Saturday is the first full day of Sukkot, the Jewish celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles remembering when the children of Israel began their wandering for 40 years in the desert.
For one week, the Sukkot traditionally has Jewish families pitching a tent/booth with doors open to the tabernacle as a symbol of looking to God and remembering his protection in the wilderness.
On Saturday, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will figuratively gather in their tents/homes and turn their eyes and hearts to God and their leader, President Russell M. Nelson, during the 190th Semiannual General Conference of the church.
Likewise, on Saturday members of the St. Francis Catholic Church in Orem and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo, will turn their hearts to the healing power of St. Francis of Assissi when the annual blessing of the animals takes place. It is a sign of God’s love for all of his creatures.
As Saturday is the Sabbath for the Seventh-day Adventists, members of the Provo congregation will be gathering to worship and give their devotion to God in their meetinghouse about the same time as all the other observances.
Religiously, it is a busy weekend. While COVID-19 may have slowed the pace or distances of the congregations, the worshipping has not stopped.
For those living along the Wasatch Front, no matter what denomination, they know that it’s time for the LDS Church’s General Conference.
Does that matter to the other denominations? Not much, according to Pastor Joe McCormick of the Mt. Calvary Chapel in American Fork.
“There is less traffic with COVID-19,” McCormick said. “One thing for certain this weekend is the best time to have a restaurant lunch on Sunday.”
McCormick said they’re not likely to see their LDS friends that weekend as they huddle up their families to view conference.
“We hear what happens but for the most part it doesn’t affect us,” McCormick said.
Alexander Jensen, a former member of the LDS Church and now a parishioner at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, says he understands why people want to be there at conference.
Jensen remembers as a young man getting tickets to conference and going with his father from Orem to Salt Lake City. It took two hours to get up there and find a parking spot before they ever got to the conference session.
Now he says the greatest impact of conference on him comes from the media.
“I notice how much it takes over the media leading up to it,” Jensen said. “The front page stories and big headlines and the evening news. I find it interesting.”
Jensen added, “Everybody expects you to know it, what happens, that it’s conference even if you’re not LDS.”
Jensen acknowledged this is an important weekend for the LDS Church and that the year seems to be structured around the spring and fall conferences in the area, but since leaving the church, he is not as focused on it.
Emily Lower, a member of the Springville Community Presbyterian Church, has lived in Utah off and on for a total of 16 years.
“You’d think general conference would be on my radar,” Lower said. “I seldom remember it’s conference weekend.”
Lower said she’ll be interested in what the leaders say.
“I have a lot of respect for the church,” Lower said. “Our lives are intertwined.”
Lower had a best friend in high school that was LDS. She was invited to hear former President Thomas S. Monson talk at a women’s conference session. She said his talk was impressive, but that’s about it.
Chaplain Linda Walton, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church said conference is hard on Salt Lake City.
“Traffic, parking, people tend to look at it like a Jazz game,” Walton said. “It’s a good time for the ‘gentiles’ to stay away from that part of town.”
Walton compares it to going to a Catholic Christmas Eve service. “It’s different but if we were invited, we’d go.”
Walton said some new people to the area may watch out of curiosity. Some will be incensed. She’s had students watch it for a comparative religions class, then do a paper.
“We’ll see it in the paper or on the news and we’ll get all the information we need from the small talk after conference,” she said.
There are 4,200 religions that are known about throughout the world. About 1% of their beliefs are similar to each other. Hearing about conference fits in with that 1%, Walton said.