When there is a vacancy in The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the President of the Church is the one who ultimately issues the calling to a new apostle. The process of receiving that inspiration includes earnest prayer and discussion with all of the current apostles. President Gordon B. Hinckley shared this after filling a vacancy left by the passing of Elder Marvin J. Ashton in 1994:
“In filling that vacancy, each member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve was at liberty to make suggestions. I am confident that in every case, there was solemn and earnest prayer. A choice was then made by the First Presidency, again after solemn and serious prayer. This choice was sustained by the Council of the Twelve. Today, the membership of the Church in conference assembled has sustained that choice.
“I give you my testimony, my brethren, that the impression to call Brother Hales to this high and sacred office came by the Holy Spirit, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Brother Hales did not suggest his own name. His name was suggested by the Spirit.”
Read more about the process on The Church’s official website.
“Daddy, Salt Lake City is Calling”
When an apostle is called to the Twelve, the calling is extended in a very similar way to all the other callings in the Church. They are quite simply asked, by one with authority, if they will accept this calling. They generally have no inkling that a calling of such magnitude is coming, and are quite surprised and disbelieving at first. Given their humble natures, these men have never aspired to be apostles, or thought that they would ever be called to such a position.
Not every apostle has a detailed public account of their experience when they were called to the Twelve, but the President of the Church traditionally includes it in his biography. Here we share the accounts from our current Church President, Thomas S. Monson, and the past 4 Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, Howard W. Hunter, Ezra Taft Benson, and Spencer W. Kimball.
When Spencer W. Kimball was called to the Twelve
from his biography, ‘Spencer W. Kimball’, written by Edward L. Kimball & Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., (pp. 189-195)
“Daddy, Salt Lake City is Calling,” were the words that Spencer W. Kimball heard when he walked through the door on July 8th, 1943. Stake President Spencer W. Kimball had casually come home for lunch, as he usually did.
Brother Kimball had received many calls from Salt Lake City through the years. This time felt a little different to him. As he crossed the room to take the phone, he felt an ‘overwhelming feeling’ that he was about to be called to a high position in the Church. He even had a fleeting thought about the two vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but he quickly dismissed the idea. He upbraided himself for even thinking such a thing.
Spencer picked up the phone, and heard the voice of President J. Reuben Clark.
“Spencer, this is Brother Clark. Do you have a chair handy?”
“Yes, Brother Clark,” Spencer answered.
“The Brethren have just chosen you to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum.”
Spencer W. Kimball, shocked at those words, ‘sank past the chair to the floor’. He protested to President Clark that such a calling couldn’t possibly be right.
“The Brethren feel that you are the man,” reaffirmed President Clark.
Spencer had learned to never turn down a calling, but he felt so unworthy. Every petty thing he had ever done and every misunderstanding he’d ever had with his fellow man came crashing into his mind.
“It seemed that every person that had ever been offended because of me stood before me to say, ‘How could you be an Apostle of the Lord? You are not worthy. You are insignificant. You shouldn’t accept this calling. You can’t do it.'”
But the calling was real. By now Spencer’s family had gathered around, curious about his tone and exclamations during the call. After he hung up the phone, he turned to his wife and sons.
“They have called me to become an Apostle,” he said.
Spencer’s family stood silent, bewildered for a moment before his wife asked, “Are you sure that you were to be an Apostle?”
Spencer answered that he wasn’t sure. Maybe he had misunderstood. Maybe the calling was to be an Assistant or something else. The family tried to sit down to lunch, which was getting cold. No one had much of an appetite. The boys went outside, and Spencer stretched out on the floor to try to relax for a moment. His mind raced. He thought of the logistics of a move to Salt Lake from their home in Arizona. He would need to give up his business, which was finally becoming prosperous, sell their home, leave friends and the wonderful life they had built through the years.
“But the predominant thought was my own limitations and incapacities and weaknesses and I was overcome. The tears came then, an inexhaustible flood. It had been years since I had shed a tear… But now uncontrollable, I wept and wept. It seemed that all the conflicting thoughts of my mind were trying to wash themselves clear with tears. I was in convulsions of sobbing. My wife was sitting by me on the floor, stroking my hair, trying to quiet me.”
Over the next few days, Spencer and his wife traveled to Colorado on a pre-planned trip to visit their son. After that, they planned to go on to Salt Lake City. Spencer was in anguish, as he berated himself for his shortcomings. He couldn’t sleep, and spent hours in tearful prayer. After six days and nights of constant prayer and no sleep, he was completely exhausted, but still had not received the peace and comfort he needed.
