I just had a unique experience: after a lifetime as a Mormon, after many wonderful experiences of blessing others and being blessed, after an unexpected but spiritually prompted move to western Canada, I had the blessing this morning of attending General Conference in person for the first time. I want to take a moment while the experience is fresh to record my feelings.
Two weeks ago my wife and I unexpectedly got tickets to the Sunday morning session. We made plans and looked forward to this experience with great anticipation. The day arrived and we entered the conference centre early on Sunday morning. We were greeted by the Tabernacle Choir rehearsing for the morning’s broadcast and session and as we took a seat just behind the reserved seating at the front of section 11, listening to the wonderful music my wife said, “This is so awesome – I think I’m going to cry.” We both teared up a little.
A few minutes before the broadcast began some interesting VIP guests sat directly in front of us: a cassocked priest and uniformed general ( Jordanian leaders, we overheard), along with their friend, a US Army Chaplain with a chest full of ribbons. I helped them take some group pictures after the session. I wonder what their impressions were.
After Music and the Spoken Word, a hush falls over the hall as the lights dim and we await the entry of President Monson: all eyes are focused on the door to the right. We all rise as we see movement at the doorway, and again tears come to our eyes. What a privilege to hear the prophet and the testimonies of three newly ordained apostles.
I remember some of the messages from that session, but more impressive to my mind was the message in the manner of the first speakers. There was a dramatic story told in the contrast between them. As President Monson spoke he visibly faded. The three new apostles, Elders Rasband, Stevenson and Renlund bore their testimonies and spoke of their callings to the twelve with power, but humbly professing their weakness. But when Elder Nelson spoke, he seemed to know that self deprecation was not what was wanted from the President of the Twelve. He spoke with unaccustomed force and authority and seemed to be declaring by his tone, “Fear not: the church will have strong, assertive leadership.”
May I say something about the musical performances in the conference centre? A pet peeve of mine is that in local chapels, when the choir music begins there are always people who feel like it’s a good opportunity to chat. I thought it would be different in the conference centre but was disappointed that the same pattern of irreverent (not to mention inconsiderate) behaviour applied there. A general hum begins with the music. Everyone is profoundly quiet during the talks and prayers, but the Lord has said the song of the heart is a prayer unto him: is it not worthy of the same reverent attention? A prayer is extemporized on the spot but choirs consecrate much time, talent and resources to prepare a performance. I suppose some people don’t experience the power of music that washes over me – I let the tears run down my face, suppressing sobs during The Spirit of God. I wish everyone could share that kind of connection with the music and the spirit (or at least respect the worship of those who do).
As I sat in that session of conference I felt an unusual purity of spirit. The feeling was not unlike a stake conference: familiar, yet concentrated and pure. “My soul vibrates, my poor heart sings” (how great is it that hymn texts are written by those who understand the power of music!) I hope the sweet spirit of this experience will have staying power in my life. To be in the hall on this day was a marvelous blessing I will ever be grateful for.