Thoughts on Conference

Even though conference was two weekends ago, I find that I am still thinking about it.  There is something about this semi-annual gathering that is very meaningful to me.

 What I have in mind isn’t the sermons, testimonies, or advice, although I find those things valuable as well.  But I have come to value most of all, I think, the common participation in a meeting that happens in all parts of the world.  So much of what we Mormons do finds meaning only in the context of community.  We can’t be saved without our dead, we are sealed as families, we participate each week in a communal remembrance of the blood and body of Christ.  No matter which way you look at it, Mormonism is all about relationships, from top to bottom.

Latter-day saints don’t just listen to conference; they experience it, and that experience is a shared experience.  The open threads on conference weekends at this blog are consistently our most popular threads, and I believe the reason is because so many of us want to experience conference with others.  We seek active participation rather than passive listening.  When we hear someone say “Lift where you stand”, that phrase has meaning beyond just the words, because we remember how we felt when we first heard it.  Even a sermon about pickle making has now become part of our shared heritage.

I have friends in remote places who have told me about their experiences with conference.  One of them told me that his son likes to say an audible “amen” (or, in the case of Elder Uchtdorf, “ahmen)” as the family sits around the computer to watch the internet feed.   Another friend told me that she watches conference alone in her apartment on another continent, but that when the people in the conference center raise their hands to sustain our leaders, she is watching the proceedings on her laptop, and she also raises her hand to cast a sustaining vote.  I find that image tremendously moving.  Her participation is just as real and just as important as if she had been sitting on the front row in Salt Lake City.

This communal celebration of our unity and beliefs is something to be treasured.

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Comments

  1. That’s true. I totally say Amen and raise my right hand, too. I didn’t know why I did that. You just explained it. =)

  2. Yup, you got it. Thanks, Mark.

  3. I remember when I was a young teenager and my sister’s boyfriend came over to watch conference at our house. When the prayer started, he bowed his head, closed his eyes, and participated in the prayer. We all stared at him for a moment, realized we had been missing the boat for the past umpteen years, and got with the program.

  4. Mark, I think you’re right — indeed, the communal unity you talk about is often said to be at the center of virtually all religious ritual. When we take the sacrament, we’re not just sharing it with the people in the room with us, but with all generations of believers. It’s like the Catholic idea of the Communion of Saints.

  5. across the water says:

    This weekend was conference weekend in our stake in Australia. We wait two weeks to get DVDs that we watch at church. Our family watched the two Saturday sessions and the Sunday afternoon session on the internet and the Sunday morning session at church.

    We watched Elder Holland’s talk and Elder Uchtdorf’s talk for family home evening on the internet the day after US conference so that we would have them in mind during Holy Week, because our family in the US let us know about their timely Easter messages.

    I always smile a little when they talk about everyone participating around the world because we are, just not at the same time. We raise our hands and sing with the congregation, just as if we were there.

    I am so thankful that the church has improved the internet broadcast. Now we get clear picture, no pixelating, buffering delays, on demand, choices of whole sessions or individual talks; it’s so much better than it used to be.

  6. as J. says in #4, a sense of community is one thing most religions strive to achieve. one thing i love about this church is that it’s community in a very active sense in just the way he describes in this post. i have attended many services in other denominations attended by rooms entirely full of solitary souls.

  7. My wife and I decided years ago that we would attend at least the first Sunday session at the church, specifically to worship with whoever else is there – particularly to make sure those who can’t get the broadcast at home don’t have to worship alone for that session. Often those people are the elderly, and they appreciate seeing our kids tremendously.

  8. When I was on my mission in the early 90s, when we began one of the congregational hymns, one of my companions said to me, “Do you realize, that just now, about 4 million mormons just stood up?” I honestly can’t remember if 4 million was the number he used or not, but I got the idea of what he was saying. I think about that every conference now during the stand up hymns.

  9. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
    21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
    22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
    23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
    — John 17

  10. Rameumptom says:

    I think the LDS do the communal thing much more than most. Our entire focus is the eternal family. We encourage the membership to focus on the temple, where we bring the eternal family together: living, dead and future generations.

