The Physical Gathering

While most people I know enjoy Conference weekend for the opportunity to curl up on the couch in pajamas, making cinnamon rolls, or just for taking a church vacation, Saturday morning finds me dressing in my Sunday best and heading off to my ward building. 

 I suppose my increasingly unique habit springs from the same old-fashioned quirkiness that makes me prefer telephones with dials, or composing essays on yellow legal pads.  It may not be the most efficient approach, but the tactile, physical sense of dialing, writing and gathering infuses me with a sense of connection to the past.

Yesterday morning as I sat in the darkened chapel – 1 of 37- I contemplated my odd preference and wondered how long this gathering would last.  As the demands of work, family, simplicity, modernity and death claim those who I gather with, I may be forced to change my connection to General Conference of old.  For now though, I sit among familiar faces, some of whom I have joined with every October and April for twenty years and imagine the welding link that promises to seal us all.  As we re-enact one of Mormonism’s many literal gatherings, I feel gratefully aware of the turn of the Mormon year and pleased to return to my spiritual home once more.


  1. We actually stage a sleepover at a close friend’s house and then watch conference together, cooking meals for each other and letting the kids play. Vastly better than just turning on the TV in my experience. In Boston, we treasured conference in the chapel–a highlight of the liturgical year.

  2. Meeting in the chapel during my mission, with the rest of the missionaries in the area, was something I looked forward to every six months. You make an important point (though the bit about legal pad composition seems less inspired – grin), that will only be more important as the physical connections within our communities continue to attenuate.

  3. Ugh! This reminds me of listening to conference on an old AM radio placed at the pulpit in the chapel of the ward building in San Francisco when I was seven. Not an easy thing for a seven year old to listen to or watch conference under the best circumstances, but having to get dressed up to sit still in the pews for eight hours with no real focal point was a recipe for torture.

  4. alextvalencic says:

    This was the first time that I watched Conference on a computer by myself. I watched the Saturday sessions at the local Institute building, mostly due to the fact that I had been working that morning and knew I wouldn’t make it home in time for Conference otherwise.

    Watching the Sunday sessions from home was interesting. I was able to have a more relaxed morning, and could get up and use the bathroom without the judgmental stares of well-meaning associates.

    I’m not sure if I’ll try it again or not. I’m sure part of it will depend on what my wife wants to do. (She was gone this weekend, so I didn’t have to seek her input.)

  5. For years, we had our children play “Conference Bingo.” Now they’re too old to care about that. We had two of my nephews over–with girlfriends–to watch Conference. I’ve had both of my nephews and one of the girlfriends as students. I’d love to have a former student marry into my family. Especially this former student. Nice to be my at-home self instead of my in-front-of-class self.

  6. kewinters says:

    I’m 23, and I always was able to watch conference on television when I was growing up in California and Arizona. I moved East this year, and it is the first time conference has not been on tv, so I watched online. On the other hand, my husband grew up in PA and always went to the chapel for all the session of conference. I don’t know how I would feel about watching it at church, especially because my chapel does not have pews or a projector. The RS broadcast was shown on a 20-25″ tv on a rolling cart. I could not imagine dealing with children in that situation.

  7. Growing up, there were a couple of years when Sunday conference was broadcast on a local television station in Spokane, but mostly we always went to the church building, including a few early and difficult years during which, as Steve mentions, the radio was placed up on the pulpit and we just listened. Still, I think the principle of an actual, tangible gathering is an important one, and I appreciate Kris making it. I have always attended at least one session of conference, and Melissa, growing up mostly in Michigan, had a similar experience growing up. We now take our four girls with us to the church building on Sunday mornings.

    I recognize, like Kris does, that such is a strange and probably rationally indefensible choice, and one that is becoming rarer year after year. We seem to be down to about 30 or so people who choose to physically enact the ritual on Sunday morning, some of whom I know are there because they live alone and are lonely or are sufficiently poor as to have no cable or internet connection in their homes, but a couple are families like ourselves who show up because it’s Sunday, the day you’re supposed show up. Eventually they’ll be just a dozen of us or so, and people will start to forget to unlock the doors. Until then, as Kris wisely says, it’s worth it, I think, to give to make sure our spiritual home has a bit of physical reality to it as well.

