More LDS General Conference changes: Smaller venue and only First Presidency, speakers will attend each session

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Conference Center sits empty on March 11, 2020. The coming General Conference has now been shifted to a small auditorium.

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Now, not even all the top Latter-day Saint leaders will be attending the faith’s General Conference at the same time.

After all, they are all older than 60 — some are in their 70s or 80s, and a couple (including President Russell M. Nelson) are in their 90s — a cohort that has been deemed the most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. And Salt Lake County has banned all gatherings of more than 10 people.

So The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has further revised how it will proceed with its April 4-5 spring conference.

Last week, the Utah-based faith announced the worldwide meeting, typically broadcast from the 20,000-capacity Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, would not be open to the public due to the expanding coronavirus.

The only people physically in the giant multitiered space would be top leaders, officers and their spouses as well as musicians, choirs, technicians and others as needed. All others would watch it on TV or online.

As COVID-19 has continued to infect more Utahns, however, even those limits fell short. After all, there are 360 singers in The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square alone.

On Thursday, the church amended those plans and now says the conference will be broadcast from a “small auditorium on Temple Square,” and only the governing First Presidency and “those who have been invited to speak or pray” at each session will attend.

As for the music, the church said, “it has been prerecorded.”

Earlier, Nelson said this conference would focus on the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” in which the then-14-year-old boy said he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, giving birth to the Mormon movement.

In a November letter, the First Presidency wrote, “We look forward to commemorating with members of the church the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ at this historic conference and throughout the year 2020.” M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, even traveled to New York in November to make preparations for the bicentennial of the First Vision, which took place in upstate New York.

In a Thursday letter to the global faith’s 16.3 million members, the top 15 officers — the three-member First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — still promised “a remarkable conference.”

They will offer “messages of truth, hope, and inspiration,” they wrote, “to commemorate the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”