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SALT LAKE CITY — Every six months, in April and October, Latter-day Saints watch or listen to approximately 10 hours of religious messages over a two-day period as leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak to members of the faith tuning in from all over the world.
If you live in Utah, you’re probably well aware of this event, known as general conference. It’s always on the local news, and your Latter-day Saint friends are probably talking about it on your social media feed.
But you may still be a bit baffled.
Latter-day Saints have specific terminology that can confuse those not of their faith, and they don’t always explain what terms mean. If you want to know what in the world your friends are talking about — or surprise them with your hidden expertise — here’s a list of terms that may be helpful:
During general conference, top church leaders gather at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and give talks that are broadcast and translated to millions of members across the globe.
There are morning and afternoon sessions on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and a special session Saturday evening at 6 p.m. The special session in April is for all males who have been ordained to the faith's priesthood, typically those 12 years old and older, and the special session in October is for all females 8 years old and older.
Anyone who wants to watch can find a live stream of all sessions on churchofjesuschrist.org.
Latter-day Saint faithful believe a prophet is called by God to lead the church and that he receives revelation or guidance from God, both for members and the world. They believe the Biblical Adam was the first prophet and that God has continued to call prophets ever since.
President Russell M. Nelson is the current prophet and is also known as the president of the church. When he dies, the apostle with the most seniority will become president.
The First Presidency is the highest governing body of the church and is comprised of the president (or prophet) and two counselors typically chosen from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The current First Presidency consists of President Nelson, first counselor President Dallin H. Oaks and second counselor President Henry B. Eyring.
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
An apostle is a man called by God to lead the church and witness of Jesus Christ, members of the faith believe. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follows the model set by Jesus Christ in the Bible when he called 12 apostles to teach with Him.
The current Quorum of the Twelve Apostles consists of the president of the quorum, Acting President M. Russell Ballard, and apostles Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Elder Dale G. Renlund, Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares.
Quorums of the Seventy
There are eight quorums of the Seventy. The men called to these quorums are often known as “Seventies.” Latter-day Saints believe they are called as special witnesses of Jesus Christ; they work under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The first two quorums are called "General Authority Seventies" and can serve anywhere in the world. The remaining six are called "Area Seventies," and serve in specific geographic areas.
The prophet, apostles and first two Quorums of the Seventy are often referred to as “general authorities.”
This can be a tricky word to understand because it is used in different contexts. Latter-day Saint faithful believe the priesthood is the power and authority of God, and the power God has given men to act in the name of God. There is the lesser priesthood, known as Aaronic, and the higher priesthood, known as Melchizedek.
Each priesthood gives the bearer different levels of authority, and they can use that authority to serve others. When you hear the phrase, “laying on of hands,” it often means the bearer of the priesthood is giving someone a blessing by placing their hands on the receiver’s head and offering a special type of prayer that President Oaks once described as allowing the giver to "call upon the powers of heaven for the benefit of the person being blessed."
If you hear the term, “the priesthood,” it's referring to the male youth and men who have been ordained to the priesthood, since only males in the church are ordained to the priesthood and its offices.
The Relief Society is the church’s organization for women ages 18 and older. It is the largest women’s organization in the world. These women follow the motto, "charity never faileth:" they administer to the spiritual and other needs of the women around them.
Young Men/Young Women
The Young Men's and Young Women's programs are the church’s organizations for youth, who typically enter the programs when they're in their 12th year and leave sometime shortly after they have turned 18. You may have heard the word “mutual,” as well: That’s what members often call a midweek activity the young men's and young women’s groups attend.
The Primary is the church’s organization for children ages 3 to 11. They attend church classes as a group, where they sing and listen to and give talks, and then receive a short lesson in age-specific settings. Those between 18 months and 3 years go to "nursery," where they learn about gospel topics in an age-appropriate environment and have play time during church.
Scriptures are words written by men who many believe were holy and inspired by God. Latter-day Saints’ canonized scriptures include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
The Book of Mormon acts as a companion to the Bible, but while the Bible depicts Jesus Christ’s work in ancient Jerusalem, the Book of Mormon documents Christ’s visit to the ancient Americas, as well as the events leading up to and following his visit.
The Doctrine and Covenants is "a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days," according to the book's title page. Most revelations in this book given to and transcribed by the church’s founder Joseph Smith.
The Pearl of Great Price consists of excerpts from Smith’s testimony and history, selections from his translation of the Bible, translated writings from the prophet Abraham, and a declaration of some of the core tenets of the church known as the Articles of Faith.
Latter-day Saint faithful believe God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith when he decided to pray about which church to join at just 14 years old. They also believe God called Smith to restore the church that Jesus established and translate the Book of Mormon to English from its ancient language.
Members of the church believe that when Jesus was on the Earth, he organized His church, called 12 apostles and gave them the priesthood, or power and authority to act in God's name. After Jesus and His apostles died, Latter-day Saints believe the church's teachings, structure and ordinances were changed or corrupted, and the priesthood (and thus the authority to act in God’s name) was lost from the Earth. This period of time was called the apostasy.
After centuries of apostasy, Latter-day Saint faithful believe Joseph Smith was called by God to restore the same church Jesus had previously established. Members believe in ongoing guidance and revelation from God, both on a personal and an institutional level, which means they see the church's restoration as ongoing.
