The preparations underway to help stem the spread of the coronavirus have created an uncertain time. As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths rise, a tenuous status quo is in effect with families encouraged or ordered to remain at home, with classes being taught online and people mostly taking trips solely for essential work or goods.
While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t been immune to these emergency orders as meetinghouses and temples around the world had to close their doors, church leaders were able to provide a comforting semblance of order and tradition with the 190th Annual General Conference.
At first blush, this General Conference would seem to be a marked departure from years past. For the first time since the Conference Center opened in April 2000, sessions were held in a small auditorium on Temple Square. There were no massive in-person crowds to receive the presentations from the church’s leaders or to give affirmation. Yes, there were lively performances from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, but the prerecorded sessions from months and years ago didn’t fully sync with this weekend’s images of church leaders seated feet away from each other as they properly observed social distancing.
We sort of miss the hectic flurry outside of the Conference Center, where previously the faithful congregated or pursued a highly treasured ticket to gain admittance inside. All the while, a colorful gallery of protesters and onlookers circled Temple Square.
The absence of the usual ephemera around General Conference helped to shine a spotlight on what has always been and what remains the core of the event — messages of hope, wisdom and faith from church leadership.
While church President Russell M. Nelson acknowledged the pandemic that forced so many of us to adjust our lives to help others, he also underscored the importance of renewing one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
“Of course we can store our own reserves of food, water and savings, but equally crucial is our need to fill our personal spiritual storehouses with faith, truth and testimony,” Nelson said.
Just as it is a time of great change throughout the world, the church is also undergoing tremendous changes, independent of the current crisis. Throughout Saturday’s sessions, church elders addressed the significance of the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s First Vision in the spring of 1820 that spearheaded the restoration of the church.
On Saturday afternoon, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on the renewal of the Salt Lake Temple — arguably the physical center of the church — and asked church members to consider their personal foundations.
“How could this extensive renewal of the Salt Lake Temple inspire us to undergo our own spiritual renewal, reconstruction, rebirth, revitalization or restoration?” Stevenson asked.
While much of our lives remain disrupted, we’re thankful General Conference offers some respite.