If you’ve ever been in Salt Lake City, Utah, during April or October, you probably noticed the thousands of people gathering at Temple Square. Those people are there to attend one of the semiannual commencements of general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because it’s never too early to start preparing to go to general conference, especially if you’re traveling, I wanted to help clear up any confusion. This way, you’ll have time to decide if you want to participate, and maybe even score some tickets!
What is General Conference
General conference is a biannual gathering (every April and October) of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ. At these gatherings, members listen to sermons on various topics from the Church leaders. For the vast majority of the members of the Church, this gathering is done through the live broadcasts, or recordings of the broadcasts. You can participate in these broadcasts from various television screenings, radio stations, and web streaming. Some members (and non-members) have the privilege of obtaining tickets to see a conference session live at the Conference Center.
The entire conference consists of six two-hour sessions. There are four general sessions, which are split up between Saturday and Sunday, with two sessions on each day. These sessions are for everyone, from little children, to the very top leaders of the Church.
Of the remaining two sessions, one is the women’s session. This session has sermons tailored toward the female members of the Church who are 8 years old and older. This 90-minute meeting is held a week before the general sessions.
The other session is the priesthood session. It is specific towards the male members of the Church who are 12 years old and older. This session is held on Saturday evening of the main general sessions.
After the conference is over, all of the sermons given will be available to read on the Church’s website.
Where is General Conference Held
General conference is conducted in the Conference Center in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah. The Conference Center has seating for 21,000 people, which makes for a very large live audience. However, most members watch conference on TV, or listen to it on the radio in their own homes. You can stream the live conference sessions through the Church’s website.
In addition to this, Church leaders throughout the world will provide means for their ward or branch to watch the sessions wherever they gather for their usual Sunday meetings. This allows for the members living in other countries to accommodate for different time zones. For example, I experienced this myself when I was living in China during the October 2015 General Conference. Our branch watched the sessions during our normal church hours one week after they happened live.
Who Can Go to General Conference
Anyone can participate in watching or listening to the general conference sessions. You don’t have to be a member of the Mormon Church. You don’t even have to understand English. The conference sessions are translated into over 90 languages.
The easiest way for most people to participate in the conference sessions will probably be to go to the Church’s website, and stream it live. You can also watch the recorded sessions, or read the transcripts for the sermons (found on the Church’s website).
There are a few rules for those who are interested in going to a live session at the Conference Center.
First and foremost, anyone attending a live session will need a ticket. Church members who live in the continental United States or Canada may be able to obtain tickets through their local Church leaders (first-come-first-serve basis). Non-members, and international travelers can obtain tickets as well. You can learn more about this process here.
Secondly, anyone in attendance at the general sessions, or women’s session, must be at least eight years old. Those attending the priesthood session must be at least 12 years old.
History of General Conference
The very first General Conference was on June 9, 1830. This was during the time that Joseph Smith was president of the Church. During this first conference, there were only 27 people in attendance.
Over the years, the conference sessions needed to be held in many different locations. The meetings were even held in Great Britain once. There have been a few times when general conference wasn’t held. This was mainly during the time when the Mormon pioneers were traveling to the American West.
In 1850, the conference sessions had transcripts of the meetings published for the first time. This was thanks to a reporter with a very skilled short-hand technique.
In 1867, the conference sessions were moved to the Tabernacle in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah. The Conference Center, which was built to seat a very large number of people, was completed in 2000. Since its completion, members gather at the Conference Center to attend conference live.