could only search content in the Gospel Library. With new search tools, users would be able to search across all Church sites. We defined guidelines for official country websites and by year end, we had 11 country sites online and another 70 under construction.
We proposed this project to the First Presidency (Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust) on June 11, 2004. I was given 3.5 minutes to give the presentation and I asked for $3.5 million. It was approved.
We set up an Internet Content Providers Team with representatives from all Church departments to coordinate content, share best practices, and implement standards Church-wide.
In November 2003, the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve established the Internet, Media, and Technology Coordination Committee (IMTCC), which reported the Priesthood Executive Council. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was the advisor, Elder Monte J. Brough was the chair, Elder W. Rolfe Kerr also attended, and I served as the secretary. Attendees included key managing directors. Subcommittees included the Media Evaluation Committee (led by Correlation Evaluation) to review and evaluate new and existing media products and the Internet Content Providers Team (lead by me) to coordinate and integrate Church Internet content from all sites into a cohesive whole from the user point of view.
The first new site was JosephSmith.net, launched in 2004 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth.
On April 12, 2005, I was a keynote speaker at the three-day DCI Conference on Content Management, Portal, and Collaboration. Ron Schwendiman and I were co-speakers on the topic “Is a Dynamic Multi-lingual Web Presence Possible?” In the presentation, we gave an overview of the scope of the Church’s internet challenges.
On February 14, 2006, I demonstrated the redesigned LDS.org to the Quorum of the Twelve. Later that day, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf sent me an email. He offered a few comments about the site and then said, “Thank you again for a great product, you are ‘awesome’!!! I am looking forward to trying out the beta version. As always, I love and admire you. Best wishes and blessings to you and your team in this difficult but most important task!”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also sent me an email and said the following: “Larry, my compliments on the excellent job you and David did in our meeting this morning. I could only hope to do so well when am up there.” He then offered a few suggestions.
A beta version of the new site was released in March 2006 and the rebuilt and redesigned site was officially launched on January 30, 2007.
On March 25, 2007, the Provo newspaper Daily Herald published an article describing the updates to LDS.org.
One of the major efforts involved creating the Gospel Library with scriptures, magazines, curriculum manuals, and general conference back many years in English and in many languages. This meant doing the following: (1) reformat 80,000 pages in English magazines, manuals, other publications; (2) convert 800,000 pages in 41+ languages into a standard XML format; (3) build tools and transforms to convert XML scriptures, magazines, and curriculum manuals to seven formats for handheld reader devices, including Palm Reader, MS Reader, MarkMyScriptures, Yanceyware, Plucker, iSilo, and Mobipocket; (4) improve the user experience; and (5) link related content and provided additional formats on the menu bar.
We also initiated the official use of social media by the Church. I set up the first Church account on Facebook (Facebook.com/LDS) on April 24, 2008. We made the first post on the Twitter.com/ldschurch account on September 2, 2010. Fernando Camilo set up the Church Google+ page in January 2013 and the first post was on February 2, 2013. By October 2013, we had 28 Facebook pages with over 7.5 million fans. The typical market value of those fans, if the pages had been for commercial purposes, would have been over $1.3 billion.
In 2008, it became obvious that I couldn’t coordinate all the Church internet activity and lead the Publications and Media Project Office. We then created a separate position for a director of LDS.org and hired someone to fill that position, so I could focus all my time on the Project Office.
At that point, Church websites were visited by five million unique visitors a month, who returned on average twice a month (10 million visits) and read 50 million pages a month. We also had 62 functioning country websites.
In 2004, the managing directors of six departments began meeting to simplify and unify the processes and systems for creating print, media, and web projects. The managing directors from Audiovisual, Correlation, Curriculum, Information and Communications Services, Materials Management (translation, printing, distribution), and Physical Facilities (events) met weekly in an Integrated Services Meeting (ISM). I led a team of directors from those six departments to integrate the processes for planning, funding, producing, and implementing products and services. This included the processes for writing, editing, graphic design, translation, printing, distribution, audiovisual production, satellite broadcasting, software development, internet development (programming, infrastructure, information architecture, visual design), and events management (conferences, firesides, training meetings, temple square events, etc.). This team became known as the Integrated Coordination Group (ICG) and it oversaw the creation of common processes and common roles for all types of work, including internet, print, audiovisual, events, and information technology systems.
In January 2005, we added a Customer Relationship Management group to manage the relationships with Church departments.
In 2005, we began to develop standards, processes, and workflow for “single-source publishing”—the concept to author content in a single-source format that could be automatically published in multiple channels. Content included graphics, text, audio, and video. Publishing channels included printed products, web, software, etc.
One outcome of the Integrated Services effort described above was the creation in 2007 of a consolidated project office for Church publications, media, and web publishing. We brought together the program and project managers from the Audiovisual, Curriculum, and Materials Management departments. I co-led the Publications and Media Project Office with Jeff Isom (an Audiovisual Department employee). Later in 2007, we co-located the personnel on the 25th floor.
We managed over 8,000 projects (printed, audiovisual, websites, events, and worldwide satellite broadcasts) per year in up to 185 languages. We coordinated planning, approvals, prioritization, writing, creation, translation, production, printing, and international distribution in 105 offices worldwide. We helped ensure that approved materials were produced using Church production resources at a reasonable cost, on time, with appropriate standards of quality, and with an approved implementation plan. This work impacted nearly 1,000 employees in 95 offices worldwide. We developed and implemented computer-assisted project management systems.
To integrate better between the departments, I began attending the Audiovisual Directors’ Council and Jeff Isom attended the Curriculum Directors’ Council.
We moved the data from the PIN system to the Clarity system and in February we began using Clarity to manage publications projects.
The office was later renamed the Content and Media Project Office. (“Content” referred to both publications and websites.)
In 2008, I participated in the Talent Plus assessment through Human Resources. (See Talent Plus Executive Profile.) It was a battery of tests and a series of interviews, including 360 evaluations designed to determine leadership strengths. It showed my greatest strengths to be the following:
- Makes order out of chaos and drives a job to conclusion. Collaborates with others and creates buy-in.
- Strategic and systematic approaches to outcomes. Results oriented.
- Builds relationships and mentors others. Responsive to individual needs. Adapts to new ideas. His drive motivates others. Makes well-informed and complex decisions.
In August 2008, Elder Jay E. Jensen was called into the Presidency of the Seventy and was released as the Executive Director of the Curriculum Department. He sent me the following letter on August 4, 2008:
As I bring this chapter of my life to close, I look upon it with great fondness and heartfelt appreciation. You always demonstrated absolute loyalty to the Lord, His prophet leaders, and to me as the executive director.
It has been a singular blessing for me to work so closely with you in the last 5 years. I have been blessed and touched by your love, your loyalty and your support. The tasks, projects, and assignments given to you and returned to me (us) have been handled with vision, wisdom, and thoughtfulness, reflecting both the Spirit of the Lord and professional expertise.
Your impact on me and my associates of the Seventy has been uplifting and extremely helpful, resulting in cherished memories. Again, I express to you my love and appreciation. May you continue to be blessed and inspired in the sacred work to which you are assigned.
Kindest personal regards,
Jay E. Jensen
Sometime between February and July 2010, I attended a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve and sat in the seats behind the Brethren as an employee gave a technical presentation about technology and the Gospel Library mobile app. I remember noticing how frail Elder Robert D. Hales was. For many years, he had experienced health problems. He attended the meeting in a wheelchair and used supplemental oxygen. During the discussion, he raised his hand and asked a question and suggested an adjustment in the proposed strategy which presupposed a deep understanding of technology and showed he completely understood the technology being discussed. The technology specialists in the room who had made the proposal immediately noted that his perspective was deeper and more technologically sound than the one they had proposed. I was grateful to have been there to witness an Apostle of the Lord receive revelation. As a man in his 80s and in poor physical health, I underestimated his understanding of both technology and what people in a modern world need. He knew what the Lord wanted.
As the Director of Product Awareness and Evaluation, I was accountable for (1) improving the use of Church materials by increasing awareness of their availability and use, (2) evaluating the effectiveness of products in a timely and meaningful way, and (3) managing the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials.
I was a product marketer responsible for helping members and leaders become more aware of the availability and purpose of Church resources, including publications, audiovisual products, websites, and broadcasts. I helped with the announcement and promotion of new products and programs. I was also responsible to measure the awareness and use of existing products and determine ongoing needs for awareness and further implementation. I was responsible to develop systematic ways to regularly get product information to individuals, families, teachers, and leaders worldwide. In addition to improving the traditional communication channels to leaders and members, my job was to develop creative ways to more effectively use social media to encourage the discovery and sharing of content.
We conducted formative evaluations during the development of new products and summative evaluations at periodic intervals for existing products to determine how well they were being used and how effective they were. This information helped determine when products should be revised or retired.
At the same time, I functioned as the director of the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. I was responsible for refining the guidelines, reviewing and evaluating existing materials, and making recommendations for older items to be discontinued. I also evaluated all new items from Church departments for their proper placement on the phase lists. See the section “Major Projects” for a description of that work.
During this time, we worked on various content delivery strategies. For example, in 2011, we worked with Materials Management to create a road map to expand the use of print-on-demand. The idea was to reduce distribution center inventories of low-volume items. Rather than stock small quantities for long periods, they would maintain no stock and print materials one at a time as they were ordered. We set up the criteria and processes to make that happen.
We also spent significant efforts to begin publishing materials digitally in multiple formats before the materials appeared in print. We set up criteria to determine when to publish in print, digitally, or both.
The following is a list of the Executive Directors of the Priesthood and Family Department:
- 2012: Elder Paul B. Pieper. (I also worked with Elder Christoffel Golden.)
- 2013: Elder Paul B. Pieper. (I also worked with Elders Christoffel Golden and Mervyn B. Arnold.)
- 2014: Elder Christoffel Golden. (I also worked with Elder Mervyn B. Arnold.)
- 2015–2016: Elder Christoffel Golden. (I also worked with Elder Randall K. Bennett.)
- 2017–2018: Elder Donald L. Hallstrom. (I also worked with Elders Randall K. Bennett and Erich W. Kopischke.)
- 2019–2022: Elder Michael T. Ringwood.
On March 27, 2012, the Curriculum Department was consolidated into the Priesthood Department. The editing and design functions of the Curriculum Department were moved to a new Publishing Services Department. The Media Services (Audiovisual) Department and the Translation Division of the Materials Management Department were also consolidated into the Publishing Services Department.
In my role of directing the Product Awareness and Evaluation division, I was the product marketer responsible for helping members and leaders become more aware of the availability and purpose of Church materials (publications, media, websites, and broadcasts).
We assisted in the announcement and promotion of new products and programs. We measured the level of awareness and use of existing products and recommend additional awareness activities and further implementation. We developed systematic ways to regularly get product information to individuals, families, teachers, and leaders worldwide. In addition to improving the traditional communication channels to leaders and members, we developed additional ways to communicate to members and leaders, including using social media. We also ensured that letters and notices from headquarters were sent to unit leaders in a timely and efficient way.
I also directed the work of an evaluation manager who evaluated the effectiveness of PEC programs and materials in achieving their stated objectives. He conducted formative evaluations during the development of new products and summative evaluations at periodic intervals for existing products to determine their use and effectiveness. This information helped determine when products should be revised or retired.
As the Director of Initiative Coordination and Product Management, I was accountable for (1) coordinating departmental efforts to ensure that work was efficiently aligned with initiatives, priorities, and the covenant path of deepening conversion, (2) improving the use of Church materials by increasing awareness of their availability and use, and (3) evaluating the effectiveness of Priesthood Executive Council (PEC) products and program in a timely and meaningful way.
Examples of the projects we assisted in promoting included the live Face to Face event with David Archuleta on June 24, 2014 (see pictures) and the November 2014, live Face to Face event with Lindsey Stirling.
On June 23, 2015, Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, Lee Gibbons, and I spent the day at the Harvard Business School in Boston with Clayton Christensen and his wife to discuss ways to encourage members to share the gospel. We wanted to learn from all the research, understanding, and experience that Clayton and his wife have in encouraging member missionary work. He wrote the book Everyday Missionaries. (See photo photo.)
The Priesthood and Family Department was organized in two main divisions—the “church” division and the “home division. (See chart.) I was the director of the efforts around the organizational “church” and another director focused on “home” efforts.
As the Director of the Priesthood and Auxiliary Division, I was accountable for directing the Church-focused programs and products in the Priesthood and Family Department, such as Sunday and weekday programs for adults, youth, and children as well as leader training and tools.
On August 19, 2015, the Priesthood Executive Council (PEC) was renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC).
In September 2015, I began working with Elder Randall K. Bennett, one of the Executive Directors of the Priesthood and Family Department. We really clicked because we have similar management styles.
In November 2015, as part of my annual review with my managing director, I was asked to prayerfully reflect on my strengths and determine how to build on those strengths. The following is what I wrote:
On January 22, 2016, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland issued a letter stating that our managing director, David T. Warner, had been transferred out of our department to a new position to provide “consulting and creative services” to Church departments, Area Presidencies, and Church-affiliated organizations. David started the consulting firm WarnerBoothe with Ross Boothe. On February 24, 2016, Peter Evans became the managing director of the Priesthood and Family Department. The assignment letter stated that “Brother Evans has had significant leadership experience at the Church over the past eight years, most recently serving as the director of product management for the Self-Reliance Services Department. Prior to joining Church employment, Brother Evans was owner and president of Evans Communications, a company that specialized in publishing magazines and other collateral material for large corporate clients and professional associations.”
I managed several cross-departmental working groups on the following topics: abuse, corrections, disabilities, LGBT, mental health, pornography, safe media use, and suicide. (Also see “Life Help” in the “Major Projects” section.) Elder Randall K. Bennett was my advisor and I really enjoyed working with him. He and I had much the same management style and we complemented each other very well.
I was in awe at the scope of our work in the Priesthood and Family Department, but also took delight in it. I was grateful to be a part of it. Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland both commented about the scope of the work of the PFEC, saying that if it’s not family history, missionary, or temple, it falls in the PFEC. The scope included some of the greatest challenges in the Church.
In a meeting with Elder Holland in August 2016, he recounted the advice that President Monson gave him when he called Elder Holland as a General Authority: “Be yourself—but be your best self—and give all the credit to God.”
November 4, 2016 was to be a typical department devotional with our six Executive Directors (Elders Golden, Lawrence, Sitati, Bennett, Curtis, and Kopischke). Elder Kopischke was scheduled to speak, but at the last minute, the Apostles from the PFEC (Elders Holland, Christofferson, and Rasband) decided to come and give us a special message. They each spoke to us, and their messages were to genuinely thank us for all we do. Elder Holland, especially, was always so personable and loving. With tears in his eyes, and with a halting voice, he expressed his sincere love. For them to come at the last minute and stay the entire hour was special. Every minute of their days, nights, and weekends are tightly scheduled. At the end of the meeting, they asked for everyone to file by them for a handshake. Elder Holland gave me a hug and thanked me.
