A friend of mine once asked me if the Mormon’s have any special holidays. While I’m not sure I would call General Conference a holiday, it is certainly a very special weekend, and one I look forward to months in advance. I am taking a break from my conversion story to talk about Conference this weekend, what it is, and what it means to me. I mentioned in one of my other blogs that Mormons attend their local church 48 weeks a year. 2 weeks is a regional meeting down in Albany, and 2 weeks are what we call General Conference. It is the first weekend of October, and April. During General Conference, the Church leadership speaks to us directly from Salt Lake City. All around the world, Latter Day Saints will tune into a series of broadcasts, and hear lessons directly from our Prophet, and other general authorities.
I have a few purposes in writing this blog. Part of it is for me, just so I have a record of my notes from Conference. It could be used by my member friends as well. But this is mostly going to be geared towards non-members. There are a lot of misconceptions about our church. I’ve had facebook friends post quotes or “facts” taken totally out of context, and not represent who we really are. Also, in the entertainment world, I haven’t seen too many portrayals of our religion that I find to be very accurate. When a lot of people think of us, they think of shows like “Sister Wives” I’ve only seen one episode of it, but it’s not something I would relate to. You have the “Book of Mormon” broadway musical. I listened to the soundtrack to that, and while it’s obviously entertainment, they also do a poor job capturing what we are all about. I’ve seen a few seasons of HBO’s “Big Love” and I also found their portrayal of mainstream LDS folk to be almost unrecognizable. The Mormon episode of “South Park” might have actually come the closest. There was a PBS special some years ago that got a lot right, but I don’t think they focused on all the traits that make us who we are.
And to a degree, that is important. There are some people who think we are a cult. Other’s think we spend all our time trying to squash gay rights. You’ve got a Mormon running for President of the United States right now, and a significant chunk of the voters say they would have a hard time voting for a Mormon. The research shows that a lot of the people who are against the church, really don’t know too much about it. And once they learn more, they are more accepting of it. So this will be a low pressure way to learn a little bit more.
Most non members aren’t just going to walk into a church service to see what it’s all about. Anyone who is reading this can tune in to http://www.lds.org/general-conference?lang=eng and watch from their own computers. I will be providing live notes and commentary, geared towards non members. It’s a good opportunity to actual see for yourself what it is we value and spend our time learning about.
So what is Conference? Twice a year, all the General Authorities of the Church meet in Salt Lake. Jesus Christ sits at the head of our Church, and our Prophet is Thomas S. Monson. President Monson is a good man, who has been a humble servant of the Lord for his whole adult life. He has two counselors, President Henry B. Eyring, and Dieter F. Uchtdorf. They are called the First Presidency. Each of them will speak several times at Conference. Then there is the Quorum of the Twelve. Twelve Apostles, who along with the first Presidency, guide the Church, and oversee all of the Churches organizations and members. Once named an Apostle, you advance in seniority, going from the junior member, all the way to the longest-serving, who becomes the President of the Church. President Monson became an Apostle in 1963, at the age of 36 years old. He served the Church full-time in that capacity, and as a member of the First Presidency for three different Prophets. In February of 2008, when the previous Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley passed on, Thomas Monson became the 16th leader of our Church.
Following the Apostles are the Seventies. And the Seventies do a lot of the legwork for the Church leadership. There are different groups of these, some are considered General Authorities, and might speak at Conference, other’s are called Area Seventies, and serve for shorter periods of time, and just represent one region. The Church has several other organizations that are represented at Conference. The Primary organization is our program for children up to twelve years old. Boys aged 12-17 are in the Young Mens organization, and girls of the same age are in Young Women. There is a Sunday School General Presidency. And there’s also a Relief Society leadership. Relief Society is the Churches organization for Women.
General Authorities are given a chance to speak at Conference, in a message that will reach all the members of the Church. I have found these messages to be both inspired, and inspiring. I’ve always wanted to go out and watch it live, but I have yet to make that happen. I tend to find my spirituality is at its peak in the month or two before and after a Conference.
Some people think we are crazy for having a three-hour church service on Sunday’s. But I think it’s great. And even though General Conference is about an 11 hour committment for me this weekend, I know I’m going to love every minute of it. Here’s the schedule. The Saturday morning session is from 12-2 pm local time. There’s a two-hour break, and the afternoon session is 4-6 pm. Some people will go into Church to watch, I will be wearing my pajama’s and watching from my command center at home. Saturday evening is the Priesthood meeting, which you cannot watch from home. The men will go to the local Church at 7 pm for pizza and ice cream, and then watch from the Chapel from 8-10pm. Sunday there are two sessions, from 12-2, and 4-6.
To prepare for Conference, we are encouraged to pray about questions we want to have answered. Writing them down is not uncommon. I’ve been working on that the last few weeks, but I won’t be sharing that here. It’s not uncommon that out of the 10 hours of broadcasts, you will find something that speaks to you personally. So that’s it from me, I hope to share this special event with you this weekend!