Got any big weekend plans? I’m thinking of sleeping in past 6am, staying in my pajamas, and eating pancakes.
But I’m going to do that while watching church on TV. All day long.
This isn’t a typical weekend for me, and it’s not because I suddenly decided to peruse the Church Channel (Google that, it exists). No, this weekend I’ll be watching a worldwide broadcast with millions of Mormons all over the globe: General Conference.
Some Normons on their way to watch General Conference in Salt Lake City
Twice a year, church members attend, watch, or listen to a series of five, two-hour meetings from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. While Mormons usually worship on Sundays in small, geographic congregations, on General Conference weekend we all tune in to hear the same worship service, broadcast from Salt Lake City. And because most of us tune in via TV or online from our homes, we secretly relish this chance to “go to church” in our sweats and trade cornflakes for pancakes.
But wait, let’s focus on those meeting times. I’m no mathematician, but I think five two-hour long meetings equals 10 HOURS OF CHURCH in one weekend. Most of us have a hard time watching 10 hours of basketball or our favorite TV show—how can we stand ten hours of CHURCH!? I mean there are a few hymns here and there to break things up, but how do we do it? The truth is most church members really look forward to “conference weekend,” as we call it. It’s a change of pace, a time to gather with family or friends and appreciate an entire weekend dedicated to self-reflection, improvement, and uplifting counsel from church leaders like the twelve Apostles and our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson.
Click here to expand the infographic
During each of these two-hour sessions, various church leaders speak on different spiritual topics, with each “talk” clocking in at about 15 minutes. The topics for these talks are never assigned; each speaker carefully selects and delivers their own, inspiring message, usually on topics like faith, life trials, service, and love. We all look forward to hearing their words because so often, they provide hope and guidance during life’s tough breaks.
The majority of church leaders who speak in General Conference are unpaid clergy. While some of them are employed by the church (i.e. Cecil O. Samuelson as President of BYU or the beloved Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley who worked for the Church Public Affairs office for many years), most have spent the majority of their lives in a variety of secular working professions. Since the speakers come from such a variety of occupations, nationalities, and family situations, there’s really something for everyone during General Conference. It’s not unusual for a church member to comment that they feel like a particular talk was written specifically for them. As Mormons, we see these messages as a form of modern revelation. They offer advice and reassurance. They remind us to tackle life’s obstacles with enthusiasm, to forgive ourselves and others, and to firmly uphold our morals. More than that, General Conference is really a symbol of how our church is a church of unity…the messages from these meetings are the same no matter where you hear them. And that’s why giving up your whole weekend for church is, surprisingly, the furthest thing from a burden. It’s the perfect time to recharge those spiritual batteries and take a two-day life inventory.
The LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City
For those wondering how this somewhat strange church marathon came to be what it is today, here’s a basic then and now:
The first church-wide meeting was held just two months after the church was organized in 1830 in Fayette, New York, with 27 members in attendance. Since 1848, General Conference meetings have been held in Salt Lake City. Many members actually still travel to Utah to attend the conference, where it is broadcast from the Conference Center adjacent to the Salt Lake City temple (free tickets are distributed for seating inside the Center itself).
Now, of the 14 million members who are unable to attend conference in person can view it in over 7,000 actual church buildings located in 97 countries. Anyone with a television or computer can watch in the comfort of their own homes on Salt Lake City-based TV stations KSL or BYU-TV. Those numbers add up to about 595,000 viewing households in North America, plus people watching at home in an additional 197 countries and territories. The meeting is even simultaneously interpreted into 94 languages. Pretty cool, right? After general conference is over, the talks are published online and in our church magazines, giving us the chance to diligently study and patiently apply our leaders’ thoughtful counsel even after the weekend ends. Don’t worry–even those are published in 50 languages for your reading pleasure.
So if you’re curious, come listen with us this weekend. We promise you don’t have to watch all ten hours. Or even a full session, for that matter. Whatever you decide to watch, we’re willing to bet you’ll like something you hear.
Click here to watch.