Mormonism in Pictures: Preparing for a Worldwide General Conference

Beliefs & Practices — September 30, 2014

Salt Lake City — The Conference Center has 21,000 seats; they will be filled five times between the 4th and 5th of October 2014 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ semiannual general conference. More than 100,000 people will experience the worldwide conference from inside the Conference Center — many for the very first time.

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Millions of others will watch and listen to the proceedings from overflow facilities on historic Temple Square, in Mormon chapels throughout the world, on television and radio, and from Internet and satellite communications into 190 countries, nations and territories.

It takes several hundred people, behind the scenes, to prepare the Conference Center for the two-day, five-session conference and keep it maintained to accommodate the thousands of people, both Latter-day Saints and people of other faiths, who will attend.

“Our charge,” according to Christopher J. Stepan, assistant manager of facilities and events, “is to minimize distractions and provide a clean, comfortable and safe environment, so those guests attending conference can hear the messages from inspired Church leaders.”

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Stepan said he follows a time line of items that must be completed, including parking for thousands of cars, printing and distribution of tickets for each session, preparing the Conference Center to be sure it’s “spotless,” accommodating visiting choirs that will sing at two of the sessions and coordinating meals for all those who work during the weekend. And that’s not all.

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There are 900 volunteer guest service missionaries that help people find their ticketed seat for the conference sessions.

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Creating a beautiful and inviting setting for the conference is important. Church Floral Services begins working on the plan for the next conference soon after the last general conference has ended.

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A floral designer is assigned to the next conference and has a number of assistants to groom, arrange and review the placement of each stem, each living plant, and how this placement shows up from the perspective of the audience.

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“We hope to create a feeling of peaceful harmony through universal artistic design principles and elements. We coordinate plant heights, textures, leaf size and the very important element — color,” explains Eldon Cannon, group manager of ground services.

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“Our designers achieve a different look for each conference season by varying such materials as spring grasses with tulips and daffodils one year to fall leaves and autumn colors another.”

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The renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir plays a significant role in general conference. Religious hymns help set a tone, the mood for worship. Worship services would be incomplete without inspirational music that honors the Savior of the world.

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Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott, in comments on the choir’s website, said, “At times, we feel that it is our job to testify through our music, especially at general conference time. The spiritual preparation is really crucial. We have to go in there (general conference) understanding the whole message of the music we are going to be performing.”

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“Singing in general conference is probably the most important of all choir performances,” according to Scott Barrick, the choir’s general manager. He says there are at least four separate rehearsals dedicated to preparing for conference. “Each member of the choir prepares in their own way to be able to carry the spirit of conference music from their voices and on their faces.”

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The choir’s website includes a section called “Watch & Listen.” Click on the Sacred Music Library to hear music the choir has sung in past conferences.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a worldwide church and its members speak nearly 190 different languages. There are 1,500 translators that prepare each talk for the 700 interpreters who will read the talks in 94 non-English languages.

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During the five conference sessions there are 350 interpreters located in the Conference Center and about 400 in their home countries reading the talks as they are given from the pulpit.

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“From the linguistics point of view,” explains linguist Sead Osmani, “success comes as I stretch my ability to use the correct words during the interpretation. Before the interpretation goes forward, I prepare the talk in my native language (Italian). Because I have come to know the talk very well, if the general authority departs from his prepared text, I am comfortable interpreting those remarks and then returning to the written text.”

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Before conference goers find their seat in the Conference Center to listen to the talks and the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and see the flowers, they must find a parking place for their vehicles. The Church provides 6,700 parking stalls. To help with that mammoth undertaking, dozens of staff and volunteers serve as parking attendants, working two 15-hour days, doing a lot of standing and directing drivers to open stalls. Parking Services also works with the Salt Lake City Police Department to make sure pedestrians are safe amid the many vehicles.

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And who feeds the hundreds of Church employees and volunteers who take care of many different duties to ensure the smooth running of general conference?

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Approximately 13,000 hours are worked by 135 Church Food Service employees and volunteers. They prepare 12,000 meals and provide 8,400 bottles of water for the many who help facilitate the meetings. The meals are served in several locations to accommodate the workers as they take a break, eat a delicious lunch and hurry back to their work areas for another session of conference.

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The organization of facilitating the success of general conference through the major and minor behind the scenes efforts results in 10 hours of counsel, encouragement and spiritual uplift from the Church’s leaders for everyone in the world regardless of religion. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a recent social media message on Twitter, “We only say what the Spirit directs us to say at conference. I invite you to listen Oct. 4-5.”

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