By the Albuquerque Journal

SALT LAKE CITY - Mormons must stand together to stay strong as theirnumbers grow, church leaders said Sunday at the faith's 170th semiannualGeneral Conference.

"As I look into the faces of the thousands upon thousands who aregathered in this new and beautiful hall, and then think of the hundredsof thousands who are assembled across the world listening to thisconference, I am almost overcome with feelings of gratitude for thegreat unity that exists among us," said church president Gordon B.Hinckley.

Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said thechurch is leaning more heavily on new members than ever before. Last year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptized306,171 new converts around the world, bringing the total number ofmembers to more than 10.7 million. Some have worried that the speedyexpansion could dilute the church's basic principles.

"Someone who knows organizations in the world might predict failure fora rapidly growing church depending on so many novice lay members,"Eyring told the estimated 21,000 members who gathered in the church'snew conference center in Salt Lake City. "Even those called have feltsome apprehension."

But Eyring and others said the faithful could find strength in numbers. "Brothers and sisters, you are not alone. In The Church of Jesus Christof Latter-day Saints today, millions of people stand beside you," saidElder Joseph B. Wirthlin, also of the Quorum of the Twelve.

"When we work together to benefit those in need, we eliminate theweakness of one person standing alone and substitute the strength ofmany serving together," Wirthlin said.

Elder Thomas S. Monson, counselor to the First Presidency, told of beinga young naval officer left to stand alone as Catholics, Protestants andJews filed out to religious services. He said he was relieved to findother Mormons standing with him before a puzzled officer.

"He said, 'And what do you men call yourselves?' He used the plural -men," Monson said. "In unison, we said 'We're Mormons.'"

Elder Earl C. Tingey, of the Presidency of the Seventy, echoed the themeby focusing on widows, calling on members to help ease their lonelinessand telling the story of five elderly widows who drove to churchtogether.

"They entered the meeting together and sat down beside each other,"Tingey said. They seemed to draw strength and protection from oneanother. I felt the goodness of their noble lives as I watched theirtender association with one another."