On January 25, 2017, Richard Heaton was named the managing director of the Priesthood and Family Department. For the previous 14 years, he was the administrative director of the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Elder Erich W. Kopischke was the advisor to our Priesthood and Auxiliary Division. We held weekly coordination meetings with Elder Kopischke and five other staff members to coordinate Aaronic Priesthood, Melchizedek Priesthood, and Relief Society work. Those coordination meetings were strategic meetings to identify the issues we needed to address and to plan the agendas of two key twice-monthly meetings. This kind of strategic planning with an executive subset of participants was very helpful so that the larger meetings could be more focused and effective.
- The Priesthood and Auxiliary Advisory Committee consisted of the five General Auxiliary Presidencies (Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, Young Men, and Sunday School) and a few key staff. Its purpose was to better coordinate the work of the auxiliaries and help them better achieve their purposes
- The Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Coordination Meeting addressed needs specific to elders quorums and Relief Societies, such as ministering.
On May 30, 2017, I attended the pre-PFEC meeting in Elder Holland’s office, along with Elders Christofferson, Rasband, and Golden; Bishop Caussé; Sister Bingham; and others. We discussed last-minute plans for the presentation to the First Presidency Leadership Meeting (including the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Presidency of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric) tomorrow. At the beginning of the meeting, Elder Holland offered the prayer. It was an amazing experience to be there as he thanked God in humility for the restored Gospel and for living in the greatest time in the history of the world. He prayed for inspiration and guidance in the matters we were about to discuss. I counted it a blessing and privilege to be involved in a small way in the great work that was going forward.
I walked back from the Church Administration Building to my office in the Church Office Building with an employee who was also in that meeting. He was new to the department, and said, “In all the years you’ve worked here, do you get to the point where you take it for granted that you just met with Apostles?” I responded, “No. If anything, I have a renewed appreciation for the marvelous opportunity it is. I hope I never get to the point where I take it for granted.” I always got chills when I entered the Church Administration Building. It was holy ground.
On November 16, 2017, I was invited into a meeting of the Communications Services Committee (CSC) to make a presentation on overall messaging for the Church. The previous week, we had given a brief presentation to the Quorum of the Twelve regarding major initiatives from the Priesthood and Family Executive Council that were anticipated to be implemented or announced in the first half of 2018. We also recommended that a unifying messaging effort be considered to bring needed context to these initiatives so they could be seen by members and leaders as complementary to a spiritual purpose and not as disjointed programs. The unifying message was to center our lives on the Savior and His gospel by focusing on the essential.
At the beginning of the meeting, Elder David A. Bednar (the chairman of the CSC) paused and said, [paraphrased] “Now, Larry. We have been friends for a long time. We have worked together for years in the Priesthood Executive Council, and we can talk candidly with each other. The groundwork we lay here establishing a framework for basic messaging in the Church will affect the next three presidents of the Church. We need to make sure we do this right.”
That week, I had the privilege of being involved in five presentations either to individual members of the Quorum of the Twelve or to the full Quorum of the Twelve. Earlier that week, I had the thought that it had “been a week from hell” because of the quick pace of it, the back-to-back meeting schedule, and the quick turn-around of some of the assignments I had. However, as soon as I had the thought, I was immediately rebuked by the Spirit, with the thought “Don’t feel that way! You are blessed to be involved in so many important matters of the kingdom.” I immediately repented.
At that time, I had been involved in many projects that had an important impact on the Church. For example:
- Priests and Young Women participation in temple baptisms. Priests authorized to perform and witness baptisms for the dead and young women to record baptisms and confirmations and assist in other tasks in the baptistry.
- Come, Follow Me ̶ for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society. Beginning in 2018, Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings had a new focus. The first Sunday of each month was a council session about local responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges and making plans to act. The next two weeks focused on messages from general conference. The fourth Sunday was a study of a special topic chosen by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- Light the World Christmas Celebration for 2017.
- Changes in Missionary Work. A standard set of interview questions for prospective missionaries and a new process for members to submit referrals so that they can communicate with the missionaries and be involved in the contacting and teaching of their friends.
- Easter Initiative “Prince of Peace.”
The following was my journal entry on January 30, 2018:
I can’t believe how busy my day was today. At 8:00 a.m., we met with the Quorum of the Twelve for 45 minutes about the home and visiting teaching and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums project. We then scrambled to make updates to the presentation documents to review by our six Executive Directors at 10:00 a.m. From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., our project team met to update the documents for Elder Hallstrom to review at 1:30 p.m., then another round of updates to get to members of the PFEC by end of day so they could review them and give us feedback at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.
In the meeting with Elder Hallstrom at 1:30 p.m., Richard Heaton made a comment something like “when we met with the Quorum of the Twelve the other day…” When I mentioned that it had been just that morning, he exclaimed “I can’t believe that was just this morning!” My thoughts exactly. These weeks have been very busy, but also very rewarding to work so closely with General Authorities on important work.
In the April 2018 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson said the following: “Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory.” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” April 2018) I testify that it is His work and He influenced us as employees in the Priesthood and Family Department to do some of his work. And I had a front-row seat!
On November 27, 2018, at the request of Sister Sharon Eubank (counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency and director of Humanitarian Services), Elder Kopischke and I gave a skills presentation to key leaders in the welfare department on how to manage meetings. Sister Eubank had been impressed with how Elder Kopischke and I plan and run meetings, such as the Priesthood and Auxiliary Advisory Committee.
The following are some of the key points we made in that presentation. In meetings with General Authorities and General Auxiliary Presidencies, you must respect them and their time. (I attend 3.5 hours of meetings a week with Apostles and another four hours of meetings with General Authorities.) There is a fine balance in knowing how much to prepare for a structured meeting and how much to just let the Spirit guide. If you structure it too much, you may miss their direction as called and set-apart leaders. But you still must plan the meeting ̶ in fact, you must prepare even more. Hence the art and science of leading meetings. The science involves carefully planning and scheduling agenda items in advance. A meeting without a plan ̶ a specific purpose ̶ can end in chaos. It can lead further away from the purpose rather than achieving your purpose. You must plan the purpose, but the caution is not to expect a particular outcome, because you want the Spirit to guide and direct the discussion.
It is important to anticipate when you need certain decisions and plan when you need to begin discussions ̶ knowing that sometimes you may need several meetings with time in between for the participants to discuss with others, pray about it, and determine the appropriate course of action and then come back to make a decision. You cannot always expect a decision to be reached in a specific meeting ̶ especially when you ask for strategic direction. So, have a master plan in place to know where you need to head and how early you need to begin specific discussions.
We met weekly with Elder Kopischke to plan the meetings with the General Auxiliary Presidencies. We talked about the agenda items and what we wanted to accomplish in each meeting. Then the staff came to the meetings prepared with well-crafted statements of the issues, as well as options. This helped get the discussion going.
We then followed typical meeting management protocols, with agendas sent to participants in advance of each meeting, a printed copy placed at each seat, and a person taking notes on the screen to help people track the meeting discussions and decisions. Then, we sent the notes or minutes from the meeting very soon after the meeting. The sooner participants could read the minutes and follow-up items, the more likely they were to read them and act. We wanted to keep the momentum of the current thought and spirit that was working on the participants.
The following are notes from Elder Kopischke’s teachings:
- Create an agenda and set a time limit. Great meetings end on time, and they end with clarity. He quoted Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.” (“Of Things That Matter Most“)
- Allow open discussion. “Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:122) “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22) A key principle is that everyone speaks, and the most senior person speaks last.
- Transform ideas into tasks. What is to be done? Therefore, what? What are we learning?
- Assign work during the meeting and follow up. “One of the best ways to help people make and keep commitments is to extend an invitation. Extending and following up on invitations is vital. (Preach My Gospel, 196). “Extending an invitation without following up is like beginning a journey without finishing it or buying a ticket to a concert without going into the theater. Without the completed action, the commitment is hollow.” (Preach My Gospel, 200).
After the meeting, I received the following thank-you letter signed by each of the attendees.
As a Humanitarian and Emergency Response working group, we extend our collective gratitude for your willingness to share your time and experiences with us today. As we talked afterward, each of us took away concrete principles we can put into practice to be more effective in our councils and counzels [a German reference Elder Kopischke made]!
Your co-presentation with Elder Kopischke was a perfect demonstration of the collaboration you taught us about. The two of you masterfully demonstrated the five principles and inspired us to be better. You were both generous to accept an invitation such as this and we appreciate your teaching and kindness. We feel a close collaboration with the Priesthood and Family Department and look forward to doing more together next year—with extremely productive meetings!
On January 29, 2019, I had my annual Accountability and Talent Improvement (ATI) review with Richard Heaton. Before Richard became the managing director of the Priesthood and Family Department, we had only interacted once or twice over the many years that he was the administrative director of the Missionary Training Center. Therefore, when he became our managing director, we had to develop a relationship. It did not take long because he was very easy to get along with. He facilitated but did not micromanage. He also respected my experience and was complementary of my work. He commented that he had never worked with anyone who had more connections and knew how to solve problems in the Church organization better than I did. He expressed his appreciation for how efficient and productive I was.
I also expressed how grateful I was for him. He gave me the freedom to get things done and got me the access I needed. Richard was productive, efficient, and very helpful to me to keep things moving and provide the support I needed. We made a wonderful team.
Our work with Elder Kopischke ended in June 2019, when he was assigned to the Europe Area Presidency. In our last formal meeting with Elder Kopischke and the Priesthood and Auxiliary Advisory Committee, I took the following the notes about the things that the General Auxiliary Presidencies said in complimenting Elder Kopischke:
- He showed us how to counsel together. At the end of counseling, we always came up with an action plan.
- He created an atmosphere where we could bring up any topic without fear. He helped us think outside the box and ask, “Why not?”
- He looked for the positive. His humor helped us see what was practical.
- We appreciated the German lessons. He brought his experiences and culture to the discussion.
- He always pointed us to the Savior (see Doctrine and Covenants 108:7).
- Revelation and inspiration superseded what we perceived as set in stone.
- We knew he had a relationship with us and that he cared about us.
After sending these notes to Elder Kopischke, he sent me the following email: “Larry, Thank you as always…. One thing is clear… none of these meetings would have been what they have been without your careful watching, supervising, and guiding the agenda. Thanks to you and the team of the Priesthood and Curriculum Divisions. With much love. Erich”
Elder Donald L. Hallstrom was released as our Executive Director and became an emeritus General Authority at the October general conference. In August 2019, Elder Michael T. Ringwood became our Executive Director.
On February 5, 2020, I enjoyed an amazing meeting of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. A double quartet came in to sing five or six new hymns planned for the new hymnbook. One of them was the song “You Are Mine.” It was a touching song, both in melody and in the simplicity of the message. I was grateful to sit there and watch the tears well up in the eyes of the three Apostles in front of me as they listened to it for the first time.
In a meeting on March 13, 2020, with Richard Heaton and Elder Hallstrom, they discussed the upcoming general conference and the confidential events that would happen. When my name was brought up as one who perhaps could be brought into the circle of confidentiality, Elder Hallstrom said “I’d trust Larry Richman with my life.”
No visitors were allowed at general conference in October and conference was not broadcast to meetinghouses because of the coronavirus pandemic. Members participated via television, radio, the internet, and other technologies.
At the April general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced a new symbol to represent the Church. This new symbol communicated to the world that this was the Savior’s Church and that all we do centers on Him and His gospel. The new symbol and adjustment in the logotype of the name of the Church was a confidential project we had worked on for months.
Rather than a traditional priesthood session or Relief Society session, the Saturday evening session of general conference was a special session to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the events that began the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See “Restoration Commemoration 2020” in the section “Major Projects.”) Invited were all holders of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood and all members of the Young Women and Relief Society.
A portion of the Sunday morning session of general conference on April 5, 2020, was a worldwide solemn assembly, including the Hosanna Shout. The Hosanna Shout was first performed as a ritual at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and was a part of the Kirtland endowment ceremony. It was performed at the dedication of temples and only at a few other sacred times outside the temple. The last time it was performed outside the temple was 20 years ago at the dedication of the Conference Center. April 4, 2020 was the first time in history to have a “worldwide solemn assembly” with people participating worldwide at the same time.
President Nelson spoke about the challenges in the world today and commended us to continue forward. Regardless of world conditions, we can always have the power of God to bless us. During his talk, President Nelson read the proclamation, “The Restoration of the Fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.” It was in the form of a video that President Nelson recorded in the Sacred Grove.
I felt that we were really blessed to be alive during the last days. What a blessing to be permitted to witness events of the last days, such as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, earthquakes, a general conference that was delivered only digitally (with no in-person attendees), and many other things that would yet come to pass. We knew that many events before the Savior’s Second Coming would be difficult. But what a privilege to be able to witness all this first-hand!
During the final several years of my employment, I was given increasingly more high-profile assignments. Elder Michael T. Ringwood and Richard Heaton asked Elder Quentin L. Cook if I could be a regular participant in the department Executive Directors’ Meetings (EDM) and in the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) meetings. My purpose for being there was to understand better all the initiatives and projects so I could follow-up on next steps after the meetings. My role was to ensure that various people in the department—and in other departments—collaborated for a comprehensive solution. I took action notes and immediately sent emails to various people with follow-up assignments. Although I was not an “official” member of the EDM or the PFEC, they honestly sought my input and asked me to vote on every item.
- The Executive Directors’ Meetings (EDM) were twice-weekly meetings with Elder Ringwood, the Assistant Executive Directors, and the presidents of the five General Organizations.
- The weekly pre-PFEC meetings were strategic meetings to identify the issues we needed to address in the PFEC meetings. We planned the PFEC agendas and had informal discussions to raise potential issues so that we were prepared for the formal discussions in the PFEC meetings. Attending were Elders Quentin L. Cook, Gerrit W. Gong, Ulisses Soares, and Elder Michael T. Ringwood; Bishop Gérald Caussé; Sister Jean B. Bingham, Richard Heaton, and Cory Maxwell (secretary to the PFEC).
- The Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) was a weekly Executive Council meeting. There are three Executive Councils in the Church that operate under the authority of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, Missionary Executive Council, and Temple and Family History Executive Council. Each Executive Council is led by two or three Apostles. The PFEC consisted of three Apostles (Elders Quentin L. Cook, Gerrit W. Gong, and Ulisses Soares), the Presiding Bishop (Bishop Gérald Caussé), a member of the Presidency of the Seventy (Elder Carl B. Cook), the Relief Society General President (Sister Jean B. Bingham), a counselor in the Young Women General Presidency (Sister Becky Craven), the Executive Director of the Priesthood and Family Department (Elder Michael T. Ringwood), and the managing director of the Priesthood and Family Department (Richard Heaton).
On June 29, 2020, adjustments were announced to the Priesthood and Family Department’s organizational structure. My new role was Director of Communications and Messaging. I wrote the job description for it about ten years prior to that and had been pressing the department in the direction of doing more with the announcement, implementation, and ongoing messaging of Church programs and products. The job was partly integrated with the Church Communication Department (CCD), such that I was a de facto director in that department as well. I attended the directors’ meetings and Executive Director meetings in both departments.
On August 1, 2020, some General Authority assignments changed in the PFEC and among the Executive Directors in the department. Elders Quentin L. Cook, Gerrit W. Gong, and Ulisses Soares were assigned to the PFEC. On August 1, 2021, Elders Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Dale G. Renlund were assigned to the PFEC.
