Saturday, October 1, 2011

Conferences Past and Present, General and Otherwise

Conference. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we currently use the word to mean a set of formal meetings where the membership of the church is addressed by the leadership of the church as well as a set of non-public meetings for consultation and discussion among the church leadership.

At the founding of the church in 1830, the word was also commonly used in American Christian communities to mean an official group of church leadership or of church leadership and church members. See Doctrine and Covenants 20:61:
The several elders composing this church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint...
The first use of conference in this verse is the event; the second use of the word is the group of people, see verse 62:
And said conferences are to do whatever church business is necessary to be done at the time.
In another meaning of the word, the Missions of the Church were divided into Conferences:
On the 6th of July some of the brethren of the Georgia Conference met at Haywood Valley with the President of the Mission and had an enjoyable time in their council meetings. [History of the Southern States Mission, Part 30: Out of Jail and Catawba Members of the Church]
Appointment.—Elder H.C. Overson is appointed to labor as traveling Elder in the London Conference.  [Henry Overson Missionary Journal: Introduction]
15 August 1859 I was Babtised by Elder Lars Peter Christensan and confirmed by Hans C S Hogsted as a Member of the Church of Jesus Crist of L.D. Saint in Taars Branch Vensyssel Conference Danmark.... [Ove C. Oveson from Tanner 26: Jens Christensen]
Each conference had a president:
Counsel was given to Conference Presidents, and traveling Elders throughout the Mission, urging them to branch out and endeavor to open new fields of labor that had not yet been visited. [History of the Southern States Mission, Part 15: Mission Calls and New Persecutions]
We currently use the term "zone" and "zone leader" instead of "conference" and "conference president."

The word conference is most often used to mean meetings of the leadership and membership of the church:
August 6, 7 and 8 a conference was held at Haywood Valley, Ga., at which all the Elders laboring nearby were present, besides a great many Saints and friends. A Female Relief Society was organized to assist in the great work, and a request was formulated urging the Church Authorities to furnish more help. A total membership of 272 souls, with ten traveling Elders was also reported. [History of the Southern States Mission, Part 3]
The Saints on Two Mile worked very hard to get everything arranged for a successful conference. The meeting house was nicely scrubbed inside and out. Preparations were in progress for its decoration and all seemed well. But the old spirit of prejudice and hatred that ever has existed against the work is not dead, even here where there are friends on every side. During the night of Wednesday, Aug. 8, some enemy was mean enough to set fire to the building, and in a few hours it was reduced to a heap of ashes. No clue is had of the perpetrator of the deed. The Saints naturally felt a little discouraged, and many of our opponents expressed themselves disgusted with the act. A very prominent man of the county has said that he will donate ten dollars for the erection of another house.... The burning of the church did not stop the preparations for conference. [Burned the Church: William Glade in the Southern States Mission, Part 3]
The twice-yearly conferences of the entire church were usually held in church headquarters.
Tanner remained there for four years until he was called on a mission to New England in April Conference 1844. Stopping in Nauvoo on his way, he encountered Joseph Smith on the street and handed him the $2,000 temple loan note of January 1835. "The Prophet asked him what he wanted done with the note. Elder Tanner replied, 'Brother Joseph, you are welcome to it.' The Prophet then laid his right hand heavily on Elder Tanner’s shoulder, saying, 'God bless you, Father Tanner; your children shall never beg bread.'" [Tanner 16: John Tanner]
At October Conference 1861, President Young called for volunteers to go to Dixie. Our George was one of the first to volunteer. [Tanner 30: George Jarvis]
At the October Conference, 1875, Salt Lake City, Utah, Elders George Teasdale, D.P. Bainey, Joseph Standing, John Morgan, John D. H. McCallister, David H. Perry and John Winder were called to labor in the Southern States Mission, all of whom reported to Elder Boyle, and at the first meeting elected him to preside over them.
The April 1877 General Conference was held in St. George, Utah, at which time the temple was publicly dedicated. (I just corrected the Wikipedia entry "General Conference (LDS Church)" to reflect this detail.)

The Church currently holds two General Conferences each year: the Annual General Conference the first weekend in April and the Semiannual General Conference usually the first weekend in October. The conferences are broadcast and translated to many different languages. You can watch the conference on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 12:00 and then from 2:00 to 4:00 mountain daylight time at this weekend. You can also follow the events on Twitter at #ldsconf.

Charles R. Savage postcard of the Salt Lake Temple in the 1890s from

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