Monday, February 04, 2008

The prophet dies

It hit me when I heard about this. I still don't think I've gotten it. I'm going to miss him...

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Obituary: Gordon B. Hinckley, 97, leader of LDS Chuch in global growth
A personal view
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Alejandra Thomas, 6, sits on the living room floor clad in green pajamas, resting her elbow on a table and listening to her father’s query.

It’s Monday family night, for which Mardy Thomas and wife Michelle have gathered daughter Alejandra and corralled her two restless younger siblings. The religious lesson this week in their Willows home is on a suddenly time-relevant theme: Prophets. One day earlier, Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley, the “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, died at 97.

“What happens if a prophet dies?” Mardy asks his daughter. “What do we do?”

“Nothing?” Alejandra ventures.

“Well, we don’t do anything,” her father concedes. “But what about our church leaders?”

President Hinckley led the church since 1995, when predecessor Howard Hunter died. Under his guidance, church membership expanded from 9 million to more than 13 million, with much of the growth coming outside the church’s traditional base in North America.

A temple construction program began, more than doubling the number of the sacred buildings. And the church began large-scale, often interfaith, humanitarian efforts.

But more than anything, he was a grandfatherly figure — kind, humorous and witty. Along with Marjorie, his wife of 67 years, who died in 2004, President Hinckley earned a place in the hearts of many church members, including the around-650 who live in Glenn County.

"He's just such a good guy," said Tannis Goodman, 15, of Willows. "He’s so sweet and welcoming, and smiling, and he can always tell jokes really well, and he always had a good atittude about everything.

Miss Goodman was at the Thomas home Sunday evening for a "fireside" gathering, watching a church movie, when she got a text-message from her brother saying the prophet was dead.

"I was shocked," Miss Goodman said. She called him back to confirm what he had said, and then started to cry.

“It was very hard for some of the youth,” said Michelle Thomas. Many had seen President Hinckley in person in September 2006 when he visited Sacramento to participate in festivities celebrating the opening of a temple. Others, like Miss Goodman, saw him at the church's semi-annual general conferences.

And for them as for this recent convert, President Hinckley is the only prophet they remember.

The devotion felt for the prophet can seem strange to outsiders. Two years ago, before I joined the church, I happened to call my then-girlfriend when President Hinckley was in the hospital for a brief stay.

The background was noisy, with her five Brigham Young University apartment-mates in a state of agitation, unsure what was going on. I happened to have websurfed upon a more detailed news story – President Hinckley was fine, just old – but while relaying this information couldn’t understand why in the world the six of them were so worried over this old man.

Explaining precisely what the prophet is involves a messy technical jargon of continuing revelation, priesthood keys, and offices in the priesthood. But the essence – at least right now – is simple.

“Kind of like the Pope?” my Catholic friend asks me.

“Sort of,” I tell her.

The world mourned when John Paul II died in 2005, with religious and political leaders coming from over 100 countries to attend his funeral. So too now will a smaller community mourn for the revered old man it's trusted for many years to guide them.

"People related to him because of his friendliness, and sense of humor," said Gary Kemp, bishop of the church ward in Willows. "I anticipate they’ll anticipate the new (prophet) with love as well."

Back in the Thomas home, Mardy shows his daughter an Old Testament passage to better explain President Hinckley’s role.
“Surely the Lord God will do nothing,” Alejandra whispers, struggling with the King James English and shyly turning her face away from both her father and me, “but he revealeth his secret to his servants the prophets.”

“What does ‘revealeth’ mean?” she asks.

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