On September 28, 2021, the Communications and Messaging Division was merged with the Covenant Path division in the Priesthood and Family Department. I was named as the director of the new Communications and Covenant Path division, with the purpose of integrating communications and implementation. The objective of the Covenant Path division was to identify ways to help members progress along the covenant path. It carefully monitored key metrics of member participation in each of the Church’s areas. It also provided area support managers to work with Area Presidencies to adapt and implement programs and products in a way to better meet the needs of areas. Michael Magleby was named the manager of the Covenant Path group.
This section describes a few of the major project assignments I had as a Church employee. On April 30, 2020, I had a two-hour interview with Matt Heiss, a historian from the Church History Department. His purpose was to capture historical information about some of the recent changes that President Nelson had implemented during his time as President of the Church and my involvement in those efforts. It was an interesting chance to reflect on some of the amazing experiences I had to work with Church leaders on these important initiatives. (See Historical Timeline Ministering Sabbath MPQ.docx.)
In recent years, the Church had done much to help strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In retrospect, I see the progression of various initiatives and how each one prepared us for the next. These were all carefully orchestrated by the Master in a logical progression. (See Interlocking Patterns, the article “Revelation Guided ‘an Interlocking Pattern of Strength’ That Now Sustains the Church during COVID-19, Elder Cook Says,’ and “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ,” David A. Bednar, general conference October 2018.)
Below is a list of the major changes in the Church announced in 2018 and implemented through 2019 that I had the privilege of helping with. I felt grateful to have a front-row seat to witness these steps in the continued restoration of the gospel.
- Ministering replacing home teaching and visiting teaching.
- Combining of high priests and elders into a single Melchizedek Priesthood quorum. Restructuring high priest groups in stakes.
- Discontinuing scouting and the introduction of a new program for children and youth. (Scouting for young men 14+ was discontinued in 2018 and all scouting was discontinued in 2019.)
- Hymnbook and the Children’s Songbook to be revised.
- Changes in Sunday meeting schedule beginning in January 2019.
- Home-centered Church-supported gospel study (new Come, Follow Me curriculum in 2019).
- Refocus on the full the Name of the Church (including new guidelines on the use of the terms Mormon and LDS).
- Increased responsibilities of elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies.
- Age-group progression. Young men and young women began to progress as groups at the beginning of January in the year they turned 12, 14, and 16. Young men were eligible for ordination to the appropriate priesthood office in January of the year they turned 12, 14, and 16. Young women and ordained young men were eligible for limited-use temple recommends in January of the year they turned 12.
On February 18, 2005, I received a letter from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland inviting me to serve on a task committee to consider “measures to combat the increasingly devastating challenge of pornography in our communities and in the lives of some of our members.” The committee was directed by Elder Stephen B. Oveson, an Executive Director of the Priesthood Department. The chairman was Fred M. Riley, Commissioner of LDS Family Services. A key focus of the committee’s work was to recommend and prepare resources to help prevent the use of pornography and to overcome its negative effects on individuals and families wherever it had a beginning. The committee also produced materials for leaders and members and recommended ways to coordinate the efforts of Church departments with community organizations. We accomplished the following:
- Wrote a booklet for members and another for bishops. The first version of the booklet for members was not published by the Church but was offered to another organization to publish. It included practical ways to avoid and overcome pornography. The second version of the booklet was published in November 2005 as Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts. The booklet for bishops, Helping Those Who Struggle with Pornography, For Bishops, had the same content, plus an introduction for bishops.
- Developed a training presentation for stake presidents and bishops.
- Prepared content for the CombatingPornography.org website. The site was updated in June 2013 and renamed Addressing Pornography.
- Coordinated with community organizations that shared similar values and concerns regarding pornography use.
- Identified places to address pornography in curriculum lessons and magazines.
I continued working on the committee and attending biweekly meetings through the end of 2008. (Also see the section “Life Help: Pornography.”)
Over the next several months, COVID-19 spread from China to most of the world. To slow the spread of the virus, countries closed their borders to outside travelers. Gatherings of people were limited, and we had to wear face masks and keep a physical distance from each other. Stores still had food, but popular items, such as bottled water, toilet paper, and disinfectants sold out quickly. Restaurants closed, and fast-food restaurants only served at drive-throughs. After being at all-time highs on February 19, the stock market crashed in March, and the economy was nearly in recession.
Medical workers and first responders put their own health at risk to help others. Schoolteachers Zoomed lessons into homes. School coaches lead virtual exercise sessions for families. Artists and musicians freely shared messages of hope, although their own careers had been upended. And neighbors even gave each other spare rolls of toilet paper.
Meetings. On March 11, 2020, the First Presidency announced that all large gatherings of Church members were suspended in areas where the coronavirus was a challenge, including Asia, Asia North, Europe, Europe East, and all areas in the United States and Canada. The Church eventually suspended all meetings worldwide and bishops authorized priesthood holders to administer the sacrament in their homes.
Over time, Area Presidencies began authorizing some meetings and activities to resume on a limited basis using a careful, phased approach. For a while, second-hour meetings were held virtually using Zoom. When Primary could not meet physically, some parents began to understand in a more complete way that parents have the responsibility to teach the gospel to their children.
Temples. Beginning March 16, 2020, the First Presidency announced temporary adjustments in temple work worldwide, limiting ordinances, limiting guests, and providing ordinances by appointment only. Later, all temples were closed. Many members responded to President Nelson’s charge to gather Israel on both sides of the veil by stepping up the pace of indexing and preparing temple names so that when temples reopened for proxy work, ordinances could be performed at an accelerated pace. In May 2020, the First Presidency began a phased reopening of temples for living ordinances.
Missionaries. Missionaries in many parts of the world were reassigned to other countries, released early and returned home, or self-quarantined in their apartments. It caused them to think and pray to find new, creative ways of doing missionary work—that, by the way, were remarkably successful.
Schools. Over the next many months, schools were closed, reopened, and closed again. Many students began learning at home or in online classes.
Businesses. Many businesses closed and either went out of business or learned to adapt—in many cases with employees working from home.
Health. People suffered when loved ones died from the effects of COVID. Others got sick but recovered completely. And others recovered but had lasting damaged to their heart or lungs or had a long-term loss of the sense of smell or taste.
Communications. We were extremely busy at work tracking and communicating all the changes through letters, notices, emails, social media posts, and news articles. As the director of communications in the Priesthood and Family Department, I was involved in coordinating all these communications. I maintained an official list of changes, which grew to five pages. I constantly updated the list of frequently asked questions (sometimes, multiple times a day) and sent it to scores of key people in multiple departments to arm them with references to answer phone calls. The versions of my FAQ document numbered into the 30s.
I helped draft some of the official letters and documents, using various documents written by the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These documents outlined ways the Church would carry forward God’s essential work when world conditions limit our ability to meet physically or when other functions are temporarily limited because of earthquakes, wars, famine, pestilence, or plagues.
On March 14, 2020, President Russell M. Nelson published a special video message to reassure members. By then, most Church employees were working from home. Working from home continued for the next two years.
We had a team of people review our messages to be sure we appropriately addressed the emotional needs of members. We determined that the term “social distancing” was unintentionally sending the wrong message. We needed “physical distancing” but “social connection.” Messaging included how to minister while maintaining physical distance. Later research showed that the experiences during the pandemic helped elevate in members’ minds the importance of ministering.
See a summary of coronavirus events in this Deseret News story. See my article “27 Ways the Church is Prepared for the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Earthquake. On top of the concern about the coronavirus, on March 18 at 7:09 a.m., a 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit the Salt Lake Valley. The epicenter was about 5.5 miles north of our home. Our house suffered no damage, except that some things fell off shelves and the large picture on the shelf above my desk fell and broke a few things on my desk. My daughter Hailee and her children Leo and Mila were spending the night with us, and they were scared. There were about 90 aftershocks during the day, which worried them. The electricity came back on about noon. It reminded us that man is nothing compared with the forces of nature. It reminded us that God is in control and that this life is the time to prepare to meet Him.
It made me think about the Guatemala earthquake of 1976. I was planning to go to work on March 18 but had not yet left the house when the earthquake hit. I texted David Frischknecht “Happy earthquake day!” (Every year on February 4, we exchanged “Happy Earthquake Day” texts or emails, in commemoration of the Guatemalan earthquake of 1976.) He texted back, “I was thinking about you as I crawled under my desk, in following earthquake protocol. And since. Thanks for the note.” (Read about my experiences in the Guatemalan earthquake of 1976 at larryrichman.org/guatemala-earthquake-1976.)
On October 2, 2020, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced that he had contracted COVID-19 and went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
On November 15, 2020, I gave a talk in stake conference titled “What Will You Tell Your Grandchildren?” It summarized some of my perspectives about the pandemic.
On November 20, 2020, President Nelson issued to the world a special message, “The Healing Power of Gratitude.” See the section, “President Nelson’s Video ‘The Healing Power of Gratitude.’”
In March 2021, Teri and I received the COVID-19 vaccinations. Many people did not trust the vaccinations for the same reason that politics got in the way of wearing face masks. In June, we went back to full Church meetings in the two-hour block with social distancing. Meetings in our stake did not return to normal until 2022.
On February 19, 2020, the First Presidency released a new General Handbook. It was the culmination of several years’ work, and a year of intensive work by our team working on adjustments to many policies and rewriting them all in a simpler and more Christlike voice.
Correlation led the effort to restructure the Church handbooks to change the tone and level of detail. The effort included a review of all the policies and procedures in the current Handbook 1 and Handbook 2. Correlation requested feedback from General Authorities and many stake and ward leaders about things they found helpful and not helpful in the handbooks, including suggestions for changes in policies.
One of my employees, Jenifer Greenwood, was a major contributor on the team that rewrote Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 to become the new General Handbook that was released on February 19, 2020. The rest of our team assisted in drafting many of the policies that were revised as part of the new handbook. Chapter 38, “Church Policies and Guidelines,” included policies and procedures on a variety of moral issues. Some policies were new, some were updated, and others were updated months later. These moral policies included abortion, abuse, artificial insemination, birth control, child pornography, incest, in vitro fertilization, same-sex marriages, sex education, sexual abuse, single expectant parents, sperm donation, suicide, surgical sterilization, surrogate motherhood, same-sex attraction, and a new entry on transgender.
The handbook was rewritten in a ministerial tone in the Savior’s voice. Terminology was changed to better reflect the intent of some Church actions. For example, disciplinary councils were changed to membership councils. The terms disfellowshipment and excommunication were reframed in terms of membership restrictions and withdrawal of membership.
The Gospel Topics were created as a comprehensive resource to provide doctrinal explanations about gospel-related topics. To provide concise information about basic gospel subjects, in 2005, we began creating the Gospel Topics section on LDS.org and later published it on the Gospel Library app. Its purpose was to help Church members and other truth seekers know what the Church taught about specific principles, Church history events, and social or moral issues. Each Gospel Topic included an overview and links to helpful learning resources. We translated the Gospel Topics into many languages, and it served as a core resource for personal study and was increasingly used for curriculum. As curriculum materials became more condensed, teaching guides directed teachers to find doctrinal explanations in general conference talks, magazine articles, and Gospel Topics. The Gospel Topics received full ecclesiastical review and were considered official statements on the topics.
A team led by Church History wrote 11 longer essays on sensitive topics that were included in Gospel Topics.
Soon after the Translation Department was created from the Materials Management Department, the managing directors of several departments began meeting to coordinate issues, processes, and work associated with the Church publishing system. In 2002, we began developing common processes for printed, audiovisual, and information technology projects. In 2004, the Integrated Services Meeting (ISM) consisted of the managing directors of the following six departments: Audiovisual, Correlation, Curriculum, Information and Communications Services, Materials Management (translation, printing, distribution), and Physical Facilities (events).
I led a team of directors known as the Integrated Coordination Group (ICG) from those six departments to integrate the processes for planning, funding, producing, and implementing products and services. This included common processes for writing, editing, graphic design, translation, printing, distribution, audiovisual production, satellite broadcasting, software development, internet development (programming, infrastructure, information architecture, visual design), and events management (conferences, firesides, training meetings, temple square events, etc.).
In 2005, we began to develop standards, processes, and workflows for single-source publishing—the concept to author content in a single-source format that could be automatically published in multiple channels. Content included graphics, text, audio, video, and composed documents. Publishing channels included printed products, web, software, etc.
Official letters and notices. For most of the time I worked for the Curriculum and the Priesthood and Family Departments, I was responsible for coordinating the official letters and notices sent from headquarters to stake and ward leaders. That included the following:
- The process of sending the following to stake and ward leaders: (1) official letters from the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric, and (2) notices from headquarters departments. This included ensuring that the 200–225 official letters and notices per year were properly approved, assigned for translation into 50 languages, formatted in each language, and sent to stake and ward leaders in a timely manner.
- In about 2004, we implemented a system to send the letters and notices to leaders by email, in addition to sending printed letters and notices by postal mail.
- We created the Official Communication Library (OCL), which was an archive of the official letters and notices sent from headquarters to Church leaders and the system that sent email notifications to leaders when there was a new letter or notice posted in the library.
- In early 2017, we discontinued sending printed letters and notices by postal mail. This reduced delivery time worldwide from 8 weeks to 1 day and saved the cost of printing and mailing.
- On February 17, 2021, we launched a major upgrade of the system, including a new database and new email servers. It also automated the formatting of letters, notices, and enclosures, eliminating the need to create InDesign templates and manually format every language translation using InDesign. The system automatically generated XML text strings and routed them to translation. The translations were automatically formatted as a PDF and translators were able to review and approve the formatting. This reduced manual processes, ensured consistent formatting, and reduced the turn-around time for preparing letters and notices in languages. It enabled us to initiate a new policy to send English and languages at the same time so that leaders worldwide would receive the communications
- For years, I reviewed and made suggestions on letters and notices before they were formally reviewed and approved by the Communications Review Committee (CRC). In about August 2020, I became a formal member of the CRC to review letters, notices, newsletters, emails, and other communications from headquarters.
Church News and Events. This section of LDS.org provided about 900 news articles a year for members. (This was separate from the Church News published by the Deseret News.) It also included the events section with pages for each major event and event entries on the worldwide calendar at calendar.LDS.org (which later became calendar.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). In 2020, we consolidated news on newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and discontinued the Church News and Events site.
Prophets and Apostles Speak Today. This section of the Church website provided biographies of General Authorities and General Officers along with news reports about the ministry of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It published talks by Church leaders in venues outside of general conference. When CCD and Church News began reporting more of the ministry of Church leaders, there was less need for the separate Prophets and Apostles section, so we moved the official biographies to the Newsroom site and deprecated the Prophets and Apostles Speak Today site in 2021.
I directed the Priesthood and Auxiliary Division, which was responsible for the development of training resources and tools for stake and ward leaders. Since local leaders turn over frequently, ongoing training was critical to helping them understand their responsibilities and function in a worldwide Church. (Also see “My Calling” in this section.)
For several years, I coordinated Church efforts to address issues that members face for which there was a chronic need that requires acute attention. The efforts were referred to as Special Topics, and then later Life Help. It included topics such as abuse, pornography, same-sex attraction, transgender, mental and emotional health, suicide, safe media use, disabilities, and correctional services (later renamed prison ministry). The objective was to consider Church policies, guidelines, content, messaging plans, and other resources in a right-sized approach for what the Church could and should do for each issue. Our task was to ensure that all Church departments delivered a unified message on each topic. Our objective was that members who faced these challenges would feel included in the Church community, discover God’s plan for them, and feel inspired to grow in the gospel.
