General Conference, Its Historic Path

General Conference, Its Historic Path

News Release

General conference, a worldwide gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, imparts a sense of belonging to the whole, a kinship with other believers to members across the globe.

In the semiannual meetings, which originate from Salt Lake City, Utah, the 14 million-plus members of the Church receive instruction and guidance from the body of Church leaders and affirm their support of those leaders.

General conferences, since 2000, emanate from the Conference Center adjacent to the famed Temple Square. The Conference Center, which seats 21,000, fills to capacity for each of the five general sessions. Beyond the immediate audience, the conference reaches across the earth with radio, television, satellite and Internet connections and is translated into 92 different languages.

Founder Joseph Smith called the original conference of the newly organized Church on 9 June 1830, shortly after the 6 April 1830 organization of the faith. Only 27 members were present.

Conferences continued as early members moved from New York to Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. One 1833 meeting was held on the Big Blue River ferry boat in Missouri, for example, and the geographically scattered members continued to meet in various locations until most settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. Then in 1840, conferences began the semiannual schedule. The first conference meeting outside the United States was also held in Great Britain that year.

The western exodus of the Church, which began in February 1846, meant no general conference. The meetings resumed along the trail in Iowa and Nebraska and then began in Salt Lake City in 1848.

Meeting facilities were limited in the newly settled Salt Lake Valley; the first conference was convened in a bowery. The industrious settlers built an adobe tabernacle as a meeting place and then began construction of the world-famed Tabernacle that sits on Temple Square today. The first general conference meeting there was conducted in 1867. Conferences continued in the Tabernacle until 2000, with occasional 19th-century exceptions when gatherings were held in other Utah cities: Provo, St. George, Logan and Coalville.

A nationwide 1919 flu epidemic postponed conference from April to June of that year; another flu scare forced the cancellation of the October 1957 meetings. During World War II, general conference was confined to Church leaders only as wartime travel restrictions impacted members. The Tabernacle was actually closed during this time frame; the leadership meetings were held in the Assembly Hall, also on Temple Square.

Wider access to general conference commenced with a radio broadcast in 1923 and a television transmission in 1949. Conference sessions were viewed beyond the Intermountain region beginning in 1953, while satellite broadcasts began in 1975 and Internet availability started in 1999. Conference messages were first translated into different languages in 1962.

Members across the earth gather in conference sessions to hear doctrinal messages from Church leaders, to demonstrate support of those leaders, and to hear pronouncements of change in Church programs and policies or news of the Church, such as locations for newly constructed temples. The music of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir punctuates the sessions.

Some of the significant pronouncements that occurred during conference meetings include the 1973 creation of the Welfare Services Department, the unit of the Church that oversees all the worldwide humanitarian efforts of the faith. In 1975 the First Quorum of the Seventy was organized, the Second Quorum in 1989 and the Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums in 1997, all providing greater localized leadership for the growing worldwide Church population. Also in response to the geographic expansion of the Church, then President Gordon B. Hinckley announced in 1997 the construction of smaller temples in more remote areas of the Church. A program to provide educational loans for worthy members in developing countries, the Perpetual Education Fund, was introduced in the April 2001 conference.

As the fifth and final session of the October 2010 conference concluded, Church President Thomas S. Monson summarized the events. “I am certain I speak for all members everywhere when I express deep appreciation for the truths we have been taught. … What a blessing it is that we have been able to meet here, in this magnificent Conference Center, in peace and comfort and safety.”

Church members have enjoyed that blessing over the 180-year history of general conference.

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