After decades of attending LDS general conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, George Durrant found himself in front of the television one year.
"I decided once to stay home and see how it was," he said.
Durrant, however, took a few unusual steps to assure a comparable experience. He began by dressing up in his suit "much to the interest of my family," he said. He went to the bathroom, got a drink of water and requested that no one speak to him for the next two hours. He then found the most uncomfortable chair in the house to sit on and placed another chair directly in front of him.
"I didn't have any legroom at the Tabernacle, and I wanted to simulate that," he said.
Durrant took notes during the talks, raised his hand to sustain the leaders and stood to sing the intermediate hymn.
"I found out it was just as thrilling as being at the Tabernacle," he said. "It's hard to get drowsy in a hard chair. I liked that so much, that's what I did for years and years."
That was, until he decided to try a softer seat. The result?
"I got a little drowsy," he said.
When the 178th Semiannual General Conference convenes on Saturday, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will participate in their own unique ways. While few are likely to replicate the attention-inducing environment of the Durrant home, many Mormons have established conference traditions and participation habits that they adhere to every six months. These practices often go a long way toward determining the quality of the conference experience.
"We all have to decide how we want to approach this," Durrant said. "I just can't hardly wait for it to begin."
DURRANT, A RETIRED author and educator who has been a mission president on three different occasions, is well-known for his sense of humor and storytelling abilities. He's shared his general conference account with audiences in the past, and while he acknowledges that "you have to be weird" to approach it that way, he's entirely serious about his feelings for the event itself.
"I just look forward to conference with all my heart," he said. "I just consider it such a sacred thing."
Durrant may have given up the uncomfortable chair, but his approach to conference hasn't softened. He still dresses in a suit and only removes his necktie between sessions. He takes care not to slump in his chair and refuses to lie down.
"I think you've got to be alert," he said. "It's not enough to say you saw it."
He doesn't suggest that anyone else adopt his routine, but Durrant does think it's important to "get yourself organized" and be on time for the proceedings. He also encourages others to participate while conference is actually in session.
"If you possibly can, hear it when it's just happening," he said.
Those who face unavoidable conflicts during conference have multiple means of experiencing the event after the fact, from digital video recording to the Internet to the Ensign magazine. In such cases, it's still worthwhile to make an effort to partake of the conference spirit during the sessions, according to Tom Thunell, an instructor in the Church Educational System.
Thunell, who teaches at the Salt Lake University LDS Institute of Religion, suggests that members who are unable to attend or watch conference remain cognizant that the event is taking place. Try to get some exposure to the broadcast, he said, even if it's just taking a break from work or listening to a talk in the car.
In Thunell's own home, it's difficult to avoid the sounds of conference. He makes sure that all the televisions in the house are tuned in to the session.
"We keep conference going and keep it loud enough so that any distraction that is legitimate can be tended to or dealt with, but conference can be filled in," he said.
Both Durrant and Thunell make it a habit to take notes as a means of remaining attentive and internalizing the messages. Durrant says he usually writes down one or two sentences for each speaker and tries to concentrate on the "overriding theme" and how it applies to him personally.
"I have to listen carefully to know what's in this for me," he said.
Thunell, who conducts a "Teachings of the Living Prophets" course at the institute, always takes time in class for students to share their impressions of conference. He encourages them to not necessarily write down what the speakers said, but "what the spirit said to you.
"By the end of conference, we should have a list of insights things to see and things to do," he said.
Durrant, who says that looking forward to events "is part of the joy of life," tries to approach general conference with enthusiasm. He says a personal prayer before the session and prays for the speakers during the proceedings.
"I've invested," he said. "I want my stock in (them) to go up."
FOR DALE LEBARON, the close of each session was always an opportunity to hold another conference.
LeBaron, a retired professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, made it customary to gather his wife and six children together for a discussion after each session. He reviewed the proceedings speaker-by-speaker and invited family members to share their impressions.
"It was not just kind of the ideas, but why that was important to them," he said.
In Mormon households, general conference is often a time for families an ideal occasion for strengthening relationships and reinforcing gospel principles.
LeBaron had many opportunities to attend the live session at the tabernacle but always opted to watch conference at home with his family. In addition to the post-session discussions, he would use the event as an opportunity to have informal talks with his children, focusing on the major decisions and events in their lives, such as baptism, priesthood ordination, missionary service and temple marriage.
"This would be kind of a way to open up and see how they were progressing and see if there were any concerns in their lives," he said. "We've kind of emphasized that the most important event in the church is every six months, what the Lord is going to tell us through his prophets.
"If you'll just follow the prophet, you'll arrive at where he's going. ... We don't want any empty chairs on the other side. We want everyone to be with us."
In Roger C. Manning's family, conference has always been a time to set collective goals. Manning, an instructor at the Logan LDS Institute of Religion, has five children, two of whom are married and one who is away at school. In years past, the family of seven would listen to conference together, and each member would select a principle that he or she felt the family could all apply. They would discuss their ideas after conference or during family home evening and then set goals together.
Manning says his children benefited from taking ownership in the process.
"It's just been an amazing experience when we do (that)," he said. "When they've found principles we can apply, they're anxious to share them."
Many fathers have made a tradition out of attending the Saturday evening priesthood session with sons and grandsons. Durrant says it's an ideal time to remind young men of their personal worth. Thunell, who would attend the priesthood session with his sons while his wife would take the girls out to dinner, called it the "highlight" of the weekend.
General conference has remained a family occasion for LeBaron, even though his children are all grown and have families of their own. He still invites them along with his 38 grandchildren back home every six months to watch the proceedings. He finds that, for the most part, they still enjoy getting together for conference."They know that they're welcome here," he said.
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