The October 2021 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened with familiar faces and familiar places.
For the first time in two years, general conference returned to the Conference Center auditorium, with live music from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and more than just a limited number of Church leaders present, beginning with the Saturday morning session on Oct. 2.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, the Church’s three previous general conferences have been limited to smaller settings, only a handful of leaders joining those for messages or prayers, prerecorded music selections and conference proceedings closed to the public but available via television, radio and livestreaming.
However, pandemic precautions still linger, as evidenced by the nearly empty Conference Center auditorium.
“There has never been a time in the history of the world when knowledge of our Savior is more personally vital and relevant to every human soul,” said the 97-year-old President who has been leading the Church since January 2018.
“Imagine how quickly the devastating conflicts throughout the world — and those in our individual lives — would be resolved if we all chose to follow Jesus Christ and heed His teachings?”
President Nelson then invited listeners to be mindful of three things during the conference sessions — pure truth, pure doctrine and pure revelation — and concluded by invoking “a blessing upon all who are seeking greater light, knowledge and truth.”
The general conference is the fourth consecutive under COVID-19 precautions since the Church closed meetinghouses, temples, missionary training centers and the like during spring 2020 as the pandemic started to run rampant.
Sitting on the rostrum for the Saturday morning session were the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the front row. Members of the Presidency of the Seventy, sisters of the general organization presidencies and the Presiding Bishopric were among those seated in the socially distanced seats behind the senior Brethren.
They were joined by those who were to speak or offer prayers during the session. Most general authorities serving in international areas are unable to attend the conference because of travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
Taking its traditional spot in the loft, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was at half-strength, dividing its numbers during the conference weekend’s two days. Halving the choir allowed members to sit distanced as well.
In the lower sections, other General Authority Seventies, other Church leaders and emeritus Seventies were seated, again at appropriate distances and masked according to COVID-19 precautions. They were joined by several hundred family members of Church leaders. Leaders who were participating in the weekend’s five sessions were allowed to bring more guests to the respective sessions.
An estimated 900 people were cleared to be in the auditorium seats for the first session, with 700 expected for each of the following general sessions. However, Saturday morning’s attendance was well below the ticketed 900.
It made for 5% capacity for the 21,000-seat Conference Center.
The April 2020 general conference was broadcast from a small auditorium in the Church Office Building. The First Presidency presided at and conducted the sessions, and only those who were invited to speak or pray were in attendance. The music for the conference was prerecorded.
The members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sat masked and socially distanced across the stage of the Conference Center Theater for a new venue and larger group participating in the October 2020 general conference, which followed a format similar to the previous conference. Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve was absent because of recent exposure to the virus; he had prerecorded his conference message.
The April 2021 general conference returned as a virtual event broadcast from the Conference Center Theater. Only the speakers and their spouses were in attendance at each session, with music once again recorded from previous general conferences.
To open the October 2021 general conference, President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session and welcomed viewers and listeners to the session.
Others speaking in the two-hour session were President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Elder Ulisses Soares, all of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon; and Elder Clark G. Gilbert and Elder Patricio M. Giuffra, both General Authority Seventies who were sustained at April 2021 general conference.
President Oaks, who was the session’s concluding speaker, addressed the growing number of good, religious-minded people — including Latter-day Saints — who stopped participating in their churches and are not attending worship and meetings.
“Church attendance can open our hearts and sanctify our souls,” he said, later adding, “Our worship and application of eternal principles draw us closer to God and magnify and enhance our capacity to love.”
Warned President Oaks: “Members who forgo Church attendance and rely only on individual spirituality separate themselves from these gospel essentials: the power and blessings of the priesthood, the fullness of restored doctrine, and the motivations and opportunities to apply that doctrine.”
Elder Holland encouraged listeners to remember, even when difficult things are asked of them, that loyalty one pledges to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of his or her life.
“There is divine help for every one of us at any hour we feel to make a change in our behavior,” he said, later adding, “If we love God enough to try to be fully faithful to Him, He will give us the ability, the capacity, the will and the way to love our neighbors and ourselves.”
Elder Christofferson taught about the love of God — universal to all, yet personal to each — and the Savior’s offer of redemption. “Ours is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism, but a religion of redemption — redemption through the Savior.
He added: “The best the ‘anything but Christ’ or ‘anything but repentance’ crowd can offer is the unfounded claim that sin does not exist, or that if it exists, it ultimately has no consequences. I can’t see that argument getting much traction at the Final Judgment.”
Elder Soares invited listeners to follow the Lord’s example of compassion for others, saying, “We can be instruments in the Lord’s hands and act compassionately.”
To qualify to make righteous judgments, he added, “we must strive to become like the Savior and look at the imperfections of individuals compassionately.”
President Cordon shared two foundational truths to a youth’s “grand and glorious work” — first to know one’s divine destiny as a “beloved child of Heavenly Father,” Who loves them and second is to know one’s purpose and not get distracted.
“Don’t delay finding out what the Lord wants to tell you now about who you are,” she encouraged.
Using a parable of a slope, Elder Gilbert said all can become something more in Christ.
“In the Lord’s timing, it is not where we start but where we are headed that matters most,” he said, later adding, “In the Lord’s calculus, He will do everything He can to help us turn our slopes toward heaven.”
Elder Giuffra recalled being 14 years old in his native Chile and learning of and being converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I invite us all to continually increase our faith in Christ, who has changed the lives of my beloved mother and me and continues to change the lives of all who seek Him,” he said.
Music was provided at the session by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, conducted by Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, with Andrew Unsworth and Brian Mathias at the organ. The choir’s selections were “From All That Dwell Below The Skies,” “Come, Ye Children of the Lord,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “I Will Follow God’s Plan” and “My Redeemer Lives,” with listeners invited to join in singing an intermediate hymn, “Let Us All Press On.”