Did You Watch Saturday Session? #ldsconf

I realized the other day that, until I went to BYU, I had probably never watched a Saturday session of Conference (other than Priesthood session).

The thing is, my parents were (and are) tremendously active and participatory in the Church. I can probably count the number of Sundays I missed as a kid on one—or at most, on two—hands. And two of those Sundays had me in the hospital after an appendectomy.

I mean, when I was really little, suburban San Diego didn’t get Conference over cable, so my parents would have had to have bundled the three, then four, of us over to the Stake Center. But even when the station that carried nothing 50 weekends out of the year started showing Conference on the other two, I don’t remember watching Saturday sessions. 

After BYU, I went to New York, where I (and many other members of the Stake) watched Saturday’s and Sunday’s sessions. And I know my parents watch Saturday these days, too.[fn]

And it got me to thinking: when did actually watching Saturday sessions become a thing? Was there a moment in time (the mid-90s, maybe, when I started at BYU)? or was it regional (like, Mormons in Southern California didn’t watch it, but Mormons in Eastern Washington did?)? or something else?

So I asked a bunch of my co-bloggers about their memories of Saturday sessions growing up. Here’s what they remember:

Steve:

It’s part of a modern Reformation. It’s still not standard except amongst authorities.

Mike:

Growing up in Oklahoma, we normally went to the Church on Conference Saturday to listed to a closed-circuit RADIO broadcast of the Priesthood Session. No visuals, just voices. I pretty much remember sleeping through these. #getoffmylawn

WVS:

I grew up in SLC and it was on the RADIO around the house, but no one stopped what they were doing to just sit and listen, kid optional. When we lived outside the Mormon Corridor, I don’t think we picked up Saturdays until maybe 1983 or 1984, then we helped buy a satellite receiver for the ward. Then we went over on Saturdays because it was basically next door. When we ended up at BYU, it was a habit, but still not a sit and listen thing. The church push that conference was the word of the Lord for the next six months, circulated a lot from the 70s on.

Mike again:

For anything but the Priesthood Session, we were completely at the mercy of the local TV stations (this was in Oklahoma), who, if we were lucky, would broadcast one of the Sunday sessions that we could watch in our houses. Usually this required cable, and many people in the ward claimed that this was the only reason that they had cable TV.

There was simply no place that we could go to watch Saturday sessions, with the exception of the Priesthood Session. It was not broadcast anywhere. There was no Internet. Lots of us only got four channels, and one of those was PBS.
I suspect that the increased sense of obligation surrounding Saturdays has something to do with everybody having access to it.
Russell:
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with a memory of going to the stake center on a Saturday to listen to an audio broadcast of conference. It only lasted for a couple of years, between the time a television station in Spokane, WA, stopped showing Saturday conference, and the arrival of a satellite dish at our stake center. But it was, in retrospect, really kind of eerie, all of us sitting in the chapel with lights dimmed (why would they have done that, I wonder?), listening to a box up on the pulpit.
Tracy:

By the time I joined the church (2002) it was expected (at least in Spokane) that GC weekend be either watched at home, or at the Stake Center. All sessions, all weekend. I was not given the impressions opting out was an option. I just thought to be in good standing, this was part of attending your meetings. Because that’s the condition under which my membership was formed, I still feel guilty if I skip out on any session (not including Women’s session, which was not part of my foundational formation).

 The upside, I guess, is that my kids actually love conference weekend. I let them drag all the bins of Lego into the living room, I make special food, and we have picnic lunch and dinner on the floor while we listen. And now, the boys get to go to Priesthood with Jon, and they like that, mostly because ice cream.
Cynthia:
I don’t remember even really being aware there were Saturday (non-PH) sessions until high school. Through college, no normal people watched them.
Angela:
It definitely changed as it became more available.  When I was little, we only got Sunday morning session.  Then they started to broadcast at the stake center for the Sunday afternoon, and eventually the Saturday too.
Kevin:
My experience was pretty much the same as Michael’s. I remember traveling to the stake center (a long trip) to listen to priesthood session over an open telephone line; we all sat on the stand, as there was never any more bodies than that. My father never did this; I just went with friends, mainly to spend time with them. I seem to recall seeingSunday morning sessions on TV (we had cable, which might explain that). That was the only session I ever saw as a young man.
Steve again:
We did the stake center for everything, but no radio.
J.:

My parents were in church leadership when I was young. We lived outside the Mormon culture region and were fairly far from the chapel.  I don’t remember ever watching conference, during conference weekend.