Ordinances and covenants
Latter-day Saints believe every person can live with God and in eternal families forever, which they call "eternal life," if they obey God's commandments and receive specific ordinances. An ordinance is a sacred act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some, called “saving ordinances,” are essential to exaltation. Covenants, sacred agreements between God and His children, go hand-in-hand with ordinances, adherents believe.
Latter-day Saints believe baptism by immersion in water is the first “saving ordinance," and the first step to becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The ordinance is a symbol of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection.
Someone who is baptized promises God that they will always honor Jesus Christ's name and serve others. As they obey their covenants, they receive the promise that they will be forgiven of their sins and have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
Gift of the Holy Ghost
After baptism, new members receive the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead (along with God and Jesus Christ) and is also known as “the Spirit.” Having the gift of the Holy Ghost allows members to receive promptings or impressions that can guide them in their lives, cleanse them as they repent and make restitution for any sins or wrongdoing, or offer them peace in a trying time.
Latter-day Saints believe the temple is extremely sacred because it is God’s house. Members participate in ordinances and make covenants with God inside the temple — both for themselves and as proxies for their ancestors who have died.
"Receiving a temple endowment" is one of these ordinances, and is considered to be one of the most special experiences for a Latter-day Saint. Faithful members believe the endowment is a gift from God that will give them greater knowledge of God's purpose, power to do all that he wishes, divine direction, and increased hope, comfort and peace. In return, members promise to be obedient to His commandments and specific laws.
Only members who abide by certain standards can enter the temple. They are interviewed by their ecclesiastical leaders and receive a card called a “temple recommend" that allows them admittance into the temple.
Temple marriages, called sealings, are also among the ordinances performed in the temple. Members believe that if a couple is married or sealed in the temple, and stay faithful through their lives, they will remain married after this life and their family can be together forever.
Plan of Salvation
Members believe the plan of salvation is God’s plan for His children. They believe everyone on Earth chose to follow God and lived with Him as spirits before birth in the “premortal world." He then sent each spirit to Earth to gain a body, be tested and ultimately become like God.
Latter-day Saints also believe everyone who dies will be resurrected (when their spirit rejoins their body), and they will eventually be judged by God. Depending on their actions throughout their lives, they will inherit a specific “kingdom of glory.” The highest, where God resides, is called the “celestial kingdom.”
You may have heard the term “witnesses” a lot lately because the church recently changed a related policy. Two witnesses observe various ordinances like sealings or baptisms and confirm that they took place correctly and under proper authority.
Previously, only priesthood holders could witness these ordinances. Now, women may witness sealings in the temple, temple recommend holders who have not received a temple endowment can witness proxy baptisms, and any baptized member can witness baptisms.
A ward is a congregation whose members live within a specific geographical boundary. Everyone living in the same geographical boundary will attend the same ward. Several wards together comprise a stake. Several stakes comprise a region. A bishop is the leader of a ward, and a stake president is a leader of a stake.
Often, faithful members of the church are offered callings, or assignments, in the church. For example, they may be a Sunday School teacher, a Young Women or Young Men leader, or they may be called to serve those in need in their congregation. Nobody in the church is paid for performing their calling, including bishops and stake presidents.
When someone’s calling is announced in church, the congregation sustains them or raises their right hand to show support. The person announcing the calling also asks if anyone opposes the person being called to that position, and those who do may raise their right hand to show dissent.
During general conference, members will also be asked to sustain the leaders of the church and any new leaders who have been called.
When someone is released from their calling, that means they no longer have that assignment or responsibility.
Latter-day Saints worship on Sundays, and as part of this, attend a two-hour worship service in addition to learning and worship they do at home. Sacrament meeting takes place during one of those hours, and the whole congregation gathers to sing hymns, listen to talks or musical numbers from people in the congregation and participate in a religious ceremony called the sacrament.
The sacrament is a weekly ordinance where members eat and drink blessed bread and water that represent the body and blood of Christ. Taking the sacrament is an opportunity for members to renew the covenants they made at baptism, and to repent and be forgiven of their sins.
Ministering is a program that aims to make sure each person and family in the congregation has someone connecting with them, offering them support and assisting with their needs. It replaced what used to be called home and visiting teaching. Each member is assigned a companion, and together they are friends with those assigned to them, and ensure they have the help and spiritual support they need.
A commandment is essentially a law from God. The Ten Commandments are the most famous of these.
Word of Wisdom
Members believe the Word of Wisdom is a commandment from God. Living the Word of Wisdom means abstaining from coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, excessive meat and other unhealthy practices.
Members pay 10% of their income to the church as a tithe. They believe paying tithing is a commandment.
Tithing money is used for church purposes like building meetinghouses and temples, and supporting church activities and education, among other things.
Latter-day Saints fast for two meals the first Sunday of every month. They do so for two reasons: to understand better what those in need feel, and to sacrifice in order to ask God for some specific blessing or receive an answer to a query. Many members fast for sick or struggling family or friends, or for personal guidance and direction.
They also pay a fast offering, which is the money they would have spent on those two meals they didn’t eat. The offering is used by the church to help those in need.
Family history, or genealogy, allows members to learn more about their ancestors and heritage. Latter-day Saints also perform ordinances in the temple for their ancestors who died before they could accept what Latter-day Saints believe is the gospel of Jesus Christ.