Many BYU students and Church members dealing with restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak are discussing what changes might occur at the annual General Conference, coming up the first weekend of April.
Last October, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world heard President Russell M. Nelson say “General Conference next April will be different from any previous conference.”
When President Nelson made that announcement, few could have imagined the Conference Center’s closure to the public, recorded music from the Choir at Temple Square and “social distancing” for church leaders who will speak, with conference proceedings now scheduled to take place in a different location than anticipated.
BYU student Brooklyn Hatch from Fruit Heights, Utah, said despite not having a gathering in the Conference Center, she doesn’t feel like there will be anything especially different. She said there will be an emphasized focus on the restoration of the gospel.
Courtney Gaddes, a BYU student from Birmingham, Alabama, said she thinks there will be more revelation and policy changes announced.
Gaddes said she is hoping the Church will lower the age for sister missionaries to serve.
BYU student Jacson Tenney from Boulder City, Nev., said he doesn’t think there will be much different about the conference itself but there’s a possibility of an important announcement being made.
“Maybe something to change with missions; maybe electronic missions or mission length or something like that,” Tenney said.
Utah State University Arrington Chair of Mormon History Patrick Mason said, “I’d love to hear how the Church hopes to mobilize its members and other resources to help alleviate the effects of the pandemic wherever possible.”
He also said he is anticipating announcements of changes to the missionary program such as variable lengths of service, multiple options for types of missions and more emphasis on service as opposed to tracting.
“I’m fairly certain that will happen at some point, but whether it’s at this conference no one knows.”
BYU sophomore Brittany Jones said she thinks conference will be fairly normal despite the lack of a live audience.
“What will make it different is the Spirit that people feel and the answers that they receive due to their preparation for conference following the prophet’s counsel,” Jones said.
Jones said she believes there will also be a lot of talk about the Second Coming.
“I’m not expecting them to give a specific date or anything, but it’s close and they know it,” said Jones. “I just want them to talk about the signs that have been fulfilled and the ones that we are still waiting for.”
BYU student Ryan Fenn from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., said he hopes to find peace in the messages shared in General Conference.
“With so much going on with COVID-19, I really just want to hear from our leaders and find comfort in the things they have to say,” Fenn said. “I think so many people, including myself, need that right now.”
BYU psychology professor Tricia Merkley said conference will be an uplifting and inspiring event.
“I predict that it will allow me to feel of the Lord’s love and also encourage me to reflect on changes that I can make so that I can better follow the example of Jesus Christ,” Merkley said.