    I believe it is for us, reminiscent of the Divine Council in heaven, where we all gathered together to plan this earth’s creation and eat grilled burgers and bratwursts.

    The two biggest gatherings on earth, besides General Conference, would be the two events at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, where all generations gather and are blessed by Adam and Jesus Christ: once again reminiscent of the Divine Council. And our General Conferences are also that way.

    I predict that the future Adam-Ondi-Ahman will occur much like General Conference or the temple dedications for Nauvoo and Palmyra: attendance by invitation with ticket, and one can observe it via closed circuit satellite at your local stake center.

  11. Antonio Parr says:

    No. 9: Manean: Thanks for the reference to the great Intercessory Prayer. We should all memorize in our minds and in our hearts the seventeenth chapter of John.

    No. 10: Rameumptom: Although I think I know what you mean by your comment that “[o]ur entire focus is the eternal family”, such sweeping absolutes make me cringe. Latter-Day Saints “do” family-focus very well. We do not always “do” praise and worship of God as well as we should. Perhaps the overwhelming response to Elder Holland’s stunning conference address will remind the general membership of our hunger for Christ, and prompt us to talk more about Him and rejoice more in Him.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Cringe away, Antonio.

  13. I support Antonio in his cringing. When I am told that pursuing career-related education comes before church service, it bothers me a lot. Certainly families are a very important part of the gospel, but whatever happened to “an eye single to the glory of God”?

  14. Rameumptom, I really don’t buy it. Actually LDS folks don’t do communal unity nearly as well as we did it a generation or two ago, even. There are other churches where people meet as congregations for hours of intensely social worship multiple times a week, so on the mortal social plane, we’re not really in the running. On the eternal plane, if you define communal unity as entailing continued familism, there are “ancestor-worship” religions that are at least as intense about this as we are. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to accept a broader sense of community as entailing unity of believers in the next life, then Catholicism and most of its offshoots believe this in spades.

    I do love the presentism, though, of imagining culminating events of the apocalypse as involving the bureaucratic steps which have emerged for general conferences and temple dedications in the last decade or so.

  15. Mark Brown says:

    [nr],

    I think the idea is that supporting our families temporally is a form of church service. When I provide for my family I am building the kingdom just as much as when I’m teaching a class or pushing paper in the clerk’s office. There really isn’t a conflict here.

    Everybody, please do me a favor. Please let’s not take swipes at the content conference talks. I find value in them all.

  16. Strictly my personal opinion and a threadjack besides. Sorry if it offended anyone.

  17. Antonio Parr says:

    15. Mark: Your euphoria over the most recent General Conference is understandable. In all of my years of being a Latter-Day Saint, every General Conference has had a song or a message that (a) moved me deeply and reminded me of the real presence of a living and loving God; and (b) made me want to be a better disciple of Jesus. This year was no exception, and was particularly memorable because of the extraordinary text and delivery of Elder Holland’s talk. I will remember that address for the rest of my life (and then some).

    As for your comment about taking “swipes” at the content of conference talks, I am not sure it is realistic to imply that all conference talks are created equally, or that conference addresses are somehow off-limits when it comes to careful examination. Of course, our Christian faith requires us to respect the efforts of conference speakers , and we should never mock General Authorities or any other person that the Lord places in our paths. That being said, we certainly can and should review the nuances of a conference address, and should also weigh in the balance the words that are spoken to determine if and how they impact our personal lives. I don’t think this constitutes a “swipe”, and is part of a healthy and genuine faith.

    Besides, if people can’t wrestle with the nuances here, where else can they turn?

  18. Antonio, they can turn to their bishops. No desire to turn BCC into a G.C. gripe-fest.

    Please no more of this threadjack.

  19. Antonio Parr says:

    Steve:

    By way of quick reminder, the topic of this post was “thoughts on conference”. Unless I am missing something, the replies were all “thoughts on General Conference”, and the consensus appears to be unanimous that General Conference is absolutely wonderful. (It has my vote — I treasure this experience.)

