General Conference (LDS Church)
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General Conference is a semiannual world conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in April and October, where members gather for five two-hour sessions to listen to instruction from Church leaders. General Conference is broadcast via satellite from the Conference Center at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
History and structure
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), general conferences are a semiannual meeting where general authorities and other church leaders preach sermons and give guidance to the members of the church. Changes to church leadership are also proposed and sustained through the principle of common consent. General conferences are held on the weekends containing the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in October. The April conference is known as the Annual General Conference, and the October conference the Semiannual General Conference. The April conference includes annual statistical and financial reports not included in the October meeting. Both conferences are identified by the number of years since the church was founded in April 1830; thus, the April 2009 meeting was the 179th Annual General Conference, and the October 2008 meeting was the 178th Semiannual General Conference.
The conferences have been held in Salt Lake City, Utah since 1848; in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square before 2000 and in the Conference Center after that. Historically, general conference was over three days with the annual conference always including April 6. This proved awkward when April 6 fell midweek as this made conference difficult to attend for those with work and school commitments. In April 1977, during Spencer W. Kimball's presidency, conference was reduced to two days, Saturday and Sunday.
Currently, each conference consists of five two-hour sessions: four general sessions and one Priesthood session. General sessions commence at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (Mountain Time) on Saturday and Sunday. General sessions are open to all church members and guests holding tickets, usually for only one session. The tickets are free of charge and members of the church can request them from either their local leaders or by writing to church headquarters. Standby tickets are also available, as frequently many ticket holders are not able to attend. At 6 p.m. on Saturday the Priesthood session is held for men and boys (12 years and older) who hold the priesthood of the church. Additionally, a women's general meeting is held on the Saturday preceding the Saturday general sessions of the October conference, and a general meeting for young women is held at a similar time before the April conference. These meetings usually last around 90 to 120 minutes.
General Authority Meeting
A member of the First Presidency of the church normally conducts each conference session, with the President of the Church presiding. On occasions in the past, when part or all of the First Presidency have been absent, whoever the First Presidency requests to conduct the Conference may do so, usually the most senior apostle not in the First Presidency. On the occasions where the President of the Church is absent, the next most senior leader presides. The conducting official introduces the various speakers, which over the course of the sessions will generally include all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a selection of other leaders in the church. Almost every general authority of the church is present, though outside the First Presidency and Twelve only few speak. Non-general authority speakers may include male and female officers of auxiliary organizations.
During one general session (usually Saturday afternoon) the conducting officer presents all the general authorities and general officers of the church for the formal sustaining vote of the membership, and it is usually at this time that any changes among the general church leadership are announced. Normally, the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are mentioned by name; those in other positions are mentioned by name only if they are being called or released from a previous or to a new position. The person conducting asks all of those who are in favor of sustaining the current leadership or of the calling of a new leader to raise their hand in a "vote." The counselor then asks that any who are opposed raise their hand. Dissenting votes are rare and the customary declaration at the end of the voting is "the voting appears to be unanimous in the affirmative."
At the first general conference after the death of a church president and the calling of his successor, the session at which the sustaining vote takes place is called a solemn assembly. At a solemn assembly, groups of Latter-day Saints are asked to stand in succession and sustain the new president of the church. Typically, the order is: First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Quorums of Seventy, Melchizedek priesthood holders, Aaronic priesthood holders, Relief Society members, members of the Young Women organization, and then all members together. Then the names of all other general authorities are read, and a sustaining and opposing vote is called for.
Frequently, special announcements are made at general conference, which may include building sites for new temples or the institution of new policies or programs.
Music is also an important part of the conference in setting the appropriate spiritual mood. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir along with the organist at the Conference Center generally provide the majority of the music, with the exception of the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions. Guest ensembles include regional choirs, institute choirs, the MTC choir, and the BYU Choirs. The hymns are usually selected from the normal repertoire of LDS hymns and their various arrangements, with an occasional piece from traditional sacred choral repertoire. Usually, the congregation is invited to stand and join in with one hymn halfway through each session.