Peter:

My parents had a no television in the home policy, so even though conference was on local cable (this was in California) we all trooped down to the stake center from as early as I can remember. I still feel pangs of guilt when I skip a Saturday session.

Rebecca:
I don’t think I realized there were Saturday sessions of conference until I was a teenager. I remember being glad that my parents didn’t make us go on Saturday. I don’t think I started going to Saturday sessions until after college. After we had our daughter, we started this tradition of getting hamburgers between Saturday sessions, so our kids have always gone to Saturday am session at the church. We don’t make them watch the afternoon session, and we watch both Sunday sessions at home on the internet now (though the kids only have to watch one). So on conference weekends we end up going to church on Saturday but not Sunday.
So how about you, dear readers? What are your experiences with Saturday sessions?
[fn] Of course, it could also have to do with life circumstances. Without kids in the house, my parents don’t have band and orchestra concerts or soccer games or school activities on Saturdays to take them away from Conference.

Comments

  1. This is very interesting. In my life, i can remember watching Saturday sessions from an early age in Oklahoma…but then again, I grew up with Satellite TV access and so we wouldn’t have gone to the chapel/stake center for Conference for any session other than Priesthood session.

    so this could bee a technology/generational sort of thing?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Tracy, I love your family conference traditions. What a great way for your kids to learn it’s a happy family time, and as they grow older the messages will start to seep in more and more, I expect.

  3. I grew up just north of Los Angeles and I don’t recall ever watching a Saturday Session of conference (outside of priesthood session) before serving a mission in 2001-2003. Even at BYU, I don’t recall watching Saturday sessions. In our house, we will usually turn on a session or two on Saturday, but we still go about our typical chores and activities while it plays in the background.

  4. Grew up in Southern California – I wasn’t really aware of the Saturday sessions until I was a teenager and then I only watched them starting about a year before I left on my mission. I watched the Saturday sessions regularly on my mission and continued while I was at college at BYU. After graduating and moving well outside the corridor I would generally put on the sessions at home on Saturdays and I would vary between actively watching and leaving them on in the background while I did other things.

    This will be my first conference while married and it looks like we’re going to be watching all of the sessions. At the very least we will be watching Saturday morning in case the new Apostles are called then. My wife previous to this coming conference rarely, if ever watched on Saturday and would also often skip Sundays, but would usually catch at least a part of the Sunday morning session.

  5. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and we listened to the Saturdays on the radio while we did other stuff- cleaned the house, kids played, etc. Sunday’s we all sat and watched both sessions. My husband grew up in Idaho and wasn’t aware of a Saturday session until he was older. He says this must be because of access. We “watch” all 4 general sessions together with our kids now, but we try to make it relaxed and pleasant. No one is yelling at anyone to sit down and listen. :) We try to make it a fun family weekend, like Tracy.
    Talking to people in my local ward and stake (still in Utah), I think the consensus is that the Saturday sessions are optional, even though we all have ready access to them. Personally I feel guilty if I don’t attempt to watch live, but I also DVR them because my kids are nuts and I don’t always catch every bit of what’s being said. :)

  6. Never watched or listened to a Sat day session. Priesthood was 8-10pm, half hour away to listen on radio. I didn’t really think about Saturday until I was at BYU, “studying” for finals on the roof of DT, and someone came up to tell us about Bruce R’s final talk.

  7. Saturday conference rule was you could do anything within the sound of the radio w conference on. I remember blasting conference in the side yard while playing baseball w my brothers. On Sunday’s it was on TV and I believe our tradition was to make card (sometimes poker, but usually baseball cards) houses during conference and shoot them down with rubber bands when it was over.

  8. Southern California here, and was not aware of Saturday sessions (as I believe they simply weren’t available on TV anyway). The thought of going to the Stake Center to watch sessions didn’t even occur to my family. When I got to BYU, I was in for major culture shock in this regard.

  9. Northern California here. Nothing on Saturday as a kid, then Sunday’s on sideban radio. We just turned it and went about the day. The best part was the radio was set just off a regular station, so static music would often cut in, the best years were when it was some cool trendy station. Nothing like humming to We Will Rock you while an old GA spoke. Good times.