We put in place structure to address each of these topics, including the following:
- A Special Topics Steering Committee made up of the General Officers (the general presidents of the Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, Young Men, and Sunday School) and the managing directors of most Church departments.
- Nine cross-departmental working groups were formed to identify needs and develop plans and resources for each topic, including policies, guidelines, content, and messaging plans. Audiences included (1) individuals who experience these life challenges; (2) parents, families, and friends; and (3) Church leaders. I lead most of the working groups until May 4, 2019, when we hired Sheldon Martin to manage these efforts.
Sheldon was uniquely qualified to lead this effort. I had a lot of respect for him because of his preparation (institute teacher, Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, and licensed therapist), but also because of the humble and open way he approached the work. In an email to me October 11, 2019, about some routine matters, Sheldon said the following, “I truly love working for you. I have never been more professionally fulfilled in all my life. I have never enjoyed working for someone more than I enjoy working for you. Thanks, Larry.”
With the reorganization of the Priesthood and Family Department in June 2020, I no longer was directly responsible for the Life Help topics but was still involved in communicating the messages from that team.
We updated resources (some of which were more than 20 years old), working with Welfare Services, Church Communication Department, Risk Management, and the Office of General Counsel. We published consolidated resources on a website at abuse.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, and expanded the scope to address spouse abuse and elderly abuse. In August 2019, we developed “Protecting Children and Youth” training for leaders who work with youth and children. This was the first leader training in the Church that was mandatory. We set up a system to track whether individuals in callings with youth and children had taken the training and provided reports to bishops so they could follow up. We also updated the guidelines for interviewing youth and updated policies in the General Handbook.
For many years, I directed the work of the disabilities office. A staff of 2–4 people created resources and provided support and subject matter expertise to bless members with disabilities. Over the years, we revised many policies in the General Handbook to make Church programs and ordinances more accessible to members with disabilities. We published information about systems and equipment in meetinghouses and temples to assist those who are hard of hearing. In March 2020, we published guidelines for safely administering the sacrament to avoid cross-contamination for people with food allergies and gluten intolerances. It was opportune to have that policy in place before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2020, we developed a policy about the use of service animals and comfort pets in Church facilities. We also developed guidelines for activity programs for members with disabilities.
People with disabilities hold a special place in my heart. The following is from my journal dated September 25, 2016:
Today, we attended the Riverton 6th Ward, where my son’s children participated in the annual children’s sacrament meeting program. In addition to enjoying them participate so energetically, I witnessed a quiet and sacred experience. One of the members of the congregation (probably in his mid-twenties) was confined to a wheelchair. A neuro-muscular disease had robbed him nearly completely of the control of his body. He could only communicate with groans and sounds.
His father assisted him in passing the sacrament. I watched this father’s every movement, as he pushed his son’s wheelchair to the sacrament table and then stood by his side, reverently and resolutely. He took the tray from the priest’s hand and set it on his son’s lap, and then waited patiently as his son struggled to wrap his hand around the handle of the tray. The father then unassumingly walked his son’s wheelchair to a row, took the tray from his son, and handed it to the first person on the row. When the tray returned, he again placed it in his son’s lap, and he waited patiently for his son to grasp the handle. He then pushed this son to the aisle and waited for the other deacons to line up as they finished one by one.
As I watched the father, I was struck by the honor he felt to assist his son in fulfilling his priesthood duty. As the father waited in line, more than once he wiped tears from his eyes. No doubt, he felt love for his son, respect for the priesthood, the warmth of the Holy Ghost in the moment, and even the love of a Father in Heaven who witnessed such a sacred event. As I glanced at the bishop and stake president on the stand, tears welled up in their eyes as they, too, witnessed this consecrated event. To other members in the ward, it was most likely a common occurrence. But to me, it was a profound moment.
This also makes me think of another example of how local leaders made accommodations so that a young man with a disability could participate in the sacrament. Years ago, I attended a ward in New York City. One of the priests had a severe speech impediment that made it difficult for him to speak. However, the bishop found a way for him to administer the sacrament and, at the same time, fulfill the need for the sacrament prayer to be pronounced word for word. The priest who assisted would say a phrase of the prayer, and then the priest with the speech difficulty repeated that phrase (sometime nearly indecipherably). Thus, they proceeded through the prayer. The prayer was provided in accordance with policy and the dear young man was also able to assist in voicing the prayer.
Mental and Emotional Health
On June 20, 2016, we published the web page MentalHealth.lds.org to coincide with the release of the video “Like a Broken Vessel” and an associated social media post from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. The video reached one million views within 32 hours. The web page received more than 16,000 unique visitors in the first three days.
We developed training for seminary and institute personnel, a Gospel Topic on mental health, and many magazine articles over the years, especially in September of each year during the national suicide prevention awareness month. We published updates to the website in February 2020, including videos with Elder Dale G. Renlund that addressed mental health and suicide much more directly than ever before.
The Combatting Pornography website was launched in April 2010 and was renamed Overcoming Pornography in June 2013. We updated the website with unique sections for individuals, spouses, parents, and leaders and renamed the site Addressing Pornography and also published it on the Gospel Library app. A First Presidency letter on January 29, 2020, “Protecting Children from the Effects of Pornography,” encouraged parents to have family discussions and develop family guidelines about how to use media and technology in positive and safe ways. (Also see the section “Combating Pornography Committee.”)
Prison Ministries (Correctional Services)
For years, I directed the cross-departmental efforts to address the unique life challenges of members who were incarcerated and their families. We provided a gospel study correspondence course for incarcerated members. A small team of Church service missionaries responded to letters and emails from leaders, members, and families. We prepared a website of guidelines and leader training resources. We also formulated plans to provide the Gospel Library app and other gospel resources on tablets available to inmates.
Safe Media Use
A cross-departmental working group was formed in 2019 to create principles and resources to help parents and families use media safely. We published “Media Safety” as a section of Life Help online and on the Gospel Library app.
The first iteration of the Church website about same-sex attraction was launched in December 2012 under the title “Mormons and Gays.” It was produced by the Public Affairs Department and later transferred to the Priesthood and Family Department.
Beginning in January 2016, I chaired a working group that coordinated the work of multiple departments on messaging and products about same-sex attraction. For many months, we worked on a major update to the website and other resources on same-sex attraction. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were involved in reading and refining the resources. On May 13, 2016, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland sent the following email: “Dear Friends, Having just driven in from the airport in São Paulo, I have been sitting in a hotel room for the past two hours reading—and weeping—over the ‘Stories’ section of the proposed 2.0 version of the website. I don’t know how you found all these stories or got the people to share them, but they are magnificent. As savvy as I would like to think I am trying to become on this subject, I confess I was newly moved and enlightened as to how much more I/we can do to get this difficult subject into a gospel context and into more profitable discourse. Your website is going to help us do that….” He then gave a few suggestions and concluded by saying that many of the stories “are so hopeful and virtually all of them make the one point I pray we will always make—that one can and must stay in the Church (‘stay in the light’) to find both salvation in and ultimate strength for this battle. So many of these testimonials make that point powerfully and repeatedly….” His P.P.S. read, “Excellent material on this subject is available in the revised Gospel Topics essay, as well as the question-and-answer material you shared with us. Good work to everyone who helped produce these, including Larry Richman.”
On October 25, 2016, we published the updated website, including changing the name from “Mormons and Gays” to “Mormon and Gay.” It was a subtle, but important difference that helped those who experience same-sex attraction feel more included. We also published additional video vignettes on the website showing a variety of member experiences. We published the “Same-Sex Attraction” entry in Gospel Topics and updated helps for leaders in the Counseling Resources. We sent a notice to stake and ward leaders in 38 languages, including three attachments: the Gospel Topic, a page of teachings from the website, and a set of frequently asked questions.
Media coverage of the site came from the Washington Post “‘Mormon and Gay’? The church’s new message is that you can be both,” CNN “Mormon and gay: Church says that’s no contradiction,” Associated Press “Mormons Preach Love for LGBT members, but no doctrinal shift,” Salt Lake Tribune “LDS Church’s new “Mormon and gay” website wins cheers and some jeers for ignoring controversial policy,” Deseret News “Mormon and Gay: LDS Church launches page on official website to help members, leaders,” KUTV 2 New ‘Mormon and Gay’ website aims to reach out to gay members, families,” and others.
On October 31, 2016, we received the following feedback message: “I have struggled with same-gender attraction for at least 50 years. I always felt so alone and ashamed of what and who I am. Obviously I have never told people about what I feel. I have always been temple worthy since my young years, but it was difficult to find value in my life when I knew what I felt. May I add that I am married to a wonderful woman and am the father of 10 children. I have always been taught that whatever spirit possessed our bodies when we left this world would have control of us after our death. That scared me to death. I was at the point of deciding many times that I may as well kill myself and go to Hell since that is where I would end up anyway. In this material, I read the statement, ‘Help the member recognize that same-gender attraction may be one aspect of his or her mortal experience but is not an eternal identity.’ That was the first time I felt excited about the fact that the next life might be more favorable for me. I was truly relieved and happy to find this site and I pray that many others who have struggled will find comfort in reading the words of the Lord in the site. I have always been taught that Heavenly Father loves his children, and I knew that that applied to his ‘worthy’ children. Now I know that he really loves me as well. That may be strange to some people to know that we can feel so disconnected from our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ, but I am confident that there are others who have quietly struggled that have had similar feelings and thoughts. Thanks so much for this divinely inspired and wonderful website that gives so much hope in so few words. I can now join the family of Heavenly Father with faith and hope and not hide in the background. This is truly a miracle for me in my life. Please pass on my love and gratitude to all who are responsible for this site—clear up to the Prophet and Savior Jesus Christ. This has been truly life changing!”
With the launch of this site, I reflected on the 17 years I served in leadership roles with Evergreen International. (See the chapter “Community Service,” section “Evergreen International.”) Over those years, we held many meetings with Church leaders working toward providing more information to members and leaders. These Church resources are an answer to prayers we had for years. They are truly remarkable.
Some of the content in the site was intentionally vague and we knew that the site did not answer all the questions people had. Some things we do not know for sure, and we could only publish content where there was complete agreement among the Brethren. As staff, we always had to be careful not to take quotes from an interview or a statement by one leader and write it as though it were doctrine. Naturally, we wanted to provide complete answers to difficult questions. But there are some questions for which we did not have clear, revealed answers. And there were questions for which there was not a single answer that applied to all people. Some of those questions were the following:
- What is my role as an unmarried gay person in a family-centered church, and what meaningful, compelling things can I prepare for and look forward to?
- What are the guidelines for unmarried gay people for their social and emotional lives? Is there a place for celibate partnerships?
- What is the appropriate and healthy balance in sharing life’s challenges with others? There is a deep cultural expectation in the Church for gay people to hide their same-sex attraction. In contrast, outside the Church there is a deep cultural expectation that a person “come out” and declare their LGBT status to everyone.
- How do I find hope in being told that I will not be fully myself in the next life? If I am not gay—which is connected to so much of who I am, not just who I am sexually attracted to—then who am I eternally?
- How do I find fulfillment, peace, and purpose in this life rather than just enduring until the next life? (It does not feel like a healthy option to place all my hope and faith in the next life.)
In connection with the new General Handbook that was published on February 19, 2020, we restructured the content on the Mormon and Gay website from narrative text to a question-and-answer format and moved it to the new Life Help section online and on the Gospel Library app under the heading “Same-Sex Attraction: Kindness, Inclusion, and Respect for Gay Members.” Various magazine articles were also published in 2020 that referenced same-sex attraction.
On September 8, 2016, we published the web page PreventingSuicide.lds.org. (See article in the Church News.) We coordinated a messaging plan with Public Affairs and magazines for the National Suicide Awareness Month and Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, on September 10. A notice to stake and ward leaders encouraged them to actively support individuals who are affected by suicide and make members aware of the following new and updated resources: the new Preventing Suicide website that provided information on how to help someone who may be contemplating suicide, the updated “Suicide“ entry in Gospel Topics, the updated Ministering Resource on suicide, the article, “Choosing to Live: Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts,” and other articles about suicide and depression in the September and October 2016 issues of the Church magazines.
The Church published policies about transgender in the new General Handbook on February 19, 2020. These policies were extensively researched, reviewed, and approved at all levels by the Senior Brethren over the course of several months. It was amazing to see the love and care that was expressed as these policies were developed. The policies included a process for stake presidents to consult with Area Presidencies on transgender issues to ensure that individual decisions were appropriate for individual circumstances. Our team developed training that was provided to General Authorities and General Officers in October 2019 in advance of publishing the policies.
On February 19, 2020, we also published a transgender website as part of the Life Help site online and on the Gospel Library app that provided a gospel context for understanding transgender matters. It included information for individuals and helps for families and leaders.
The new policies received media attention and some negative comments. A team member shared with me the following about a friend of hers who was a transgender woman: “She has tried her best to remain active in the last few years since transitioning, despite some questionable membership restrictions placed upon her. She texted me this afternoon and said: ‘As I read the policy, I could actually feel the Lord’s love for me… I do want to help my community realize that this policy is so good for us and that the leaders do love us and have agonized over how to help us. I’m trying to stay off social media for today. But I’m going to pray and ask the Lord’s help with what I can say to my community.’”
In 2020, we added content to the Life Help section about divorce, education, adoption, employment, family, finances, grief, physical health, single-parent families, and using media safely. All content online was also published to the Life Help section on the Gospel Library app.
In 2014, I was part of the marketing team to promote the Church movie Meet the Mormons, a 78-minute documentary-style film. Rather than highlighting Latter-day Saint celebrities, Meet the Mormons told the stories of six diverse Mormon families from around the world. The members were from Nepal, Costa Rica, Germany, South Africa, and various places in the United States. They were Jermaine Sullivan, an African American bishop in Atlanta; Ken Niumatalolo, head football coach at the Naval Academy; Carolina Muñoz Marin, a Costa Rican kickboxer; Bishnu Adhikari, an engineer who organized humanitarian projects in the Himalayas; Dawn Armstrong, a missionary mother in Utah who struggled as a homeless single parent; and Gail Halvorsen, the legendary “candy bomber” during the Berlin airlift the followed World War II. This provided an around-the-world look at Latter-day Saint families who met their daily challenges with faith in Jesus Christ. (See movie poster.)
The movie was originally made under the assumption that it would play for three to five years at the Legacy Theater at Temple Square and at a few dozen other visitor centers. But positive feedback from pre-screenings encouraged us to pursue ways to distribute it more broadly. Rather than expecting visitors to come to a visitors’ center, the idea was to take it to them in theaters and on digital channels, such as social media, internet, cable television, Netflix, DVD, and mobile apps.
Although the Church had produced and distributed hundreds of movies internally, Meet the Mormons was the first Church motion picture to be released in public theaters. We knew we were against all odds in competing with major motion picture studios to get lots of people to see the movie. We had a modest marketing budget, and we were novices in marketing a movie. (See photo of the marketing team.)
