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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Conferencegoers attend the afternoon session of the LDS Church’s 187th Semiannual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Church leaders are trimming the number of sessions at their international, semiannual general conferences from six to five.

Beginning in April, the women's and priesthood sessions each will be held once a year instead of twice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced on Friday.

Priesthood sessions will be held at their traditional Saturday evening time only during the annual April general conference.

The women's session will move into that place during the October semiannual general conference.

The church's First Presidency said in a news release that the modification will reduce and simplify the work of the church.

"We are confident this change will be a blessing in the lives of members throughout the church," the First Presidency said in a letter sent to local church leaders. The letter will be read in the worship services of the faith's 30,000 congregations on Sunday.

"I'm happy to hear about the change. I think it'll be really great," said Rosalynde Welch, the Primary president of a St. Louis ward. "I'm one who prizes time with my family, and this will make it easier to balance family and meetings. I'm also glad to see that the women's session remains on par with the priesthood meeting and continues to be part of the new schedule."

The change alters a schedule that has been in place for 23 years. Since 1994, the church has held six general meetings across two weekends each spring and fall.

"The women's session has been an official session of conference for some time, but I don't know that has sunk in for all of the women yet or especially for the men," said Kathryn Skaggs, founder of the Mormon Women Stand, a Facebook group with 52,000 members.

"I think this will elevate the women's session in the minds of everyone in the church. There will be an effect of recognizing the complementary relationship between women and men in the church."

Priesthood sessions have been a part of each general conference since October 1945. They have been scheduled on Saturday night for every conference since October 1965.

Eliminating a meeting and consolidating general conference to a single weekend will reduce the impact on families, church leaders and Conference Center staffing. The change decreases the load on hundreds of volunteer ushers, translators and broadcast personnel.

"The announced schedule changes will enable all church members to join together twice a year in a single conference weekend," said Ruth Todd, a former church spokeswoman. "It feels, to me, simpler, more efficient and more unified as we worship globally."

The changes also increase the opportunity for more church leaders to attend the women's session. Members of the church's First Presidency regularly have attended the women's session, but members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and General Authority Seventies regularly were away on assignment.

Welch, an independent Mormon scholar and mother of four, has attended a broadcast of the women's session at a local meetinghouse with her two daughters, 16 and 11, who crochet during the meeting.

"We make an event out of going to it," Welch said, "but it'll be easier to go one time a year."

The family watches the other sessions at home.

"Both the priesthood and women's sessions have traditions, but change is good for us," said Skaggs, a Relief Society teacher in Murrieta, California. "It gives us the opportunity to be humble and accept the direction of inspired leaders."

Many Mormon men and Young Men go out for ice cream or food after the priesthood session every six months. Deseret Book and others created events to cater to Mormon women and girls during the priesthood session.

The change could impact downtown eateries and other businesses in Salt Lake City.

Some Mormon women worried that the change meant they will hear less often from the faith's women leaders.

"I'm a fan of fewer meetings and I think this change makes the women's session more equivalent to the priesthood session," said Salt Lake City's Naomi Watkins, co-founder of Aspiring Mormon Women, a Facebook discussion forum. "But given there have been only one to two female speakers in the general sessions in the recent past, I hope that this change means more women will be speaking at these general sessions, too, and that this change doesn't result in fewer female speakers overall."

Skaggs said she felt church leaders had taken this into account.

The church had no additional information on Friday.

In 1977, LDS leaders established general conference as a two-day, weekend event with five sessions. Two general sessions were held on Saturday and two on Sunday, with the priesthood meeting for boys and men 12 and older on Saturday evening.

Prior to 1977, general conferences historically had been three-day events.

Annual general Relief Society meetings began in 1986, held a week before conference. In 1994, the church added an annual Young Women meeting the week before April general conference. The Relief Society meetings were held the week before October general conference for nearly two decades.

The next change to conference came in 2013, when the church announced it would consolidate the Young Women and Relief Society meetings.

The consolidated meetings became the general women's meeting for girls and women ages 8 and up.

In April 2015, the women's meeting became an official session of general conference, which increased the number of official conference sessions to six.