He started a fast, and set out on a hike in the hills of Colorado. He hiked and wept and condemned himself for all of his shortcomings. He pleaded for some peace and assurance that he was acceptable to the Lord. Eventually, that peace came.
“My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. A calm feeling of assurance came over me, doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in the tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and the reassuring answer to my prayers. Long I meditated here in the peaceful quietude, apart, and I felt nearer my Lord than ever at any time in my life.”
Spencer W. Kimball was sustained to The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on October 1, 1943. He later became President of the Church on December 30, 1973.
When Ezra Taft Benson was called to the Twelve
(from his biography, ‘Ezra Taft Benson’, written by Sheri L. Dew, (pp. 174-176)
Ezra Taft Benson and his fifteen-year-old son Reed had been on the road touring farming cooperatives as part of Ezra’s job. They stopped to see family in Idaho, and then had one last stop in Salt Lake before boarding a train home to Maryland. It was July 26th, 1943—just a few weeks after Spencer W. Kimball had received his calling to the Twelve.
Ezra was summoned to the home of President Heber J. Grant, who was the President of the Church. President Grant had been ill, and was resting in bed as Ezra and Reed arrived. President Grant bid Ezra to enter and close the door. As Ezra sat down in a chair next to the bed, President Grant took Ezra’s hand and clasped it. With tears in his eyes, President Grant then said:
“Brother Benson, with all my heart I congratulate you and pray God’s blessing to attend you. You have been chosen as the youngest member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.”
Ezra hadn’t experienced any spiritual promptings that a call of such magnitude was coming. In fact, he initially hadn’t agreed to the meeting, because he was worried he would miss his train back to Maryland. He was completely shocked, and ‘felt as if the earth were sinking from beneath him’.
He later recorded in his journal: “The announcement seemed unbelievable and overwhelming. . . . For several minutes [I] could say only, ‘Oh, President Grant, that can’t be!’ which I must have repeated several times before I was able to collect my thoughts enough to realize what had happened. . . . He held my hand for a long time as we both shed tears. . . . For over an hour we were alone together, much of the time with our hands clasped warmly together. Tho [he was] feeble, his mind was clear and alert, and I was deeply impressed with his sweet, kindly, humble spirit as he seemed to look into my soul.
“I felt so utterly weak and unworthy that his words of comfort and reassurance which followed were doubly appreciated. Among other things he stated, ‘The Lord has a way of magnifying men who are called to positions of leadership.’ When in my weakness I was able to state that I loved the Church he said, ‘We know that, and the Lord wants men who will give everything for His work.’
“He told of the action taken in a special meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve two weeks before and that the discussion regarding me had been enthusiastically unanimous. . . . I feel confident that only thru the rich blessings of the Almighty can this ever be realized.”
After the meeting with President Grant ended, Ezra joined his son Reed, who had patiently been waiting. Ezra said nothing of what had occurred during the ride from President Grant’s home to President David O. McKay’s. Once they’d arrived, President McKay was able to tell Reed the news.
The train ride back to Maryland was long. It lasted through the night, but Ezra couldn’t sleep. He had spiritual concerns, such as whether he was truly worthy and up to the task. He had practical concerns, such as quitting his job and uprooting his family. Would his children adjust OK to life in Utah? What would the future hold for him and his family, now that he had accepted a lifelong and full-time calling? Even forty years later, Ezra’s eyes would well up with tears when speaking of this tender time, this ‘humble, overwhelming moment’ that would change his life forever.
“‘Slept very little but prayed, wept and did much sincere thinking regarding this great thing which has come to me, a humble weak farmer boy,’ he wrote in his journal that first night. ‘With heart full of gratitude I pledged my all to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth and pled with the Lord to give me strength to ever be worthy of this high and holy calling.’
“When the train arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado, Ezra placed some overdue calls. The first was to Flora. She registered little surprise at her husband’s emotional news, admitting she had had a strong impression that something of magnitude would happen on this trip. ‘She said how wonderful she felt it was and expressed her complete confidence I could measure up,’ Ezra wrote. ‘It was reassuring to talk to her. She has always shown more faith in me than I have myself.'”
Ezra Taft Benson was sustained on the same day as Spencer W. Kimball, with Spencer being sustained first. It was October 1, 1943, when these two men, who would both later be President of the Church, first became Apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve. Ezra Taft Benson would become President of the Church on November 10, 1985.
