J. Reuben Clark Law Society Hosts its Asia Pacific Area Conference

By Dan Harrison, Conference Chair

In June 2023, the Hamilton New Zealand Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society hosted the Annual Asia Pacific Area Conference in Temple View, Hamilton, New Zealand. We were blessed to have in attendance members from Australia, the United States of America, the Philippines and New Zealand. The conference was held in the David O. Mckay Stake and Events Centre, which is located where the Church College of New Zealand once stood and is overlooked by the Hamilton, New Zealand Temple.

In his address at last year’s Asia Pacific Area Conference in Tasmania, Australia, Elder Ian S. Ardern, then–President of the Pacific Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, requested four things of the Society in the Asia Pacific region: (1) to make the values taught by Jesus Christ part of our lives, (2) to get our feet under the right tables so the voice of the Lord is heard, seen and felt, (3) to secure the Society’s future in the region by mentoring those who will follow, and (4) to find a cause and champion it. In this context, the theme for this year’s Conference was “Be ye doers of the word” (James 1: 22-25). 

The conference’s Friday evening began with a Powhiri (traditional Māori welcome ceremony), welcoming those who have not visited New Zealand and recognising the local cultural protocols. A Kapahaka (Māori performing arts) Group then continued the entertainment with a beautiful Waiata (Māori Song). The Society’s International Chair, Annette Jarvis, spoke to the conference theme. She encouraged attendees to work hard to bring to pass the promises and work of God, and to build bridges and be peacemakers in their communities. Sister Jarvis also encouraged attendees to mentor law students and junior practitioners, and to seek legal service opportunities, including finding meaningful charitable opportunities to make a difference.

Most attendees began their Saturday morning as “doers” in the form of friendly pickle ball and yoga.  This was followed by an address by Dr. Juliet Chevalier-Watts, Senior Lecturer from the University of Waikato. She expressed concerns about religion’s ability to maintain charitable status in the Asia Pacific Area, challenging all to join her in advocating for religion’s crucial place within modern society by demonstrating its social impact. Professor A. Keith Thompson of Sydney’s University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law discussed the doctrinal importance of religious freedom and identified eight contemporary challenges to freedom of religion in the West.  Paul Rytting, recently-appointed Pacific Area Legal Counsel in the Office of General Counsel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, educated attendees on matters of interest to the Office of General Counsel with a strong emphasis on risk management.

For many, the Black-Tie Ball on Saturday Evening was the highlight of the weekend. A local collection of talented musicians, including our own Annette Jarvis, provided fantastic ambience. Judge Jonathon Down, a key contributor and mentor for many chapter members who recently concluded his tenure as a District Court Judge, was awarded the inaugural Matthew Cowley Lifetime Service Award for dedication and service in the Asia Pacific region through personal religious conviction, professional excellence, and the promotion of fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law. The Award was presented by the outgoing Asia Pacific Chair and newly-called Area Authority, Elder Jared Ormsby, and a fellow judicial colleague, Judge Gordon Matenga. The presentation included the gifting of a Korowai (woven clock) traditionally worn by Māori leaders, a symbol of leadership and honour. It was accompanied by a moving rendition of the waiata Matthew Cowley’s Lament performed by Judge Matenga and his two sons.

The weekend was brought to a close with a devotional by Elder Jared Ormsby, who endearingly described those in attendance as “people of faith who happen to be lawyers.” He encouraged attendees to remember their true identities as sons and daughters of God, and as disciples and partakers of the Atonement of Christ. His address left an invitation to turn away from worldly distractions, to make choices consistent with our true identity, and to follow the promptings of the Spirit to provide guidance within our careers.

The Asia Pacific Area looks forward to next year’s conference, which will be hosted by the Philippines Chapters at the beautiful Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu, Philippines from 31 May – 1 June 2024. For those interested in attending, please contact Mhe-Anne Ojeda by email at ojedaml@gmail.com.