SALT LAKE CITY — As President Russell M. Nelson has certainly reminded everyone, general conference can come with some exciting news.
Over the last two years, the 95-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced the reorganization of priesthood quorums, the retirement of home and visiting teaching programs, and a move to a home-centered, church-supported worship schedule. Oh, and he's announced numerous temples, too.
But President Nelson is far from the first Latter-day Saint president to make stirring announcements at the conference. Here are five of the more impactful moments in the long history of general conference.
This weekend’s conference will be unique, not only because it will revolve around a central theme, but also because it will be digital-only for the first time. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, only the church's First Presidency, the speakers, and those giving opening and closing prayers will attend each session. It won’t be the first time a conference has been held during a pandemic.
1918: A revelation received during the flu pandemic
The October 1918 conference was held just as the "Spanish Influenza" was taking hold in the Salt Lake Valley. President Joseph F. Smith, feeling the effects of pneumonia that would take his life a month later, stated in his opening remarks, "I will not, I dare not, attempt to enter upon many things that are resting upon my mind this morning, and I shall postpone until some future time, the Lord being willing, my attempt to tell you some of the things that are in my mind, and that dwell in my heart."
One of those things: A vision President Smith described about the redemption of the dead — a vision that with World War I and the ongoing pandemic taking thousands upon thousands of lives — was very timely. President Smith recorded the vision immediately following the conference; it would later be canonized in Latter-day Saint scripture and become Section 138 of the faith's Doctrine and Covenants.
1978: Revelation on the priesthood sustained
On June 8, 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball announced a landmark revelation for the Church that stated, "every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood." The announcement made way for black men to be ordained to the faith's priesthood and black men and women to participate in temple ordinances.
Nearly four months later, during the church’s October general conference, President N. Eldon Tanner read the revelation and asked for a sustaining vote.
"President Kimball, it appears that the vote has been unanimous in the affirmative, and the motion has carried," President Tanner said.
1997-1998: Smaller temples announced
In the summer of 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley was traveling home from a conference in Mexico when he began reflecting on what could be done to help the Latter-day Saints of the area — and many others like them — who had to travel hours to reach a temple.
An idea then came to his mind.
By that year’s October general conference, President Hinckley was ready to reveal the church’s plan to build smaller temples across the world. He announced that three temples in Monticello, Utah; Anchorage, Alaska; and northern Mexico, would be built using the new smaller model.
Six months later, during the April conference in 1998, President Hinckley announced the building of 30 small temples. That announcement, along with the 17 other previously announced temples, effectively doubled the number of temples.
"This will make a total of 47 new temples in addition to the 51 now in operation," President Hinckley said. "I think we had better add two more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2,000 years ‘since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh.’"
1999: Nauvoo Illinois Temple announced
As President Hinckley closed the April 1999 general conference, he left the congregation with a surprise announcement.
"I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple," President Hinckley said.
The temple — a re-creation of the original which was dedicated in April 1846, on the same location, with nearly the same height and exterior appearance — was dedicated on June 27, 2002, at the approximate hour that church founder Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered in the nearby Carthage Jail in 1844. The dedication services held between June 27-30, 2002, reached a worldwide audience, with satellite broadcasts sent to 72 countries.
2012: Missionary age change
During his opening remarks of the October conference in 2012, President Thomas S. Monson announced the age for young men and young women to serve missions was being lowered.
The new change made it so men could start serving at 18, and women at 19.
There were 58,000 missionaries at the time of the announcement. One year later that number had climbed to 80,000. Since the spike, the number has since come back down, but the number of missionaries remains higher than it was before lowering the age. There are a little more than 65,000 missionaries currently serving.
Others announcements of note:
1849 — The Perpetual Emigrating Fund was established to help Latter-day Saints emigrate to the Salt Lake Valley.
1982 — Elder Boyd K. Packer announced the new subtitle of the Book of Mormon, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."
2001— The Perpetual Education Fund, a program to provide educational loans for worthy Latter-day Saints in developing countries, was introduced.
2008 — President Thomas S. Monson announced a new temple to be built in Rome, Italy.