At the time that President Benson and President Kimball were called to the Twelve, the Church would sometimes announce such callings almost immediately. By August, the news of both callings was public knowledge, even though the actual sustaining took place in October.
Howard W. Hunter is called to the Twelve
from his biography, ‘Howard W. Hunter,’ written by Eleanor Knowles (pp. 142-146)
Autumn of 1959 was an exciting time for Pasadena Stake President Howard W. Hunter and his family. Their first grandchild had arrived! How wonderful! With general conference approaching, Howard’s wife left California and headed to Provo, Utah a week early so she could spend some time with the new addition to the family. Howard arrived in Salt Lake just in time to attend Friday’s first session. (General Conference lasted three days back then.)
After the first session, Howard chatted with people in Temple Square, and made his way to the Hotel Utah just across the street. There he was informed that President David O. McKay’s secretary had been searching for him. Howard was certain that President McKay simply wanted a report on an earlier task that the First Presidency had assigned him. Soon Howard was sitting in President McKay’s office, located in the near-by Church Administration Building. Howard later recalled:
“President McKay greeted me with a pleasant smile and a warm handshake and then said to me, ‘Sit down, President Hunter, I want to talk with you. The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.’
“I cannot attempt to explain the feeling that came over me. Tears came to my eyes and I could not speak. I have never felt so completely humbled as when I sat in the presence of this great, sweet, kindly man—the prophet of the Lord. He told me what a great joy this would bring into my life, the wonderful association with the brethren, and that hereafter my life and time would be devoted as a servant of the Lord and that I would hereafter belong to the Church and the whole world. He said other things to me but I was so overcome I can’t remember the details, but I do remember he put his arms around me and assured me that the Lord would love me and I would have the sustaining confidence of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve.”
The interview was over in only a few minutes, and Howard went back to the Hotel Utah. When he called his wife in Provo, he struggled to even speak. She promised to come up to Salt Lake that day. As the Friday afternoon session got underway, Howard found he was too nervous to sit still. He went for a walk, returning just as the session was ending.
That evening, he went ahead with his scheduled plans with family. He and his son John attended the traditional annual football game between the University of Utah and BYU. John found the game exciting, but Howard remembers just staring at the 50-yard line for the whole game. (Final score: U of U 20; BYU 8). Howard then spend a long time talking with his wife.
The next morning, less than 24 hours after the calling had been extended, Howard W. Hunter sat in the Salt Lake Tabernacle as the Saturday morning session commenced. President J. Reuben Clark conducted the sustaining of the authorities of the Church, and Howard remembers how he felt:
“My heart commenced to pound as I wondered what the reaction would be when my name was read. I have never had such a feeling of panic. One by one the names of the Council of the Twelve were read and my name was the twelfth.”
As Howard made his way to his new seat on the stand, all eyes were on him.
“I have never seen so many news photographers, and flashbulbs were going off like fireworks. My heart increased ins pounding as I climbed the steps. Elder Hugh B. Brown moved over to make room for me and I took my place as the twelfth member of the Quorum. I felt the eyes of everyone fastened upon me as well as the weight of the world on my shoulders. As the conference proceeded I was most uncomfortable and wondered if I could ever feel that this was my proper place.”
Howard W. Hunter was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve on October 10th, 1959. He became President of the Church on June 5, 1994.
When Gordon B. Hinckley was called to the Twelve
from his biography, ‘Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley’ written by Sheri L. Dew (pp. 234-237)
Whereas Howard W. Hunter, Ezra Taft Benson, and Spencer W. Kimball were all stake presidents when they were called, Gordon was serving in the calling of Assistant to the Twelve. This calling no longer exists, but was very similar in responsibilities to being a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. (To learn more about this calling, and it’s absorption into the Quorum of the Seventy, go to ‘The Reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy‘).
Gordon B. Hinckley received a call bright and early on September 30, 1961. It was general conference weekend, with the Saturday morning session set to begin in a few hours. President David O. McKay was on the other end of the line, asking Gordon to please come and meet with him right away. Gordon hurried to meet the prophet. In less than hour Gordon had arrived from his East Millcreek home, and sat ‘knee to knee’ with President McKay in his office.
President McKay explained the purpose of this early morning summoning: “I have felt to nominate you to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and we would like to sustain you today in conference.”
These words left Gordon breathless and speechless. He struggled to respond, but could find no words. He had never imagined that this calling would come to him. How could it be?