  10. I grew up in Mesa, and a local member-owned TV channel showed all the sessions of conference (until non-members bought it, but by then BYUTV was a thing most people had). No stake center for us (I don’t even think they showed it there because conference came on standard, non-cable channels), but my mom definitely watched all the Saturday sessions. We kids pretty much ignored it on both Saturday and Sunday. The only rule was we had to stop and come in and watch whenever the prophet was speaking. At 12, priesthood and Sunday morning became required viewing. By my junior year of high school, I cared enough about conference to watch all the sessions — I loved how good I felt while watching. I can’t wait for this weekend!

  11. What about Friday sessions? Don’t they count??

    Until April 1977, conference was three days long–here’s a note from the May 1977 Ensign:

    This year’s annual April general conference marked the beginning of two-day general conferences of the Church,altering the traditional three-day general conference format.

    Nobody I knew who had anything to do which would conflict with them listened to those Friday sessions. Like classes at BYU–maybe some religion professors cancelled their classes if they conflicted with conference, but I don’t remember it ever happening in any of my classes–religion classes or otherwise.

    Which made conference sort of like the World Series in those glorious days–you’d sneak a listen (if you wanted to) on a radio in the middle of pretending to pay attention to the teacher. But of course the World Series was more interesting.

  12. My Mom grew up just east of LA and said that they only watched the Saturday morning session (on TV, I think). She also didn’t learn that there were 4+ sessions until she was a teenager. Her first reaction was, “Four!? People watch all four sessions?!”

    Granted, she raised us as watching all four sessions, so it grew on her.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    In Las Vegas in the late 1970s, a local TV station would usually broadcast one, sometimes one and a half Sunday sessions. A year or so before the satellite dishes were set up, the youth of our ward did a trip to the St. George temple for baptisms for the dead on a conference Saturday, so the temple didn’t pause the baptistry for General Conference. After the dishes went in, teen-aged me would often go over to the stake center where a couple dozen people were watching Saturday sessions. Cable came to Las Vegas around the same time as the LDS dishes, and I think most sessions were available through that.

    A friend from Carson City said of the pre-dish days that on conference weekends his parents would drive east until they were within range of KSL and check into a motel to watch.

  14. As late as the 70s General Conference was a three-day affair with a Friday or “Welfare” session of the conference – I’m surprised no one has mentioned that. Growing up in rural (and Mormon) Arizona – the only live televised session was Sunday morning and Sunday School usually consisted of going to someone’s house to watch. Until the 80s when the church began installing dishes at Stake Centers in North America all of the normal Sunday meetings were still held on Conference weekend – now Conference Sundays are almost like days off where many leaders see it as a rare chance to get away for the weekend to visit family or go somewhere. All of the other sessions were on the radio except for the Priesthood session which was piped into the church building’s speaker system by way of a dedicated telephone line – it was never broadcast over the air. The fairly recent accessibility (especially with streaming) has really made conference-watching so easy and such a big thing and I still feel like I am somehow cheating (perhaps cheating myself) or setting a bad example when I don’t watch (and mildly listen) on Saturdays or slip into a nap on Sundays.

  15. I grew up in the Mormon Corridor during a time when all 4 sessions were broadcast on 5 or 6 different channels if you had cable. I still don’t think I watched a single Saturday session until the conference right before I left on a mission. Saturdays were for soccer! On Sunday we would play conference Bingo and fold laundry. These days I turn on conference and have it playing in the background for all 4 sessions. Having small children makes it extremely difficult to actually listen to a single talk.

  16. I grew up in Utah County and when I was a kid, watching/listening on Saturday was pretty much optional. I remember my parents having the radio on. They wanted us kids to pay attention to some degree on Sundays. When I grew up and moved with my own family to the Middle of the US in the early 2000s, I got the feeling that it was expected, that you should go to the chapel on Sunday to listen to Conference. I thought that was weird and we never did. Conference became available online probably in the 2-3 years after we moved away from Utah and now we watch online or on the BYU channel through Roku, we aren’t cable TV people.

