SALT LAKE CITY >> Mormon church leaders on Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of a church welfare program with a reminder to members that service to others should be a cornerstone of their faith.
"No matter how many temples we build, no matter how large our membership grows, no matter how positively we are perceived in the eyes of the world — should we fail in this great core commandment to ‘succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees,’ or turn our hearts from those who suffer and mourn, we are under the condemnation and cannot please the Lord …" the church’s Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said.
Burton’s remarks came during the second-day of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ semiannual general conference.
Burton’s office manages the welfare program founded in 1936 by former church President Heber J. Grant as the U.S. struggled through the Great Depression.
The program is open to members and nonmembers alike and is designed to foster self-reliance even as it provides food, clothing or other support. Assistance comes with the expectation of reciprocal service to the church and is programs.
In Utah, the program is anchored by Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. The facility includes a cannery, milk and cheese processing facility; a landmark 16-million pound grain elevator that can been seen for miles; and a bakery, storehouse, thrift store and employment center, all of which are run mostly by volunteers serving church missions.
Worldwide, the church safety net includes a network of farms, orchards, dairies and cattle ranches that provide the raw material for the commodities that are harvested, processed and packaged — including goodies like peanut butter, honey, jam and salsa — at church facilities.
To pay for the program, Latter-day Saints skip two meals each month and donate the money they would have spent on food to the church. The funds pay for commodities, clothing, job training and other services made available to the needy. The church also works in partnership with other faith traditions and service agencies to share surplus goods.
"The prophetic welfare plan is not merely an interesting footnote in the history of the church," Burton said. "The principles upon which it is based defines who we are as people. It is the essence of who we are as individual disciples of our Savior and exemplar, Jesus Christ."
Mormons gather in April and October to hear words of inspiration and practical guidance from their faith leaders.
The conference draws more than 100,000 to the four-block downtown Salt Lake City campus and millions more participate in the proceedings via television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts which are translated into more than 80 languages.
On Saturday, church President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to build new temples in Fort Collins, Colo., Meridian, Idaho, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The church has 134 operating temples worldwide and another 26 either under construction or planned.
Latter-day Saints consider temples their most sacred places of worship. Open only to worthy church members, the buildings are used for religious rituals including proxy baptisms, marriage ceremonies and other rites, often referred to as "ordinances," which are designed to strengthen church teachings. To be worthy of entering a temple, members must be paying their full tithing and adhering to standards of conduct imposed by the church.
Monson implored members on Sunday to strive to become worthy of temple worship.
"There is no more important goal for you to work toward …" Monson said. "Until you have entered the House of the Lord and have received all the blessings which await you there, you have not obtained everything the church has to offer."