(Not?) Watching Conference

Ten years ago, I was a freshman at BYU. One Saturday morning, I was sitting in my Deseret Towers dorm room doing my homework like a studious, dedicated undergrad. My roommate burst into the room, “Are you going to watch conference with us?”

“Conference?”

“Yeah, it starts in like 5 minutes.”

“It’s Saturday. I’m doing my homework. I’ll watch tomorrow’s conference.”

Clearly there was a clash of cultures.

I had grown up in Illinois in a family that didn’t have satellite television. We had to drive 45 minutes to the stake center to watch General Conference and my family was not going to do that for more than one session of conference. We always watched Sunday morning because that’s when we’d normally go to church and also the prophet always spoke in that session. To be honest, I thought the Saturday sessions were special for people on the other side of the international date line: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Asia, so that they could watch sessions on their “Sunday.” I thought it was really generous and internationally-aware of the Church to have conference sessions on Saturday. But they weren’t sessions for me. That’s what the Sunday morning session was for! Heck- even Sunday afternoon was obviously geared towards the saints in Hawaii because it was at a time so that they’d get to see it “Sunday morning,” too!

I remember continuing my homework, flabbergasted that there probably existed people that expected me to listen to 8 hours of conference in a weekend. It was Saturday! That day is for soccer games and piano recitals and math team conference matches!

Snoozefest

As an adult, I’ve tried to listen to more of the sessions, but now that my kids are getting a little older, I think I’m going to go back to just the Sunday morning session. I don’t have a lot of boundaries with Church activities: I go to as many ward potlucks and visiting teaching nights and ward park days that I can. I try to accept callings and bring meals to families that need them. But the General Conference weekends are my two weekends of “Nope!” I’ll do 1, maybe 2, but not 5 sessions of conference. This Saturday you’ll find me making Halloween costumes and hanging with my family.

How was General Conference weekend treated when you were a kid? Do you keep those same traditions? Do you watch more/less that you used to?

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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23 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    This is particularly hilarious because when you were a kid, in Australia and other international places, you’d have to wait 3 weeks for the videos to be shipped over. Then everyone would cram around far too small televisions at the Stake centre. Now we have satellites, the delay is generally only to the next weekend.

  2. Caroline says:

    I’ve experienced a similar clash of cultures, Tophat.

    I came from a family in which we never watched General Conference or went to stake conference. I grew up hearing a few times a year, “There’s no church this Sunday.” When I got married it was a shock to realize that my husband expected to watch most of GC and go to stake conference. For me, it’s healthy to take a few Sundays off every year — I figure I can always read important talks later. So my husband does his thing and I do mine, which generally works out just fine.

  3. Robin says:

    I gew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When we joined the church, we might be able to watch one session, if our public TV station carried it. I remember getting up at 5 am to watch on the public station when I was in college. Gradually, things shifted, and more options were available. For a while, we could listen to the sessions at church (no visual), so I’d join a handful of folks who sprawled on the comfy seats on the stand to listen. Then I’d regularly watch the broadcasts at church.

    Nowadays, I watch at home, thanks to the convenience of cable and BYU-TV. I love being able to watch all the sessions, and only rarely do I miss a session.

  4. MargaretOH says:

    I grew up not knowing that Saturday conference even happening and thought that Sunday afternoon session was for those strange people who wanted to watch a repeat of the morning session. As a kid I thought GC was the hardest Sunday of the year because the stake center got dark so I couldn’t color or look at a book, and it lasted two whole hours without a break.

    We’ve given up on watching Saturday with little kids. We were always coming away feeling like we had seen enough to not want to re-watch but not enough to really absorb any messages. So instead we watch over the following weeks, taking in one talk at a time in evenings after kids are in bed. I like that arrangement so much more and I remember the talks better as well since it doesn’t all just blur together.

