SALT LAKE CITY — The order limiting public gatherings in Utah to 10 people led Thursday to new adjustments to next month’s widely anticipated international general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Only the First Presidency, the speakers and those giving opening and closing prayers will attend each session of the April 4-5 conference, which will be moved to a small auditorium on Temple Square, according to a letter released by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Music for the conference has been pre-recorded, the letter stated. The letter did not provide any additional details about the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square.
“By making these adjustments, we feel we can assist those who are working to slow the spread and impact of this pandemic,” the church leaders said. “We are grateful for them and continue to pray for them. We are touched by the many accounts we hear of ministering to those in need during these uncertain times. We pray for Heavenly Father’s choicest blessings upon you.”
The church’s 16.3 million members have looked forward with anticipation to the 190th Annual General Conference because it marks the 200th anniversary of the First Vision that launched the Restoration of the church.
President Russell M. Nelson closed the October 2019 general conference by pointing members to the April conference, calling it “different from any previous conference.”
He invited them to study Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision and consider the importance of the Book of Mormon in their lives.
Church leaders referred to that in their letter on Thursday.
“This will be a remarkable conference,” they stated. “Messages of truth, hope, and inspiration will prevail as we commemorate the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and seek to hear him.”
On Feb. 27, the church discouraged member travel from outside the United States to Utah to attend general conference. It also announced it had canceled the leadership sessions of general conference. Those sessions, held on the Wednesday and Thursday before the general sessions begin on Saturday, made news before the 2019 conferences in April and in October.
On March 11, the church announced a virtual April 2020 general conference, saying the doors of the Conference Center would be closed for the five planned public sessions that normally would draw 100,000 people. A statement said that that general authorities and officers of the church and their spouses would attend the meeting and the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square with its 360 singers and the Orchestra on Temple Square would perform.
On March 12, the church suspended all public gatherings for church meetings until further notice.
On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health issued an order saying all gatherings should be limited to 10 or fewer people.
Thursday’s announcement means the Conference Center will stand empty on its 20th anniversary.
World War II travel restrictions were the cause the last time general conference went on without the public. That leaders-only conference was held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
This is the third time in church history that a viral epidemic has affected general conference. Wednesday, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It is present in at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people.
The Spanish flu pandemic postponed the April 1919 general conference for two months.
Then, in October 1957, church leaders completely canceled general conference during an Asian flu epidemic. The First Presidency at the time said, “Life is so precious the Lord expects us to do all within out power to conserve it.”
Read the full letter here:
As we have seen the many changes around the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made adjustments to missionary service, temple work, and the ways in which we gather and worship.
Recent days have brought new guidelines from experts around the world. After counseling as the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, we have felt it wise to modify further the format of our April 2020 general conference.
Each session will be broadcast from a small auditorium on Temple Square. The First Presidency will preside and conduct those sessions, and only those who have been invited to speak or pray will attend. The music for the conference has been pre-recorded.
By making these adjustments, we feel we can assist those who are working to slow the spread and impact of this pandemic. We are grateful for them and continue to pray for them. We are touched by the many accounts we hear of ministering to those in need during these uncertain times. We pray for Heavenly Father’s choicest blessings upon you.
This will be a remarkable conference. Messages of truth, hope, and inspiration will prevail as we commemorate the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and seek to hear him.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles