For many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last October’s general conference was life-changing.
“My whole life changed during the past two hours,” said Shelby Quist, an 18-year-old student at BYU-Idaho, immediately following the Saturday morning conference session during which church President Thomas S. Monson announced a reduction in the age of eligibility for full-time missionary service. “I still have to pray about it, but right now I’m pretty sure I’m going to go as soon as I turn 19. My brother is 17, so it looks like we’ll be going out at the same time. I never would have thought that possible.”
By most accounts, the October 2012 general conference was memorable, largely because of President Monson’s historic announcement. The implications and impacts of that announcement extend far beyond that one fall day, both personally and culturally. But there have been other moments in other general conferences that have been similarly memorable for Latter-day Saints throughout the world — individually, if not collectively.
For Randy J. Benson, a former stake and mission president, one such moment occurred during the April 1985 general conference. Benson had been called to be a stake president just three years earlier by Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve, so he felt a special connection with the 69-year-old apostle. He was also aware of the year-long battle Elder McConkie had been waging against cancer and was thrilled that the general authority was able to muster the strength to stand and deliver his conference address.
“As he stood he said, ‘I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare, and the powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ ” Benson said, remembering language from a sermon called “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane” that focused in detail on the Atonement, including emotional descriptions of what Jesus Christ endured in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary.
“He then concluded with these words: ‘I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way,’ ” Benson said.
The significance of Elder McConkie’s closing words was underscored for Benson when the apostle died less than two weeks later.
To this day, Benson said, “those words ring in my ears and I continue to gain strength from one who knew. When that is understood, all else gains eternal perspective and falls in place.”
Gyle Walker of Denver was a member of his ward’s bishopric when he attended the General Relief Society Meeting on Sept. 23, 1995, when President Gordon B. Hinckley introduced “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
“I was immediately overcome with emotion,” Walker said, “and the Spirit bore confirmation to me in a very real and strong way that this was given to us directly from the Lord.”
Ever since that day, Walker said, the proclamation has been a standard for the church and its members in general, and for the Walker family in particular, as they have worked to remain close and faithful during the inevitable ups and downs of life.
“Even in times of trial in our family, the proclamation has stood firm and undeniable,” he said. “It has been a blessing to our family from the moment it was introduced at the Relief Society meeting until now.”
Marie Sharon was living in central Wisconsin during April conference of 1981 when President Spencer W. Kimball announced the construction of the Chicago Illinois Temple.
“I’ll never forget how excited I was when I heard this,” Sharon said. “In those days, we had to travel 24 hours on a bus one way to attend the Washington D.C. Temple. We were willing to do it, of course, but we couldn’t do it very often. A new temple only six hours away in Chicago meant we could go to the temple more often even though we had five children at home. That one conference announcement really made a difference for us!”
The conference that is most remembered by Elma Leta McBride of North Salt Lake, Utah, occurred during her full-time mission.
“It was April 1977, and I was in France,” McBride said. “In those days there was no way for us to watch conference live, and so we usually didn’t learn much about it for a while.”
When a friend sent a package of cassette audio tapes of the conference, the tapes arrived at the perfect time. McBride’s companion was ill and the missionaries were apartment-bound for a significant period of time.
“We listened to that conference over and over again — I almost had some of the talks memorized,” she said. To this day she remembers and cherishes some of those conference talks, especially “The Power of Plainness” by Elder Marvin J. Ashton and “The Daily Portion of Love” by Bishop H. Burke Peterson.
“I really needed conference that year," she said. "I’ll never forget it.”
For L.R. Hughes of Kentucky, the conference he remembers best was just two years ago. Although he has been a member of the LDS Church for more than 50 years, it wasn't until 2011 that he and five members of his family attended their first general conference session live in Salt Lake City.
“Initially,” Hughes said, “there was the extraordinary experience of being seated in the middle of the Conference Center, only a matter of rows from the speakers. And then to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ live just before the Sunday morning session was just plain glorious.”
But what was truly unforgettable, he continued, “was sitting literally at the feet of a living prophet of the Lord and the other general authorities of the church and listening to them speak. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.”
And a general conference that he'll never forget.