'Gather yourselves together' — Latter-day Saints not the only faith planning religious conferences and conventions
In Utah, it is general conference weekend, with more than 100,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints flocking to the church's massive Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City to attend five conference sessions Saturday and Sunday, while millions more participate via television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away from the Conference Center, another worldwide religious conference — the General Convention of The Episcopal Church — is being planned by an excited group of Utah Episcopalians headed by the Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.
"This is really a tremendous thing, both for the Episcopal Church in Utah, and for Salt Lake City," Bishop Hayashi said of the church's decision to hold its 2015 General Convention in Utah. "We could potentially have as many as 20,000 people come to Salt Lake from all around the Episcopal Church."
And throughout Utah, congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are preparing for their annual district convention, scheduled for June 29-July 1 (the Spanish language convention will be June 22-24) at the Dee Events Center in Ogden. The Utah convention is one of more than 380 district conventions held in nearly 100 cities throughout the United States. This year's international convention theme is "Safeguard Your Heart."
"Gather yourselves together," said the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah. "Seek ye the Lord … seek righteousness, seek meekness …" (Zephaniah 2: 1, 3). That admonition found a faithful response this week as tens of thousands of Cuban Catholics gathered to see and listen to and worship with Pope Benedict XVI. And it finds a similar response every year at different times and in different ways wherever people of faith gather in conferences and conventions intended to fortify the community of faith and strengthen individual believers.
Although the principle of gathering takes place at all of these conferences and conventions, the application of the principle is a little different in each one — in some cases, MORE than a little different.
For example, LDS general conference is held twice each year; Jehovah's Witness district convention is held annually; the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is held once every three years; the General Conference of the United Methodist Church meets every four years; and the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Session is held every five years.
These conferences and conventions are different functionally, as well. LDS general conferences and Jehovah's Witness district conventions are two- and three-day gatherings, respectively, with sessions largely consisting of scripturally based sermons and talks aimed at motivating and inspiring the faithful.
"We have come here to be instructed and inspired," said LDS President Thomas S. Monson as he opened the April conference of the church in 2010, adding that "many messages, covering a variety of gospel topics, will be given during the next two days. Those men and women who will speak to you have sought heaven's help concerning the messages they will give."
Similarly, the Jehovah's Witness district convention is "a series of talks focusing on the convention theme," said Jeff Tucket, an elder in one of the 50-plus congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses in the district that encompasses northern Utah, southern Idaho and western Wyoming. "Speakers are all appointed elders from local congregations whose goal is that we come together for information, reinforcement, encouragement and inspiration."
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