Today we had stake conference. It was our turn for one of those newfangled and (I hope) still evolving “multistake conference broadcast” experiences; at least some of you living in the Midwest and Great Plains must have caught it also. I think this is the fourth time we’ve been part of one of these over the past five years or so in four different states. Of course, the language of our having “had” stake conference, or being “part” of it, is rather misleading; what I really mean is, we joined twenty or so others in a cacophonous side room, sat on folding chairs, alternately hushed our kids in vain or supplied them with snacks and crayons and paper, and strained to hear and see what was being relayed to us from Salt Lake City on an 18-inch TV screen. As far as meetings go, it’s not my favorite format. Still, I managed to take a few notes. Here they are, irreverent as they may be.
1. These multistake broadcast things still have a long way to go before we can listen to those who speak at them and actually believe that they had one specific subsection of the whole church in mind in preparing their remarks, assuming that is even their goal. Elder Rasband, who conducted the meeting and spoke first, valiantly attempted somehow personalize things for the 61 stakes that were listening in by rattling off their seven temple districts, but he didn’t even have his list up to date: our Kansas stakes and temple district down here in Wichita, while electronically present and accounted for, apparently didn’t make his list. (I hope this doesn’t mean we’re going to learn next Sunday that we’re actually supposed to tune in to another next month.)
2. Just where are these general authorites sitting, anyway? They say the broadcast is coming from the conference center; so, it’s originating in some downstairs television studio, perhaps? I couldn’t help but wonder, as I have every time I’ve sat through one of these, just what those speaking to us are looking at. I mean, a television camera and a teleprompter, obviously, but what else? Do they look at the camera man? The sound guy? Maybe a mirror? Do you suppose anybody else in the studio besides those on the makeshift stand stood up when the choir director stood up in front of…well, the assembled technicians I guess, to lead those of us watching on the other end of the satellite feed in a hymn?
3. I’m taking it on faith that this was live, but I was not able to discern anything that guaranteed such was the case. You know some diligent personnel guy in the Church Office Building has contemplated how much easier the logistics of these multistake things would be if the talks were pre-recorded; already major portions of church-wide, satellite-carried training meetings are prepared beforehand, and extending that practice to stake broadcasts would be pretty natural. And it’s not like, as is the case with general conference, there is any actual physical or temporal space, in Salt Lake City or on the calendar, that the scheduling and delivery of stake broadcast messages is required by tradition to occupy; they could shoot them and upload them from anywhere. So I suspect the at least partial abandonment of the principle of having a “live meeting” with numerous stakes by satellite is inevitable.
4. Elder Bednar said that it was a pleasure to “worship with us this day.” I’ll happily allow that talking about the gospel can always or at least should always be a pleasure, but was this really “worship”? I mean, we did sing a hymn along with Elder Bednar & Co.; that’s true. But there was no sacrament, of course, and not even any prayers; they were provided by the local stake leadership, who had to rush through the opening song and prayer and all the stake business before the satellite feed kicked in. So, is what Salt Lake provided to us today really “worship”? I guess if talks alone count, then I suppose they did. But I’m not sure I’d use that term though: words of inspiration and instruction are much needed, to be sure, but they aren’t the same as acts of communion and devotion.
5. Still, it’s always good to hear from the general authorities, and one suspects that speaking as they are to distant groups without the same oversight and attention and pressure that attends general or regional conferences has got to loosen them up a little bit. I liked Elder’s Rasband’s tribute to his hardworking father, complete with a shout out to the Teamsters. Sister Dalton’s testimony was a strong one. Elder Bednar’s talk on prayer was excellent and full of good advice. And President Monson…
6. …well, he’s just a force of nature. I mean, there’s no one–no one–in the church who has met so many people, visited so many places, been witness to so many dramatic and tender and funny stories, and can wrap them up and deliver them through the medium of the television camera with such skill and emotion. And it’s plain that he takes great joy in wandering through his memory and crafting these little stories for the consumption of the saints…maybe too much joy, sometimes. This time, somewhere around the 40 minute mark, after President Monson had cracked jokes about Fargo and Cedar Rapids that no doubt got a lot of laughter in those respective stakes, after he had finished reciting much of Dickens’ The Christmas Carol and Van Dyke’s The Mansion from memory, after he’d dropped an odd mish-mash of child psychology and computer science on us, and once he’d started getting into some of his favorite musicals, it was clear the man had gone completely into automatic mode. Which I suppose is his right. Actually, I kind of wonder if such is commonplace in these loosely structured broadcasts: a few years back, at a multistake broadcast in the South, we watched in fascination as Elder Wirthlin, in his talk, wandered way out into left field and then pretty much just left the ball park entirely, and started meandering up and down side streets, completely lost. In that case, Elder Nelson came to his rescue: towering over him by the pulpit with his arm kindly guiding Elder Wirthlin back to the microphone and metaphorically back to the business at hand, he helped Elder Wirthlin finish up with a proper testimony and “amen.” I really suspect that, while the camera never showed his face, the no-nonsense Elder Bednar must have been longing to do the same for Elder Monson, but he didn’t, perhaps because Elder Monson outranks him in the Quorum of the Twelve, perhaps because Elder Bednar appears to be about six inches shorter than Elder Monson, and so was worried that trying the “whoa-there-brother!”, arm-on-the-shoulder trick might get himself tossed over the pulpit if he caught Elder Monson in the middle of one of his beloved stories.
7. Speaking of which (and I’m sorry, but yes: by the end, my mind was wandering far afield), just who do you think it is the most physically imposing apostle? For years the obvious answer was Elder McConkie; with his long arms, heavy eyebrows, and buzz cut, you just felt he was entirely prepared to reach through the tv set and grab some hippie or sinner by the scruff of the neck and give them a good shaking. Nowadays, I think it’s clearly Elder Uchtdorf. Just look at that man’s jaw! His chin looks strong enough to cut glass.