SALT LAKE CITY — In spring 1820, Joseph Smith first recorded what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commonly refer to as the "First Vision:" While praying in a grove near his family’s home in Palmyra, New York, Latter-day Saint faithful believe Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus as two distinct persons in a vision.
As the leaders of the church celebrate this bicentennial, they’ve promised that this weekend’s general conference, the 190th annual, will be a memorable one. In anticipation of this unprecedented weekend, here’s a timeline of how the church’s general conferences have changed over the years.
June 9, 1830
The church’s first general conference was held inside the home of Peter Whitmer, one of the earliest members of the faith, in Fayette, New York, which is located a little less than 30 miles southeast of Palmyra in the central part of the state. The meeting was held just months after Joseph Smith first published the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. There were just 27 people in attendance for the first conference, according to the church.
Conferences were held over the next decade in various locations as members moved around from New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. An 1833 general conference was even held on a ferryboat over a river in Missouri.
A conference was held outside of American soil for the first time when a meeting was held in Great Britain. The church also adopted a semiannual schedule during this year.
No general conference was held as members began moving westward. According to the church, there are records of general conference meetings while on the trail in Iowa and Nebraska.
Latter-day Saints held their first general conference since arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. It was held in an open bowery where Temple Square now exists.
Oct. 6, 1867
General conference meetings were held inside the Salt Lake Tabernacle for the first time, according to a Deseret News report. Brigham Young and other leaders of the church at the time were on hand for the first session inside the building, which would become the primary location for general conferences for the ensuing century.
June 1-3, 1919
The church’s annual general conference typically held in April was moved to June after it was postponed during the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak. News reports indicate upwards of 20,000 people showed up for the first session when it was finally held on Sunday, June 1. It was also the first time President Heber J. Grant was sustained by members; he had taken over as the church’s president in late 1918 following the death of Joseph F. Smith.
An entire general conference was broadcast on radio for the first time. It came through the airwaves on KZN, which would change its call letters to KSL the following year.
April 4-6, 1942
The public was not invited to the 112th annual general conference due to World War II emergency guidelines, according to a conference pamphlet. It was the first time this happened.
"Those present consisted of the general authorities of the church, presidents of stakes and their counselors and presidents of high priests quorums," the pamphlet states. "Through the courtesy of radio station KSL of Salt Lake City, the proceedings of the Sunday morning and Monday morning meetings were broadcast for the benefit of the general public."
Sept. 30, 1949
Continuing to use newer technology, general conference was broadcast on television for the first time. KSL TV had three television cameras placed inside the Tabernacle for the weekend sessions, according to a Deseret News report from that day. The report added that previous sessions had cameras, but the images were fed to a screen set up at Assembly Hall on Temple Square and not broadcast to a wider audience.
April 5-6, 1980
In honor of the church’s sesquicentennial, portions of the 150th annual general conference were broadcast from the site of the first conference — the Peter Whitmer home in New York. The conference was actually split between meetings in Salt Lake City and from the Whitmer home.
April 1, 2000
The first-ever general conference session was held in the brand new 21,000-seat Conference Center. The venue was constructed to increase seating capacity and it was announced that more than 350,000 people attempted to secure tickets to see the conference in the new structure.
April 4-5, 2020
Church officials tout that the April general conference will be memorable. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no visitors in attendance and it will only be available through TV, radio and streaming broadcast.