“President McKay continued: ‘Your grandfather was worthy of this, as was your father. And so are you.’ With these words, Elder Hinckley’s composure crumbled, for there was no compliment the prophet could have paid him that would have meant more. ‘Tears began to fill my eyes as President McKay looked at me with those piercing eyes of his and spoke to me of my forebears,’ he remembered. ‘My father was a better man than I have ever been, but he didn’t have the opportunities I have had. The Lord has blessed me with tremendous opportunities.'”
Later that day, Gordon was sustained. The next day, he spoke in the last session. He shared that he had wept and prayed in the short time since receiving the call. He recounted that Sister Romney had told him she knew he’d been called before he was sustained, because of the appearance of his eyes. He expressed his feelings of inadequacy, and bore his testimony of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and of truthfulness of the Church.
After he was ordained the next week, the “days that followed were filled with introspection, pondering, prayer, and many tears. Above all else Gordon desired to be worthy of this calling, but he felt acutely aware of his personal failings. For a time it was as though he was experiencing his own dark night and in the process coming face-to-face with his inadequacies. He found himself pleading with the Lord to make him equal to the mantle he now bore. Perhaps the intensity of the loneliness, the realization that he of himself wasn’t equal to the call, was for a reason—so that he would never forget whose errand he was on and who would make him capable of filling this overwhelming assignment.”
Gordon B. Hinckley was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve on September 30, 1961. He became President of the Church on March 12, 1995.
When Thomas S. Monson was called to the Twelve
from his biography, ‘To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson’ written by Heidi S. Swinton (pp. 215-221)
Tom Monson was pleased to hear from President David O. McKay on that October day. They chatted over the phone about Tom’s recent time in Canada as a mission president. President McKay mentioned wanting to visit with Tom ‘sometime’. Tom offered to come right over.
Soon Tom was bounding up the steps to President McKay’s office. The fact that general conference was a few days away, and there was a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve, AND that he was about to sit down with the President of the Church didn’t cause him concern. It didn’t even cross his mind that he was about to be called. He was just excited to have a meeting with President McKay, who was so warm and kind and Christlike. Soon Tom was standing in the office of President McKay, who beckoned Tom to come and sit down right next to him.
“With great emotion and obvious pleasure he got right to the point. ‘Brother Monson,’ he said, ‘with the passing of President Henry D. Moyle I have named Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner to be my Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and the Lord has called you to fill his place in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Could you accept the calling?'”
“The moment was sacred. Tom remembers feeling overwhelmed, shocked, and unable to speak. ‘Tears filled my eyes, and after a pause that seemed like an eternity, I responded by assuring President McKay that any talent with which I might have been blessed would be extended in the service of the Master in putting my life on the line if necessary.'”
President McKay and Tom talked a little about the calling, with all its responsibilities and rewarding experiences. Tom then went on his way. Tom’s car was in the shop, and he had borrowed a car to go to the meeting. As soon as he returned it, and picked up his own car, Tom headed home. His wife wondered why he had come home in the middle of the day.
Tom replayed the meeting with President McKay in his mind, and took stock of his own life. He thought about the future that now lay before him, and how it would affect his family and their future plans. “Then he went outside and mowed the lawn.”
After supper that night, he wanted to go for a drive. This was not customary, and his wife thought it was odd. They packed up their youngest son, who was three-years-old, and off they went to the This Is The Place Monument. They got out of the car and strolled around. Frances finally prodded, “What’s wrong? You have something on your mind.” President McKay had given Tom permission to tell his wife, which he proceeded to do. She was “surprised and humbled” at the news. They walked around the monument for a bit, talking about many things.
That night, they didn’t sleep well at all. Tom recalls having to get up and put socks on; his feet were freezing cold from being in such a state of shock. The next morning was general conference. Tom called his parents and told them to be sure to watch the morning session. He told them that newly returned mission presidents are sometimes asked to say a few words.
As Thomas S. Monson sat in the tabernacle, he “could feel the gaze of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, who knew of his appointment.” Much of the opening part of the session was a blur for Tom, but he remembers his name being read. He remembers taking “that long walk to the stand.” After President Tanner spoke, it was Elder Monson’s turn to say a few words.
Thomas S. Monson was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve on October 4, 1963. He became President of the Church on February 3, 2008.
These five men are the Prophets of my life. I love them all. I am humbled by their devotion to Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, as demonstrated by accepting the calling to be an Apostles and their faithful service thereafter. I love our current apostles, and testify to you that they are good, honest, loving men who live to serve God and to bless us all. I know the Church is true.