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SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints learned Saturday morning that Elder Neil L. Andersen has been named to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Church President Thomas S. Monson opened the church's 179th Annual General Conference Saturday morning at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City by presenting Elder Andersen's name for a sustaining vote by church members.
Elder Andersen told a news conference Saturday that he learned about the calling on Wednesday afternoon. He called it a great honor and responsibility. "I'm very humbled by this day, very overwhelmed by what is ahead of me," he said.
In response to reporters' questions, he said the rapid growth of the church is the greatest challenge that it faces. "And it's a great challenge," he added.
He also called it a sign of the times that the church is coming into greater focus lately in the media and elsewhere.
"I would say to members of the church simply that we need to be at peace and know the Lord will bless us and He will be with us. These are great times to live in, great times to be a member of the church. And there are very happy times ahead," he said.
As a church administrator, Elder Andersen has a unique understanding of how the church is developing around the world and the challenges that brings. New statistics released Saturday show worldwide church membership has grown to 13.5 million. The data, which is current through Dec. 31, 2008, shows a missionary effort of more than 52,000 drew 265,593 converts last year. Most of the growth is occurring outside the United States.
Elder Andersen says the church's governing bodies are increasingly diverse and reflect the growth.
"The nature of the governance of the church is expanding as the needs are expanding," he said. "The main challenges of course are to remain righteous in a secular society, to be obedient to our Heavenly Father's commandments and to help with the governance of the church as it grows across to nations we hardly know the name of at this time."
Elder Andersen will fill the vacancy left in the quorum by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, who passed away in December of 2008. Elder Andersen is the 97th apostle in the 179-year history of the church. Once called to the position, apostles serve for the rest of their lives as prophets, seers and revelators.
"I take it as a very heavy responsibility to live up to what those words mean, more so that I have ever thought of it before," Elder Andersen said. He is expected to address the conference at Sunday morning's session.
Elder Andersen was serving as the senior member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
He was named a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at age 41. He previously led the work of the Church in southern Brazil and again, as a member of an area presidency, oversaw the Church in Western Europe. He has also assisted in supervising the work of the Church in Mexico and Central America.
He supervised Church audiovisual production and managed construction of the broadcast facilities in the Conference Center. He speaks French, Portuguese and Spanish in addition to his native English.
Prior to his call as a General Authority, Elder Andersen served as a mission president in the France Bordeaux Mission, and as president of the Tampa Florida stake.
Elder Andersen was born in Logan and raised in Pocatello, Idaho, on a dairy farm.
He graduated from Brigham Young University and earned a MBA from Harvard University. After completing his education, he settled in Tampa, Florida, where his business interests included advertising, real estate development and health care.
Elder Andersen and his wife, Kathy Williams Andersen, are the parents of four children and twelve grandchildren.
This story compiled with information from the Associated Press and Sam Penrod.