Weeks after discontinuing the Saturday evening session of general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the First Presidency announced Tuesday that following “additional study and prayer” they determined to continue holding the evening session, “albeit in a different format than in the past.”
Beginning with the October 2021 semiannual general conference, the Saturday evening session will be continued, wrote President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, in the July 27 letter to general and local leaders.
All members and friends of the Church are invited to view this session, according to the letter. The session will not have a specific theme, nor will it be intended for any particular demographic or leadership group.
“Holding this session will allow for more gospel topics to be taught and permit more general leaders to address the conference,” the Church leaders wrote. “We thank the Lord for His direction in this matter. We express our deep love and appreciation for the faithful members of the Church throughout the world and look forward to general conference, when the word of the Lord will be imparted through His servants.”
Earlier last month, on June 7, Church leaders announced changes to the next general conference, including the discontinuation of the Saturday evening session. The June announcement also stated that the October 2021 general conference will be held in the Conference Center auditorium, but that the Conference Center will be closed to the public for the Oct. 2 and 3 sessions, which will again be virtual events to be streamed worldwide.
This decision to discontinue the Saturday evening session “was based on changes in technology that make it possible for all members and friends to view each session of general conference, including the women’s session and the priesthood session,” according to Tuesday’s letter. “We recognize the increasing challenges facing members of the Church worldwide in our day. An important way to fortify against these challenges comes through hearing the word of God (see Alma 31:5). Therefore, after additional study and prayer, we have felt impressed to continue to hold the Saturday evening session of general conference, albeit in a different format than in the past.”
The format and schedule of general conference have been changed many times over the years, according to the letter. Some sessions of general conference were designated for specific groups of members or leaders, such as the welfare session, the women’s session, the priesthood session, and other sessions designed to address topics pertinent to specific organizations of the Church.
“A basic principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the blessing of continuing revelation wherein the Lord reveals His will, ‘giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little’ (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21),” wrote the First Presidency in the letter. “The Lord directs His work according to changing circumstances and needs.”
For decades, general conference was conducted over three days, with two meetings held daily; sometimes a fourth day was added. The annual conference always included meetings on April 6, the anniversary of the Church’s organization. Priesthood sessions were not considered a part of general conference until April 1944.
In April 1977, general conference was reduced to two-day events, held on the first Sundays of April and October and the preceding Saturdays.
Annual general Relief Society meetings, held the Saturday evening a week before October general conference, started in 1986, with Young Women meetings on the Saturday evening before April general conference added in 1994.
Church leaders announced in late 2013 that beginning in 2014, a general women’s meeting for those ages 8 and older would replace the two separate meetings for women and young women. Later in 2014, the First Presidency acknowledged that the general women’s meetings would be designated officially as “the general women’s session of general conference.”
Since 2018, the priesthood and women’s sessions of general conference have alternated — the Saturday evening session in April for all holders of the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood and the Saturday evening session in October for all women and girls ages 11 and older.
The sole exception was a November 2019 First Presidency announcement that — due to April 2020 general conference’s bicentennial commemoration of the First Vision — the Saturday evening session of that conference would be for all members of the Church ages 11 and older.