  17. We didn’t *watch* much of anything up in northern Canada – the local TV station would broadcast ONE session of conference a week after the event itself on Sunday morning. Then we started getting live feeds so we’d sit in a dark chapel (no idea why they felt it was necessary to turn off the lights) and listen to disembodied voices coming out of the ceiling, but I only remember doing that on Sundays. It wasn’t until I got to BYU that I started listening to all four daytime sessions.

  18. The other question someone should ask (and answer) is “When did the church start publishing all of the conference talks in the church magazines?”

    In the days before radio or television broadcasts, when the proceedings of the conference were printed in “Conference Reports,” who actually paid attention to conference? Other than the people who actually attended in person, that is. Did bishops or stake presidents get a copy of the Conference Reports back in, say, the 1920s, the way they did in 1980s?

  19. This past April was the very first time I ever watched a Saturday session. I joined the church in the late 70’s in Northern CA. We listened to Sunday sessions on “live wire” – audio only. In the early 80s, I lived on the East Coast and we had regular Sacrament meeting on conference weeks. In the 90s, we lived in the Mormon corridor, but did not have a television, so we listened to conference on the local AM radio station. Our conference Sundays were much like Tracy describes above- it was the only time Legos were allowed in the living room and I’d bake something special to eat.

    Then for a time I lived in a time zone that made real-time watching an obstacle, so I only watched on Sunday.

    This last April a friend in my ward invited me to watch the Saturday afternoon session then stay for dinner & games after. I enjoyed it but I never felt any guilt for not watching Saturday sessions before.

  20. I don’t remember realizing that there were Saturday sessions of conference beyond the Priesthood session until we were required to write up notes on one of the Saturday sessions for seminary in 9th grade. Even after that, it mostly just something my mom listened to after she got a Walkman while watching our soccer games.

  21. racerxisalive says:

    I guess I didn’t put a timeline on that though- 9th grade seminary would have put this solidly in the mid-90s.

  22. Our stake received instruction from HQ recently that a member of the stake presidency is to sit on the stand at any session of GC that is shown in any of our chapels. From what I was told the concern is that members are not participating in GC. How this relates to having stake presidency members sitting on the stand is beyond me. Maybe they’re supposed to monitor participation rates or.. encourage people to attend at the chapel? Most people in our stake watch from home (online/cable/etc) so I’m not sure how this would help participation.

    Just curious if anyone else has heard this?

  23. The Other Clark says:

    I spent my childhood in the Boise area, in a non-TV home. We listened to all four general sessions on the RADIO. Saturday sessions, the radio was on outside while we did yardwork or cleaned the garage. Sunday we listened inside quietly. Priesthood session (which I began attending in the mid-’80s) was via satellite, and NEVER missed.

    As children, the prophet’s opening and closing remarks were mandatory. The other messages were optional.

    I can still differentiate the apostles by voice as easily as I can by face.

  24. I’m from the East Coast and I didn’t watch Saturday sessions until college at BYU, although I might have caught one here and there over the years. Of course, this is because almost every conference God answered my fervent prayers that there would be a soccer/basketball/other sporting event scheduled right during the Saturday sessions so that we would be unable to attend conference. A 2PM game was ideal, because then you could miss all of the 12-2 session (gotta be there early for the game!) as well as the 4-6 session, provided you were reasonably slow at getting to the car post-event. We had to watch at the church most years (sometimes on cable, sometimes not) and obviously it is completely inappropriate to enter the church building wearing smelly sporting gear.

    How much of my belief in God can I attribute to Him scheduling my games for 2 PM on conference Saturdays? I’m not going to answer that.

  25. Growing up in MN, we always had to go to one Saturday and one Sunday session at the church. That was the rule.

  26. Bonjo- I know one SP who had to go be on the stand for the women’s mtg on Sat, in the southeast. I didn’t know it applied to all the sessions.

  27. When I joined the Church in the 2010 in rural Indiana, I would gather at the ward chapel and watch it projected via satellite. Some of the active members had satellite TV (or really good cable packages) and watch it at home, but there was an average of 15-20 of us that would gather at the chapel. That’s when I was introduced to the tradition of “conference bingo” (the free space was “Pres. Monson tells a story”)…

    Priesthood sessions in April were fun, because it would usually conflict with the college basketball tournament – a most sacred event for Hoosiers. When Butler University made it to the Final Four several years ago, someone with a smart phone would keep track of the score and periodically make hand signals to let us know the score and make an announcement right before the “stretch break” hymn.

