GC and Me

I have run the gamut of General Conference experiences. Growing up in England we used to watch General Conference on videotape. I remember hardly anything, except that we had these small TVs set up in the chapel that had old men talking on them. I also remember the colour brown (think old skool BCC). Whether we watched all sessions on tape or just one of them, or even a kind of Greatest Hits version, I don’t know.

Then, in the early 1990s, something amazing happened.

The Church began beaming Conference to Europe by satellite. This was strange because none of our buildings had dishes yet, and the satellite it was carried on was some obscure thing called TelStar (or some such) that nobody who actually had satellite TV pointed to. Except Phil that is, a guy in our Ward who had a big moveable dish. So a select few went around to his house to watch GC. The picture quality was abominable, full of “snow” and crackles, but it was a thrill to see the Prophet and other leaders speak live for the first time in our lives. I remember cycling up the hill to Phil’s house feeling very “religious.” As I watched people go by in their cars I wanted to stop them and shout, “a living prophet is going to be speaking on TV. Come and see!” I didn’t, of course, but that was how full my heart was.

One summer as a teenager, I went with my parents on holiday around the American West. We had the 1987 (I think) GC on audiotape, and listened to it as we drove through weird places like Ludlow, California. In some ways I will always associate Conference with Ezra Taft Benson and the desert.

Since then, my GC experiences have been less “pioneering.” Conference is now broadcast in digital quality across Europe. In the US I watched it on TV in my pajamas. I’ve even been to a live session in Salt Lake. But nothing beats those early days when we were perhaps only a handful of people east of the Atlantic who watched Conference live. We felt special.

Now it’s on the internet and any old geezer can participate. Bah! What’s next, Conference on the road?

Comments

  1. Peter LLC says:

    I’m waiting for streaming CliffsNotes to be made available on my Blackberry. I just need the important stuff.

    When I saw it live in the Tabernacle I was surprised how small the building was compared to the vastness I perceived in the televised version.

  2. Growing up in a small Mormon farming community I’m afraid to say that I looked on GC weekend as break from the norm, nothing more. I can’t say that I ever felt like I “had to go to church” (most of my family were and are non-active members) but I did feel like GC weekend was a holiday of sorts. And I can’t ever remember actually watching GC on television, even though it was available on the local (KSL) commercial station. What I’m trying to say is that I took my religion for granted in those days.

    My first memory of actually focusing on GC was the first General Conference after I got married. We gathered together with some other married students from our MS Branch at the University of Idaho and listened to it on the radio. Maybe not having a TV picture helped me to focus on the words better than I would have otherwise but I remember being deeply touched by the words of the prophet and the apostles (this was October 1974.)

    Since that time I have relished each GC and on the occasions (a few of them) when I have been otherwise occupied with travel or something else and have missed parts or all of GC I have felt a definite void. And yes, I now have KBYU on satellite TV and can watch it in my jammies but it still has great impact on my life. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area this weekend please stop by the house on Sunday and have some of my traditional pulled pork sandwiches and kicked-up cold slaw in between sessions! It takes seven hours to cook so GC weekend is the only weekend I have time to make it.

  3. Costanza says:

    Ronan,
    When I was in England in the late 80s, our branch would watch one hour of GC on a little TV during the sacrament hour. It was weeks after the original broadcast before the tapes would arrive. Wow, that seems incredibly primitive now that I think about it.

  4. lamonte,

    I grew up in a partly active home in Salt Lake, and I didn’t even realize that either General Conference or Stake Conference involved meetings of any sort until I was in my mid-teens. I thought we just had four annual, official church holidays on which to do things like going to brunch with our families. This was reinforced by the fact that one of those holidays was often on Easter. Imagine my shock when I realized that the rest of our ward actually went to church, or watched it on T.V., on the Big Four Free Sundays.

  5. GC weekend was a real event as a missionary. I loved going over to the stake center in Tiergarten for the marathon of watching all but two of the five sessions (i.e. including Priesthood session) back to back on Sunday. It was a special day. When President Hinckley rebuked domestic abusers from the pulpit back in 96, I felt the power of his indignation like a shockwave while sitting among members of the Berlin stake. A powerful message from a Prophet of God indeed:

    No man who engages in such evil and unbecoming behavior is worthy of the priesthood of God. No man who so conducts himself is worthy of the privileges of the house of the Lord. I regret that there are some men undeserving of the love of their wives and children. There are children who fear their fathers, and wives who fear their husbands. If there be any such men within the hearing of my voice, as a servant of the Lord I rebuke you and call you to repentance. Discipline yourselves. Master your temper. Most of the things that make you angry are of very small consequence. And what a terrible price you are paying for your anger. Ask the Lord to forgive you. Ask your wife to forgive you. Apologize to your children.

    I also remember that during one of the April General Conferences that I attended in Tiergarten in Berlin, I was stunned by the beauty of some of the shots of Temple Square that you sometimes get during the GC broadcast because on that occasion, it was snowing heavily there in SLC. It just made it seem kind of surreal because the spring weather was warm and sunny that day in Berlin.

  6. oops, that should be “four of the five sessions”. If I recall correctly, the satellite broadcast had Priesthood session first thing Sunday morning, followed by the Saturday morning session, then after a break for lunch, the Saturday afternoon session, then immediately following that, the Sunday morning session, which was the only live session that we watched. Unfortunately, I think that we typically missed the Sunday afternoon session but could watch it on video tape a few weeks later.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the cool memories, Ronan.

