In June of 2021, the Frist Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that the Saturday Evening Session of General conference would be discontinued. At the time of the announcement, the reasons given were vague:
“This change is being made because all sessions of general conference are now available to anyone who desires to watch or listen.”
The explanation didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It seemed to harken back to the time when the Priesthood and Women’s sessions were exclusively broadcasted to stake centers around the world and members would gather to listen in their Sunday best. This seemed to have changed in the early 2010’s, when priesthood session began to be streamed on the internet. The church first acknowledged this change in 2013. The timing of the change may have coincided with the rise of the group, Ordain Women, led by Kate Kelly. They attempted to enter the tabernacle on temple square to watch the Priesthood Session in 2014.
Despite years of the Saturday evening session being available online, the church continued to have Saturday evening. In 2018, Priesthood session was changed to be an annual meeting on the Saturday evening of general conference. The Women’s session, previously held the Saturday before general conference, was changed to an annual meeting on during the Saturday evening session of the October conference.
In 2020, there was a break from this pattern meant to celebrate the bicentennial of the first vision. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, plans were in the works to have a multi-racial choir during the Saturday evening session. Of course, the choir was canceled, but for the first time since in over a decade, there were two youth speakers that were not numbered among the general authorities and general officers of the church.
For the next two general conferences, the traditional October Women’s Session and April Priesthood session were held. Reactions to the announcement that the Saturday evening session being discontinued were mixed. Many celebrated the reduction as a good step in the direction of simplifying and reducing the meetings of the church. Others mourned the loss of gathering together with members of the same gender and then going out to frequent local ice cream parlors.
The biggest negative reaction was the loss of the Women’s session. It is the only session that has an equal percentage of women to men speakers. In the April 2021 general conference, only two women spoke in the entirety of the two-day conference. Cutting the Women’s Session in October could dramatically remove the voices of women in the conference.
Less than two months later in July 2021, the First presidency announced the Saturday Evening session of general conference would indeed be held. They cited the increasing challenges facing members of the church as the need to hold the session. They stated:
“Therefore, after additional study and prayer, we have felt impressed to continue to hold the Saturday evening session of general conference, albeit in a different format than in the past.”
Although the Women’s and Priesthood sessions will no longer be held, the planned session appears to be unique in its presentation. What would the new format be? Will there be speakers from outside the general authorities and officers of the church? Will there be more women numbered among the speakers?
Perhaps the talks will follow more of a Ted Talk presentation? (The church already has a series called Hope Works that closely resembles the Ted Talk Format) Will the session be more like a Face to Face and Q&A discussion? How about a slick, well produced, presentation filled with sharable inspirational messages? Maybe a cultural celebration, similar to the Be One Celebration, Luz de las Naciones, or Pioneer Day concert would be appropriate?
Whatever the format of the Saturday evening conference is, we could expect something unique. Considering the first presidency reversed their decision so quickly on the matter, they must have special plans. Are we making too big of a deal out of this? Maybe it will just be a typical conference session.