Twice a year, the Mormons hold a special conference in Salt Lake City, Utah that is broadcast around the world. Mormons don’t hold regular services that weekend, in order to allow members to watch the services at their church buildings by satellite or at home on television or the Internet. Sessions are held twice a day on Saturday and Sunday, and Mormons watch all four sessions. In addition, the adult men have a special session Saturday evening and the women have one the Saturday before conference.
Mormons like to make it a special occasion. They have special meals and treats, organize games to help children pay attention during meetings, and plan something fun between sessions. An official church website offers ideas for helping children enjoy the conference.
What will you see if you tune in to conference? The conference is actually run about the way a normal church meeting is run, except that a choir provides all the music. In a typical church meeting, a choir sings only periodically, usually for an intermediate hymn. In addition, the Sacrament (similar to Communion) is not offered during Conference, but is offered during traditional services.
Prior to the start of the meeting, the prophet and the apostles will arrive. The congregation stands for the arrival of the prophet.
The meeting is conducted by a member of the First Presidency. The First Presidency consists of the prophet, who is also the president of the Church, and his two counselors. Together, they are the highest governing body of the Church.
The meeting begins with an opening song by the choir. Some sessions have the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and others have amateur choirs put together just for that session, made up of ordinary church members. Sometimes choirs from Mormon colleges sing.
The opening prayer is given by a church member who has been invited to do so. The prayers may be given by either men or women.
In some sessions, church business is taken care of prior to the sermons, which are called talks. Statistics may be offered and there will be a report from the auditing department. Names of prominent church members who have died since the last conference are mentioned. Names of the highest level church leaders and their positions are read and members of the Church are asked to sustain them, meaning they agree before God to support these people in their spiritual work.
This is followed by speakers and an intermediate choir number. The speakers are chosen from the apostles and other Mormon leaders who have been invited to speak. An apostle is one of twelve who serve as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In actuality, however, there are fifteen apostles, since the prophet and his counselors are also apostles, but are serving in the presidency. Members of this body are given seniority, with the longest serving member serving as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. If the longest serving member is currently serving as the Prophet or a counselor, the next longest-serving person not in the presidency will serve as the operating president.
The speakers are not given assigned topics. They are asked to pray to know what God wants them to talk about. For this reason, several speakers may address the same subject, which members often see as a clue that something is especially important. Mormons are taught that what is said in conference is to be their guideline for the next six months.
This is not usually a time filled with new revelation. Instead it is simply a reminder of the commandments we already have and know, but may need more practice keeping.
What types of topics might be covered? In the April 2010 conference, held Easter weekend, the Sunday morning session included the following talks:
“You Are My Hands” By President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Summary: As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn.
“He Lives! All Glory to His Name!” By Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Summary: Our understanding of and faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ will provide strength and capacity needed for a successful life.
“Turn to the Lord” By Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy. (This is a governing body lower than the apostles.) Summary: Never let an earthly circumstance disable you spiritually.
That Our Children Might See the Face of the Savior By Cheryl C. Lant Recently Released Primary General President. (The Primary is an organization for children ages 18 months to 12 years. To be recently released means she recently ended her term as the person over this organization. A General President oversees the program for the entire Church, worldwide.) Summary: It is our sacred responsibility as parents and leaders of this rising generation of children to bring them to the Savior.
We Follow Jesus Christ By Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Summary: We rejoice in all the Savior has done for us. He has made it possible for each of us to gain our salvation and exaltation.
“He Is Risen!” By President Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church. Summary: The empty tomb that first Easter morning was the answer to Job’s question, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Because this session occurred on Easter, it was largely about the atonement, although each speaker addressed it from his personal perspective and focused on different parts of the topic. Other sessions throughout conference included talks on motherhood, missionary work, helping children gain testimonies of Jesus, refraining from judging others, the responsibility adults have to young people, and serving those in need.
The meeting closes with a closing song and a prayer. Members again stand while the prophet leaves the room, which can take a few minutes as he greets people.
Soon after conference, transcripts, audio, video, and sign language broadcasts are available on the Internet so anyone who chooses to do so can study the talks again at their leisure. They will also be published in a church magazine. The talks are studied in classes throughout the next six months and families review them often at home, looking for ways to apply what was learned.
As the Church as spread throughout the world, Mormons no longer have direct contact with their international leaders. This conference allows them to become familiar with the leaders and to gain insights into what God wants of His children for the next six months. For those who are not Mormon, it is a chance to learn a little more, since the counsel given is meant largely for Mormons and therefore you’re seeing exactly what we are seeing. You’ll find out what is on the mind of the Mormons this year from a trusted source—the actual speaker, not someone else’s interpretation of what was said.
If you’ve come to this site to learn about the Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson, why not watch the conference this weekend and see him for yourself and listen to his teachings? That will give you the best view of what sort of person he is.
Watch General Conference online October 2 and 3, 2010 at 10:AM and 12: PM MST.