    As to turning to one’s bishop over the nuances of a conference address, you must not know too many bishops. The ones that I know are all trying to help marriages stay intact; keeping teens from being sucked into a pretty sinful world; and dealing with a host of emotional and spiritual challenges that require an extraordinary amount of their time and inspiration. They are heroes, every one, and I don’t know a single bishop that has the time or the desire to discuss with his congregants the nuances of conference addresses.

    You appear to have ownership of this blog, and can dictate the terms as you see fit, and I respectfully defer to your mandates. That being said, we should all probably spend more time dealing face-to-face with flesh-and-blood lives, and your post reinforces my hunch that any time spent on this (or any other) blog may be too much . . .

    Best regards.

  20. Sorry to squander your valuable time!

  21. Come on, Steve. You know as well as I do that booking appointments with the Bishop to discuss the nuances of conference is a waste of everyone’s time. I see no evidence here that Antonio is “griping” about conference.

    Kevin Barney made a comment on one of the GC threads that really struck me. He said, in effect, that what made such discussions at BCC — as opposed to more “correlated” Mormon spaces — so meaningful was that praise was honest and never sycophantic. Because Antonio feels comfortable in offering some of his honest struggles with conference here, his praise for its content seems all the more genuine, and thus all the more valuable.

    I, for one, greatly value Mr. Parr’s voice on this blog.

  22. Cool it, you two. Yikes.

    [edit: this was supposed to be directed at Steve and Antonio, but Ronan commented while I was commenting, thus mostly making this obsolete. sorry]

  23. Let me clarify my earlier remark. Nobody should ever take their G.C. concerns to their bishops, that is a terrible idea.

  24. Now that Antonio has departed (at least I presume as much from his last paragraph), we are free to analyze his previous comments without fear of being rebutted by the man himself.

    (Anthony, if you didn’t leave, then feel free to correct my reading/interpretation of your comment.)

    In that vein, let’s look at his original “gripe” (being the one that started it all). To me, it doesn’t seem to be about GC–it was a general gripe about LDS people not focusing on worshiping God sufficiently. I agree that discussions about the nuances of general conference talks have no place in a Bishop’s busy schedule; but conference talk nuances have very little (directly) to do with the complaint.

  25. Antonio Parr says:

    No need to apologize (even though I recognize sarcasm when I see it . . . :) )

    Lots of very interesting folks stop by here, with lots of highly illuminating comments. That being said, it is tough to identify the rhyme and reason of accusations of “threadjack”, or to discern the ultimate rules of the “community”. Hence my comment about the limitations of a cyber-“community” and the value of real-life, face-to-face discussions and interactions, where real dialogue takes place.

    Here I go threadjacking again . . .

    Sincere best wishes.

  26. Antonio Parr says:

    Scott —

    I don’t have enough self-control to be fully departed. I am only semi-departed.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    Antonio,

    If you are still around, I’d like to apologize for not addressing your thoughts in comment #17 sooner. Real life intervened.

    By directing comments away from the content of individual sermons, I did not mean to imply that all talks are equal. We all have our favorites and our not-so-favorites. And that is how it should be, given that we each struggle in different ways. Ironically, the sermon by Elder Holland doesn’t make my top five this time. Not that I didn’t like it, just that other people seemed to speak to me more directly.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that you should feel welcome to continue to participate around here. Just as we all like different conference talks, sometimes we are a little touchy about different things, too.

  28. Do we really need more praise and worship in church? I think we’ve got more than enough as it is. When we get to the pearly gates, St. Peter isn’t going to be there tallying up the number of times we said, “Jesus” in church. If that’s the case, the Pentacostals got us beat pretty bad.

    Every talk in GC is praising Jesus because every one is about becoming more like him and becoming more obedient to the Father – which is exactly the kind of praise that he has asked of us, regardless of how of often he personally is invoked.

  29. Yep, I lift my hand and say “Amen” as well, at least for live broadcasts. For rebroadcasts of GC, devotionals, etc., I usually don’t, except in those cases where the speaker has genuinely touched or moved me, and I chime in with “Amen” when s/he finishes. ..bruce..

