Youth Conference: 1963-ish.

Imagine you are 16 years old. You are LDS and the church is relatively small. Youth Conference is scheduled to happen at Colby College in Maine. It’s November. There are fun things in store, and you’ll meet other Mormons. The busses gather up the attendees from all over New England. After the get-to-know-you activities, etc. the key-note speaker stands.

He begins to speak and you start hearing names like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, and in this mix somewhere, Joseph Smith.

Truman Madsen delivers the goods: “God: Personal or Impersonal.”

It was forthwith printed as a missionary pamphlet!


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, they don’t make youth conferences like they used to. I absolutely loved my youth conference experiences in northern Illinois in the mid-70s (starting about a decade after the OP). They were set up as mini-college experiences. My freshman year it was held at Lake Forest College; the next three at Rockford College. You slept in the dorms, did sports in the gym, took about a half day of classes, there was a big dance that night, and a testimony meeting the next morning. Doing all of that among a sea of actual flesh and blood Mormons was wonderful. These days they’ve taken away the mini-college experience, and usually rotate among temples, missions, service, and something else I can’t remember. Personally I preferred the old ways; I was totally jazzed to go to college after four youth conferences.

  2. Handcarts, Kevin. Handcarts.

  3. these are a challenge now… leaders struggle with trying to deliver an ‘efy’ experience while hamstrung with limited budgets. And then there is the endless debate about entertaining the youth vs. treating them like adults and providing a spiritual buffet. I have a lot of empathy for the youth leaders – they are often in a ‘can’t win’ situation getting squeezed by the P-leadership, parents, youth. No matter what they do someone will get offended and run off to the bishops office to gripe.

    Youth conf. can play a critical role in the church experience of our youth. They will not in and of themselves instill a life-long testimony, but if their heart is in the right place, they can provide a testimony ‘marker’ to help them along as they struggle with the challenges and upcoming decisions of youth and young adulthood.

  4. In my stake in the midwest, we rotate between Nauvoo/Church History Sites, Handcart Trek, “Wilderness Camp”, and a miscellaneous program.

  5. Does anyone have an e-source of Madsen’s work?

  6. I should say, I wasn’t present at this thing. I found the pamphlet years after in the detritus of a missionary apartment somewhere in Vermont. It was a fantastic read for me, but then, I have a feeling I may have been unusual. That said, imagine further the chocolate ice cream voice in the delivery.

  7. Joshua B., no e-source I’m aware of.

  8. Truman Madsen was my stake president at BYU. Absolutely loved hearing both him and his wife, Ann, speak.

  9. Kevin’s experiences were similar to mine. Workshops and speakers were local leaders – we didn’t need “famous” people from SLC. Current leaders in my stake try to make each youth conference bigger and better than the last (in competition with EFY). I think we are trying to entertain the youth today, instead of relying on the gospel to draw them to the conference.

  10. Mark, in this case, Madsen was local. He was the mission president (based in Boston, but had both ecclesiastical and missionary responsibilities for the the states along the upper northeast and Canada).

  11. Truman Madsen was my Sunday school teacher when I was about 16. We pretty much just stared blankly at him every week as words and doctrine flew over our heads. Poor man.

  12. While acknowledging that not every stake or region has someone like Bro Madsen, there ought to be enough knowledgeable people to speak at a youth conference, without having to use LDS celebrities. A local leader who knows the kids can make a better connection in his/her presentation than someone they’ve only seen in a video.

  13. Meldrum the Less says:

    Count your blessings! I so wish I had participated in inspiring youth conferences. Rather, if my parents had known what went on I would not have been allowed to go.

    Youth conference was a week away from parents, messing around 24/7 with the budding criminals in the ward as we harassed the young women, trashed the BYU campus and became acquainted with the Utah County sheriff’s office, at least those who could not run as fast as me.

    I don’t think most of us could have appreciated any of those luminaries mentioned above at that age and state of mind. Local leaders who knew of the mischief and havoc we were spreading, along with skillful use of a bull whip would have been better. I have gone camping with similar contemporary LDS youth, on a shorter leash but probably as bad if not worse. While lauding the path to successful youth conferences, I wish to issue a mild warning: the ingredients for youth conferences from hell are numerous but usually include a strong dose of over-the-wall control and too-strict discipline mixed with sweet-smelling sappy hypocrisy.

  14. I know someone who was probably there as a youth, she grew up in that part of the world, I live in Canada but not the east coast.I should asker if she recalls Pres.Madsen

  15. It would be fun to have an eyewitness respond.

  16. I will have to ask her, I won’t be at my ward this sunday but next week I will be.

  17. Just hit the East side, LDSYC
    On a mission to find MR. Truman G.

  18. The Other Clark says:

    My youth conferences (SE Idaho, early 90s) were non-events, as the stake presidency insisted that all activities take place within the stake boundaries (just a few sq. miles). So they inevitably consisted of a mediocre service project, a youth testimony meeting at the stake center, and a dance. In short, no different than an ordinary mutual activity. Meals and sleeping arrangements were in our own homes. Lame.

    My Utah county stake is currently on a 4-years rotation between (1) Stake Trek (handcarts!), (2) Ward Choice (usually outdoor themed, like rafting the Green River) (3) Stake Temple Square tour (scheduled to the minute!) (4) Ward Choice

    We’re now on at least the 3rd rotation.

  19. Wow, quite a memorable speaker for youth conference! I agree with the above commend that there are likely great speakers in each stake who could also do a great job.

    A friend recently released from a stake presidency lamented how they were not allowed to charge a nominal registration fee for Youth Conference, even if they exempted the fee for those who could not afford it. He said even a small amount would have allowed them to do much more for the youth in terms of program, food and lodging. He compared that to the fees charged by EFY; he is obviously not a fan.

  20. A Nonny Mouse says:

    Well played, Steve L.

  21. Sharee Hughes says:

    We never had youth conferences when I was young. I lived in a tiny branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. A group of us was baptized in June of 1950 and were pretty much were the branch. I envy those that had that opportunity.

  22. In our stake we have been rotating among the handcart trek and ward level conferences. But, this year I think our stake leadership has reached “trek fatigue” and actually the consensus was to move the trek idea a few years down the road to get some space.

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