BYU–Hawaii alumnus becomes first African American general authority to speak at General Conference, students react to new changes
Written by
Carlene Coombs
Members of the Church gather in the Conference Center
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Associated Press

During the October 2019 General Conference, eight temples and changes to youth programs were announced. Elder Peter M. Johnson, a former BYU–Hawaii student and faculty member, became the first African American general authority to speak in General Conference, according to KSL.

Elder Johnson moved to Hawaii when he was 15 years old, according to He played basketball at BYUH before he finished his schooling at Southern Utah University. Johnson then returned to BYUH to teach as an associate professor. Johnson was sustained a General Authority Seventy in April 2019.


Changes and Announcements

“Revelation continues in the Church and will continue under the Lord’s direction,” said President Russell M. Nelson during the Sunday Afternoon Session of General Conference on Oct. 6.

Sabrina McQueen, a senior from New Zealand majoring in psychology, said that while announcements and policy changes are exciting, she prefers to focus on the doctrine being taught during the conference.  

“I try not to focus too much on the changes, but on the doctrine that is being taught. It’s not the changes that are going to change my life, but the doctrine.”

Among some of the announcements, changes came to the Young Men and Young Women organizations. The Young Women’s theme was updated as well by removing the titles of Beehive, Miamaid and Laurels, giving wards the ability to split age groups as needed. Young Men presidencies at the ward level were discontinued.

President Nelson also announced eight new temples during the General Women’s Session. These eight temples will be built in the following locations:

Freetown Sierra Leone

Orem, Utah

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Bentonville, Arkansas

Bacolod, Philippines

McAllen, Texas

Cobán, Guatemala

Taylorsville, Utah.

In terms of receiving a temple recommend, President Nelson read the updated temple recommend questions which will be asked during recommend interviews.

Sunday afternoon session was concluded with President Nelson saying April 2020 General Conference will be “unforgettable” and urged members to prepare for the coming conference.


Students share insights

Paris Severson, a freshman from California studying political science, said President Nelson’s talk during the General Women’s Session about women and the priesthood stuck out to her. President Nelson discussed how women do have the power of the priesthood. “Because the Melchizedek Priesthood has been restored, both covenant-keeping women and men have access to all the spiritual blessings of the Church.”

Severson said, “I’m going on a mission, and hearing more about the role of women in temples makes me more excited to go to the temple.”

Kessa Greding, a junior from Utah studying hospitality and tourism management, said she enjoyed President Nelson’s talk in the General Women’s Session because it seemed different to her than most talks given in past sessions.

Greding said though she knew somewhat about women having access to the priesthood, President Nelson’s words helped her better understand the concept.

Regarding President Nelson’s promise for an “unforgettable” April 2020 Conference, McQueen said she is excited for the next conference, “What could possibly be so unforgettable?”

Severson added President Nelson’s closing remarks make her excited for her religion class about the Restoration next semester.

During the Women’s Session, Sister Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, gave a talk about mental health. Aburto discussed recognizing when professional help and medication is needed when it comes to mental health struggles. Aburto points out while turning to the Gospel and Christ may work for some, others will need more help.

According to Severson, her brother’s struggle with mental illness was a reason he fell away from the Church. After added support from parents and healthcare professionals, he began to attend church again and is working towards going on a service mission for the Church.

“A little bit of extra support and your testimony can blossom,” Severson said.

Date Published
October 10, 2019
Last Edited
October 10, 2019