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The many faces of General Conference

By Dominic Valente daily Herald - | Apr 10, 2017
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People prepare and make their way towards the Conference Center during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Grace Sarvela poses for a photograph during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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A protestor pickets outside during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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A man sings gospel songs outside of the conference center during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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A woman lounges in the sun during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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McKenna Halcom and Taylor Whiting pose for a portrait during the 187th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Sister Courtney Smithson poses for a photograph during the 187th Annual General Conference for tThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

Every year, twice a year, Salt Lake City’s population temporarily rises by the thousands. Scores of people fill Temple Square, flooding it with their diverse personal experiences and life perspectives.

While these people all gather from around the state, country and even world, they all have something in common: they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This biannual event, known to the world as General Conference, is the single most prominent regular event in the church. It is when the church’s general authorities, the Quorum of the Seventy, the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Presidency and the church’s prophet and president, Thomas S. Monson, address the global congregation of Mormons.

“For me, my religion is everything,” said sister Alana Curcino, a missionary from Brazil who is serving her mission in Salt Lake City. “But it’s really something special to see the leadership of the church speak…. I love the talks they give.”

For many members of the church, the event is a pilgrimage, and to others it’s a regular occurrence. But to every one of the members, the sacred honor is not to be taken lightly.

Hours before each event is put on, members of the church flood the streets and the surrounding block around the LDS Conference Center, and suddenly the quiet square becomes a giant cerebrum, with thousands of synapses firing off, thousands of moments simultaneously happening in front of the viewer experiencing it.

Former missionaries run into their old companions on accident, people laugh, people cry, people even get engaged. And while it happens each year, the experience is never the same.

“There’s really nothing more special than seeing him experience conference for the first time,” said Rebecca Black of her son, Jonathan. His eyes wide, he looks up at the Conference Center and points in awe, excitedly pointing out every detail of the building.

“I can’t wait to get in!” he exclaims.

During conference weekend, the English language is often replaced out on Temple Square with the languages of many members’ mission countries. Vietnamese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and a whole plethora of other languages can be overheard as former missionaries run into current ones, and bond over their shared experience.

General Conference, nearly every single time since its inception, has been completely full. Often one can see groups of people standing on the corner, asking for tickets (the tickets are never sold of course, but they go quickly when distributed).

Melina Maldonado and her daughter Teresa were two of those people who, after spending nearly an hour out in drizzling rain and 40-degree temperatures, were gifted a surprise pair of tickets by a fellow member.

Squealing with happiness, the two ran off towards the Conference Center, thanking God for the good fortune.

“For me, this is everything,” Melina said. “I can’t believe our luck.”

For many of those looking in from the outside, General Conference is a strange, oft dizzying and busy event; it’s complex, fast paced. As the largest gathering of the Mormon faith, it’s easy to get lost. But that feeling of getting lost in the sea of people falls away quickly when the lights go down in the conference room and the speakers get up to give their talks.

“A peace falls over you when you hear the leaders speak,” said Courtney Smithson, a missionary based in Salt Lake City. “After all the thousand of people go inside, everything just gets silent… It’s peaceful.”

“A peace falls over you when you hear the leaders speak. After all the thousand of people go inside, everything just gets silent… It’s peaceful.”

— Courtney Smithson, a missionary based in Salt Lake City

“For me, my religion is everything. But it’s really something special to see the leadership of the church speak …. I love the talks they give.”

— Alana Curcino, a missionary from Brazil serving in Salt Lake City

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