Sarah Jane Weaver: The ultimate credential to access the power of general conference

My former colleague displayed general conference press credentials on the wall of his Church News cubicle.

I never asked how many he had — there were dozens — but I knew one thing: He measured his career by the number of conferences he covered.

For years I didn’t understand this ritual of saving and displaying his credentials. And then one day I did.

Those credentials were more than a measure of his work. They were a measure of his faith.

A word rooted in the Latin credentialis, credentials represent “giving credence to, or recommending for” entrance to the sacred event. Collectively, they gave him a unique perspective on the Church and its teachings.

Sister missionaries walk near the Conference Center during the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 3, 2021.
Sister missionaries walk near the Conference Center during the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 3, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This week as I reflected on my own career, I also counted general conferences. I started my job just weeks after President Gordon B. Hinckley was sustained as the Church’s 15th president in April 1995. This weekend I will cover my 53rd consecutive conference.

As I reflected on past general conferences, I was surprised how so many sacred conference moments merged into other sacred moments.

For example, I remember listening in 1997 as President Hinckley announced the creation of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy — providing greater localized leadership for the growing worldwide Church. (The Church now has 12 quorums.) That same year President Hinckley also announced the construction of smaller temples, an announcement that rippled into the year 2000, when Church leaders dedicated 34 new temples. During general conference in 2000, I stood in the newly completed 21,000-seat Conference Center as President Hinckley dedicated the grand symbol of the growth and stature of the Church.

Newly sustained prophet and President Thomas Monson and wife Francis wave to the audience after LDS General Conference Apr 5, 2007 in Salt Lake City.
Newly sustained prophet and President Thomas Monson and wife Francis wave to the audience after LDS General Conference Apr 5, 2007 in Salt Lake City. Credit: Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News

President Thomas S. Monson wiggled his ears during April 2008 general conference, delighting a generation of youth with his simple and endearing act. They were the very youth impacted by his October 2012 announcement to lower the missionary age from 19 to 18 for young men and from 21 to 19 for young women. A year later in October 2013, before many would embark on missionary service, they listened as President Monson — marking his 50th year as an Apostle of Jesus Christ — spoke of the death of his sweet wife, Sister Frances Monson, on the eve of what would have been their 65th wedding anniversary, and the comfort he received during that time from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

And President Russell M. Nelson announced changes to Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and a shift from visiting and home teaching to ministering in April 2018; a reduced meeting schedule and a focus on home-centered, Church-supported Sunday worship in October 2018; and the development of the Children and Youth program in October 2019. With other inspired Church initiatives, each intertwined to formed an “interlocking pattern of strength” that sustained Latter-day Saints during the worldwide pandemic. And during that time of uncertainly, President Nelson offered hope and assurance again with the announcement of 20 new temples during April 2021 general conference. The temple is such an important part of his prophetic ministry that he has now announced 70 new temples — 69 of those announcements came during general conference.

As I reflect on my own career, I wish that, like my colleague, I had saved my general conference credentials. Not because they are a measure of my work or a way to mark the steady, deliberate and inspired growth of the Church. But because general conference is sure proof that God loves His children and that He speaks to them through prophets and apostles.

Then-Elder Russell M. Nelson , left, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the end of the final session of the 185th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
Then-Elder Russell M. Nelson , left, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the end of the final session of the 185th Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News

The semiannual event gives credence to inspired teachings and priorities.  

My colleague once marked his career by saving and displaying his general conference media credentials. Still, most of us don’t have physical reminders of these important gatherings.

Isn’t it beautiful that we don’t need one.

We can all participate in general conference without ever sitting in the Conference Center. The conference moments that impacted my colleague — and me — are available to every Latter-day Saint as we watch, listen and read; as part of a global congregation, we can all hear every pronouncement in real time. This weekend’s proceedings will be shared in 98 languages, allowing Latter-day Saints across the globe entrance to prayerfully ponder their questions and receive answers.

It is a spiritual credential each of us can claim.