Zelophehad’s Daughters

Confessions of a General Conference Skipper

Posted by Petra

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?

17 Responses to “Confessions of a General Conference Skipper”

  1. 1.

    Petra, I can relate.

  2. 2.

    Growing up, I actually only watched the Sunday Morning session. Then of course Priesthood was added as I became a teen. My parents would always go to Sunday Afternoon, but they claimed that it was only for adults (looking back I realize this was probably just a nice way for them to get more out of the last session, or who knows mabye go hiking or something.) So until I went on my mission I didn’t even know that Conference occured on Saturdays. Obviously I wasn’t a good listener in church. Anyways, I kind of like my parents approach. Sunday only, one session maybe two if you like. They usually had the Ensign, so they could catch up if they liked. I skipped altogether this year for the first time. I rather enjoyed it. I think for me it’s much better to read the talks also. I don’t know why, but when I watch it, it makes me sort of depressed. I think the tabernacle (and now conference center) just looks so cold, the speakers’ tone is generally surgical, and I can’t handle the women’s children voices. So reading is much better for me too. This way I can evangalize the speakers tone a bit in my head and admittedly, I even skip talks I know I’ll only criticize.

  3. 3.

    I thought the title of your post at my first glance was “CONFESSIONS OF A GENERAL CONFERENCE STRIPPER” and I thought “how on earth does that work?”

    It wasn’t until the end that I realized that I’d misread the title.

    There is something to reading it instead of watching. My sister growing up would just watch and laugh at Pres. Hinckley’s lip when he’d talk. During this conference, I couldn’t get over how the one speaker looked like a bi-curious Bob Saget. I’m sure when I read the talk I’ll get a lot more out of it.

  4. 4.

    I watch all four because I’m interested and I’m an aural learner.
    My dad, who is a visual learner, sits through one session, usually Sunday morning, and then reads them all when they are published.
    My best friend, who learns kinesthetically, brings handwork or does housework during conference, knowing that she learns better when she is physically active.
    Different people process information differently. Once you know how you learn, then, if you really are interested in taking conference in, it makes sense to use that method in your approach to conference.

  5. 5.

    I’ve never been able to process prose, written or oral, when I’m running or doing any other type of exercising.
    Just…can’t…do …it.
    I think my exercise neurons and my prose neurons must be the same ones and they just can’t do both jobs at the same time.

  6. 6.

    I got to skip the Priesthood session with your folks this time. It was delightful!

  7. 7.

    For me, I am generally a reader as well. There have been a couple of conferences where it felt like all the talks were directed at me personally, and I was glued to the screen for the whole 8 hours (I always just read the priesthood session), but most of the time that is not the case. I felt pretty strongly that it would be a reading conference this time around, as I was listening to the first few talks. I actually continued a close reading of Hebrews instead, and that was great.

    I will say, that President Monson’s Saturday talk was good for me to listen to.

    At any rate, you aren’t alone Petra. :D GC can be enjoyed in multiple modalities, which is a great thing.

  8. 8.

    Kevin, prometheus–glad to hear I’m not alone! I’d suggest that someday we should form an anti-listening-to-GC club, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

    Jack Ply–totally agreed about the speakers’ voices. Though I didn’t mention it, that’s a big part of why I choose to read.

    geoffsn–ha! Maybe I’ll try that for April–that could be a fun way to play the “listen for the word” game.

    Leanne–yup!

    Sam–I’m just about the opposite: I can’t exercise well unless I’m listening to something, and prose is preferable to music. Right now for exercise I either run and listen to “A Portrait of a Lady” or I go to the gym and read The New Yorker on the exercise machines.

    Kristine–sure, rub it in, why don’t you!

  9. 9.

    Nice post, Petra! I really like your description of your Conference skipping running epiphany in particular, and your Sabbath of Sabbaths approach.

    I’m totally in the camp that prefers reading to listening. I used to teach Teachings for Our Time, and I remember constantly discovering when I read a talk so I could teach from it, that I noticed all kinds of stuff that I had missed when I originally listened. Since then, I’ve felt much less guilty about not listening (although we typically have it on at my house and I go to Priesthood session). I just do other things to keep myself occupied, like read the BCC open threads.

  10. 10.

    I usually try to watch a few sessions and knit while I do it, but i find it dreadfully boring and feel like I’m wasting my day. I don’t like sitting with nothing to do.

    I did a blog post on it last spring and got several comments telling me that if I didn’t enjoy Conference, I was a sinner and doing something wrong. It seems like everyone looks forward to it and I inwardly groan.

  11. 11.

    LovelyLauren, I wonder when people talk about how much they enjoy it if at least some of them aren’t just trying to convince themselves.

    (Of course, I probably say this only because I’m trying to convince myself that there are other people who are like me and don’t particularly enjoy it. ;) )

  12. 12.

    Thanks for this post. When I first received a testimony of the Gospel, I was so excited by everything: prayer, scriptures, the Word of Wisdom. I thought my excitement would extend to Conference–but in 17 years, it never has. Doesn’t mean I don’t believe, or don’t sustain our leaders, but I just don’t get much from it. Publicly I’ll talk about how great the conference Ensign is, but really if I can find one or two talks that move me, I’m happy. I prefer to spend the weekend with my family doing things besides playing Conference Bingo.

  13. 13.

    I stopped watching conference years ago and haven’t missed it a bit. I read the talks in the Ensign which is much better. What do I do? Take my wife to Sunday brunch, visit family and friends, read, do nothing. It doesn’t really matter. Almost anything beats watching someone read from a teleprompter.

  14. 14.

    I always try to watch all of conference, but I don’t judge anybody who doesn’t. Then I read the talks I missed.

    There’s something about seeing all those people who want to be righteous in one room. Because a lot of men in the world today are drinking and drugging, etc. and don’t care about God at all. Women are a bit more spiritual but many don’t try to live according to God’s will, either. It’s heartening. Even if a lot of them are scewed up.

  15. 15.

    This maybe heretical but I would just like to say that I think listening to OK computer is always going to beat listening to general conference.

    I find that I get bored and end up either writing notes and pictures to whoever I am with or playing on my iphone whenever I watch it so now I just read them, although even that has declined since they all seem to be the same generic messages now.

  16. 16.

    General Conference Stripper: its like the drinking game. Every time someone says words like “marriage”, “obedience”, “supernal” you take an item of clothing off.

  17. 17.

    Sometimes I’ll listen to conference while I’m working at my loom, but we’ve haven’t even bothered to do that for the last few years. Since we moved to Utah, and my husband is working 60-70 hours a week, without ever taking a break for vacation, and because he’s in the bishopric and I’m the primary president, any weekend we don’t have to be at church (stake and general conference), we take off for a quick trip to a national park.
    My husband would like to institute a sabbath of the sabbaths–every 7th Sunday or so, take the day off from normal Sunday work and worship or relax in peace.

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