As crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils start to bloom in Utah, they traditionally signal spring and that the time is at hand for the Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The 190th Annual General Conference is Saturday and Sunday this year with two regular sessions each day and a third special session for members Saturday evening.
According to President Russell M. Nelson it will, “not only be memorable, it will be unforgettable.”
Nelson spoke those words six months ago, three months before the Chinese city of Wuhan became ground zero of a global pandemic.
Nelson did not know that the world would be frozen in place with people quarantined in their homes, that a death knell would ring worldwide for thousands of carriers of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, nor that this special conference would be more memorable than any conference in the past generation or two of church members.
The changes to the annual conference are significant. Yet, those who get up on Saturday and Sunday morning and by tradition turn on their televisions or computers to watch conference will only notice a few changes.
There will be no live choirs, no rows of general authorities and general officers of the church, and no throngs of people from all over the world streaming into the conference center.
You will not see leadership waving at friends and family as they enter to take their seats on the stand. Those funny conference talk quips from speakers will fall on no ears, if any jokes are spoken at all.
You won’t see cameras showing the audience in the great conference hall, nor will you hear them rise and sing the intermediate hymn.
No, COVID-19 has changed all of that. All around the LDS Church headquarters it will be a unique and memorable weekend.
Here are some other things that are typical, but are not happening during conference weekend:
- No large gatherings of returned missionaries at mission reunions Friday night.
- No Temple Square to stroll leisurely through, it’s closed for construction.
- No church buildings to tour, or lunch to find at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
- You won’t see young couples lounging on the grass and listening to the external broadcast of conference on loudspeakers, they won’t be in use this conference.
- And, except for a few perhaps, there won’t be protesters calling saints to repentance as they enter the Conference Center.
- For the usual downtown shoppers, there is no catching a bargain at shops at the City Creek Center stores (they are closed), and no ladies night out at Deseret Book stores.
- You will see less, not more, of FrontRunner and Trax, and the Salt Lake City Airport will not have throngs of visitors coming in from all over the world and those trying to escape the conference crowds by flying out.
For members of the LDS Church and those affected by General Conference, it won’t be business or church as usual.
What members could expect to experience is what President Nelson hopes from every conference, that members will have a spiritual, introspective evaluation of their relationship with deity and, during this bicentennial year, gain more understanding into the importance of Joseph Smith and his First Vision.
According to Nelson, this conference is to be a hinge point that will open a new door in the lives of the members of the church as they prepare for the future.