With General Conference going on I thought I would write something for the occasion.
I wanted to examine two General Conferences during the life of Joseph Smith to see if they even resembled our modern General Conferences
Firstly I would like to look at the God revealed purpose for these conferences. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 20 we can find the following points about the General Conference:
- It is to be held once in three months or from time to time as the conferences appoint. (verse 61)
- The Elders are to meet in the conference. (verse 61)
- The Elders are to do whatever church business is necessary. (verse 62)
- The Elders can receive their licenses the conference. (verse 63)
- A Priest, Teacher, or Deacon can receive their license from the conference. (verse 64)
- The President of high priesthood(or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest cnan be ordained by direction of a general conference. (verse 67)
- One or more of the teachers(or priests) from each church is to be sent to the conference. (verse 81)
- They are to take a list of the names of people uniting themselves with the church and those who have been expelled. (verse 82 and 83)
- The elders are to instruct how the gathering is to be done. (D&C 58:56)
The first General conference of the church was held on June 9th, 1830 in the Township of Fayette, New York. From the minutes of the conference we can see that there were six elder’s present, Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., David Whitener, John Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson.
In attendance at the conference were most of the male members of the church. The Conference started with Joseph Smith reading chapter fourteen of Ezekiel. He then gave a prayer. After this the Articles and Covenants of the church were read by Joseph Smith, jr. All in attendence then voted to accept them. The vote was unanimous.
Following the vote Samuel H. Smith was ordained an Elder by Oliver Cowdery. Then Joseph Smith sen. and Hyrum Smith were ordained as Priests.
Many people including, those just ordained, then received their licenses. The Elders were David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Ziba Peterson, and Samuel H. Smith. The Priests were Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, and Joseph Smith sen. The Teachers were Hiram Page and Christian Whitmer.
The Conference then continued with exhortations by Joseph Smith, jr. and Oliver Cowdery. The Conference was then adjourned until September the 16th that same year. Oliver Cowdery was appointed to keep the church record and the conference minutes. Then all the brethren prayed.
According to “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” The following events took place but it seems they were not recorded in the minutes:
There were thirty people in attendance. The conference was opened by singing and prayer. They then partook of the sacrament with bread and wine. Following this, many people who were recently baptized were confirmed.
After the exhortation as mentioned in the minutes the Holy Ghost was “poured out” upon those who were there. Many of the people present prophesied, others saw visions, others were overcome and had to be lain down.
After those who had to be lain down regained their strength they spoke of the things they had seen.
Newel Knight was one of these who became physically weak. He stated that, “he could not understand why we should lay him on the bed, as he felt no sense of weakness. He felt his heart filled with love, with glory, and pleasure unspeakable, and could discern all that was going on in the room; when all of a sudden a vision of the future burst upon him. He saw there represented the great work which through my instrumentality was yet to be accomplished. He saw heaven opened, and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding that the time would come when he would be admitted into His presence to enjoy His society for ever and ever.”
There was sense of “rapturous gratitude” that they were witness to the “very same order of things as observed by the holy Apostles of old.” In this first General Conference of the church it was not enough to simply enact church business but that the manifestations of the Spirit were present. There were praising the fact that many people in attendance prophesied and had visions.
Now lets fast forward to another General Conference. This one was in Far West, Missouri. It was on October 5th, 1838. According to the minutes of the conference the following events occurred:
Brigham Young presided at this conference. It was opened by singing, “O! Happy Souls Who Pray.” Brigham Young then gave a prayer. After this they again sang a hymn, “ Now Let Us Rejoice in the Day of Salvation”
However there were not enough members present to make a quorum so the conference was adjourned until later that day.
When the meeting was reconvened they sang a hymn and Elder Heber C. Kimball gave a prayer. Brigham Young and Thomas B. Marsh presided.
There were some ordinations recommended in the name of the church and the meeting was adjourned until the next day.
During this next session, if you will, Elder Benjamin L. Clapp reported on his missionary travels in Kentucky. A call was made for Elders to volunteer to go and do more missionary work in that area of the country.
The Elders who volunteered were: James Carroll, James Galliher, Luman A. Shirtliff, James Dunn, Ahaz Cook, Isaac Decker, Cornelius P. Lott, and Alpheus Gifford.
Thomas B. Marsh then gave instruction to the Elders who volunteered. After this John Taylor was “voted” (that’s a quote, meaning that yes that actually voted on him not just sustained him) to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve.
There were some more ordinations made, followed by remarks given by Elder Kimball to the elders.
After this Bishop Partridge made a report on the temporal affairs of the church. The Conference was then adjourned until January of the next year.
I don’t have any information if similar remarkable spiritual events occurred at this conference. It seems that the minutes don’t mention these things.
Regardless, we can observe the order of these early General Conferences. They were, in fact, meetings of the officers of the church to conduct business. Officers of the church from the various branches and stakes would go to the conference to conduct business and receive instruction. The followed the instruction given in Doctrine and Covenants section 20.
If you are watching General Conference today, observe to see if it follows the same pattern revealed by God to Joseph Smith in April of 1830.
I have included some conference bingo sheets I made. They might be fun. There are six different sheets:
If you don’t enjoy Conference Bingo you can take three sheets of paper. On the top of one write, “Revelations”. On the top of another write, “Visions”. On the top of the last write, “Prophecies”. Then as you hear prophecies, revelations, and visions given during conference write them down.