  8. Kris,

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m exhausted from covering conference, or if I have some latent desire to return to a more simple life, but I just got all teary-eyed reading this. Being back in Salt Lake, and seeing so many Saints in the same place, for the same reason, reminded me so powerfully of two things: First, these are my people. Second, I love them.

  9. With 4 children 5 and under (and another 4 older children), I LOVE watching conference at home. They sit around the kitchen table drawing huge pictures on their poster paper, play with shapes, take “notes”…while us older people sit and take notes and knit while watching conference. I love to hear my children comment on conference about the stories or who is wearing glasses (we have a four yo glasses wearer).

    poster boards make a decent airplane.

  10. We always go Sunday morning. We want to instill in our children some sort of connection between the meetinghouse and conference. Our chapel was over 3/4 full.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Conference at home in pajamas with no make-up on is the best. Our kids look forward to it and ask throughout the year, “Is it conference Sunday yet?” They are tiring of BINGO and ask if they can just eat the candy instead if they listen. Fine. They actually did a decent job of listening. My 9 year old sat on the couch almost the full four sessions. The rest played with toys quietly (most of the time) in the same room.

    I think it would ruin my conference to go to the church because then I would have to worry about my kids ruining conference for everyone else. Plus, when I’m breastfeeding, I end up talking to other moms in the nursing lounge and don’t listen.

  12. amen kris!

  13. I got the best of both worlds this time–I watched conference at my university’s Institute building. I had the pleasure of gathering with my friends and fellow saints and hearing the words of the prophets, but I also got to sit on a comfy couch and eat cinnamon rolls made by our Institute den mother. It’s the only way to do things, in my opinion.

  14. we go to the chapel. yesterday, it was me and my girls, all of the elders in the zone, and two elderly women in wheelchairs. oh, and the two high councilors. today was better, with an extra dozen unfamiliar faces. i long to watch it at home and create our own family traditions surrounding conference. twice a year i get thiiiiis close to getting cable (or i guess it’s satellite now?), but i can never justify the bill and the temptation of wasted time. it won’t be long till it’s just me and my kids showing up at the stake center.

  15. Our kids are too little to listen, so we take turns going to the chapel.I <a href=""posted about our local experience back in October.

    There are lots of people at the building: lots of YSAs making an event of it, older people without the internet savvy, and those who feel that it is the right way to do it. (Although I feel like bringing a certain age of kid just to make them sit still as someone explained just sucks.)

    My 179th Semi-Annual General Conference Official Snack: Fazer Tutti-Frutti Passion. Even better then it sounds.

  16. I love the power of gathering. I can see why you continue to do this. I have fond memories of the ward in which I did this.

    And yet, I think there is something about hunkering down in our homes, too. The ritual and tradition that can be built around conference within the family unit is pretty powerful in its own right.

    Also, I can’t help but feel the kids get more out of it in the comfort of our home. They willingly do all 8 hours. I am not sure they would be quite as excited if we went to the church each session.

  17. When our kids were little, we traded off. When they were middle sized and older we took them to the church with us and made it interactive for them there even after we had internet at home. We enjoyed the fellowship of the couple of dozen or so others and our children focused better there.

    This past weekend we stayed at home to watch as my husband was on call and needed to be closer to work. I missed the sense of community. However, during Saturday morning’s session I got a call from the young daughter of one of my visiting teachees, requesting some transportation assistance and during the Sunday afternoon session I got a call from another visiting teachee needing some help with another immediate problem. If I’d been at church listening I would have missed those opportunities to be out, doing.

    So, to my surprise, in this one case it was better for me to listen at home. And now I know there are blessings both ways.

    And I’m happy about having internet access to those talks as I now want to go back and listen to the ones I missed.

  18. xenologue says:

    Kris and Mr. Kris took me out for dinner Friday night. Kris knows I’ve been struggling somewhat with church and we talked about that for a while. Regarding General Conference, she asked me, “Will you go?” I can’t remember the last time I went to a session at the chapel. But then, I also can’t remember the last time I listened to more than one session over a conference weekend, and I told her so. It is always a relief to be able to say this to a church member and not feel judged. She is never one to call to repentance, but to listen and understand, and encourage.

