As a child growing up, I was aware that every now and then church would be very peculiar indeed, with normal meetings suspended. Instead the adults would sit in a darkened chapel at an odd hour, looking at a still picture of a church leader projected onto a screen, whilst listening to a voice of dubious broadcast quality, apparently transmitted live via a phone line – that would be transatlantic cable, with a telecoms engineer on site. Sometimes the connection would fail, and the engineer would be busy trying to re-establish a link. Our choice was to either join the adults in the dark, or play quietly in the Junior Sunday School rooms where the sound was piped through. None of it made any sense whatsoever, and it was a relief when normal meetings resumed the following week.
Things changed with the advent of video cassettes. This meant we were running several weeks later. We got our Ensigns before our wards and stakes had scheduled the video broadcasts; it was possible to read along with the broadcast and many did – perhaps the reason for video editing a la Poelman. Videos made it possible for the same time format observed as in Utah of course, though I don’t know how many watched the all sessions, or how many wards and stakes even organised viewings for all sessions, but as I recall it, my family participated on the Sunday.
When satellite broadcasts superseded video we were back to the same weekend as the US, at odd hours. These days General Conference looks a lot like this:
5-7pm Saturday Morning Session (live)
10am -12pm Priesthood Session
1-3pm Saturday Afternoon Session
5-7pm Sunday Morning Session (live)
9-11pm (in some places on an experimental basis only) Sunday Afternoon Session (live)
A few weeks later on either a Saturday morning or Sunday evening the General Women’s Session will be shown. Pointless numbering those sessions, or getting into arguments about which is the first session, because that really does depend on where you are.
In my family we don’t go overboard for General Conference. When our children were small we pretty much ignored anything happening on Saturday, my husband would attend the broadcast for the Priesthood session on Sunday morning, and we’d all attend church for the Saturday Afternoon Session broadcast on Sunday afternoon. There’s no going out for ice cream after the Priesthood Session here. As the church internet site developed, I enjoyed being able to prepare note sheets for my children listing the hymns and speakers (with pictures), leaving space for them to write or draw something from each address; one of the benefits of getting the broadcast several hours later.
Now that my kids are older, and conference is available live over the internet, we generally have the audio running at home early Saturday evening for the live broadcast of the Saturday Morning Session, though no-one is obliged to stay and listen. My husband and son will attend church on Sunday morning for the Priesthood Session whilst my daughter and I listen at home, getting lunch ready for their return, after which we make the mad dash to church for the Saturday Afternoon broadcast. By this time I’ve probably already taken a sneak peak at the live blogging reports and have a heads up on the contents of the various talks. I’ve yet to decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. How might it colour my listening? Sunday’s sessions are then left running at home over the internet for anyone who cares to listen. I generally skip the Sunday Afternoon Session on the grounds that I simply cannot stay awake that long, pick up the podcast when it becomes available, and use the talks for family home evening lessons.
The General Women’s Session remains the poor relation; shown several weeks later with very few attending. By that time anyone who wanted to has had ample opportunity to read the transcript, listen to the podcast or watch online.
- What changes have you seen in your experience of General Conference?
- How does it work in your part of the world?
- Do you appreciate watching as a church community, or do you prefer to do so at home with family?
- How might the General Women’s Session be given a boost?