The history of general conference

    161

    By Ashlee Whitaker

    When describing the first general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith wrote, ?Such scenes as these were calculated to inspire our hearts with joy unspeakable, and ? to create within us sensations of rapturous gratitude, and inspire us with fresh zeal and energy in the cause of truth? (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 84).

    On June 9, 1830, all 27 members of the church gathered in Fayette, New York, for its first general conference. The small group of Saints gathered in response to a revelation received two months earlier, where the church was commanded to ?meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint? (Doctrine and Covenants 20:61).

    During the first two years of the church?s existence, conferences were held seven times. In subsequent years, conferences were convened according to needs.

    In October 1848, following the Saints? settlement in the Salt Lake valley, general conferences began to be held semi-annually on the April and October schedule. Initially, April conference was always scheduled to include April 6, to commemorate the organization of the church, regardless of which day of the week it fell on. Thus, the three-day conferences often included a weekday, as well as Saturday and Sunday.

    The church followed this schedule with some rare exceptions, such as in 1851, when October conference was held in September so that the departing missionaries could travel in better weather. In 1870, April conference was postponed until May, when the additional gallery of the Tabernacle was completed. Conference schedules were altered twice as a result of flu epidemics: in April 1919, when conference was rescheduled for June, and in 1957, when the October sessions were cancelled because of the Asian flu epidemic. The church followed the three-day conference schedule until April 1977, when the First Presidency announced that all general conferences of the Church would be two-day conferences held ?on the first Sunday of each April and October and the preceding Saturdays? (News of the Church,? Ensign, Feb. 1977, 91), enabling more church members to participate in all sessions of conference.

    As the church expanded, the setting of general conferences also evolved.

    Upon arriving in the Salt Lake valley, general conferences were held in Salt Lake City, with the exceptions of the years 1885 when conference was held in Logan, Utah, and 1886 through April 1887, when the church gathered in Provo and Coalville, Utah, because of concerns surrounding the polygamy issue. Conference meetings were initially held in boweries, large structures of dirt-and-bough roofs supported by tall poles. The open-air boweries were used until the Tabernacle was completed in 1867, which facilitated general conferences for the next 138 years.

    As church membership grew, the conference audience quickly exceeded the capacity of the almost 8,000-seat Tabernacle. In an effort to reach the increasing worldwide audience, the first conference session was broadcast over the radio airways in 1923 and the first televised session of conference followed in 1949.

    Now, 175 years following the first small conference of the church, general conference is now broadcast from the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Conference proceedings are broadcast over radio, television and the Internet in 55 different languages, from Arabic to Quiche, in order to accommodate church members worldwide.

    While the setting and presentation of conference has evolved, the purpose of general conferences remains the same.

    As President Hinckley said in April conference 2001, ?This is the reason ?why these conferences are held?to strengthen our testimonies of this work, to fortify us against temptations and sin, to lift our sights, to receive instruction concerning the programs of the church and the pattern of our lives.?

    [Sidebar]

    A test of your General Conference savvy:

    1. In what year was General Conference cancelled?

    a. 1866

    b. 1893

    c. 1910

    d. 1922

    e. 1957

    2. Approximately how many church members attended the first general conference of the Church?

    a. 18

    b. 23

    c. 27

    d. 33

    e. 39

    3. How many times has General Conference been held in Provo?

    a. 1

    b. 2

    c. 3

    d. 5

    e. 7

    Answer key:

    1. E

    2. C

    3. B

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