Family photo
Edwin and Tania Pabon, center, seen here with family and missionaries on Edwin's baptism day, hold activities at the Harlem 1st Ward each general conference.

General conference for Tania Pabon means spiritual food — and sandwiches.

Pabon, wife of Bishop Edwin Pabon of the Harlem 1st Ward in New York, says, "I make goodies for after the first session — sandwiches, lemonade, little cakes."

She says she, her husband and 9-year-old son go to the chapel for all sessions, "because we have to be with the visitors and investigators who come."

Their building has sessions in both English and Spanish. Usually there are 75 to 100 people in the English session and 25 to 50 in the Spanish one, and they trade off between the chapel and the cultural hall.

"We usually have about 20 visitors at each session," Pabon says. "Our members bring friends and it's a very nice day."

She makes all the food herself, getting there early to prepare sandwiches while others set up chairs. She uses big baguettes, spreads on the mayonnaise and puts ham and cheese inside. She then cuts the baguettes into triangles so the food goes further.

But it's not all about the food. The visitors can talk to members and everyone can visit because not everybody goes home at the same time.

"I love doing it," says Pabon, a native of Ecuador who has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about five years. "I like being in the kitchen. I feel the spirit when people see that there's more to (the day) than the meetings."

All across the United States, Mormons watch conference in a variety of ways — all designed to hear the general authorities' talks as they gather as families and ward and branch groups.

David Fisher, a member of the Midlothian Ward in Virginia, says he watches 90 percent of conference every time. He has watched it on cable, satellite, the Internet and has also gone to chapels.

"The only reason I got cable was to watch conference," he says. At one point, he got a satellite dish because that was the only way to get BYU Television, which carries the conference broadcast. "But the neighbor's tree kept growing and blocking the signal. I either had to chop down his tree or go to something else."

Fisher now has switched to the local telephone company's fiber-optic network, which offers television service.

His wife, Amy, was their stake's public affairs director for several years and led the campaign to write letters to the cable company, thanking it for airing conference. The company would sometimes forget to turn on the feed and would get many calls from members asking why the LDS conference wasn't on.

Deedra Boudreau, a member of the Portland Ward in Maine, says her family does its best to watch conference. She and her husband, Jared, have two children, a 2-year-old and 9-month-old.

"We try to watch the Sunday sessions at the chapel" and the Saturday sessions at home, she says. "We watch them on BYU-TV on the Internet."

Marvel Earnshaw, also of the Portland Ward, says, "We don't have cable, so we dress like it's Sunday and go to the church (for all sessions). Our kids didn't all necessarily like it at the time, but now our grown ones think it was a neat thing to do."

The local cable company used to show only the morning sessions, she says, but members wrote letters expressing thanks, so now all sessions except the priesthood session are aired.

For LDS students at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., it's all about their institute.

"We make sure the institute is open so the students can watch conference," says Elaine May, the institute secretary.

About 80 to 100 attend sessions, she says, and they sometimes bring friends.

Most of the active Latter-day Saints are there. No food is served between sessions. On the first Sunday of the month, the institute has a break-the-fast meal after church.

"Oh, can they eat then," May says.

At the institute of religion in Tempe, Ariz., there are enough wards to form a stake, so the institute itself doesn't arrange for conference viewing.

Hiram Wright, institute director, says the stake runs everything for conference and opens the building for the students to watch.

In the North Shore 3rd Branch of young single adults in Chicago, President Andrew Jensen says branch members get together in four family home evening groups to watch conference online or on BYU-TV. They fix lunch between sessions.

In President Jensen's own family, there's a conference bingo game for their 6-year-old, while their 3-year-old matches the face on the screen to a picture.

The family of Doug Goodman, bishop of the West Point Ward in Mississippi, generally watches the Saturday sessions at home in Starkville, Miss., and then dresses up and travels to West Point — 25 miles away — for the Sunday sessions. Goodman says 90 percent of the ward's members live in Starkville.

"We have a potluck dinner between sessions on Sunday," he says, and it's a more casual atmosphere for the Sunday afternoon sessions. In their combination chapel and cultural hall, "some people lay out blankets and sit down and listen that way."

In the Immokalee (Fla.) Branch, President Jose Luis Momblack has the challenge of providing for three languages spoken by members — English, Spanish and Creole.

"We don't have a chapel — we meet in an old kindergarten school owned by the Methodist Church," says President Momblack, a native of Bolivia.

So for general conference, members travel 45 to 50 minutes away to the Bonita Springs Ward chapel, where there's a room for English, a room for Spanish and a room for Creole.

Stephen Johns, president of the Key West (Fla.) Branch, says a lot of members watch conference via satellite at home, but 25 to 30 watch at the chapel. Sometimes members bring picnic lunches to eat on the lawn between sessions.

Viliami Hafoka, bishop of the Chehalis (Wash.) Ward, says his family watches conference at home on satellite TV because it works better for his children. They sit on the floor and have the names of the speakers and their pictures.

"After it's over, we have a family meeting and family members share what they learned," he says.

Bishop Hafoka and his wife, Brenda, who moved to Chehalis from Maui 3 1/2 years ago, have six children, ranging from age 15 to 4 weeks.

He says members who go to the chapel to watch usually go to one member's home between sessions for a potluck dinner.

"It's nice for the members to get together."

Paul Stark, bishop of the Akron (Ohio) Ward, says his family always has lunch before they watch conference at home. With the time difference of two hours, the morning session starts at noon, but "we don't eat during conference," he says.

He and his wife, Veronique, have five children — ages 11, 8, 6, 4 and 3. "Everybody has a notepad and takes notes," he says. "The youngest (two children) can't write, so they doodle. We give the kids pictures of the apostles to put beside their notes."

He says his family sings with the congregation and prays with it.

"We don't answer the telephone if it rings," he says.

The children do really well during the sessions, he says, and at subsequent family home evenings, they review what they've learned at conference. "They can't say the same thing — they all have to be different," Bishop Stark says.

He says some ward members watch conference at church and have a picnic between sessions.

"We've found it's easier to focus at home, because there are no distractions, the lighting is good for taking notes and the chairs are comfortable," he says.

Bishop Stark does point out one hazard to watching at home: He says his wife sometimes dozes off during the Sunday afternoon session.


E-mail: rwalsh@desnews.com