Elder Holland video to leaders
Because the Church had never released a commercial film, it was important to make sure that local leaders knew that the movie was produced by the Church. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, explained in a YouTube video that the movie was informational, and not a proselyting effort. In fact, missionaries would not be at or near theaters. He encouraged members to share the trailer, like the Meet the Mormons Facebook page, and invite their friends to see the movie, and attend the movie themselves on opening weekend, October 10, 2014.
We used innovative methods to promote the film. We had to do well in the box office so we could then get the movie on Netflix and the DVD into major retail stores so we could reach as many people as possible. Rather than spend money on television and magazine ads, we used social media, word of mouth, and premieres to build excitement for the movie. We also promoted the fact that although the film was financed by the Church, all net proceeds from the theatrical release were donated to charity (the American Red Cross). The Church did not even recoup its costs.
Prior to the premier, we released a music video of the song “Glorious,” which was written by Stephanie Mabey and sung by David Archuleta for the soundtrack of the movie. (David was not in the movie, but the song was featured in the movie.) We provided a free MP3 download of the song to build excitement for the movie. Read the Huffington Post article “American Idol Star David Archuleta Is Back From Mormon Missions With A ‘Glorious’ New Single.” (See image.)
By October 10, just seven days after its release, the music video “Glorious” had been watched over one million times and the MP3 song had been downloaded over a quarter of a million times. Followers and fans of Meet the Mormons and of David Archuleta were quite enthusiastic.
We also invited people to record themselves singing their own version of the song “Glorious” and submit their recording to win prizes and even be included in a supercut video featuring David Archuleta and people from all over the world. We got David to promote the contest to his 3.5 million fans on Facebook. Over 420 people posted their versions, which were watched collectively about 750,000 times.
On October 8, we held a premiere with about 500 prominent people, such as Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and David A. Bednar, Mitt Romney, Governor Gary Herbert, David Archuleta, Marie Osmond, David Osmond, Jimmy Osmond, ShayCarl, Stuart Edge, Stephanie A. Nielson, Shawn Bradley, Danny Ainge, Sheri Dew, LaVell Edwards, Michael Ballam, Connor Boyack, the Kid History guys, and the cast members from the movie. (See photos at the premier photo; David Archuleta, David Osmond, and Marie Osmond; Richmans with Elder Holland photo 1 and photo 2; Richman, Archuleta, Anthony Armstrong, Lupe Mayorga (David’sMom); Stuart Edge and Richman, Mitt Romney, and more pictures of the premier.
The excitement about the movie was palpable. Before we showed the movie, Elders Holland and Bednar talked about the effect this movie could have on the world. More people needed to get to know members of the Church and appreciate the benefits of living the gospel. The movie was not about the Church as an institution, but about its members and how their faith inspires them to live Christian lives. The purpose of this movie was not a proselytizing effort, but an attempt to help people understand members of the Church. Other premieres were held in cities across the country.
Meet the Mormons opened on 317 screens across the USA. MeetTheMormons.com listed the cities and theaters and let people request the movie in additional cities. By opening weekend, the film was scheduled for twice as many screens as initially planned because of the demand driven by word-of-mouth and social media.
Purdie Distribution pursued normal distribution arrangements where theater owners get a portion of the ticket sales, as opposed to so-called “four-wall” deals where theaters are simply rented out to filmmakers. Although some members bought out entire theaters, all the bookings were traditional distribution deals. Excel Entertainment Group, a unit of Deseret Book Co., owned by the Church, distributed the DVD.
The long-term success of the film in theaters depended on how well the film was attended on opening weekend, beginning October 10. The initial push was to get members to see the movie, so they could then recommend it to their nonmember friends. This made opening weekend tricky because Latter-day Saints were not expected to attend the movie on Sunday because of the Church’s emphasis on Sabbath observance. This meant that the movie had two days instead of three to get its main audience to attend.
Opening day, October 10, 2014, exceeded our expectations. It was the number one film in 100 of the 317 total locations on opening day, with sold-out showings reported across the country, including New York City, Detroit, Miami, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix, and various locations in California. In the opening 24 hours, the movie ranked #10 nationwide in total box office sales and was #11 for the weekend. It earned $2.5 million during the opening weekend, and through 2015 had earned over $6 million, making it the 34th biggest documentary of all time. The net proceeds were donated to the American Red Cross.
On January 2, 2015, Meet the Mormons began playing at the Legacy Theater on Temple Square and in theaters in all Church visitors’ centers and historic sites. In February, the movie became available to more than 100 million homes through the major video-on-demand services. Also, in February 2015, Meet the Mormons was released in Spanish and began playing in theaters in several countries in Latin America.
Rather than just releasing the DVD through Church distribution centers, we wanted to get it in mainstream retail stores to get it into the hands of more people, especially nonmembers. Getting into the big stores was difficult for any filmmaker—let alone a Church who had never released a major film. But we got the DVD and Blu-ray into Walmart, BestBuy, Amazon, Deseret Book, LDS Bookstore, and others. In November 2015, we released it on YouTube in 28 languages.
Since we did not have a big marketing budget, we relied heavily on grass-roots efforts of social media and word of mouth to promote the film, along with billboard, TV, and radio ads primarily along the Wasatch Front. One way we engaged followers was with a photo challenge encouraging people to take pictures and tag them with attributes shown by each of the movie’s characters, such as #teamwork, #unity and #service, along with #MeeetTheMormons.
In July of 2016, we released an update of the movie with new stories: The Artist (Giovanna Nezhati), The Horseman (Wadman), and The Entertainers (Bless4).
For years, the Brethren had been concerned about the effectiveness of home and visiting teaching and considered the right timing for the next step. Some things can be improved over time by training and continual emphasis. Sometimes, the Lord makes an abrupt change just to wake us up.
On October 1, 2016, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave the talk, “Emissaries to the Church,” in the priesthood session of general conference where he described an elevated vision of home and visiting teaching. This was an outcome of various discussions in Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) about revitalizing home and visiting teaching. Elder Holland had written a document outlining the key elements to be revitalized and many of those elements were expressed in his conference talk.
We worked for several months with the Executive Directors, the three Apostles in the PFEC, the Presiding Bishop, and the General Relief Society President to develop recommendations on ways to reinvigorate home and visiting teaching in the Church. We discussed how to better teach and encourage home and visiting teachers to minister to members and ensure their wellbeing. We discussed the current structure in the handbook about how to assign and report on home teaching.
On December 13, 2016, I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Presidency of the Seventy to discuss recommendations on home and visiting teaching in the Church. As we discussed what changes to make worldwide, Elder Oaks mentioned, “This is immensely difficult because it’s immensely important. There isn’t much more important that we could discuss.” I saw revelation happen as those 19 men counseled together and shared their insight and experience. Together, they changed the recommendations to something much bigger and better than what we presented in the meeting. I am always in awe when I meet with these wise and inspired men and discuss matters important to the Church.
Further discussions about revitalizing home and visiting teaching transpired over the coming months, culminating in the announcement of ministering at the April 2018 general conference. The more it was discussed, the more the Brethren saw a benefit to making a simultaneous change in Melchizedek Priesthood quorums by merging the elders quorum and high priest group into a single quorum.
I co-lead the team responsible for the implementation of ministering and the consolidation of Melchizedek Priesthood quorums. We researched options, and proposed policies and procedures. Because of the level of confidentiality of this project, we had to keep a very small team. We were able to bring in Tracy Skousen from Partners in Leadership to advise us on best practices for implementing cultural change in the Church related to ministering and priesthood quorums.
On March 21, 2017, I met again with the Quorum of the Twelve for a discussion on ways to improve home and visiting teaching in the Church. They were very grateful for the presentation. Russell M. Nelson was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his exact comment was, “hallelujah.”
Our team created announcement plans and a long-term messaging plan to help change the culture from the old notions of home and visiting teaching to the “higher and holier” concept of ministering. The intent was to change the “checklist” mindset. Many members felt they had “done their home/visiting teaching” if they showed up in a member’s home and gave a lesson, followed by a cursory comment like “let us know if there is ever anything we can do for you” as they walked out the door. The objective was to dismantle the formulaic approach because sitting in members’ living rooms did not mean that you were meeting their needs. It was decided that to make such a cultural change, we needed to “discontinue” the old way and announce a new way, including a new name for it. We spent several months researching and proposing a new name. We also researched translations of various name options to see how they would play out worldwide. The Quorum of the Twelve discussed various options. President Nelson had specific revelation on it.
We also had to solve some of the structural logistical issues. The Relief Society was responsible for all the women in the ward, an elders quorum was responsible for some of the men, and a high priests group was responsible for the rest of the men. Since these three had to involve the bishop and the ward council, it was difficult for the various entities to manage the assignments and reporting. Simplifying the structure was one of the reasons for merging the elders quorum and high priests group at the same time that ministering was implemented. This allowed a one-to-one relationship between the elders quorum and the Relief Society.
Another reason for merging the elders quorum and the high priests group was that there was an imbalance in age and experience. Typically, a high priests group consisted of long-time members who had held many leadership callings. Often, they were older and felt a little like they had been “put out to pasture.” On the other hand, members of elders quorums were typically younger men with less leadership experience. In addition, they typically had many prospective elders on the rolls who were less active or completely inactive—and some of whom had been for most of their life. Therefore, the high priests group was full of active people who were happy to home teach and to be home taught. The more experienced people had the easier load. The elders quorum had the less experienced people with not only a harder load, but oftentimes twice or three times as many people on their rolls. A merger could solve the imbalance, but it would have to be done right. We did not want to “demote” current elders quorum presidencies and have the high priest group leaders take over leadership of the new quorum. There needed to be a mixture in the new presidencies and in the ministering assignments in terms of age and experience. We did not want the result to be that all the old high priests were assigned to all the high priests again. The objective was a complete merger and formation of a new quorum.
On March 30, 2018, I had the privilege of watching the General Conference Leadership Meeting and hear the instructions that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve gave to the General Authorities and Area Seventies. Staff was usually not invited to these meetings, but our small team responsible for the implementation of the changes in ministering and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums was permitted to watch the meeting. Immediately after the meeting, we began preparing video clips of key parts of the talks to provide them to stake and ward leaders for teaching about ministering and the new Melchizedek Priesthood quorum. The last hour of the General Conference Leadership Meeting was an open time for members of the Twelve and the First Presidency, unscripted, to comment about the instructions that had been given and to bear testimony. It was a touching experience to hear them talk about their feelings for each other and their love for the Lord, and to hear them bear testimony in a more direct and personal way than they do in general conference.
On March 31, 2018, in the Saturday evening priesthood session of general conference, the following was announced in short remarks from President Nelson and in an address by Elder Christofferson:
- Combined Melchizedek Priesthood quorum at the ward level. Members of the former high priests groups were combined with members of elders quorums to unify priesthood holders to accomplish all aspects of the work of salvation, strengthen the ability to minister, and provide more support to the bishop.
- The high priests quorum was redefined at the stake level to include those currently in presiding roles.
At the conclusion of the priesthood session, a maintenance update window appeared on the Leader and Clerk Resources (LCR) screens as the system began to merge records of high priests and elders into a single quorum. About an hour later, a screen then appeared stating that the quorums had been merged and reminded leaders to record the new elders quorum presidency when they were sustained. Planning and executing that effort was a small miracle. We felt it was important right at the announcement to merge the records. If it had been announced, and then changes made weeks later, it would have lost a lot of the momentum and the excitement that was present at the announcement. Having the changes happen right in the moment was important to get the message across.
On April 1, 2018, in the Sunday afternoon session of general conference, President Nelson announced a “higher and holier” approach to caring for members, to be known as “ministering,” replacing home and visiting teaching. Further information was provided in addresses by Elder Holland and Sister Bingham.
At the conclusion of the conference, the website ministering.lds.org was published and a First Presidency letter, “Ministering with Strengthened Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums and Relief Societies” was immediately emailed to all members. An enclosure to the letter gave specifics about the changes. (The letter was dated April 2 but was sent April 1.)
The changes to home and visiting teaching, as well as the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums had been considered by the Priesthood and Family Executive Council and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for about 10 years. It was the right time to implement it when all the pieces came together at the same time (changes to ministering, including young women in ministering assignments, and the merger of the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums). Individually, some of these pieces made sense, and we often wondered why they were not approved, but the Lord knew they needed to be combined to be powerful enough to make a difference. All the elements came line upon line and were considered month after month and refined until all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were united.
Doctrine and Covenants 9:8–9 states, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong…”
To coordinate all these announcements at conference, I worked with the Church Communication Department (CCD) and other departments to create a minute-by-minute plan from the beginning of the first conference session to the end of the final session. The plan showed what was to be published on the home page, Newsroom, and social media as the conference progressed. For example, as soon as new General Authorities and General Officers were sustained, the Newsroom story was published, the biographies on the leader pages were updated, and posts were made to Facebook and Twitter. When other announcements were made in talks, news stories were published. As soon as the announcement was made in the priesthood session about a single elders quorum in wards, the membership systems began updating. At the end of the session where ministering was announced, a First Presidency letter and enclosure was emailed to leaders and members with a link to the new web page ministering.lds.org.
Employees in the Church Communication Department saw the value of such a communication plan for general conferences and agreed to take responsibility for creating and managing these plans in the future. I turned over to them the job I had done for several previous conferences to coordinate the minute-by-minute plans for announcements.
Drawing on the training provided to General Authorities in the General Conference Leadership Meetings prior to conference, subsequent training was provided to local leaders in area and coordinating councils, stake and ward councils, and directly to members via presentations, training videos, magazines, social media, My Calling emails, FAQs, handbook changes, and in Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society fourth-Sunday topics July through December.
One important training topic was the ministering interview. In the past, a home or visiting teaching interview often happened when your leader stopped you in the hall and asked, “Did you do your home teaching this month?” And you said “yes” or “no” for each assigned family, and the leader would check a box, and you were done. As the leader walked away, he might have said, “They’re doing all right, aren’t they?” And you would say, “Yes, they’re all fine.” And he would say, “Well, let me know if there is anything I can do.”
The brethren knew that the success or failure of the new ministering program hinged on the effectiveness of the ministering interviews—not only to gather information about the welfare of families, but also to motivate the ministering brothers and sisters. We prepared several video scenarios to model what an interview should look like. We made it light-hearted to make a point. And over a series of several interviews, we showed how the leader and the ministering brother progressed from the old way to the new way. Training also involved magazine articles, talks, and other messages.
Another aspect of change in ministering was to involve the young women beginning at age 14, so they could have the same kind of experiences ministering with their mothers as the young men had in ministering with their fathers. Another option was that married couples in a ward could be assigned as ministering companions where it made sense to a family’s situation.
The topic for the next stake conferences after April conference was “Ministering with Strengthened Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums and Relief Societies,” to be discussed in ward and stake council leadership meetings and the Saturday night adult sessions. That theme was later extended for the remainder of 2018 and through 2019 for the stake conferences at which a General Authority or an Area Seventy presided.
On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) invited members of the implementation team to their meeting to thank us for our work on Ministering with Strengthened Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums and Relief Societies. Elder Ronald A. Rasband was one of the Apostles on the PFEC. He had run several companies, including president of Huntsman Chemical. He said that he had launched many products before but had never seen one done better than these efforts. He got emotional as he talked about how this was the Lord’s will and how he felt privileged to be involved in it. That was the first time I had ever seen Elder Rasband cry.