    So, for the first time in several years, I listened to all four sessions of GC (I let hubby summarize the PH meeting for me). I sat at my computer, which delighted the cats no end, who took turns sitting in my lap. I participated in the thread here at BCC and enjoyed comments about ties, facial expressions, choir numbers, and favourite quotations. I had long-distance hubby on IM as well.

    bear (10/4/2009 12:47:07 PM): itty… bitty virtues?
    xeno (10/4/2009 12:47:39 PM): yesh
    xeno (10/4/2009 12:50:51 PM): I heard a sneeze
    xeno (10/4/2009 12:50:54 PM): did you hear a sneeze
    bear (10/4/2009 12:51:30 PM): I totally did.
    bear (10/4/2009 12:51:35 PM): I wanted to say “bless you.”

    Lest you think it was all fun and games, I did do a lot of thinking as I sat and listened, about why I’m still in this church and what my future in it is, and most importantly, where I stand with God and where my relationship is at with the Saviour. It was, at the very least, thought-provoking.

  19. Since the “con” in conference means with, I think it best to do whatever we can to be together with the rest of the saints during conference. This week I found old newspaper accounts of my ancestor, the first president of the Curlew Stake, driving down to conference twice a year from Snowville, Utah. Sitting at home with the kids watching conference on the computer on Saturday seemed to lack some of the “con” that I was missing.

    Sunday we went to the chapel and watched, then shared a potluck dinner with two dozen others who bothered to get dressed and make it out to the chapel. Looking around, I thought how much better it would be if we emphasized the “con” in conference and really made it a time to be together to celebrate the gospel messages, rather than a “free” weekend where we don’t have to get dressed.

  20. Xenologue, I consider our dinner to be part of my gathering as you are part of that history too. I think separate from the content of Conference, gathering causes me to similarly consider where I stand.

  21. We had considered going to at least one session at our stake center, but a couple of our married kids came over to watch with us, and eat our food both days, so we passed. I did attend PH meeting with two of my sons, and that is always good.

    I have very fond memories of when my parents would drag me and my brothers to SLC from Ogden to attend a session or two of conference when I was growing up. Late in the 50’s, when I was probably about 6 or 7, I remember one afternoon session, where the ushers would cram people onto the pews of the old tabernacle. The usher looked at us standing by the door, and told my parents that they thought they could squeeze us in, if we didn’t mind being separated. I think my parents were doubtful, but we went in anyway. They put our Mom and Dad on the end of the front row on the northwest corner, and then took my two older brothers and I, and sat us on the stand, at the very end of the row that ran part way under the balcony at the northwest corner. I can’t remember who sat to the right of us, but I remember looking out over the whole conference crowd. I think we must have behaved ourselves, as the usher thanked us and my parents after the session for our reverence.

  22. Melissa Y. says:

    Thank you for writing this! We used to live in Cache Valley (Utah) and always attended the Saturday morning session in our stake center. I loved sitting in the dark chapel with my kids, watching the conference on a huge screen and in stereo. My kids enjoyed the different church experience (we could take up the whole bench! it’s dark! it’s like a movie!) and it was the only time they actually sat and listened. At home, they get distracted by other activities. It also taught me to appreciate the sacrifice of the brethren who prepared the building and the broadcast even though the audience was typically very small.

    We moved to Utah county last fall and have yet to find a stake center that broadcasts conference. We drove around for almost an hour that first conference Saturday and couldn’t find an open church anywhere. I understand that it may feel unnecessary to open a building when people can watch at home, but I miss watching at least one session at church.

  23. Hopefully this is not considered blasphemous. I too, like going to a meetinghouse to watch conference, but this was the first conference in the last three or four years during which I was not in a National Park or Monument somewhere making landscape photographs while listening to the session through an open (and sometimes snowy) car window. I can look at particular prints and remember the words I heard as they were composed…and vice versa. I missed it.

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