Looking Back at General Conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
As we look forward to General Conference on April 6 and 7, we like to recall the development of conferences through the years. The first conference held in April, the anniversary of the organization of the Church, was in 1833. We hope these articles from Saints and from BYU Studies Quarterly will inform and inspire you.
Saints, 1815-1846: The Standard of Truth
Early conferences of the Church were held in homes (see pages 98, 109, 126), and Joseph Smith often presented new revelations and instructions. At conference in February 1835, the Twelve Apostles were announced (215). A conference in 1837 was held at short notice to resolve a crisis (289). See the index for more information about conferences.
“Accommodating the Saints at General Conference” by Paul H. Peterson
Accommodating the many Latter-day Saints who faithfully assemble every April and October to receive counsel and direction from prophetic leaders has always been a formidable challenge. This article surveys how general conferences were held, beginning with early territorial Utah in 1848 with a small bowery, only 40 feet by 28 feet. The first tabernacle was built in 1851, and the Great Tabernacle was built by 1867. By the 1880s, inadequate space led to the decision to provide concurrent sessions of conference, held in the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall. By 1916 it became standard procedure to hold as many as four overflow sessions on Sundays in various venues around Temple Square. Speakers struggled to make themselves heard, and in April 1923, the Church used amplifiers for the first time in general conference, and proceedings were piped to four thousand Saints in the buildings of Temple Square. Concurrent, separate sessions of conference were discontinued in 1928. Radio changed everything in 1924. Today’s beautiful conference center and widely available broadcasting is the fulfillment of the dream of early Church leaders.
“Photographs of the First Mexico and Central America Area Conference, 1972”, by James S. Lambert and Richard N. Holzapfel
In 1971, Church leaders bridged the distance of a worldwide Church with the first area conference in Manchester, England. Then in 1972, they held the first area conference in the western hemisphere in August 1972, in Mexico City. This article presents photos of the Saints preparing for and participating in that conference.
Available for sale: Gathering as One: The History of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, By Elwin C. Robison and W. Randall Dixon
This beautiful volume tells the story of the beloved Salt Lake Tabernacle, home to general conferences from 1867 to 1999, through hundreds of photographs. The unique design was the inspiration of Brigham Young and realized by Henry Grow and Truman Angell. At the Tabernacle’s completion in 1867, it held the North American record for the widest unsupported interior space. It is a wonder that the pioneers could build such an avant-garde building with volunteer labor and with only local materials and tools they carted across the plains.
An excerpt from the book is “Design and Construction of the Great Tabernacle Arches,” available at no cost.
“Strange Ramblings: The Ideal and Practice of Sermons in Early Mormonism,” by Davis Bitton
People who attended meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its first seventy years heard many sermons preached. But the sermons often seemed different from those heard in Protestant and Catholic congregations. For the Saints, this was further evidence that the restored Church was not tied to a professional clergy, but, like primitive Christianity, allowed wide participation by parishioners. Outsiders, however, were often less than favorably impressed with Mormon sermons. According to one observer, most Mormon speakers he heard were guilty of "strange ramblings." This article discusses rhetorical styles of early Church leaders, the efforts of N. L. Nelson to improve sermons, and the goals of nineteenth-century LDS speakers.