April 6, 2018 was a busy day. At 8:00 a.m., I attended the meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve for 45 minutes. I then spent an hour scrambling to get documents updated based on feedback they gave us. Then I met with our Executive Directors for almost an hour to discuss and align a proposal according to the direction from the Twelve. From 10:00–11:00 a.m., we meet with our team and worked on the project and then meet with Elder Hallstrom at 1:00 p.m. and reviewed documents with him so he could get them to Elder Holland at 2:30 p.m. We met with Elder Hallstrom again at 3:00 p.m. to review the documents for another round of updates. As we sat for a moment waiting for Elder Holland to be available, we reflected on the events of the day and how blessed we had been for so much interaction with the Brethren in such important work.
On April 25, 2018, Tracy Skousen from Partners in Leadership returned to talk to us about further ideas on helping the cultural change in the Church related to ministering. The following are a few of his comments about the initial launch of ministering: “In my professional opinion, it was masterful!” “You addressed everything we talked about with your team.” “The reception was tremendous, and the clarity was amazing!”
On August 12, 2018, a report was given to the Quorum of the Twelve about the changes in Melchizedek Priesthood quorums that were announced at April conference. The research reported with confidence that the adjustments throughout the Church had been completed in a proper manner. “Considering the significant change in Melchizedek Priesthood quorum organization these adjustments represented in every stake and ward, this was a remarkable accomplishment for the Church and will greatly bless the work moving forward.”
A report was also provided about the implementation of ministering. The report stated, “For a change that affects every Church unit (and every member), it has been quite remarkable that this initiative has been so universally accepted and quickly implemented. This was possible because the leaders and members of the Church felt it was from the Lord, through the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.”
A Correlation Research Division study a year later (in August 2019) confirmed that this was the most successful implementation that the researcher had seen at the Church in his seven years.
On August 20, 2018, Elder Neil L. Andersen shared on Facebook the following insights into President Russell M. Nelson’s transition from Apostle to Prophet.
After returning to Salt Lake City late last night, Kathy and I have continued to think about and talk about the experiences of the past few days with deep appreciation for the unparalleled experience of being with President and Sister Nelson. Listening to Sister Wendy Nelson bear testimony of President Nelson’s prophetic calling and having her give a glimpse into what it has been like in their home since he became the Lord’s prophet, strengthened the faith of those who listened. Sister Nelson spoke of her own witness of President Nelson’s prophetic calling.
She said, “Two days after President Monson departed the Lord gave me a singular, most distinct experience with my husband. So distinct, so vivid, so clear. Every detail of that experience is seared in my mind and heart forever. Two days later it happened again exact same experience again” (to her alone).
She said that it was “too sacred to share over the pulpit,” but that “because of that I can take any witness stand and testify that Russell Marion Nelson is the Prophet of the Lord. Russell Marion Nelson is the living prophet of the living Lord.”
For Kathy, for me and for many other saints, her comments about revelation were powerful and reinforced our belief, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants it is the same.”
Sister Nelson explained that in their 12 years of marriage, she had watched the process of revelation and inspiration upon her husband but that since becoming the president of the Church, those revelations have “expanded exponentially.”
She explained, “He keeps a lined yellow pad of paper beside his bed.” Then she declared, “In the morning he holds up a half page to one and a half pages of notes with joy.”
Although she said that sometimes she remains close to him when this process is happening, sometimes she does not. She recounted a night in January when “I got the prompting, ‘move out of bed now.’”
“Two hours later he emerged from the room. ‘Wendy, you won’t believe what’s been happening. The Lord has given me detailed instruction on what I am to do.’”
Sister Nelson said that during the “last eight months it has been an experience to send my husband off to work. He comes back, different than when I sent him off in the morning. I have seen him change at the pulpit. I have heard him use phrases he hasn’t used before. I’ve seen him make changes at the pulpit.”
She said that just a few weeks ago speaking to young adults in a sacrament meeting, “I saw 30 years fall away.”
I, too, would add that it was amazing to me that a man fewer than three weeks away from being 94 years old could go to the pulpit last night in Toronto with no notes, never repeating himself and speaking for 45 minutes, with the audience of 8,000 riveted on him and his message. When I commented on this after the meeting, President Nelson said, “Well, these people have come from a long way. They come prayerfully. The last thing they want me to do is come to the pulpit and read them a talk.” It was an experience of revelation.
In the course of my work on the change from home and visiting teaching to ministering, I had the privilege of seeing one of those pages of notes that President Nelson wrote in the middle of the night. It was truly inspired and gave specific direction about how to implement ministering in the Church.
This effort was to simplify and consolidate the leader training resources online and on the Gospel Library. By 2019, it provided simplified training for leaders who served in ward and stake councils.
On August 16, 2018, President Nelson stated, “The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.” (“The Name of the Church,” official statement, Aug. 16, 2018, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
A Church Name committee was formed to review the names of all the organizations, brands, programs, and products of the Church to determine which names should change. I was the representative for the Priesthood and Family Department on a cross-departmental, director-level team that did the staff work and developed recommendations for the Church Name committee. We also recommended guidelines on the use of the terms Mormon and LDS.
At the April 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced a new symbol to represent the Church. This new symbol communicated to the world that this was the Savior’s Church and that all we do centers on Him and His gospel. The new symbol and adjustment in the logotype of the name of the Church was a confidential project we had worked on for months. For many months after that, we worked on projects to update the symbol on websites and publications.
In May 2012, the Priesthood and Family Department Executive Directors determined to discontinue printing the 11” x 17” pictures that had previously been provided to meetinghouse libraries. Most libraries had hundreds of such pictures along a wall of the library. Instead, teachers would use the 8.5” x 11” spiral-bound Gospel Art Book and digital pictures available online and on the Gospel Library app. Beginning in December 2013, the 11” x 17” pictures were dropped from the Library Start-up Kit provided to newly constructed meetinghouses. Instead, they received 10 copies of the Gospel Art Book. Meetinghouse Facilities discontinued building the vertical shelves for printed pictures in libraries.
This effort was to bring greater power to priesthood quorums and Relief Societies by improving members’ experiences in Sunday quorum and Relief Society meetings. We considered new discussion materials and teaching and learning approaches for these meetings.
On March 1, 2017, I, along with a few other employees, were invited into the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) meeting because they wanted to thank us for the Sunday Third Hour project we had worked on for several months. (See the section “Sunday Meeting Adjustments.”) The objective of that project was to strengthening quorums and Relief Societies by implementing a new curriculum for adults beginning in 2018 based on general conference rather than Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals. Elder Holland said, “Yesterday, we had one of the great days with the Quorum of the Twelve, and largely because of you and the inspired work you have done on the Sunday Third Hour.” After a few more comments about it, they all then applauded us—they actually clapped. That was the first time I had been applauded by three Apostles, as well as the Bishop and Sister Burton!
Further efforts to strengthen the role of the elders quorum presidency and the Relief Society presidency included the transition of some responsibilities from the bishop to the elders quorum and Relief Society, including engaging the elders quorum and Relief Society more in the work of salvation, specifically missionary work and temple and family history work. A letter dated May 26, 2020, “Strengthening Missionary and Temple and Family History Work in Stakes and Wards,” from President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, clarified some of those responsibilities.
Over the next several years, the roles of the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies were strengthen. They began to shoulder more of the responsibilities that were previously handled only by the bishopric.
In October 2020, I was asked to serve on a committee to produce a video for President Russell M. Nelson. I was on the messaging team to help craft the messaging leading up to the live event and afterwards to continue communicating the key messages it contained.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Nelson had been awakened at night with a strong impression that he should issue a message to the world about hope and healing and in giving thanks. He wrote down the key messages and made a list of what the Lord wanted to be accomplished with the video. He was given the date and time it was to be released—November 20 at 11:00 a.m.—and it was to be 11 minutes long. President Nelson recorded the video message in one take.
It was released with 31 languages dubbed and another dozen subtitled. Church departments united in awareness activities to amplify this great message from the Prophet. See ChurchofJesusChrist.org/givethanks. On December 11, 2020, the First Presidency sent the following letter to the team members along with a crystal plaque:
Dear #GiveThanks Team:
We express appreciation to all who played a part in the recent message on the healing power of gratitude. The Lord is pleased with your considerable efforts that made it possible to share this message with God’s children worldwide. It is a delight to feel the wave of gratitude that continues to flow from all comers of the earth. The response has been humbling and will be remembered for years to come.
May the Lord continue to bless you and your loved ones with peace and joy during this Christmas season.
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring
On May 10, 2019, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom wrote the following email to Elder Neil L. Andersen and Elder Dale G. Renlund: “Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. I met with Richard Heaton, and we recommend Larry Richman to be the ‘project manager’ for the assignment we discussed. Larry is one of our senior directors and has extensive experience, excellent judgment, and gets things done. If this recommendation is acceptable, Larry and I are available to meet with you whenever you desire. Don” The assignment was to lead a team to plan and implement commemoration activities in 2020 for the 200th anniversary of the First Vision.
On June 22, 2019, I met with Elders Andersen and Renlund to receive direction about what the Quorum of the Twelve wanted to have done for the commemoration. I organized a cross-departmental team of staff from about ten departments. We developed objectives, a scope statement, key messages, and potential ideas and activities. We also compiled an extensive inventory of existing resources about the First Vision, Joseph Smith, and the Restoration that could be referenced or repurposed. The Church magazines also developed a plan for publishing articles during 2020.
In June 2019, Elder Hallstrom was released as our Executive Director. (He was released as a General Authority at the October 2019 general conference.) On June 28, 2019, Elder Hallstrom was named the chairman of the Bicentennial of the Restoration Steering Committee. I sent to Elder Hallstrom a copy of the work our team had done and offered my help. After that, I was involved in a minor way in a few areas, but his committee did most of the work. A key outcome of the bicentennial commemoration was the publication of “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.”
The Church’s disengagement from the Boy Scouts of America happened in stages. The first step was in May 2017 to disengage Varsity and Venture Scouts (ages 14+). That helped prepare the U.S. Church, but it also really helped the international Church because until that time, there was no program for this age group. My team helped write structured activities for young men ages 14+.
On May 8, 2018, the Church announced a new activity program for children and youth and that the Church was separating from the Boy Scouts of America. On May 10, 2018, the Public Affairs Committee invited me and others to attend the end of their meeting to thank us for our help with the announcement made that week. Elder Ronald A. Rasband was the chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, was on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, and was the Church liaison with Boy Scouts of America. He thanked us for our work in writing the First Presidency announcement letter, the press release, the website, and the frequently asked questions. He explained that he was an Eagle Scout and had been involved for years in various positions with Scouting and he appreciated all that Scouting had done. But he also recognized that then was the right time for the Church to separate from Scouting. He led the unwinding of the connections between the two organizations that took place from then until December 31, 2019, when the church officially separated from Boy Scouts.
The Children and Youth program replaced Scouting, Duty to God, Personal Progress (for the young women), and Faith in God (for boys and girls ages 8–11).
The processes and structure of organizations become more complex over time unless the organization consciously focuses on simplification. For years, Church leaders had recognized this, and counseled us to find ways to simplify and reduce.
On May 1, 1979, a year before I was hired as a full-time employee, the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy issued a letter to Church departments to review existing publications and determine whether essential items could be simplified or reduced. That focus on simplifying and reducing continued through my 42 years of employment.
Below is a list of some steps taken from approximately 1970 to 2005:
- Computerized system for recording and reporting Church contributions.
- Monday evening designated as Churchwide family home evening.
- Ensign, New Era, and Friend began; Liahona followed as the international magazine.
- Stake presidents to set apart full-time missionaries (1970) and ordain bishops (1975).
- Correlated teacher development program.
- Relief Society dues eliminated: all adult women automatic members of Relief Society.
- 63 area conferences held during this decade.
- Church Office Building built, dedicated, and put into use.
- Welfare Services Department created to coordinate welfare activities.
- New missionary discussions in 1973 (the first since 1961).
- Consistent naming of wards, stakes, and missions.
- Hospitals sold.
- Church College of Hawaii becomes branch of BYU.
- Auxiliary conferences eliminated.
- First Quorum of the Seventy reconstituted.
- Quorum of the Twelve oversee ecclesiastical matters and Presiding Bishopric oversees temporal issues.
- Semiannual rather than quarterly stake conferences.
- Four-generation family history program instituted to form the basis for the Ancestral File.
- LDS King James Version of the Bible produced.
- Simplified Reporting System implemented worldwide
- Reduction of Church travel (in part due to energy crisis, in part due to reduction efforts).
- Instructional Development instituted in Curriculum Department as the source for writing manuals (rather than the auxiliaries).
- Governing councils created: Correlation Executive Committee, Missionary Executive Committee, Priesthood Executive Council, and Temple and Genealogical Executive Council (later Temple and Family History Executive Council).
- Introduction of temporary meetinghouses in developing areas.
- Church style guide produced for standardization of Church publications.
- In 1979, 7,000 pages of requested material eliminated from Authorized List.
- Simplified guidebooks created for branches and families.
- Instructions on Curriculum provided for local leaders.
- Consolidated meeting schedule (three-hour block).
- LDS study aids printed in triple combination to accompany LDS edition of King James Version of the Bible.
- Smaller meetinghouses (Sage Plan) implemented.
- 500 satellite dishes installed at stake centers outside Utah to reduce travel through broadcasts.
- Cost of building meetinghouses shifted to general Church funds.
- In 1981, smaller temples instituted. In 1997, President Hinckley announced yet smaller temples.
- Area Presidencies instituted.
- Family History Department creates Personal Ancestral File (PAF) software.
- Stake presidents can ordain patriarchs.
- In 1986, new missionary discussions.
- Seventies quorums in stakes discontinued.
- Second Quorum of the Seventy created.
- Local Unit Budget Allowance (LUBA) program.
- Curriculum begins recycling lessons for auxiliaries rather than creating new manuals annually.
- Copyright procedures improved and standardized.
- Fewer manuals.
- Non-English triple combination to contain Guide to the Scriptures (1,200 pages of study aids reduced to 200+ pages).
- FamilySearch and TempleReady programs created for simplified research and temple work.
- Families rather than temples responsible to hold family files.
- Missionary support funds equalized.
- Membership records computerized worldwide.
- Area Authority Seventy position announced.
- General Authorities no longer on business boards of directors.
- LDS Charities founded to provide worldwide humanitarian aid.
- Regional Representative position eliminated.
- Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy announced.
- Handbook of Instructions
- Regional MTCs built and implemented.
- Leadership Training Emphasis.
- Members responsible for cleaning meetinghouses.
- Church logo changed to show emphasis on Jesus Christ.
- Priesthood and Relief Society study same material: Teachings of Presidents of the Church.
- Bishop’s counselors can interview to renew temple recommends.
- Consolidation of audiovisual efforts into new Audiovisual Department.
- FamilySearch Internet Genealogy Service launched.
- In 1997, small temples announced.
- Conference center dedicated and put into use.
- Internet simplified availability of materials.
- Ricks College becomes a branch of BYU.
- Temple recommends valid for two years.
- Concurrent content in magazines across languages.
