“Madison Area Conference Uplifts Midwestern U.S. Saints,” Ensign, Oct. 1979, 74–75
Built along the shores of four lakes, it’s a city of graceful sailboats, tempting lawns, and noisy commerce. The state capital building, hub of the town, sends out streets in all directions. Except for the lush green beauty of its setting, Madison, Wisconsin, seems comfortably like any other American city its size.
But for two August days Madison became a city of Saints, temporarily swelling its usual 785 Church members to over 13,000. And for them, the hub on August 4 and 5 was the Dane County Coliseum, site of the second area conference held in the continental United States.
The number of wards and branches represented in the city that weekend also grew—from 2 to 110. Saints came from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Since members of the Church in this area usually get only one session of general conference on television, attending six to eight hours of major conference sessions and listening to six General Authorities and two general auxiliary presidents was a new—and exciting—experience, in spite of a summer thunderstorm during the conference weekend.
President Spencer W. Kimball, still resting under doctor’s orders, was unable to attend. But he sent Presidents N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney, his two counselors, in his place.
President Tanner, who presided at all sessions, spoke Sunday morning in a narrative style about what the Church has meant in his life. He told of his great-great-grandfather’s conversion in 1832, of the lessons of spirituality and integrity that his father taught him, and of the many times in his life when obedience to those lessons paid off.
“It’s so important,” he concluded, “that wherever we are, whoever we are, and whatever we’re doing, we realize that we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People are watching us, and their lives will be influenced for or against the teachings of the Church and the Church itself.” That afternoon he encouraged each person to “take the spirit of the messages back to those who were not able to attend and also to your neighbors by the way you improve in your actions. Without fear, live the gospel in every way you should.”
In the priesthood session Saturday night, he explained the administration, functions, and operation of the Church on the general Church level.
President Marion G. Romney challenged the women in the mothers and daughters session to follow the example of Mother Eve in five specific areas: “(1) she labored with her husband, (2) she fulfilled her mission to multiply and replenish the earth, (3) she prayed with her husband, (4) she learned, understood, and appreciated the gospel of Jesus Christ, and (5) with her husband, she taught her children.”
Sunday afternoon President Romney spoke about the importance of prayer and the spirit that should accompany it. Besides using the scriptures to illustrate his theme, he also told some personal stories of struggles, accompanied by fasting and prayer over long periods of time, to communicate with the Lord through prayer. “I do not base my knowledge of prayer solely upon the scriptures,” he said. “My knowledge that prayer is an active, moving, vital force by which we may communicate with God I have received from my own experiences. I know that prayer is the pathway to God, for I have pursued that path, and I have found him.”
Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve discussed with the priesthood brethren the three parts of the Lord’s commandment to “love thy wife with all thy heart,” to “cleave unto her” and “none else” (D&C 42:22). “Have you been married long enough so that you are no longer thrilled with your wife?” he asked. “Have you allowed some of your affection to wane?” If that is the case, he urged, “repent on this score and woo her and love her all over again—and win her back and let her win back your affection. As Latter-day Saint men holding the holy priesthood, we have no right to allow the affection for our wives to cool.”
Elder Petersen explained that there is only one other commandment to love someone with all our heart: the commandment to love the Lord. “Doesn’t this give some idea of the importance the Lord places on this commandment?” he asked.
In the general session Sunday morning, he spoke with urgency on the important role of parents—especially of mothers—in the home, and of the danger involved in delegating that work to others.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve told mothers and daughters that “we now move into a generation when the challenge will center on the role of women.” Counseling parents to “keep their girls feminine,” and women leaders to provide the girls some activities that are “exclusively feminine,” he said: “It is against their nature to be like men.” He explained that “there are some things that women by nature can do so much better than men” and that “there are some spiritual virtues that women must protect for men, or grave will be the cost.” He urged the mothers and daughters to develop “the delicate, tender, quiet, reverent, soft things in life that are more a part of the feminine nature.”
Sunday afternoon he explained to the congregation—saddened at President Kimball’s absence—the principle of delegation of authority. Where the Lord or his servants cannot go, they send, he reminded them, and although it was natural to greatly miss the prophet, all of the power and inspiration that should be at the conference was, indeed, there.
Elder Bernard P. Brockbank of the First Quorum of the Seventy told the priesthood brethren that repentance is a commandment that we should continually bring into our lives. “When did you last use it?” he asked.
Sunday afternoon, he used the Lord’s Prayer to illustrate correct principles of how to pray and what to pray for. And he cautioned: “Answers to prayer come from keeping God’s commandments.”
Bishop Victor L. Brown, Presiding Bishop of the Church, expressed his joy Sunday morning at being back in the Midwest, where he lived until he was called as a General Authority eighteen years earlier. Telling several experiences of the faithfulness of members in paying tithes and offerings, he encouraged all Saints to faithfully observe that commandment—and to actually believe that the Lord will open the windows of heaven unto them.
He spoke to the mothers and daughters about the vital influence biblical women have had on the destiny of mankind. “Women today are equally valued,” he said. “It is important that we create the kind of home into which the Lord would be pleased to have a prophet born.”
Sister Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, told the women that the Lord “considers us capable and worthy to be personally accountable for what we do with our lives.” Relief Society, she said, is to help women apply gospel principles, especially those of love, compassionate service, and learning, in their lives. It also gives them the opportunity to assist in the building of the Lord’s kingdom. And it exists “to help women achieve excellence in their homes, whether they be married or single.”
Sister Elaine Cannon, general president of the Young Women, said that women of the Church must have proper perspective. “We have one chance on earth,” she said. “To live our lives in a confused fashion is foolishness. Our Heavenly Father, who gave us life, gave us principles to live it by. Right perspective brings adequate performance; right perspective assures hope of exaltation.”
Two Regional Representatives, two stake presidents, and Francis M. Gibbons, secretary to the First Presidency, also spoke.
A 375-voice women’s choir, a 250-voice men’s choir, and a 625-voice combined choir enhanced the spirit of the sessions with beautiful, sensitive arrangements of favorite Latter-day Saint hymns.
There was a section for deaf members, translation for Spanish and Korean groups, audio/visual transmission of the conference into spacious cry rooms, and curtained-off nursing rooms (with bottle warmers!). Over seven hundred missionaries from four missions enjoyed a meeting with the General Authorities earlier Saturday morning.
Responses to the conference by lifetime members, recent converts, and nonmembers investigating the Church were similar: the people were grateful to hear from so many General Authorities, inspired by the messages, excited to mingle with so many Church members, impressed with the power and the spirit that attended the conference.
And they knew they’d remember those two days in Madison for a long time.