I have to admit, I’m a little weirded out recently. I was on my computer upstairs reading the latest news about the coronavirus pandemic when the doors on our china hutch started rattling, as if a big truck was driving by or the snow plow was right beside the house. Only the rattling wasn’t stopping. So I told my daughter to make sure the china hutch didn’t fall over and ran downstairs to tell my husband to stop whatever he was doing that was shaking the house. It didn’t occur to me that we were having an earthquake. But we were. And the epicenter of that earthquake, it turned out, was uncomfortably close. With the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, worldwide quarantines and the earthquakes in Utah and Idaho, the world is in commotion. Yep, it’s time again for general conference.
The first weekend of April (and also October), members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes mistakenly called Mormons) from all over the world gather to listen to the words of the prophet, apostles and other church leaders. It often seems like the weeks before conference are challenging in one way or another. And then the meetings begin and bring much-needed light and peace to calm the storms of life. This conference will be no different in that respect. But it will be different in another. At the conclusion of the previous conference, President Russell M. Nelson said,
… General conference next April will be different from any previous conference. In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.
So this conference weekend will be memorable for more than just coronavirus and quarantine. Let me explain.
A Different Format, a Different Feel
President Nelson proved prophetic when he said that the April 2020 general conference would be unlike any other. I’m not sure that he anticipated the global shutdown of temples, the cancellation of church services and the upheaval of sending all missionaries to their home countries and the quarantine of all missionaries either at home or in the mission field. Because of COVID-19 concerns and most of the world being under quarantine orders (maybe it only seems like the world is under quarantine because we have been for weeks already), the Conference Center and Temple Square will be deserted. It will be void of the delightful commotion described by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,
… Here on these grounds you see families of all sizes coming from every direction. Old friends embrace in joyful reunion, a marvelous choir is warming up, and protestors shout from their favorite soapbox. Missionaries of an earlier day look for former companions, while recently returned missionaries look for entirely new companions (if you know what I mean!). And photos? Heaven help us! With cell phones in every hand, we have morphed from ‘every member a missionary’ to ‘every member a photographer.’
Instead, the meetings will be broadcast throughout the world, and members will watch in their homes on TV, radio and other electronic devices. The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ (composed of President Nelson and his two counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring) will conduct, and those who have been invited to speak or pray will attend. The music will be prerecorded. But while there won’t be “joyful commotion” in large groups, there will be much rejoicing in the homes of Latter-day Saints.
The Home as a Conference Center
Our family has been watching general conference from the comfort of our couches for years now. We turn it into a celebration. But it’s always fun to see the hustle and bustle on Temple Square and to see the people at the Conference Center. I’m excited to see how others celebrate at home during the April conference. The home is, after all, the center of gospel learning. Elder David A. Bednar said,
The ultimate missionary training center is in our homes; secondary missionary training centers are located in Provo, Manila, Mexico City, and in other locations. Our most instructive Sunday School classes should be our individual and family study in our places of residence; helpful but secondary Sunday School classes are held in our meetinghouses.
Family history centers now are in our homes. Supplemental support for our family history research work also is available in our meetinghouses.
Vital temple preparation classes occur in our homes; important but secondary temple preparation classes also may be conducted periodically in our meetinghouses.
Making our homes sanctuaries wherein we can “stand in holy places” is essential in these latter days. And as important as home-centered and Church-supported learning is for our spiritual strength and protection today, it will be even more vital in the future.
Elder Bednar gave this talk just one year ago, in the April 2019 general conference. And we have watched, in recent weeks, as homes have turned into missionary training centers for young elders and sisters while Missionary Training Centers are closed down. Our homes have been places of worship where we partake of the sacrament and teach Sunday School lessons since churches are closed down. And now, our homes will be turned into little conference centers where we can listen to the words of the prophets.
Sustaining from Home
Every general conference, members of The Church of Jesus Christ have the opportunity to sustain the prophet, apostles and other leaders of the Church during the second Saturday session. I always enjoyed watching from home as those in the Conference Center sustained the prophets (and sometimes dissented), knowing that a majority of the Latter-day Saints in attendance were raising their hands to sustain our Church leaders. President Nelson taught,
When we sustain prophets and other leaders, we invoke the law of common consent, for the Lord said, ‘It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.’’
This gives us, as members of the Lord’s Church, confidence and faith as we strive to keep the scriptural injunction to heed the Lord’s voice as it comes through the voice of His servants the prophets. All leaders in the Lord’s Church are called by proper authority. No prophet or any other leader in this Church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself. No prophet has ever been elected. The Lord made that clear when He said, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.’ You and I do not ‘vote’ on Church leaders at any level. We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them.
For April 2020’s conference, members will be watching and raising their hands to sustain—or voicing their opposition—from home. This illustrates, in a very powerful way, that each one of us has the responsibility for our own sustaining vote. It is between us and God.
Celebrating the Restoration
Spring 2020 is 200 years since a young boy, confused at which church he should join, knelt in a grove of trees and prayed, asking God. In answer, the young Joseph Smith received what is now called the First Vision that led to the Restoration of the Lord’s ancient church. President Nelson explained,
God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph, a 14-year-old youth. That event marked the onset of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, precisely as foretold in the Holy Bible.