Very rarely, soloist artists will perform for conferences. The last to do so, Liriel Domiciano, performed in the 2004 Annual General Conference with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Members of the church regard and sustain the president of the church, the counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles as "prophets, seers, and revelators," and are counseled to pay close attention to what they teach throughout the year. However, the sermons given at general conference are held in particularly high esteem and they are considered the will of God to the church members at the current time. The sermons (usually called talks) are published in the Ensign, an official church English language magazine, the month following a general conference. They are also translated and printed in the Liahona, the church's international version of the Ensign, which is published in multiple languages. Church members are encouraged to read and study the talks, discuss them at home and at church, and quote from them while giving lessons and sermons at church.
A sample of the topics of general conference discourses includes:
- Unity (Eyring, October 2008)
- Forgiveness (Faust, April 2007; Hinckley, October 2005)
- Natural disasters and preparedness (Hinckley, October 2005)
- Faith (Sorensen, April 2005)
- The dangers of pornography (Oaks, April 2005; Hinckley, October 2004)
- The first vision of Joseph Smith (Uchtdorf, April 2005)
- Acquiring a testimony of Jesus (McMullin, April 2004)
- Fatherhood (Perry, April 2004)
- The Atonement of Jesus (Hafen, April 2004)
- Fasting (Pratt, October 2004)
- Repentance (Nelson, April 2007; Uchtdorf, April 2007; Oaks, October 2003)
- Eternal life through Jesus (Madsen, April 2002)
- Tithing (Tingey, April 2002)
- Hope in the Atonement of Jesus (Faust, October 2001)
- The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (Packer, October 2001)
Although the conference is actually held in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, the church makes it as widely available as possible. It is shown on screens in various buildings on Temple Square, including the Tabernacle, Salt Lake Assembly Hall and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The conference usually airs on the LDS-owned media outlets KSL-TV, KSL (AM), The Mormon Channel at http://radio.lds.org, KBYU (FM), KBYU-FM HD2 (BYU Radio), and KBYU-TV. The conference usually preempts regularly scheduled programming. The conference is broadcast by satellite to church meetinghouses throughout the world, either simultaneously or time delayed to accommodate for differing time zones.
Conferences are also broadcast by some pay television networks such as Dish, DirecTV, and C-band in some markets on the BYU TV station. In recent years, an audio webcast of conference can also be heard via the church's website. These latter, more public methods usually do not carry the priesthood session.
General Conference can be viewed live on many cable and over-the-air channels that offer the programming as a public service. It can also be viewed live on BYU Television on the Dish Network, Channel 9403 and DirecTV, Channel 374. BYU Television is also available on over 250 cable systems in the U.S. Information on how to get BYU Television can be found at www.byutv.org.
General Conference can be viewed on the Internet at www.lds.org.
BYU Television also streams conference live on the Interent at www.byu.tv and BYU Television International streams the sessions live in Spanish and Portuguese at www.byutvint.org. Audio streaming is available also at www.byuradio.org.
Using all these methods, the church delivers the broadcast to 83 countries transmitting to over 5700 church facilities and airing over 18 television and 1700 cable stations. Volunteer language professionals translate the sermons into over 80 languages live during the simulcast, meaning that ninety-eight percent of church members can listen to general conference in their native language. The church intends to provide general conference language translation for 100% of its members by 2010.
- ^ "Report of the 147th Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", Ensign: 1, May 1977, http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=3ffc1f26d596b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1
- ^ "The Solemn Assembly Sustaining of Church Officers". Ensign. May 1995. http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1995.htm/ensign%20may%201995.htm/the%20solemn%20assembly%20sustaining%20of%20church%20officers.htm.
- ^ Ezra Taft Benson, “‘Come unto Christ, and Be Perfected in Him’,” Ensign, May 1988, p. 84.
- LDS Church Conference Reports (October 1897–2007)
- Videostream page for General Conference
- Deseret News General Conference page
- Tad Walch, "An LDS Conference Outside the U.S.?", Deseret Morning News, 2007-04-03