Neil Andersen was happy simply being a steadfast church member in Tampa.
But top leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a different idea, so over the years, Andersen found himself increasingly tapped for more important roles.
In a private ceremony in Salt Lake City last month, he was ordained into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of the Mormon Church.
Andersen, 57, who is visiting the area to speak in Largo and Lutz today, once owned a Tampa advertising agency and was a vice president of the Morton Plant Health System. He discussed his church and new spiritual role as he prepared to visit his former hometown.
What is your role as an apostle in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles?
This is an overwhelming and very humbling assignment. I'm still getting used to the title being attached to me. It's a privilege, because our chief purpose is to build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to confirm to all people, in and outside the church, his divinity, his purpose and strength. The role, of course, has its purposes that are worldwide. … I will have responsibility for the countries of Central America.
How are apostles chosen?
The president of our church, President Thomas S. Monson, and the leadership of the church make that decision. … Of course, in the church, we neither seek position nor do we refuse it.
Did you ever envision being named to this top position? Why do you think you were selected?
I have no idea why I was selected. … I went to business school and expected that I would always have a small role in the church. Even after my wife and I were asked to go to France for three years, we expected to return and live happily ever after in Tampa.
What do you consider the most challenging moral issues the church must address?
We, of course, above all else, believe that we must seek to strengthen faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe in the years ahead, with the challenges that families and individuals will face, that the hope and peace that can come through Christ will be very important. It will also be important to strengthen families. … Children, whenever possible, need a committed father and mother. Beyond that, there are all sorts of issues that we must address with the economic situation. We believe we have a responsibility not just to care for the poor, but to seek them out and help them.
What misconceptions about the Mormon Church would you like to dispel?
We are very well treated, and we are thankful for that. We don't want to have a persecution complex. We would like to be seen as Christian people who are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. We would secondly like to be seen as very good but normal citizens in our communities, that we are doing our best to raise our children, assist in our community and help in our neighborhoods.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.