  5. Hedgehog says:

    So, I’m old enough to remember the really weird Sundays when conference would be broadcast over a phone line to our stake centre, which was also our local chapel (so I don’t know whether or not it was just a stake centre thing), and pictures of the speakers would be slides. Sometimes the phonecable under the atlantic would break or something. Anyway the whole thing seemed to involve having the telephone engineer on site. I was only very small, but I think we only attended Sunday.
    When I was older and there was video tape, we got video tapes about a month later, and I’m pretty sure we only attended one session on a Sunday even then though.
    Now with our kids we attend one general session at church. We play the audio of Saturday morning and Sunday Morning at home live if we’re ready, but don’t make the kids listen, because on a Saturday there’s lots of homework to finish off for school. We download sessions and listen to them in the car on long journeys afterwards, or listen to individual talks for fhe.
    But yes, listening to the whole conference was not and is not a thing here.

  6. John Mansfield says:

    Installing satellite dishes starting in 1981 changed things even within Utah. A couple years before the dishes I was doing ordinance work in the St. George temple on a Saturday morning while General Conference was happenning in Salt Lake City.

  7. spunky says:

    My upbringing was much like your’s– we tried to go a couple of times as a family, but it frankly just did not work out. Dad was a convert and happy to read the talks later- mom was from Utah and tried to get us to go, but it was too hard in the end. Having the Sunday off suited our family better.

    Now with live broadcasts, I listen to as much as I can online live, but then listen to the sessions regularly for the next couple of months as I do dishes/sew/clean or whatever. I am an audio learner, and find that I pay better attention listening to conference, rather that watching a screen for 8 hours with essentially the same image– a man in a dark suit. Its only been the last 5 years or so that I bothered to listen to all of the sessions of conference– I think that in my mind, Sunday morning was the ‘important’ session, so the others were all optional. I confess that up until about 2 years ago, the PH session has been my favourite, but lately, the PH sessions seem too bent on a kind of worldly masculinity ideology that doesn’t even sound religious to me anymore.

    • TopHat says:

      I know what you mean for being an auditory learner. When my husband and I lived in Provo, we would listen on the radio (nobody taking up the wifi or over extending the Church’s servers!) It was nice to knit and listen.

  8. BidTimeReturn says:

    ha! I had the exact same experience at BYU of learning that there was more than one session of conference. I still think of them as extracurricular activities.

  9. Erin Whitney says:

    I grew up outside of the Jello belt with a member mom and inactive (well, really, nonmember) dad. Growing up, about twice a year, my parents told us kids, “Church is on TV this Sunday, so we don’t have to go!” Yay! So, we did stuff as a family (that church kind of got in the way of)–went to the park, picnicked on the beach, hiked in the woods, etc.

    I attended Ricks College and was flabbergasted to learn that 1. there was actually a thing called General Conference, 2. there was more than one session (seriously? why couldn’t they say what they wanted to in one session?), and 3. many of my friends who’d grown up in the Jello Belt treated conference as if it were Thanksgiving or Christmas. One of my roommates invited me to travel to Utah to “go home for conference” (a surprising amount of Ricks students did), and was amazed that conference was a huge deal. The extended family gathered from miles around, a turkey and all the trimmings was served (don’t forget the Rhodes rolls!), people took notes, they watched Eugene Jelesnick during halftime, the family prayed and verbalized ‘amen” when the people at conference did, and they watched *all* of the sessions. Blew my mind.

    Now, I take my kids to a single Sunday session at the stake center. We’ve played conference bingo (I remember when my then- five y.o. daughter excitedly shouted “He said “prayer!” BINGO!”), complete with little wrappers I’ve glued over the mini Hershey bars. Last year, my son hooked up his laptop to our TV and we watched it at home (we don’t have cable).

    I like conference. It is like a worldwide family reunion. You see people there you haven’t seen in too long, some people you are really glad to see again, others, you have to find a reason to be glad to see them. I thrill when I hear talks that agree with me, and I practice my forgiving skills when I don’t. Conference is homey and cozy, and even though (or because) it often puts me to sleep, I’m glad to attend.