  28. Canada -two tv channels. One hour broadcast on Sunday and that was it. And we kids were all happy church was short:)

  29. I grew up in Southern California in the 80s-early 90s, but only my mom is active so I have very few memories of going to conference. We would have had to attend at the church building and I don’t blame my mom for not wanting to drag us all over there to watch. I do remember attending when President Hunter and President Hinckley were sustained as prophets.

    Now I watch Saturday and Sunday sessions–if my kids are here, we make it a fun family day with legos, drawing, jigsaw puzzles, and fun food. My main rule is that they have to at least be in the room and quiet–I don’t care if they are actively listening. My only problem is that I don’t have cable, and even local stations like KSL don’t come in very well, so we have to try and watch on the internet and it’s sometimes kind of spotty.

  30. My wife grew up 2000 miles from SLC in the ’60s and 70’s, and they were lucky if they could get the local public broadcasting station to carry one of the sessions of conference. By the early 80’s the local meetinghouses started getting satellite dishes. We married in 1983, started having children in 1985, and always made a family day of Saturday and Sunday conference by watching in the RS room while the children played as quietly as reasonably possible. We picked up DISH in 2001 and have been able to watch at home since then. Even when the kids were young and involved in sports and things, it was fairly rare for us to miss conference on a Saturday. It had to be a real ox in the mire, not just any excuse to avoid conference. We usually do a little yard work in between sessions, eat good meals, play games, etc. We treat it sort of like a staycation opportunity.

  31. Coffinberry says:

    I remember as a very young child that maybe one session of Sunday General Conference might be on TV; this was the 1970s in Indianapolis. I remember discovering Saturday sessions at BYU, where I listened them on the radio my first couple years there; this would have been about the time that Satellite receivers were first installed in our little Iowa branch back home, and having the option of watching on Saturday became a “thing” probably around that time, and certainly by the time President Benson was sustained as Prophet in early 1985. I remember a whole bunch of us students crowded into the big lobby area in our dorms (Helaman Halls). I think I’ve probably had the habit of watching the Saturday session since then, at first dragging my itty-bitty kidlets to the stake center in Chatsworth Calif, and finally here in Colorado. In the mid 90s we got cable precisely for the convenience of conference (no joke) about the time our oldest was probably 6. We would make King-Benjamin-Tents in the living room (sometimes blanket forts but at least once it was a real tent taking up all the space… to see the TV we had to actually be in the tent!). Once a couple years ago we had a volleyball tournament on conference saturday, but we put our smartphones on the Mormon Channel and earbuds in our ears… simultaneously cheering and tearing, as the need arose. But anyway, we dropped the cable long ago and now use ROKU…and invite others to our house. Usually have a large 500 piece jigsaw puzzle set out for assembly during conference; but this year my 17-year-old daughter (baby!) and I are going to be a-quilting on her future-dorm quilt. I think Saturday conference has been a habit of ours throughout our nearly 30 years of marriage, so I doubt we or our kids could quite imagine doing anything else.

  32. I grew up in the Eastern US and it was only available by phone line initially and eventually by satellite video to the chapel. Few attended the Friday session but my parents occasionally did. They religiously attended the Saturday and Sunday sessions at the chapel, sporadically “encouraged”us children to attend at least 1 of Saturday and required us to attend both Sunday sessions. Priesthood was similarly required.

    I’ve always looked at the Saturday sessions as optional though we do turn them on as we’re working around the house. Especially with DVRs and the immediate availability of the recordings online and the complete availability of audio, video, and written by the Thursday after, I question what changes if you take time to view and study them more carefully later.

    However as someone who grew up in Church cultures where gathering to attend the Sunday sessions together as a Ward was expected I wonder what is being lost as we shift to everyone staying home or wherever they want to be (on the go) to listen to/watch the sessions? Was there some bond built that is now being lost at the Ward and Stake level as a result of members watching at home or even independently? Several Sisters in our Stake were complaining that attendance of Women’s session was extremely light and the opportunity for friendly dinners was diminished because fewer came to join them either before or after the session depending on how each group pursues their eating / visiting timing. Are members compensating by bonding as families?

    Or is there a strength that is dissipating with the insularity that seems to come with ubiquitous content?