- Teachings for Our Time change (October 2004).
- Curriculum Planning Chart simplified.
- CES consolidation of functions at headquarters.
- Conversion of individual videos to DVD collections.
- Regional broadcasts of stake conferences.
- Worldwide training broadcasts.
- Preach My Gospel and standardizing missionary reporting worldwide.
- Local mission responsibility shifted from stakes to wards.
- Activity fees for institute eliminated.
- Multiple use of buildings.
- Annual CES conference cancelled.
These efforts led to much good work in improving our product management, such as simplifying and reducing the number of products, improving product lifecycle management, and increasing our efforts to measure and report on the use and effectiveness of our products and programs. In early 2015, my thinking began to evolve beyond product management to content management—considering all our content and messages, whether or not they were contained within a product. Since many of the efforts of the Priesthood Department did not end up in a product, these efforts were often not reported or measured, and we did not hold ourselves accountable for them. Reducing the number of products had been useful, but it could only take us so far. Still, members and leaders were bombarded with so many messages that they struggled to consume and internalize them. Somehow, we needed to prioritize and control the volume of messages—content, not just products.
Over the years, the delivery of Church messages and materials had trended away from physical media (books and DVDs) toward digital delivery (websites and mobile apps). This had saved the Church millions of dollars and provided a quick way to deliver and update content. More importantly, digital technology allowed for enriched study and interactive experiences. However, we still had a lot of printed materials, and only about half of our members had affordable internet access and fewer still had access to a mobile device. There was a divide between those who (1) could afford the devices and were tech savvy and (2) those who could not afford devices or were not tech savvy. To address this problem, in March 2015, I developed a proposal to provide digital access to Church resources for all members. My proposal was to make inexpensive tablets available to all members. The government of India had provided inexpensive tablets to millions of public-school students. They purchased the tablets for $40, subsidized them 50%, and made them available to students to purchase for $20. My proposal was for the Church to provide inexpensive tablets to members through Distribution Services. The tablets would be pre-configured with Church apps and pre-loaded with basic Church materials. The tablet would be configured to connect with the Wi-Fi in meetinghouses so that when members entered the buildings on Sundays, it automatically downloaded the latest Church publications, videos, magazines, and news. Every week, members would have access to the latest materials with no delays associated with printing and shipping.
I felt this would have been a low-cost way to help members in less-developed countries have access to the same digital resources that members in developed countries enjoy. The Church could have applied a small subsidy to the tablets from the millions of dollars in savings by further reducing printing, warehousing, and distribution of physical materials. The proposal did not get much interest, so I did not pursue it. (In retrospect, by the time it would have been implemented worldwide, inexpensive cell phones had become widely available, along with the Gospel Library app. My proposal in 2015 was a good idea, but the Lord knew the future and knew that something better would soon come along to fill the need.)
In 2016, we made a serious evaluation of the products our department sponsored. 268 products were approved to be discontinued. Another 524 were identified to evaluate further for possible reduction, simplification, or combination into other existing products.
From 2017–2000, the Lord directed His servants to focus efforts on the essential work of salvation and exaltation by simplifying and reducing programs, policies, and responsibilities of local leaders and families. The following is a list of a few changes that reduced and simplified the load placed upon bishops and families.
- 2-hour Sunday Meetings. Increased the focus on the sacrament. Simplified the focus for Primary singing time and Come, Follow Me. Meant one less hour in meetings. Increased the focus on Sabbath worship at home and at church. Encouraged home-centered gospel learning and discussions. More time for families to worship and serve together.
- Come, Follow Me. Focused and simplified class teaching within the ward. Simplified scripture study resource, home evening activities and service ideas. Reduction of 33 existing manuals.
- More focus on individual needs within ward councils. Elders quorum and Relief Society focused on ministering interviews and meeting the needs of families.
- Children and Youth. One simplified, focused effort to help children and youth in their personal development, personal revelation, service, activities, and relationships. Home-centered focus empowered parents and families to work together on areas of interest. Significant simplification of administration of children and youth programs. Removed the requirement for parents and leaders to track progress for over 590 requirements in a family with one boy and one girl. One program for ages 8–18 replaced several programs. Reduction of manuals, awards, requirements, and training for the following programs: Personal Progress, Duty to God, Faith in God, Scouting, and Cub Scouting.
- Age-group progression. Beginning of year transition simplified on-time ordinations for bishops and allowed for more individual attention throughout the year.
- Seminary curriculum adopted Come, Follow Me. Aligned Sunday Church instruction with seminary weekday instruction. Simplified the focus on scriptures at church, home, and seminary. Made it easier for parents to support both family and seminary study, providing more opportunities for gospel discussion in the home.
- One Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum. Simplified ministering assignments and enhanced collaboration between the elders quorum and Relief Society. All families were unified into one quorum. Allowed for better match of assignments to needs of individuals and families.
- Role of Elders Quorum and Relief Society. Allowed bishops to delegate and shift responsibilities for temporal welfare, self-reliance, financial counseling, and ministering to the elders and Relief Society. Empowered elders quorum and Relief Society to be more aware of and connected to supporting families.
- Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women Organizations. More direct focus on mentoring quorum and class presidencies.
- Ward and Stake Missionary Work. Moved responsibility to elders quorum and Relief Society. Training shifted from bishoprics to the stake presidency and stake Relief Society presidency.
- Ward and Stake Temple and Family History. Moved responsibility to elders quorum and Relief Society. Training shifted from bishoprics to the stake presidency and stake Relief Society presidency.
- Bishop’s Focus. Focused on children and youth. Moved missionary, temple, family history, and ministering to elders quorum and Relief Society. Bishopric more focused on helping parents with the rising generation.
- For Strength of Youth Conferences. Provided a week-long spiritual experience every other year at minimal cost. Reduced the load of bishops to plan ward and stake youth conferences the year when FSY conferences were provided by the Church.
- Simplified Handbook. Updated and simplified instructions. Reduced to one handbook. Allowed all families access to the handbook. Reduced two handbooks to one handbook.
The Brethren had been actively considering ways that the Church could simplify to help members focus on the things that matter most. An emphasis on the Sabbath day had been a part of recurring training in stake conferences and leadership meetings for several years. In June 2018, I was assigned to lead a project to implement a decision to reduce the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two hours, essentially moving the third hour of Church on Sunday from the meetinghouse to the home. It was not about making church shorter; it was about a better balance between gospel study at home and gospel study at church.
Because of the high confidentiality of this project, very few people were informed about it until just before the announcement. Beyond the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the only people who worked on it for several weeks were Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, Richard Heaton, and me. Later, we received permission to bring into the loop a few other employees to help with planning and implementation.
We prepared various presentations for the Quorum of the Twelve about details of how Church meetings and programs would function. We recognized that these changes would have significant impact on the Church, like the changes the previous April about ministering and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies.
We wished we could have consulted with other departments about the impact of the changes, but the need for confidentiality was greater than the need for collaboration. For example, rather than talking with people in Meetinghouse Facilities about the impact on buildings, I had to research and consider the logistics of the schedule changes and their impact on classrooms, hallways, and parking lots. I developed the schedules of how to hold meetings in buildings with one, two, three, four, and more wards. We had to consider issues with the alternating weeks between Sunday School and Relief Society and elders quorum. We considered the impact on the number of hymns sung in Sunday meetings, the number of minutes for classroom time, and the number of minutes available for members to associate with each other in the halls. All those things were important in the Sunday experience, and the Brethren were concerned that this be an enhancement of the Sunday experience, and not have many drawbacks.
Just a few days before the announcement, we were allowed to bring in another few people who needed to publish an article in the Newsroom and send the First Presidency letter to members as soon as the announcement was made. Nothing was given to translation beforehand.
On October 6, 2018, in general conference, President Nelson and Elder Cook announced the changes regarding “A New Balance between Gospel Instruction in the Home and at Church.” The announcement included the implementation of home-centered, church-supported curriculum for individuals and families, Sunday School, and Primary. This curriculum made possible the shortening of the Sunday meeting schedule by providing additional gospel study resources for the home.
In April 2015, President Russell M. Nelson had given a talk, “The Sabbath is a Delight.” In some ways, this was the beginning of the refocus on the Sabbath. In 2018, as the Prophet, he made this important announcement to help members focus on the Sabbath even more.
In a video interview in October, President Russell M. Nelson said, “We’re witnesses to a process of restoration.” He continued, “If you think the Church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come. … Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.” (Church Newsroom, October 30, 2018)
On Monday morning after conference, we held meetings with several other departments that we would have otherwise worked with, were it not for the tight confidentiality that was in place while planning the change. Surprisingly, there was not much that needed to be adjusted once these departments were able to fully consider the impact of the announced changes.
On November 6, 2018, the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) invited several employees in to their pre-PFEC meeting to thank us for our work on ministering (announced at the previous April conference) and the new balance between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church (announced at October conference). They expressed their sincere thanks and provided us each a personalized, signed letter.
November 6, 2018
Dear Brother Richman,
We express our deep appreciation for the work you have done in recent months relating to ministering and the new balance between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church, which were announced during the April and October 2018 general conferences.
We are aware that you have devoted countless hours to this effort. We are grateful for your thoughtful and prayerful attention to the many issues relating to the changes and for your clear desire to support the leadership of the Church. Thank you for understanding the sensitivity and importance of the work in which you were involved.
Your professional talents—as well as your sacrifices—have not gone unnoticed. The good work that has been done will help Latter-day Saints deepen their conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen their faith in Them.
With warmest regards,
Quentin L. Cook
Ronald A. Rasband
Gerrit W. Gong
A phased approach to the translation of Church materials was implemented in the 1970s. It was originally called the Approved List, which began to inventory and categorize Church materials. It evolved into the Translation Phase Program, which defined the materials needed by members in developing and established areas of the world and gave priority and order to the translation of these materials into languages. Early versions were developed by Kai Andersen in the Publications Coordination office. I began managing it shortly after I transferred into the Publications Coordination office in the early 1980s.
In response to an assignment from the First Presidency in 2002, the Priesthood Executive Council was asked to refine and better implement the translation phase program of the Church, looking forward to the needs of emerging countries where this program was yet to be applied—mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Under the direction of Elder Stephen A. West, I led a multi-department task force to review the existing translation program and enhance it into a Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. The focus was to identify, classify, and manage all Church materials—not just provide a plan for translation. Two key elements of this plan were the following:
- Identification of the key materials of the Church, and their division into four specific lists: introductory phase materials (for introducing the Church), phase 1 materials (for establishing the Church), phase 2 materials (for sustaining the Church), and phase 3 materials (additional materials).
- Criteria for approving languages for one of these four phases. These criteria included the number of active local members who spoke a language in the home, the maturity of the Church in the language area, the number of materials from previous phases completed and in use, and whether there was a second language that could be used effectively. This assisted Area Presidencies in making translation requests and provided a consistent basis for council approval of such requests.
At that time, some items were moved from one phase to another to allow languages to operate in Phase 2 for a longer period. The philosophy was that languages would not be approved for Phase 3 until after members had used previous phase materials for 20–25 years and until there were at least 10,000 active members in fully organized stakes or districts for which the translated language was the language of the home.
This plan and the specific items on the phase lists were reviewed by all the originating organizations of the Church. The plan was then approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on December 4, 2002.
In 2009–2010, the Priesthood Executive Council reconvened the task force that revised the plan in 2002, under the direction of Elders Spencer J. Condie and Yoshihiko Kikuchi. I again led a cross-departmental team and we proposed several adjustments to the plan. On June 10, 2010, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approved the recommendations.
From August 2010 to April 18, 2012, I served as the director of the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. In that capacity, I worked across multiple departments to implement the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials.
In 2011, Elder Per G. Malm, an Assistant Executive Director in the Curriculum Department, was assigned to advise the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. He began working with me and a cross-departmental team to further analyze and report on the materials on the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials.
On March 27, 2012, the Curriculum Department was consolidated into the Priesthood Department and on April 18, 2012, the responsibility for administering the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials was moved from the Curriculum Department (under the direction of the Priesthood Executive Council) to the Correlation Department (under the direction of the Correlation Executive Committee).
I was sad to see it transferred to the Correlation Department because I had been the keeper of the Church’s plan for translating Church materials since the early 1980s and I had a deep concern for making sure that Church resources are translated and available to the Saints worldwide.
Annually, the First Presidency issued a letter on “Safety in Church Activities.”
On May 24, 2017, I presented in the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) on the “Strengthening the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood” effort. At the end of the meeting, Elder Holland thanked those in attendance, and as he gave us our assignments, he said “Don’t feel any pressure here. If all this gets approved, it will just be the most important thing we’ve done in this half of the dispensation to move the Church forward.” (Elder Holland was prone to hyperbolize, but it denoted his feelings about the importance of the matter we were dealing with.)
Extending through the end of 2017, we worked with the PFEC, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the First Presidency on several matters to strengthen the youth of the Church, such as the following:
- Reinforcing that the bishop is the president of the Young Men and that the youth are his primary responsibility. The ward Young Men presidency was dissolved and replaced by Aaronic Priesthood advisors and specialists.
- Youth progressing together in January of each year in changing Primary and youth classes, and young men receiving priesthood ordinations in January of each year. Previously, youth moved to the next class on their birthday throughout the year, causing disruption in classes. By the end of the year, there might be just one or two youth left in a class with a teacher.
- Priests and Young Women participation in temple baptisms. Priests authorized to perform and witness baptisms for the dead and young women to record baptisms and confirmations and assist in other tasks in the baptistry. (See First Presidency letter dated December 14, 2017, “Youth Participation in the Baptistry and Preparing Children for Priesthood and Temple Service.”)
On June 20, 2018, the First Presidency letter was released with the updated guidelines on interviewing youth. We had worked on it for months, including compiling suggestions from about 75 reviewers—the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, various General Authorities, General Auxiliary Presidencies, professionals, department personnel, the Office of General Counsel, Kirton McConkie, Risk Management, and others.
In August 2019, we launched “Protecting Children and Youth” training for leaders who work with youth and children. This was the first leader training in the Church that was mandatory. We set up a system to track whether individuals in callings with youth and children had taken the training and provide reports to bishops so they could follow up.
I also assisted in small ways with the disengagement from Boy Scouts and the implementation of the new Children and Youth program that began in January 2020. My team’s efforts supported the guidelines, notices, statements about accessibility, and support in writing activities for youth and children.
I’ve held many positions in working for the Church over 40 years, but mostly they have involved in developing and implementing Church resources and making sure they are translated and available to the Saints worldwide. For most of my career, I managed the Worldwide Plan for Church Materials. Other assignments included both project management and product management for resources such as leader training, Sunday programs, curriculum for the home and church, scriptures, magazines, and other materials used in the home. For most of my career, I also coordinated the official letters and notices sent from headquarters to stake and ward leaders. My final position was the director of communications and messaging, helping improve messaging to members and leaders.
My offices have been on the following floors of the Church Office Building: 21, 23, 24, and 25, and short time on the second floor of the west wing.
“Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:29). Sometimes when working on an assignment or walking from the Church Office Building to the Church Administration Building, I would sense a feeling of importance—not of myself, but of the important work I had been tasked to do.