  30. Antonio Parr says:

    Posting again — especially after my attempt at a dramatic departure — completely strips me of any credibility (not that I had any in the first place), but Eric Russell, I very much believe that we need more praise and worship in Church, and, respectfully, I do not buy into your argument that not talking about Jesus is the same as talking about him. Check out the following talk by Elder Oaks — http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=7103 — for clarification.

    I’ll work on my credibility tomorrow.

  31. Antonio Parr says:

    Final post — honest — to ensure that this is not a threadjack —

    This most recent General Conference was absolutely beautiful, and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of it all.

  32. Posting again — especially after my attempt at a dramatic departure — completely strips me of any credibility

    :-)

    Nothing improves a dramatic departure like returning, soon.

  33. Kristine says:

    “Do we really need more praise and worship in church? I think we’ve got more than enough as it is.”

    Wow, I have to join the threadjack now. Eric, are you serious??

  34. There is a fascinating (and very respectful) series of three posts on Mormon Matters by a Disciples of Christ minister about his impressions of a Sacrament Meeting he attended with his Mormon girlfriend. He referenced General Conference in his posts. The discussion in the threads is very interesting.

    The first post is “LDS Worship” – http://mormonmatters.org/2009/04/07/lds-worship/

  35. I am indeed serious. I don’t think God needs to be praised. To the extent that we do praise him, I think its only purpose is to humble us and remind us of our obligation towards him. It’s a good thing and valuable, but time is finite, and an excess of it comes at the cost of actual teaching. And I think teaching is a generally more effective means of helping one another become like Christ – which is the goal.

  36. As far as worshiping at church, I think that, if all wards followed the example of General Conference, then I think the “worshiping” would be a pretty good amount. As it stands, I see a lot of talks in the ward that either never mention Christ, or they are only loosely related to the gospel. I think Bishops could do a little better job in that department. As for commenting on this last conference, it was good, at least what I saw.

  37. Eric, really? In that case, we don’t particularly need church at all. We could replace church almost entirely with a collection of generically theistic mutual self-improvement associations, like Alcoholics Anonymous. We could have Prideful People Anonymous, and Liars Anonymous, and Lustful People Anonymous, and Selfish People Anonymous, etc. All of these could acknowledge a Higher Power without additional details, and the improvements which we carry out would be the highest good of all.

    If, on the other hand, we think with Alma that preaching the Gospel is the best way to bring about change, we might want to rethink your position.

    In any case, I’d think that your position had a lot more to offer if (a) we didn’t have vast stretches of teaching time in our Sunday services, and (b) that teaching time is largely not used to teach, instead being used primarily for mutual affirmation — not an unworthy purpose, but not instructive.

  38. JNS, either you misunderstand me or I misunderstand you, because I don’t totally follow. In any case, I agree that there’s room for improvement with regards to teaching in the church.

    Before moving any further, we probably ought to have a clearer definition of “praise and worship.” I mean it in a rather narrow sense.

  39. Eric, if you have a narrow sense in mind, that probably accounts for your comments above. If you have a cultural distaste for demonstrative modes of religious worship, that’s a very different thing from not favoring worship in general. My guess is that you’ll be more successful in communicating on this topic if you choose other language.

  40. Antonio Parr says:

    I fear that Eric’s sentiments are not uncommon amongst Latter-Day Saints, and reflect an area of weakness that must become a strength in order for Latter-Day Saints to realize their full spiritual potentials.

    Psalms 150 commands as follows:

    1 Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
    2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
    3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
    4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
    5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
    6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

    Alma 26 provides

    8 Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.
    • • •
    12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
    • • •
    14 Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
    • • •
    16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

    Sorry, but this topic isn’t even open for debate.

  41. Antonio Parr says:

    (Not that I have any say as to who gets to debate what. And although I do not understand fully what constitutes a threadjack, my guess is that my furthering this discussion is probably helping to lead this topic somewhere outside the original focus of the most General Conference address.)

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