  10. Oregon Mum says:

    I never watched it as a kid, but I really enjoy it now. We’re a family lucky enough to have every weekend together (except during odious tax season) so it’s a nice break from weekend chores to take a few hours to sit on the couch and watch GC on the iPad. I don’t try to make my small children watch, but every now and then they’ll waned over and watch for a few minutes. While there are some parts that I wish were different (I wait everytime for mentions of Heavenly Mother) I find it an uplifting and spiritual weekend. So much different than my normal Sunday of wrestling littles in Sac. Mtg. and then reigning in the chaos of nursery.

  11. EJM says:

    Growing up in South Africa in the 1950-60’s I listened on shortwave radio and loved it and dreamed of one day being there in person. In the late sixties I was able to attend conference in the tabernacle – I was thrilled. Forty-even years later I have listened to and watched conference faithfully. I particularly enjoy it more now as an empty nester. Now I don’t have to be a nag; I can watch the sessions in peace. I may not always agree with everything that’s been said, but I always learn something from watching all the sessions. Funny thing is, now my children watch the Sunday sessions with their families.

  12. Ziff says:

    I have a hard time focusing on more than one session. One of the many things I enjoy about the Mormon internet is that I can read open threads and Facebook discussions and get a sense of what’s being said without having to sit down and listen to every session.

  13. Em says:

    Growing up we had to drive to the stake center which meant Sunday clothes, so we just did Sunday morning. I also do not remember being aware of/attending other sessions, or knowing anyone who did. It wasn’t until college when my boyfriend seemed to think that Sunday afternoon, or even SATURDAY was a thing. Now I listen to it online on Saturday morning, often doing chores and carrying my laptop around. Sometimes I do Saturday afternoon, but it is hard to get nothing done all day so often I miss. Sunday morning we go to the in-laws and have bacon and waffles (my favorite part). They take notes, I usually cross-stitch and my husband naps. Sometimes we stay all day and have a big dinner, sometimes we leave after the first session, it just kind of depends. Usually by Sunday afternoon I’m burned out and do better listening to highlights talk by talk later.

    I also did not know there was an adult session of stake conference. The only times I have attended were when I was single for crush-related reasons, and once after I was married because I was asked to sing. I can only assume that the Second Coming will happen during Saturday afternoon session, or during an adult session of stake conference because only the truly elect will be there.

    We always play “I spy a Nephite” in General Conference, as my mom taught me the three Nephites always attend. Keep your eyes peeled!

  14. Gillian says:

    I grew up in Australia, watching Sunday morning conference three to four weeks after the fact via video sent over from the States. We would attend our stake center with hundreds of other Saints and could barely see the screen. I had no idea Saturday sessions even existed. It wasn’t till I was in the Provo MTC that I sat through all sessions – it nearly killed me 🙂 and finally learnt about TelePrompTer – up until then, I was amazed at the speakers abilities to remember so much! 🙂

    Now, living in London with non member family visiting I’m super disappointed I will miss our only chance of watching the one live session we catch due to time differences. Like Sherrie, I’ll be watching recorded sessions next week while stirring the Spaghetti! Looks like I’ll be doing a lot of cooking 🙂

  15. Mirian says:

    Grew up a LONG time ago in the U.S., far from Salt Lake City…back in the phone-line connection days. Older family members would attend the Sunday morning meeting, listening at the stake center, my parents trading off staying at home with the younger ones. Later one of the community TV stations would sometimes broadcast one hour of the Sunday morning meeting and we’d all stay home with the TV on.

    When our children were little my husband and I would trade off staying home with them while the other attended a satellite broadcast session at the chapel (pre-internet days). In such a time of life two sessions during the weekend in which to sit quietly and listen without interruptions from tiny people was bliss.

