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After Mormons waited an unusually long time to hear from their beloved leader Saturday, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson finally stepped up to the pulpit.
He did not disappoint.
During the all-male priesthood session of the 185th Annual General Conference, Monson gave an animated sermon punctuated with his signature storytelling, pauses and punch lines.
Earlier Saturday, the 87-year-old Monson, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, caused some to worry about his health when he skipped his customary welcoming remarks part of an effort to limit his public addresses this weekend.
He attended and presided at all three sessions Saturday, but did not speak until he gave the night's final address.
The LDS leader told stories including a couple he has shared before of being a "deacon" as a 12-year-old and an "elder" at 18 and cherishing his responsibilities in those positions.
"As bearers of the priesthood of God, we are engaged in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ," Monson said. "We have answered his call; we are on his errand. Let us learn of him. Let us follow in his footsteps. Let us live by his precepts. By so doing, we will be prepared for any service he calls us to perform. This is his work. This is his church."
Besides his Saturday night talk, a church spokesman says, Monson is also expected to speak Sunday.
Typically, however, the faith's top leader speaks four times with major addresses at Saturday's priesthood and Sunday morning sessions, along with opening remarks Saturday and closing comments Sunday afternoon.
"President Monson has chosen to reduce the number of talks he will deliver this conference," church spokesman Dale Jones said in a news release. "Over the years various formats have been used in General Conference programs."
Monson did not attend a meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday night, when the U.S. leader was in Salt Lake City, to preserve his strength for this weekend's conference.
His counselors, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf, along with LDS apostles L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson, met with Obama at a downtown hotel.
Monson has been a high-level LDS leader for most of his life, becoming an apostle at age 36. He has been church president for more than seven years, succeeding the late Gordon B. Hinckley on Feb. 3, 2008.
"Doing all I can, to the very best of my ability, has been my goal in any position I have ever held," Monson told thousands of Mormon males gathered in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching around the world. " ... The years have brought me more opportunities to provide blessings to those in need than I could possibly count. Each opportunity has found me deeply grateful that God has entrusted to me this sacred gift."
Layton resident Lisa Dance, who attended the afternoon session, said she is praying for Monson.
"I'm not worried about him because God is in charge," she said.
Sean Marshall, visiting from Las Vegas, said he is "not concerned. It's only natural for someone to grow old."
Before Monson's sermon, Eyring counseled young Mormon males to be prayerful, saying communication with the heavens will help them fulfill their priesthood duties.
"Think of the day when you must know what God would say and what he would do," Eyring said. "It has already come for us all wherever you are in your calling in the priesthood."
LDS priesthood holders "must speak and act in the name of God in moments where our unaided judgment will not be enough without inspiration," he said. "Those moments can come upon us where there is not time to make preparation."
God hears "silent prayers," Eyring said, "but you may have to learn to shut out the distractions because the moment you need the connection with God may not come in quiet times ... you are to be part of the warning voice of the Lord. But you need to heed the warning yourself. You will not survive spiritually without the protection of the companionship of the Holy Ghost in your daily life."
Uchtdorf decried hypocrisy among the faithful.
"Jesus Christ and his prophets have condemned those who 'draw near (to the Lord) with their mouth, and with their lips do honor (him), but have removed their heart far from (him).' " Uchtdorf said. " ... In our day, the Lord has similarly strong words for priesthood holders who try to "cover (their) sins, or to gratify (their) pride, (or their) vain ambition."
When priesthood leaders direct their "outward expressions of discipleship to impress others for personal gain or influence," he said, they "are at risk of entering into Pharisee territory."
The desire to appear "better than we are is found not just in our personal lives," Uchtdorf said, "but can be found in our church assignments as well."
He told of an LDS stake, or group of congregations, that had set goals based on "lofty and impressive declarations or on numbers and percentages."
Later, the stake president reconsidered such efforts.
"He thought about the members of his stake like the young mother with small children who was recently widowed. He thought about the members who were struggling with doubts or loneliness or with severe health conditions and no insurance," Uchtdorf said. "He thought about the members who were grappling with broken marriages, addictions, unemployment and mental illness. And the more he thought about them, the more he asked himself a humbling question: Will our new goals make a difference in the lives of these members?"
The stake set new, unmeasurable goals, the German leader said, "for how does one measure personal testimony, love of God or compassion for others?"
If Jesus were to "sit down with us and ask for an accounting of our stewardship, I am not sure he would focus much on programs and statistics," Uchtdorf said. "What the Savior would want to know is the condition of our heart."
Echoing a landmark speech he gave in 2002, apostle M. Russell Ballard said it was time to "raise the bar" not just on missionaries but on the entire generation of Mormon single adults.
"What we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the church. We need your whole heart and soul," Ballard said. "We need vibrant, thinking, passionate young adults who know how to listen and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as you make your way through the daily trials and temptations of being a young contemporary Latter-day Saint."
He urged the young men in the crowd to "avoid viewing pornography or looking at websites, magazines, movies, or apps, including Tinder or Snapchat photos, that would embarrass you if your parents, church leaders, or the Savior himself saw you."
"If you would set aside your cellphone and actually look around a little," Ballard said, "you may even find your future eternal companion."
Indeed, he counseled, it is time for them to stop delaying, start dating and get married.
"We need every one of you young adults to prepare to marry, to serve," he said, "and to lead in the days ahead."
The conference reconvenes Sunday morning.
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Kristen Moulton contributed to this report.