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President Hinckley Opens General Conference

President Hinckley Opens General Conference

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the church's 173rd General Conference on Saturday with a call to members to make new converts welcome in their communities.

Hinckley, 92, is considered by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be their prophet, seer and revelator. The church reports it has 11 million members worldwide, with many of them converted to the faith through the church's missionary efforts.

"Converts continue to come into the church, and our numbers are constantly being increased," Hinckley said.

For a variety of reasons, not all of those converts stay with the church.

"We call on every member of the church to reach out to new converts, to put your arms around them and make them feel at home," Hinckley said. "Every man, woman or child worthy of baptism is worthy of a secure and friendly situation in which to grow in the church and its many activities."

Speaking to more than 20,000 members at the church Conference Center and millions more around the world via satellite feed, Hinckley also assured members the church would not go into debt building new meetinghouses and temples.

"We will strictly tailor the program to the tithing income and use these sacred funds for the purposes designated by the Lord," he said.

He pointed to the church's recently announced plans to buy Crossroads Plaza, a mall in downtown Salt Lake City. Explaining that the church felt a "compelling responsibility to protect" the area adjacent to Temple Square, Hinckley assured the faithful that tithing funds wouldn't be used to acquire or develop the property.

The mall is on Main Street, whose boarded up shop fronts and aging malls bespeak its decline.

For the first time, conference-goers had to go through a security magnetometer before entering the Conference Center.

During the 2002 Olympics, magnetometers were set up at entrances. At last weekend's young women's conference, the metal detectors also were used for the first time.

"It's just a prudent safety precaution," said church spokeswoman Kim Farah.

Boisterous evangelical street preachers who have become a regular presence on the sidewalks near the Conference Center promised to show up during the weekend. The city issued two "free expression" permits for the sidewalks near the conference building and grounds.

One was for a street preacher from Clarence, N.Y., who with four other people are permitted to pass out literature from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Church officials requested permits for about 30 missionaries to proselytize from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. The church had a similar permit during October's conference.

The city didn't receive permit requests for the Main Street plaza, a source of free-speech contention since April 1999, when then-Mayor Deedee Corradini and Hinckley announced the church had purchased the one-block stretch of Main Street for $8.1 million.

A lawsuit over church plans to limit speech and behavior led to the Oct. 9 ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the city couldn't allow the church to enforce its restrictions. The city, the court ruled, was required to uphold 1st Amendment constitutional free-speech protections.

Mayor Rocky Anderson said ordinances governing all public sidewalks will be enforced.

Those ordinances forbid the use of amplified bullhorns or other sound systems to disrupt school or religious services or obstruct pedestrian traffic.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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