    When I was a boy in Illinois, I remember we would drive about an hour away to listen to the priesthood session over a live phone line. That seemed at the time like incredible technology–we were actually listening to conference by phone! Little did I know what technological changes were coming.

    My favorite part of conference was stopping afterwards to get cheese fries before the long drive home.

  8. One conference Saturday morning almost thirty years ago, the same era as the priesthood meeting via phone line, I went with my ward to the St. George temple to perform baptisms for the dead.

  9. John F., I think I was in the Lille chapel when the Prophet made those remarks. It was very powerful stuff. Still is.

  10. This will disclose at least my approximate age, but I remember well going with my two brothers and my parents, and waiting in line to get in to sessions in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake when President McKay was the prophet. I treasure those memories as reminding me that these were real people talking at GC, and not just the talking heads version we get now.

    I still enjoy conference, but those old visits were key to the early development of my testimony. I remember one afternoon session in particular, where we had waited for a couple of hours to get in, and the ushers told us that there were only two seats left in the front row, but if my brothers and I were good, they had another place for us. I think I must have been about 6 or 8 at the time, and my brothers 11 and 13. My parents took the two seats in the front row, and my brothers and I sat at the end of an old wooden pew on the north side of the stand, kind of under the balcony, and facing the audience. I don’t remember any problems with reverence, as I think I understood the magnitude of hearing a prophet live in person.

    Thanks for the reminders of “back in the day”, Ronan.

  11. I have to say, it wasn’t until I moved to England in 1990 and no longer could watch conference that I really started appreciating it. That being said, I sure do love watching it in my pajamas on my couch!

    There are still many places that don’t get a conference broadcast…places where the church is still very small like India. I wish they still streamed the video over the internet, I’m too ADD to listen, I need pictures :)

  12. They do stream the video over the internet. But it can only hold so many people and lags out almost every conference. They stream the video on BYUTV instead on through LDS.org…

  13. I remember listening on short wave radio at one point, and later my mother becoming an expert on public access law to make sure the local cable station showed it (in SoCal). There was a great moment when the local Christians were trying to block it and my mother cold-called the ACLU for advice. They sent a letter and all was well, but it still seems surreal that my mother called the ACLU to make sure we got to watch GC.

    If you live ouside of the US, are there cultural differences about how conference is watched? For instance, here in Finland it appears to be quite common for people to bring bags of candy to snack on during the broadcast at the chapel. Also, a fair number of women watch the PH session. (That was also true in London.)

  14. lxxluthor says:

    Great story. Did people stand up and speak in tongues in sacrament meeting regularly too? :)

  15. lxxluthor,

    I do remember something about paying tithing with live chickens, though.

    ps – I’m 55, it doesn’t feel that old in polite company:)

  16. I always grew up with conference as a holiday weekend -yay – no getting up and getting dressed! – and I didn’t even know it was held on Saturday for the longest time. I have vague memories of watching conference on TV at home, but then our local Californian tv station stopped broadcasting it and we had to go to the stake center. But since I’ve been a grown up and lived overseas for a long time, I actually really envy those of you who get to hear conference live. We get DVDs about a week or two later. When I lived in Japan it was easily 3-4 weeks later, usually the first weekend in November.

    One thing I want to thank you for, Ronan, is the line where you say “…but that was how full my heart was.” As a teen, that’s how I often felt… bursting with the excitment and fullness of the love of the gospel. I still have a testimony, and my love of the gospel is no less, but age has taken that puppy love feeling away from me. (Too tired? Too jaded?) It’s good to be reminded of it. Thanks.

  17. I remember my England GC days. We’d sit in the chapel and someone popped in an audiocassette tape and we’d all sit and listen.
    Those were the days.

  18. I remember growing up in Minnesota in the 60s. For conference, they would basically make a call to an audio feed in the Tabernacle and put the phone in our chapel next to the microphone. Ward members would come to the chapel and try to listen to the poor quality audio. In Nigeria now, I’ll probably catch the morning session on the internet at 5 PM — I won’t try to catch the afternoon sessions live. But we have regular Fast and Testimony meeting on Sunday. The ward will watch conference on DVD in a month.

  19. Costanza says:

    My father and older brothers used to go to General Priesthood meeting when we lived in Maryland in the late 70s, and they also used the old phone line thing. Exacerbating the difficulty was that the church at that time didn’t care that people in different time zones would be listening so they started the meeting at something like 9PM east coast time.

  20. I just learned at church today that the Lagos, Nigeria East Stake will view conference (from DVD) on the last Sunday in April at the Stake Center — all 5 sessions starting at 8:30 AM — going straight to 6:30 PM. It’s difficult for us to get to the stake center — our company requires us to schedule the bullet proof SUV with security escort car with guys with machine guns — but even if we were to get there, my attention span and bottom are not up to 10 straight hours. I’m sure glad I can watch it on the internet!

  21. I remember ‘phone-line feeds to our chapel in SoCal for priesthood mtgs in the ’60s.

    Californians used to drive to St. George and rent hotel rooms so they could *watch* Conference on TV.

    When did we drop Fridays from Conference? Seems like a long time ago. Almost as long ago as when monthly Fast Day switched from Thursday to Sunday.

  22. John Williams says:

    @manaen

    (21)

    Do you think they’ll ever drop a session from conference? 6 hours staggered out over 10 hours for the brethren on Conference Saturday is really taxing in today’s hectic world. They could shift the Priesthood session to another week, which would be liberating. I think maybe they could drop a session.

    The current Conference structure seems to me to be a relic of the pioneer days when I presume people would take wagon rides from all over Utah to spend several days in Salt Lake City to listen to the leaders speak.

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