Six p.m. on Saturday is one of my alert times. You know like when your body tells you it’s lunchtime without having to look at the clock. It just knows.
Without realizing it, I start to feel anticipation for something good. It is the time the Saints begin gathering for Stake Conference.
My calling has allowed me to be privy to many stake conferences. With the background of prelude hymns, I sit on the stand and watch - wondering. My personal experiences of going to stake conference influences my interpretation of what I imagine is happening. I notice old friends who haven’t seen each other for a while as evidenced by their greeting. Many who once served side by side, but are now in different wards or different callings wave to each other. I watch, wondering if they are reliving moments from their past. Others sit; quietly seeking the solace that comes from the spiritual outpouring that is there. I marvel at the difference in those attending. Age and walk of life are definitely varied, but that doesn’t seem to matter; they are all part of the gathering.
How blessed we are to be part of the gathering of Israel and not the scattering. I am not like my ancestors who were driven from the places they loved, having to start over again and again. I am well aware that I am part of an era that prophets of old foretold. An era that provided the hope they needed to carry on.
Saturday night we was in Joplin for Stake Conference. Sitting next to us was a man who proudly proclaimed that he and his wife were going to be sealed in May. He confided that he’d never prayed in public and was nervous to say the opening prayer. Several times he sought the confirmation from my husband about when he should approach the podium to pray. To my right was one of the speakers. With shaking hands, he related that he had been a member for about a year and a half and would receive the Melchizedek Priesthood the next day. In his talk he expressed gratitude for the missionaries who were using their priesthood as they baptized and confirmed him. Rea____ sat next to him. She had not only been baptized less than a year ago; but also, had shared the gospel with several friends. As she spoke she proclaimed in amazement that a year ago she wasn’t even a member of the church and here she was speaking in Stake Conference! Another speaker sat in the seats behind us. Her baptism date had been 11/11/17. She was the product of members who had reached out to her. Each speaker spoke with power as they professed how the gospel had blessed their lives. Names of missionaries I knew were spoken with a reverence as they related how “their missionaries” had taught them. Names like Andru_____ and Anders______, Lop______ and Rob_______, Lin______, Russ_____ and Hel_____. I couldn’t help but feel a gratitude to be part of this gathering.
The next morning more faces where added to the crowd. The first couple of rows were reserved for new converts and those who would be advanced in the priesthood. I watched as a young mother came in and briefly whispered to her husband. She then left, bringing back an older woman supported by a cane. She settled her into what used to be the mother's seat and left to sit in the back. When the conference business was commenced, I watched as members raised their hands to sustain the leadership of the stake. I knew that there were some whose sustaining had come at the price of forgiveness and faith. I also knew there would be some who in the coming months would have experiences that would lead them to understand better what it meant to sustain someone.
Again the meeting opened and closed with prayers from people whose activity level had at one time waned. After offering the closing prayer, the sister sitting next to me said that she had not been to church in 3 months. With tears streaming down her cheeks she said that she needed to get a new job so she could come more often. It had felt so good to be there. I met more members and investigators who had been brought by others.
Driving to the last stake conference, I’d recalled some of the sacrifices my ancestors had willingly made to follow God – experiences of courage and trust. I wondered what experiences I’d had that would be placed beside theirs. I couldn’t help but think that it was not too late to live so that I had some experiences worthy to stand with theirs.
Oh, how blessed we are to be part of the gathering!