Then came a succession of visits from heavenly messengers, including Moroni, John the Baptist, and the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Others followed, including Moses, Elias, and Elijah. Each brought divine authority to bless God’s children on the earth once again.
Miraculously, we have also received the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Holy Bible. The revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price have also greatly enriched our understanding of God’s commandments and eternal truth.
The keys and offices of the priesthood have been restored, including the offices of Apostle, Seventy, patriarch, high priest, elder, bishop, priest, teacher, and deacon. And women who love the Lord serve valiantly in the Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, Sunday School, and other Church callings—all vital parts of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness.
Thus, the year 2020 will be designated as a bicentennial year.
And this conference will be a celebration of the Restoration of the gospel.
Preparing for General Conference
In life, we get out what we put in. And the more effort we put in, the more we get out of an experience. The same is true for general conference. And April 2020’s is no exception. President Nelson gave us some insight on how to prepare for this unique conference. He said,
You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. Our course of study for next year in Come, Follow Me is the Book of Mormon. You may wish to ponder important questions such as, “How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?” or “How have the events that followed the First Vision made a difference for me and my loved ones?” Also, with the Book of Mormon videos now becoming available, you may wish to incorporate them in your individual and family study.
Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration. As you do, general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.
And the Lord will speak directly to us through the words of those who are speaking, if we are prepared to hear Him. Elder Robert D. Hales taught,
… This is possible because the Holy Ghost carries the word of the Lord unto our hearts in terms we can understand. … What is said is not as important as what we hear and what we feel. That is why we make an effort to experience conference in a setting where the still, small voice of the Spirit can be clearly heard, felt, and understood.
Looking Back at the Early Christian Church
One of the ways that I prepared for the April 2020 conference was to watch a documentary on Christian churches through the ages. The Savior taught His gospel and set up His Church when He was on the earth, and the early apostles worked hard to maintain His teachings. But the teachings were becoming corrupted, even in the times of the early apostles. The fullness of the gospel was lost. Elder James E. Faust taught,
With this falling away, priesthood keys were lost, and some precious doctrines of the Church organized by the Savior were changed. Among these were baptism by immersion; receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; the nature of the Godhead—that They are three distinct personages; all mankind will be resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, “both … the just and the unjust”; continuous revelation—that the heavens are not closed; and temple work for the living and the dead.
The period that followed came to be known as the Dark Ages.
But men continued their quest to follow the Savior. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,
As the years continued their relentless march, the sunlight of a new day began to break over the earth. It was the Renaissance, a magnificent flowering of art, architecture, and literature.
Reformers worked to change the church, notably such men as Luther, Melanchthon, Hus, Zwingli, and Tyndale. These were men of great courage, some of whom suffered cruel deaths because of their beliefs. Protestantism was born with its cry for reformation. When that reformation was not realized, the reformers organized churches of their own. They did so without priesthood authority. Their one desire was to find a niche in which they might worship God as they felt He should be worshiped.
Although the Reformers did their best to return the church to the set set up by Jesus Christ, what was needed was a restoration. But the earth had to be prepared for it. President Hinckley continued,
While this great ferment was stirring across the Christian world, political forces were also at work. Then came the American Revolutionary War, resulting in the birth of a nation whose constitution declared that government should not reach its grasping hand into matters of religion. A new day had dawned, a glorious day. Here there was no longer a state church. No one faith was favored above another.
After centuries of darkness and pain and struggle, the time was ripe for the restoration of the gospel. Ancient prophets had spoken of this long-awaited day.
All of the history of the past had pointed to this season. The centuries with all of their suffering and all their hope had come and gone. The Almighty Judge of the nations, the Living God, determined that the times of which the prophets had spoken had arrived. Daniel had foreseen a stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands and which became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
That stone cut out of the mountain is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a Restoration of the ancient Church. President Hinckley said,
The curtains which had been closed for much of two millennia were parted to usher in the dispensation of the fulness of times. There followed the restoration of the holy priesthood. … Keys of divine authority were restored….
And Joseph Smith became the first prophet of the last dispensation.
A Unique General Conference
General conference is a celebration of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a manifestation that the heavens are opened and the Lord, once again, speaks to us through His prophet. Just as He spoke to His people through Moses, Abraham and other ancient prophets. Just as He spoke with Peter, James and John and His apostles in His ancient Church. Jesus Christ restored His gospel so that we could find Him. As Elder Holland said,
To grasp the vision we are seeking, the healing that He promises, the significance we somehow know is here, we must cut through the commotion—joyful as it is—and fix our attention on Him. The prayer of every speaker, the hope of all who sing, the reverence of every guest—all are dedicated to inviting the Spirit of Him whose Church this is—the living Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace.
If we are prepared for and pay attention to the speakers this conference, we will find Him. And the chaos, confusion and upheaval of COVID-19 concerns, quarantines and earthquakes will give way to the peace that Christ can bring.