General conference is the one event where Latter-day Saints around the world are gathered together simultaneously for one purpose of learning.
For those members who grew up in the LDS faith, general conference may have gone from being an obligation to an opportunity and finally to something they look forward to.
For those who are converted to the faith in their older years, general conference can be a unique thing to experience for the first time.
Trinity Fletcher was baptized as an 8-year-old after attending church for a couple of years by herself. Although she was technically a member, she began to attend a nondenominational Christian church with her mother, and didn’t return to an LDS church until she was a senior in high school.
Growing up in Utah, Fletcher was surrounded by Mormons; however, in the church she grew up in, she was taught very strongly against the LDS religion.
“I think if (the LDS Church) would have been less dominant, I would have been more interested,” Fletcher said. “I was just always scared that someone would push me into it.”
After years of resisting, one friend in particular helped Fletcher look into the church, and she became active in the faith in the spring of 2010.
Shortly after her conversion, she was able to watch her first general conference. Fletcher felt excited to watch it because she’d heard about it for years and had never understood exactly what it was.
The April 2010 general conference felt like a blur to Fletcher. She remembers feeling several different emotions and taking a lot of notes, but it wasn’t until October of the same year that she remembers a specific talk that changed her perspective on an important topic.
“When I heard that talk, I felt so much truth and the more I listened, the more I understood why marriage between a man and a woman is so important,” Fletcher said.
Throughout the last three years, it’s been the words of apostles she’s either read or listened to that have helped Fletcher feel fully converted.
“If you go to general conference and are really attentive and seek to feel the Spirit, the questions in your heart are always answered,” Fletcher said. “Even if there isn’t a talk about that certain thing, that’s just how the power of the Spirit works. I know the apostles are in tune with the Spirit.”
Daniel Cuello joined the church in his late teens.
Cuello grew up in Washington state, where there were quite a few LDS people, including some of his friends.
After his high school graduation in 2008, Cuello began spending a lot of time with his friend Brett Clyde, who happened to be LDS and took Cuello to church with him.
After the two took a trip to Salt Lake City to visit Temple Square and other church history sites, Cuello began taking the missionary discussions and was baptized in September 2008.
Cuello first watched general conference in October 2008, and although he had a hard time staying awake after working late the night before, he can remember the comfort he felt during the talk “Hope You Know We Had a Hard Time,” by Elder Quentin L. Cook.
“I was having a rough time with my family since joining the church and I felt like they made fun of me a lot for it,” Cuello said. “During that general conference, all the stuff I did get to watch was centered around getting through trials, and that’s what I needed to hear.”
General conference continued to bless Cuello’s life while he was on a mission in Independence, Mo.
Every week on his mission, his dad had been sending him discouraging emails telling him he hadn’t made a smart decision to go on a mission and he was wasting his time while he could be in school.
After he’d been in the mission field for about a year, Cuello was pondering how he could improve his relationship with his dad. His answer came during general conference.
“The Monday right after conference, I emailed my dad and told him everything I learned at general conference,” Cuello said. “Instantly my dad changed his whole outlook of me being on a mission and on the whole church just because I’d listened to the promptings I’d gotten in general conference.”
Payton Holt grew up in Salt Lake City and Bountiful, but it wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he decided to investigate the church.
His sister was taking the missionary discussions, and when she was invited to see the film “The Prophet of the Restoration” at Temple Square, she asked Holt to go with her.
“During the movie, especially during the part with the First Vision, I felt something different,” Holt said. “I explained that to my cousin and she told me it was the Holy Spirit.”
After that experience, Holt’s neighbor invited him over for dinner and the missionaries were there to teach him.
As he learned about the First Vision, Holt felt the same feeling he had during the film, and three weeks later he was baptized.
Holt had seen general conference before he was baptized, but only because he happened to be at his friend’s house while he was watching it. During past conferences, he’d had the habit of falling asleep, so it was hard to stay awake even after he had become a member. He tried to stay awake, but started to doze off when all of a sudden he heard a strong voice.
“It was (Elder) Jeffrey R. Holland giving his talk ‘Safety for the Soul.’ I started to love general conference after that,” he said.
General conference became a tool for Holt on his mission in San Antonio. He and his companions would explain to investigators that a prophet on the earth today was going to speak to them.
Holt recalls an experience he had while teaching an investigator named Virginia.
“Virginia came to the church to watch all four sessions of conference and that was the turning point in her conversion process,” Holt said. “After conference, she began to gain a testimony that there really is a living prophet on the earth today and that really affected her decision to come to church and be baptized.”
Dale and Jacque Thornton moved to Utah from California in July 2005. After they moved in, they began to attend several different churches in the area in order to decide where to go.
Several Mormon missionaries stopped by their home and challenged them to read the Book of Mormon, and the Thorntons began to establish friendships with some LDS people in their neighborhood.
For nearly two years before being baptized, the Thorntons attended the LDS Church almost every week.
Dale Thornton finally began to read the Book of Mormon, and he felt cheated when he learned it took place in America and he’d never learned about it in his history classes growing up.
After doing some traveling and studying, the Thorntons began to accept the Book of Mormon as truth.
“When I started believing in and accepting that the Mormon religion was true, then the Holy Spirit came and showed me these things were true,” Dale Thornton said. “When I found out it was true, it was a feeling that was stronger than all five of my senses.”
The Thorntons were baptized in September 2012, but they had seen a few general conferences before then.
“The first time I listened to it on TV it was interesting, but it didn’t register like it does now,” said Jacque Thornton. “It used to feel like a bunch of guys telling people a sermon, but now it has a lot more meaning. When I listen now, I can apply it better, and I’m hearing a message for me personally.”
The Thorntons continually find inspiration through President Thomas S. Monson and the apostles as they look forward to general conference.
“I think it’s fabulous that they have two a year,” Dale Thornton said. “Every one of those men are really great at making their points and telling their stories.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company