SEATTLE, Washington — Church events large and small were postponed or cancelled during the last year due to COVID-19. Church leaders have worked hard to find ways to avoid cancelling long-planned events for a second year in a row.
The Abundant Life Conference for Single Adults is one example of flexibility and ingenuity that helped thousands of individuals come together this weekend in a fun and meaningful way.
Organized for members in the North America West Area, classes, workshops, devotionals and service projects took place in-person and virtually addressing a variety of topics.
The flexibility and hybrid virtual and in-person nature of the conference allowed Church leaders to participate from unique locations while speaking to the same audience. President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, along with his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, attended Saturday’s service projects in Tacoma, Washington, and will speak in a devotional to close the conference on Sunday. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles participated from Oakland, California. Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency, participated from Wasilla, Alaska.
The technology that allowed for everything from the registration process to the broadcasting of classes and devotionals from unique locations to the strengthening of accuracy in family history work stood out to President Oaks as an indication of the Lord’s hand guiding His work.
“When we’re ready and desirous, the Lord sends us the technology needed,” he said.
Speaking of the innovations that led to a hybrid, multi-state event that was the first of its kind, Sister Oaks saw hope in the challenges of the last year.
All that has been learned about the use of technology during COVID “has been a blessing,” she said. “Because this wouldn’t have been possible without COVID.”
In each physical location where the conference was held, service projects allowed attendees to spend time together helping those in need — on both sides of the veil.
Caitlin Olive, one of the organizers from the Seattle, Washington, area, talked about both the challenges attendees face and the commonality that brings them together.
“People just don’t know who people are,” she said. “But we’re all brothers and sisters in the gospel.”
Serving together is one way to get to know each other.
Several hundred conference attendees in Tacoma, Washington, participated in one of three different activities.
Some visited local cemeteries to shoot photographs of headstones that were then uploaded to a website to help loved ones identify the locations of deceased family members.
Some wrote letters of appreciation and care to veterans, injured veterans, active duty servicemen and women, and caretakers of injured veterans.
And others participated in a family history project that will continue into next year to help put together the family trees of African Americans in the Pierce County, Washington, area.
Kris Clayton has seen his share of wards in the midwestern United States, the Rocky Mountains, and now the Pacific Northwest. For him, activities like this are about more than service.
“So many people just need a friend,” he said. “Attending is like getting a booster shot of the Spirit.”
Clayton said conferences like this one provide similar results to Young Women camp or youth conferences. There are many activities attendees participate in together, but it’s the experiences with the Holy Ghost that really stand out.
“The Spirit is what’s important because it teaches us,” he said.
Larry Eastland, from Los Angeles, California, helped organize the conference and said 40 virtual workshops took place.
This gave attendees the opportunity to “reach and reconnect” with each other in different formats and from different geographic locations.
“It was just a marvelous experience,” Eastland said.
As part of the registration process for the conference, attendees could choose to make note of hobbies or interests and then become a part of a “pod” or group of individuals who share common interests, Eastland said.
“For example, there’s a Russian and Ukrainian speaking pod,” he said. “And gardening and horseback riding.”
Overall, more than 80 pods were created by those attending the conference.
“The fact is, there’s a great need to connect with other Latter-day Saints of common interest,” Eastland said. “They have a common testimony, but now come the common interests.”
Serving with each other to the benefit of others helped strengthen friendships of many who participated in the service activities, but another organizer of the conference pointed out there is another who is aware of each person’s specific needs.
Lydia Peckover, from Bellingham, Washington, said, “The Savior knows what we need.”
Peckover shared that she felt inspired to serve while attending the temple. After that experience, she said her prayers changed.
“What can I do to build the kingdom?” she asks. “Who do I need to help? What can I do?”
As she has served others, the opportunities have expanded and become more easy to recognize and respond to.
“You know what? I think you pray, and it comes,” she said of service opportunities.
In the case of the thousands who attended this weekend’s conference, many prayed, and many opportunities to serve came. Hopefully, according to Eastland, those opportunities will continue, as well.
“One of our goals always has been that the conference not be the culmination,” he said. “But that the conference be the beginning.”