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What will this weekend’s general conference look like? Here’s what we know

An empty Conference Center is pictured during the evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
An empty Conference Center is pictured during the evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For the second time during the pandemic, the First Presidency again will conduct a global general conference on Saturday and Sunday without a live audience.

The broadcast audience will be more widespread than ever, thanks to inroads made with TV stations in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific last spring for April’s general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“A pandemic cannot and will not stop the Lord from embracing us,” President Russell M. Nelson said in an email sent to church members this week. “His love is constant. He never stops watching over us. ... You and I have a special opportunity to feel his love during the upcoming general conference.”

Here’s what we know about that major development and this weekend’s 190th Semiannual General Conference:

  • The October 2020 general conference will be closed to the public and follow the same virtual format it used in April “because of our concern for the health and safety of others” and the church’s “obligation to be good citizens and to act with caution,” the First Presidency explained in a June letter.
  • The conference will be broadcast as usual. Here are the details.
  • The leadership session for general authorities of the church was canceled again as a precaution. Leadership sessions are private, but the church made major news with announcements from the leaderships sessions in both April and October 2019.
  • The women’s session on Saturday evening is for girls and women ages 11 and up, which represents a change. The previous women’s session was for those 8 and older. The church has not specified a reason for the alteration or said whether it is permanent.
  • The broadcast again will originate from a smaller auditorium, not the Conference Center’s vast, 21,000-seat hall. The number of leaders in attendance will be limited.
  • The conference will use music recorded by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square prior to the pandemic shutdown in March.
  • Temple Square, where the Salt Lake Temple is under renovation, will be closed during conference weekend.

Every six months, millions watch or listen live where broadcasts are available to 10 hours of talks by church leaders provided during five two-hour sessions. Others watch or listen to livestreams on the Internet.

“Many of our members or friends don’t have access to the internet and in the past, they would receive conference by gathering in the chapels where it was shown,” church spokeswoman Irene Caso said. “With the pandemic or because of other circumstances, this is not possible. Now they can watch conference content on television stations or listen to them on radio stations.”

Church officials scrambled to find new broadcast channels to reach more people around the world with the conference’s messages of peace in Jesus Christ. They found willing partners seeking content in new parts of the world.

“We had (TV or radio broadcasts in) 31 countries in April and anticipate around 50 countries in for this conference,” Caso said. “The church is using technology and media outreach globally to offer more viewing and listening options than ever before, ensuring the largest global general conference audience to date.”

GHOne, a TV station in Ghana, broadcast the conference for the first time last April, as did television and radio stations in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. The church has about 670,000 members in Africa.

Stations also broadcast conference for the first time in Jamaica, in the Philippines, where the church has more than 800,000 members, and in New Zealand and seven other countries in the South Pacific, where there are nearly 600,000 members.

“Wow this is just so cool,” Apimeleki Tuitubou said. “Never dreamt that it would be this way on our national broadcasters FIJI TV and FBC TV. ... I remember always having the task to deliver general conference DVDs in my truck to our remote (congregations) so that members had the opportunity to gather at the meetinghouses to watch, and today we are all watching from the comfort of our homes with our families.”

Broadcasting on national television stations expands the potential audience dramatically. Nigeria regularly broadcasts religious shows of one hour, but an exception was made in April for the two-hour conference sessions. The Nigerian cable and radio stations involved last spring reach more than 100 million people.

The new broadcast partnerships allowed more of the general church membership, which now numbers more than 16.5 million, to watch from home.

This weekend’s conference will stream live in English on Deseret.com and TheChurchNews.com and their apps. All sessions will be streamed live in more than 70 languages on ChurchofJesusChrist.org and more than 30 languages on the church’s YouTube channel.

Maya Bennett, 10, Edward Castro Bennett, Silvia Castro, Luna Thomas, 6, and Gavin Bennett, 15, watch the Sunday morning session of the 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their Murray home on Sunday, April 5, 2020. The couple were recently baptized on Feb. 7 and planned to attend a session of conference at the Conference Center before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the mass gatherings.
Maya Bennett, 10, Edward Castro Bennett, Silvia Castro, Luna Thomas, 6, and Gavin Bennett, 15, watch the Sunday morning session of the 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their Murray home on Sunday, April 5, 2020. The couple were recently baptized on Feb. 7 and planned to attend a session of conference at the Conference Center before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the mass gatherings.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News