October 5, 2013 – Saturday marked the beginning of another Semiannual General Conference for Mormons, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints occasionally refer to themselves.
This remarkable gathering in Salt Lake City is what makes me regard Conference Weekend as a “religious holiday” among Mormons. It takes place the first Sunday in October and in April, and you’ve probably never heard about it. They are special days, but a special day that is celebrated in a very matter-of-fact Latter-day Saint way.
Basically, we sit around in front of our televisions in our houses all day and listen to 10 hours of talks. The speeches are generously interspersed with hymns from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and two other choirs that since in the Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening priesthood session.
This General Conference marks the first time my immediate family and I have been out here in Utah. But while I might have trekked up to Salt Lake City and participated in person this year, I instead chose to watch it in the comfort of my living room with my daughter, my son and my wife. In the evening, my son and I put on white shirts and ties and travelled a few blocks to our “Stake Center.” (Think of a stake as a kind of diocese with parishes.) At the Stake Center, the brethren in each local community watch a satellite transmission from church headquarters.
This year, we could just as well have stayed at home for the priesthood session, too. This was the first year that the leaders of the church allowed the men-and-boys-only session to be broadcast. That’s one point for openness. But church leaders also refused admission to about 150 women who had sought to enter the Conference Center and watch the session in person. That decision shows the strictness and traditionalist side of our Mormon culture.
But among the talks given Saturday, by Elder Todd Christofferson, by Sister Carole Stephens, by Jeffrey Holland, and by President Dieter Uchtdorf (Second Counselor in the First Presidency), we saw the compassionate and tender side of our faith. Uchdtorf’s remarks made The New York Times, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-top-mormon-leader-acknowledges-the-church-made-mistakes.html. And, as Elder Robert Hales noted in his remarks, no leader or central committee instructs the men and women who speak at conference on what topics they should address. Rather, they rely on their own guidance from inspiration and prayer.
This opportunity to hear from living Apostles and Prophets is what makes General Conference weekend such a special occasion for my family. And we look forward to Sunday, too!