I had the privilege of a front-row seat to many important efforts. I met with the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Authorities, and General Officers to discuss important issues, create documents and plans, and make presentations to help Church leaders make decisions. It was an amazing blessing.
I considered my job almost a calling. Over the years, I often felt the tug of entrepreneurship—and I had small opportunities to be involved in some outside efforts along with my employment with the Church—but I felt impressed to continue my career at the Church.
The following is from the Church News article, “President Oaks talks Church history, LGBT issues, mental illness,” dated August 28, 2018:
President Oaks said some people wonder whether the leadership of the Church know what is going on in the lives of members much younger than they and in conditions much different than those in which they live.
“Brothers and sisters, we know much more than you suppose,” he said. “You know we are constantly traveling to be with our members all over the world. What you may not know is that every week we receive reports from the most knowledgeable professionals in every field of concern in a worldwide Church — economics, politics, social sciences, legal requirements, diplomacy, the latest thinking on social issues, etc.”
The Brethren are informed “about the world in which we live,” but “we are even more intensely informed about our own members — the challenges they face in medical care, mental health, public schools, higher education, employment, the market place, retirement, and in their personal relations such as marriage, childbearing, adoption, child-rearing, challenges to faith such as questions about Church history, same-gender attraction, transgender issues, etc.,” he said.
As a Church employee who had the privilege of working with many of the Brethren, I can attest that they are very much in tune with the needs of members, both spiritually and temporally. Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spend many hours each week in meetings where presentations are given by experts in many fields, and they discuss how these issues impact the worldwide Church. Individually, many of them are voracious readers and keep up on current events. They want to understand all the issues and then they seek the Lord’s direction for His church.
“We have spent many hours talking about how we can simplify our Church programs to perform their essential function for a wide variety of family circumstances…,” said President Oaks in the article referenced above. “Now, I am pleased to tell you that some help is on the way and more is under discussion.” The Brethren had been actively considering ways that the Church could simplify to help members focus on the things that matter most. One issue President Oaks was likely referring to when he said that “some help is on the way and more is under discussion” was the announcement at the October 2018 general conference about the changes in the Sunday meeting schedule. (See the section “Sunday Meeting Adjustments” in “Major Projects.”)
As a Church employee, it was important to remember that it was not about me or about my competence. It was God’s work and things were done in His way and in His time and by His Spirit.
I learned this lesson early in my career. I was on the phone in a three-way conversation, and someone approached me with a question. I covered the phone’s receiver with my hand and had a side conversation, which happened to mention the person who was currently in the phone conversation. Although I thought he could not hear me, he did. After the phone conversation was over, he told me that he was able to hear my side conversation and some of the things I said about him were not kind. I learned from that experience that I should never say anything about another person that was not kind or that I could not verify as true.
To help me guard against that, I formed a personal rule that whenever I mentioned another person in a conversation, I pretended that the person was standing around the corner from me and was able to overhear my conversation. It helped me make sure that (1) whatever I said could be verified as true and (2) whatever I said was kind. That did not mean that I avoided hard conversations or the truth. It just meant that I did it kindly and accurately.
I also had a corollary to that rule: Do not put anything in an email that you would not want forwarded to someone else. Whenever I wrote an email, I assumed that it would be forwarded to others, including the people mentioned in the email. Again, I tried to be both true and kind.
Below are some of the compliments I received from coworkers that I recorded in my journal. I share them here not to boast, but to remind myself of cherished associations with amazing people. My coworker and friend Sheldon Martin (a Ph.D. in behavioral health) reminded me that it is OK to want someone to compliment you—it is only unhealthy when you must have it. I also think it’s important for my descendants to know who I was.
In my year-end employee evaluation in 2007, David Frischknecht wrote the following: “Larry has a high capacity for work, devotion to the Church, passion for completing assignments well, and initiative and energy for making improvements. He is a perpetual learner, constantly re-equipping himself with knowledge on a variety of subjects. Key leadership competencies include executing for results, developing personal capability, and leading change.”
On May 4, 2009, a coworker, Michael Eckerdt, posted the following recommendation on LinkedIn: “Larry is one of the most open-minded and forward-thinking people I know. Through his vision, energy, and hard work, great improvements in product development and project management are taking place. I’m grateful and privileged to work with someone like Larry.”
From April 26, 2011, from Lee Gibbons, who took over as the director of LDS.org after me in 2008: “Bless you for this, Larry. A great example of where you leap tall buildings (including this one) in a single bound by way of your remarkably valuable institutional knowledge. I am continually grateful for your unselfish leadership and wanted to acknowledge you for it again in this instance.”
On November 1, 2011, Elder Paul B. Pieper was the Executive Director of the Curriculum Department. After I responded to a request from an Area Presidency, Elder Pieper sent the following email to me and Elder Christoffel Golden: “You guys are very good! And responsive. It makes me want to be in an Area Presidency so that I can be the beneficiary of such great service. Larry, thank you for helping to build a spirit of service and responsiveness in the department. It is wonderful to be part of this great team.”
On April 1, 2016, I received the following letter from the outgoing Primary General Presidency:
As we come to the end of our service as the Primary general presidency, we are filled with feelings of gratitude for the opportunities we have had. How does one describe the joy of hugging thousands of women around the world and feeling their wet tears on our cheeks? How does one describe the many faces of the children we have met—each one, a precious son or daughter of God, openly trusting in His love?
With “all our hearts” we express our appreciation for the opportunity to have served with and learned from you. You are such a warm welcoming person. We have been impressed with your exactness in your organization skills and follow-through which continues to move the work forward. We have truly felt your support in all we have been involved in.
Your dedication to our Heavenly Father and the Savior has inspired us. Our commitment for this gospel of Jesus Christ is anchored in our love for Them. Now our children and grandchildren will be the audience for our stories and our testimony. Hopefully they will also feel a portion of what we have experienced … pure joy!
Rosemary M. Wixom
Cheryl A. Esplin
Mary R. Durham
After working with Ally Isom on the Mormon and Gay website and the Ministering Resource on same-sex attraction, Ally sent me the following email on November 6, 2016: “Again, thank you for your diligent efforts and commitment to this important front. We truly value you and your expertise as a key strategic partner in this process, Larry. I cannot sufficiently express the professional regard we have for you. All my best, Ally.”
From David Clare (a director in the Priesthood and Family Department) on September 9, 2016, in response to publishing resources on preventing suicide: “Larry it has been a joy working with you on this and see how you have organized and pulled in all the pieces and the various departments to participate and bring this forward…well done… I know it took a team effort, but your leadership and vision has been wonderful to watch…thank you for all you do!….dc”
From John Dye, December 26, 2016, after wishing him a happy birthday: “Larry, you’re a man I look up to and respect highly. Thanks for dedicating your time to doing good in the world.” John worked for years with Boncom (Bonneville Communications) and worked on projects for the Church Missionary Department. A lot of John’s work was in building relationships with influencers in entertainment, music, and social media. In 2017, after answering a question from a coworker, he wrote back the following: “Larry, is there nothing you don’t know? You’ve always got a great answer for everything. Keep up the good work.”
On April 24, 2017, Richard Heaton commented, “The more I get to know you and see the work you do, the more amazed I am. Why aren’t you the managing director instead of me? I’m constantly impressed. Please help me. Give me any suggestions.”
On April 26, 2017, David Clare sent the following email to Richard Heaton about the product plan for Member Missionary work: “Richard, Larry is exceptional. He has edited and added a refinement to this plan that are remarkable. If you don’t believe me, look at v3 with the amazing edits and refinements!” David also responded to me with the following: “I truly appreciate your wisdom in many, many ways more than my own…so keep coaching me and pushing me… you are simply remarkable in so many ways and I value your feedback and insights…. Truly… dc”
On July 10, 2017, our Executive Director, Elder Christoffel Golden, sent me the following letter:
Brother Larry Richman
Priesthood and Family Department
This is just a short note to thank you for the service you have given to the Priesthood and Family Department. I am so very grateful for your contribution to its vital work!
Your labors in so many projects over the years have deeply impacted the work of the Lord. In particular, your work with sensitive issues has and will continue to bless many in the Church at this time. You are truly a gifted administrator.
Elders Bennett, Curtis, Kopischke, Lawrence, and Sitati, join me in extending our gratitude and thanks for your efforts. May the Lord’s richest blessings ever be with you and your family.
With warm regards and deep respect,
On September 21, 2017, Richard Heaton, my managing director, made the following comment as part of an email to me: “Larry, Thank you for your excellent leadership on this and so many other things. You have impressive bandwidth!”
On October 23, 2017, I received the following email from Jason Mitchell, a new director in the Missionary Department with the subject: Mentoring. “Larry, Richard Heaton tells me that you know how to get things through the ‘system’ better than anyone he has ever met in the Church. Would you be willing to spend an hour with me to teach me how you manage your PFEC agendas, track approvals, and coordinate work with the service departments? I would love to buy you lunch and learn everything I can from you. May I schedule some time with you? Jason”
On November 10, 2017, Kelly Haws, head of Correlation Evaluation, sent the following email to Richard Heaton: “It must seem as if the only emails you get include either a problem or an action item. This is a quick note to let you know we met with Larry Richman and David Marsh yesterday regarding the Gospel Topics and they simply couldn’t have been any better. They were prepared. They were insightful. They were professional. And they were willing. And I just wanted to take a quick moment this afternoon and express my gratitude. It’s a pleasure to work with such people.”
In August 2019, a coworker, Garin Granata, sent me the following note: “Congrats on your work anniversary! You are legend here, Larry. Thanks for all you do!”
On October 11, 2019, two of my employees posted the following messages to each other (and copied me) after reading my entry on Wikipedia:
Katie Steed: We really have an amazing boss. I might recommend an update on the photo.
Sheldon Martin: He seriously is a good boss. You know what I love best about him? When you read what he has been involved in, it amazes me that he often has more background than anyone in the room and defers constantly. If I even have half an idea, I share it openly. 😊
In an email to me October 11, 2019, about some routine matters, Sheldon Martin said the following, “I truly love working for you. I have never been more professionally fulfilled in all my life. I have never enjoyed working for someone more than I enjoy working for you. Thanks Larry.”
On December 13, 2019, one of my employees, Tony Nisse, posted the following on Facebook: “A quick tribute to my leader in the professional world, Larry Richman. I have long sought for a leader who gets my style, understands how to multiply positive strengths in those they lead, and brings joy to the daily work. Perhaps the best thing I could say is that if I was a bodyguard, I’d take a bullet for Larry (I’d take one anyway, even though I’m nowhere near bodyguard quality)! #bestbossever.
On January 29, 2020, Sheldon Martin sent me the humorous email shown below. We were both in a Priesthood and Family Executive Council (PFEC) meeting. When his agenda item concluded, he left the meeting. I stayed in the room for another 10–15 minutes until the meeting concluded. Sheldon was anxious to follow up effectively and quickly on all the decisions made in the PFEC meeting.
There I was diligently responding to prophetic guidance and counsel. “This is why they hired me,” I thought. I rushed out of the Administration Building with a spring in my step. I coordinated quickly with Rob Jex to address Life Help in the app. I invited Rob Smith and Howard Bangerter to join our ongoing meeting invitation. We are now in a place to have a measure and effective approach.
I then dutifully went to follow up on the second item from Bishop Caussé. I rushed to the 19th floor swerving in and out of cubicles, mine was victory to be had. I approached Rob Smith on a prophetic invitation, the Presiding Bishop was my collaborative clarifying call. This was it!!!! I was going to be proactive, responsive, and engaged. Larry will be proud of my timely follow up. “This is the collaboration we seek in restructure. This is it, Sheldon” my mind continued to race.
Like Esther of old “who knoweth whether I have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” The words left my mouth with energy and power, “Rob, can we add a transgender section to Counseling Resources and link to the site?” Here it was. My moment. I stood proudly on prophetic errand. He responded, “Ya, Larry just told me”. Ha Ha. I am inspired by your work ethic. I just want half credit for quick follow up.
On March 11, 2020, I got a friend request on Facebook from Nicole Martin, Sheldon Martin’s wife. When I accepted her request, I invited her to follow LDS365. She replied, “Thanks so much Larry. 😀 Sheldon has already introduced me to LDS365. By the way, he talks about you all the time and loves working for you.”
On March 19, 2020, Sheldon reported back on an experience in working with another department where he was able to exert some very helpful influence. At the end of his report to me, he said the following: “Thank you for hiring me. I am not happy that this is during a crisis [COVID-19], but it feels rare to have an experience so specifically apply to my doctorate research. Thanks Larry. Thanks. Thanks for mentoring and helping me. Please let me know if I ever overstep in excitement…. This feels so validating.” The Lord certainly was orchestrating many things to bless His children! And I was grateful that Sheldon was here to help make it happen.
In mid-April, Rob Jex (a Priesthood and Family Department employee that I hired years ago, who now was the product manager for the Book of Mormon Video Library) sent a quarterly status report on the video project. I replied with the following: “Thanks for this great update. This BMVL is SO much better because of your amazing direction. I hope you feel a great sense of accomplishment with it. It’s an amazing career accomplishment. Keep up the great work.” He replied with “Larry, coming from my first and most consistent mentor over the past two decades that means a lot! Thank you! If we pull off this pinnacle filming season [of 3 Nephi] in a way acceptable to President Nelson, Mormon, and the Savior Himself, then YES, I will feel that great sense of ‘an amazing career accomplishment.’ If we blow it, well then, I’m going to just opt out and go back to my real estate investing hobby.”
In April 2020, I took the Clifton Strengths Finder that evaluated my management style. When I reviewed those results with Sheldon Martin, he made the following comments: “You have the best ability to communicate clearly ̶ not intense ̶ that I’ve ever seen.” “Your expertise comes not from osmosis. You consciously acquire it.”
On April 20, 2020, one of my employees got a promotion to be the manager of product management in our department. I sent him this congratulatory note: “Congratulations, Rick [Partridge]. So proud of you for what you do and for who you are. Now, you can only accept the job if you assign yourself to all my products. 😊” He sent back this note: “Larry, you are the kindest, most genuine boss I’ve ever had! Your words mean a lot to me. Thank you! Your products certainly are the best the Church has, and I love working with them!”
On July 10, 2020, my coworkers gave me a birthday card. The following were some of the comments on the card:
- Larry, thank you so much for your leadership and mentorship. You impact all those with whom you work. The impact you have on other people is immeasurable. Your ability to keep track of so many moving parts and diligence are beyond impressive. Thank you for everything, Sheldon Martin
- Larry, it’s been so great working closely with you. You are absolutely one of the greatest managers because you communicate clearly and frequently with us! Thank you for taking the time to do that. Looking forward to our next adventures together. Rick Partridge
- Larry, I’m already looking for ways to get back on your team! Best time of my professional career working with and learning from you. I am honored to call you my friend! Tony Nisse
On August 3, 2020, I posted a “happy birthday” message on Sheldon Martin’s Facebook page. He responded with “Thanks, Larry. Getting to know you this last year has been one of the professional highlights of my career. Thanks for everything.” The following year, after wishing him happy birthday in an email, he responded with the following: Thanks, Larry. I have thanked our Father in Heaven dozens of times that you had patience and faith to hire me. Indeed, I don’t think I will ever be able to thank you enough. I learn from you every time I interact with you. Thank you for being a mentor and friend.”