The first time I ever watched or listened to a session of General Conference was my freshman year at BYU. And no, I’m not a convert.
Growing up, since we didn’t have cable TV and lived outside of Utah, our only option for watching conference was a TV at the stake center. I’m sure many of you did (and do) this, but, for whatever reason, my mom wasn’t into the idea, and my dad, always more than happy to skip church, didn’t object. (I seem to remember my mom once saying something about resenting the idea of getting dressed up to watch TV, but I may just be projecting.)
Instead, my family spent General Conference Sundays hiking in Shenandoah National Park, and those hiking Sundays are some of my fondest childhood memories (once, my dad tried to swing on a vine, a la Tarzan, and I nearly died laughing when he fell into the creek below). I never fretted too much about not watching Conference, at least not until I went to BYU.
I spent a few years there trying to watch Conference, partly trying to fit in and partly testing out a more righteous persona. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t take.) I watched it in the dorm my freshman year. I joined an aunt and uncle and watched it at their house. I listened on the internet while doing housework. I even got tickets to a real live session and went up to Salt Lake City.
About halfway through my time at BYU, though, I gave up. During one Saturday session, I took a radio and headphones with me and went for a run up Rock Canyon, intending to listen to Conference on my way. I got about halfway through the session when I started feeling cranky and tense and critical, and I realized that I was full of negativity rather than the spirit. I turned off General Conference and tuned into OK Computer instead, and just as I hit the halfway point of my run, “Let Down” came on and I turned back to look over Utah Valley and suddenly felt awash in the love of God and the beauty of His creations. It was, without a doubt, one of the most sublime and spiritual moments of my life.
I haven’t listened to General Conference since then. I’m a bad listener, but I’m a good reader, and so I play to my strengths and read all the talks once they’re published. Still, I look forward to General Conference weekend with the rest of the Saints: a General Conference Sunday is like a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a rest from my regular Sundays—since I choose my own spiritual practices on those days, they’re the two Sabbaths a year I feel were actually made for man. In the years since I’ve given up my Conference guilt, I’ve used those Sundays wisely: I’ve gone hiking with friends and, later, my husband; I’ve volunteered at an orphanage; I’ve read the scriptures uninterrupted for hours; I’ve attended other church services, especially when General Conference and Easter overlap; I’ve made meals for the needy or visited friends in the hospital. It feels great, twice a year, to have these freebie Sundays–entirely free for service and devotion in my own style–and, by the next Sunday, I’m rested, recharged, and ready to worship with my community again.
The biggest downside of my approach to General Conference, of course, is the community: for that weekend, all weekend, I’m a Mormon social outcast. This was always awkward at BYU, when professors would ask the class on Monday morning to talk about their favorite conference moments. These days, though, I’m not left out for very long, since the talks are published online so quickly, and the unfamiliar approach of personal worship divorced from a community makes me feel strangely appreciative of my regular Sundays filled with other Mormons.
I may return to watching Conference someday; maybe with my own children I’ll establish family traditions of special foods and listen-for-the-word games. For now, though, I’m following the tradition of my fathers (and mothers) and skipping General Conference.
Am I alone in not watching or listening to General Conference? If you don’t, what (if anything) do you do to make the weekend special? If you do, what do you love about Conference? And do you or would you take any other “rest Sundays” of the type described here?