    When the children got old enough to understand talks we didn’t have cable and only had dial-up internet so we made it a big family outing…both days, trip to the chapel with games to play, picnic to eat and share, friends to see, (far flung branches and wards make seeing church friends a treat), kids spread out on the floor at the back of the chapel working on bingo games with M&Ms in low voices etc. etc. It was big-kid-friendly there.

    Now our children are grown and we have high speed internet. Sitting and watching multiple sessions together on the couch or at church is a nice break from our busy weekdays.

    I see far more of conference now than I did as a child and an adolescent and am grateful that’s an option.

  16. Nona says:

    I was raised in a very devout “Jello Belt” Mormon family. General Conference was broadcast on television and radio. My parents were also very industrious and would have had a hard time sitting in front of the TV for all four sessions, so Saturday sessions would be listened to on the radio while working in the garden or doing household chores, and Sundays we would all sit and watch both the morning and afternoon sessions, usually with a big meal at my grandmother’s house in between (but we did big meals like that every Sunday).
    My husband grew up in one of those families where stake conference and general conference were days off from church. It was a point of conflict between us for a while. I didn’t enjoy conference, but felt very much obligated to watch it all. He would inevitably fall asleep on the couch and I’d be trying to force our small children to sit still and enjoy it.

    We live on the East Coast now and since Saturday sessions aren’t broadcast on the radio, we usually skip them. My mother always makes me feel bad about it. In her opinion the Saturday sessions are for faithful mormons and the Sunday sessions are broadcast for the rest of the world (all those non-mormons watching General Conference out there, I guess. o.O)

    As I have struggled with my faith crisis, General Conference has become tedious and painful. Today we are taking a little family road trip and watching our oldest child compete in an away game. Tomorrow we’ll probably watch at least one session. Most likely I will feel obligated to watch both. But I don’t feel as driven to make everyone else sit down and enjoy it. And I’ll be fighting my own urge to over analyze and pick apart the addresses. .

    • Melody says:

      There is a time and a season for everything. . . There have been times when I just had to skip it for similar reasons, so I somewhat understand your struggle. Good luck and God bless you this weekend.

  17. lmzbooklvr says:

    Love reading everyone’s stories! When I was growing up we’d often go out of town on general conference and stake conference weekends since we were “off” from our Sunday church responsibilities. When we didn’t for general conference, my mom would video tape it to watch later….to my memory later never happened 🙂 The first time I sat through an entire session I was in college at Utah State and we went to the church to watch it because we didn’t have a TV. With our kids, we try to watch all four general sessions. We play conference bingo and I try to take notes. (The voices usually get me and you can see in my notes where I start falling asleep!) I do enjoy hearing the messages but often get more out of it as I read them later one at a time. I think what I like most about it now is that it’s an excuse not to do chores on Saturday (we have conference to watch!) and the rest I get – all while feeling like I’m doing what I “should: be: watching conference. (The irony of that is only now really becoming apparent to me!)

  18. Melody says:

    Afternoon conference naps are among my favorite things. I’ve done this ever since I was a teenager – watch the morning session (or listen and work around the house or in the garden on Saturday) then eat lunch, then nap during the first half-hour of the afternoon session. My mind can listen while I sleep. Then, later I can go back and read or watch on the internet what I missed. Like Erin W. said above, it is homey and comforting.

  19. Julie says:

    Does anyone see the irony in this blog post and comments? Surely we must see the irony when people say they don’t have time or can’t be bothered by watching General Conference or going to Stake Conference when there is time spent on blogging and commenting and being on Facebook.

    And, it concerns me that people would so vocally tout that they they can’t be bothered to watch, twice a year, prophets, seers and revelators. Something’s out of wack here.

    Twice. Per. Year. Really? If you’re too busy to carve out two weekends per year to hear prophets and apostles, you’re too busy. And no, I’m not judging you (please don’t play that card!) I’m pointing out circumstances and selective obedience on a broader scope.

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