Some general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints won't be traveling to Salt Lake City next month for the 173rd Annual Conference because of "potential uncertainties" in the world and the new opportunity to conduct specialized training through satellite technology instead.
While this kind of travel limitation is not unprecedented, it likely hasn't happened since World War II, almost 60 years ago.
"Area presidencies and Area Authority Seventies throughout the world will not travel to Salt Lake City for this April general conference as they have traditionally done," said Dale Bills, churchspokesman. "Training sessions for church leadership have typically been held as part of the general conference.
"Training of general authorities and Area Authority Seventies will utilize technology similar to that used in the Jan. 11, 2003, priesthood leadership broadcast and leadership training announced for June 2003. The pattern will allow area presidencies to remain closer to the church membership in their assigned areas and will avoid problems caused by potential uncertainties. This will be evaluated after April general conference," he said.
The church doesn't want all its leaders to be in Salt Lake City at the same time when uncertainties in the possible war with Iraq and with terrorism could disrupt travel and make it difficult for them to return to their service in foreign lands.
It also is taking full advantage of new technology that allows training sessions from church headquarters to be sent to most parts of the world. After more than 21 years of establishing a network of satellite dishes at some 3,000 stake centers — primarily to broadcast general conferences and temple dedications — the church took another major step in January by using the technology to transmit its first-ever global priesthood leadership training session.
Language translation is one of the most complicated aspects of the transmissions.
The First Presidency said the global meetings are a response to surging church growth worldwide and represent another major communication landmark. Besides the general conference training sessions by satellite, a second global priesthood leadership training session is set for June 21.
These leadership broadcasts are likely to be scrambled and will probably not be publicly available to non-authorized satellite receivers. The LDS Church began scrambling its transmissions of general priesthood meetings last April.
This departure in general conference travel is also another way the church is coping with the challenges of being a worldwide religion, with more members outside the United States now than in it.
However, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve will likely continue to travel as much as they can.
This new limitation on travel by church leaders has already prompted the cancelation of at least one missionary reunion, originally set for April 4, when its former president — new in the First Quorum of the Seventy — notified organizers that he would be unable to attend.
World War II caused even greater travel restrictions among LDS Church leaders and members. In early 1942, the First Presidency asked all general boards and auxiliary organizations to discontinue institutes, conventions and auxiliary stake meetings to help members meet wartime restrictions on travel and to reduce travel expenses.
A few months later, the church closed the Tabernacle for the duration of the war and closed general conference to the general membership and held it only for general authorities and the presidencies of its 141 stakes inside the Assembly Hall and the Salt Lake Temple.
The Tabernacle opened again in September 1945, and the first unrestricted general conference in four years was held Oct. 5-7, 1945.