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Next week will be the first general conference where President Nelson is the president of the Church. Does any special procedure or meeting occur because of this, or it is just a normal general conference?

  • No, it's just normal. (Although in this case two new apostles will be called to fill the vacancies, but that is normal whenever any apostle position becomes open.) – Matt Mar 25 '18 at 21:27
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    @Matt I heard that there was a meeting called solemn assembly that occurs? – PyRulez Mar 25 '18 at 21:58
  • @Matt, PyRulez (and JBH with the answer below) are correct in that there will be a solemn assembly to sustain the new church president, which is not normal. – NeutronStar Mar 27 '18 at 14:13
  • Okay, but really: solemn assemblies are basically normal general conference sessions. A solemn assembly is a label attached to a meeting (see answer below) but it doesn't imply a change of procedure, per-se. – Matt Mar 27 '18 at 23:06
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Replacing the president of the Church is a special thing. I addressed the process of calling a new prophet in this answer. That process is different than what would be used to call, for example, a Ward Sunday School President. It's no surprise that the process of sustaining a new president of the Church is also different.

D&C 26:2 teaches that all things in the Church must be done with the common consent of the congregation. "Congregation" has a lot of different scopes in our church. For example, a Ward (our most common congregational unit) will sustain (vote to approve or accept pursuant to the Lord's command to act with common consent) a new Bishop. But no other Ward will vote to sustain that Ward's Bishop. The scope being only that Ward.

The President of the Church requires the sustaining vote of the entire congregation of the Church. When this is done the first time, it is done in a Solemn Assembly.

LDS Apostle David B. Haight taught:

A solemn assembly, as the name implies, denotes a sacred, sober, and reverent occasion when the Saints assemble under the direction of the First Presidency. Solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church. (General Conference, October 1994)

As he states, we use Solemn Assemblies for three purposes:

  1. The dedication of temples.
  2. Special instruction to priesthood leaders.
  3. Sustaining a new President of the Church.

As a side note, #2 is interesting and intentionally a bit vague. Assemblies for that purpose are most commonly to accept new scripture or direction for the Church. I would need to do some research to see if D&C 136, received by Brigham Young, was accepted in a Solemn Assembly. The early church was still creating the organization the Lord expected and some procedures weren't formally "locked in stone" for a number of years. However, sections 137 and 138 were accepted as scripture in Solemn Assembly in the early 1980s along with Official Declaration 1 and Official Declaration 2. It should be noted that there have been differences between the date a revelation or declaration was received or written and the date it was accepted as scripture by the congregation. The process is intentionally slow.

The difference between a normal General Conference and a Solemn Assembly is procedurally small. Rather than receive a single sustaining vote from the congregation as a whole (the normal process), each priesthood quorum votes in turn with the general membership voting last. Again, we turn to brother Haight.

There is a pattern to solemn assemblies that distinguishes them from other general Church meetings where we sustain officers of the Church. That pattern, which was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is that the priesthood quorums, commencing with the First Presidency, stand and manifest by the uplifted right hand their willingness to sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator, and uphold him by their confidence, faith, and prayers. The priesthood quorums of the Church so manifest by their vote. Then the general body of all the Saints stand and signify their willingness to do the same.


TL/DR

So, yes, the meeting is different. A new prophet is sustained (accepted by Common Consent) for the first time in a Solemn Assembly. That sustaining is different in that each priesthood quorum votes, followed by a vote from the general assembly. It is this specific and detailed process of exercising Common Consent that makes the meeting a Solemn Assembly.


Edit: Though I know of no official statement that it is this way, it appears historically (and was confirmed the morning of Saturday, March 31, 2018) that the Saturday morning session of General Conference is declared a Solemn Assembly (when they are required) and the sustaining vote takes place then. At all other times, the sustaining vote takes place during the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference. A curious detail, but only important from a procedural point of view.

  • Would that occur during Saturday morning then? – PyRulez Mar 26 '18 at 16:44
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    Conference has five sessions. Two general sessions on Saturday plus the priesthood session Saturday night and two general sessions on Sunday. Only the Saturday morning session (when Church sustainins occur, this is always the case) would be a Solemn Assembly. The other four meetings don't change. – JBH Mar 26 '18 at 16:58
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    @FredLarson, you know, I had to go look this up. While I have no reference that says it's official, after poking around in a bunch of Conference reports at LDS.org, I found that the Solemn Assemblies were always the first Saturday session and at all other times sustainings were the second Saturday session. Now I have another reason to watch Conference! To see if that pattern holds true (not that which session of Conference is used for the Solemn Assembly is important). – JBH Mar 26 '18 at 18:52
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    No. More-or-less since the inception of television, all Solemn Assemblies other than temple dedications have been broadcast. This is because they are part of General Conference proceedings. The only reason temple dedications are not broadcast is because, once dedicated only recommend-holding Church members may enter the temple. However, they do differ in that they include the "Hosanna Shout." Curiously, though nothing about a temple dedication is secret, Youtube posters looking for fame announced it as secret when they posted the demonstration of the shout during Conference. It's also on Wiki. – JBH Mar 27 '18 at 23:09
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    Here's a link to this conference's solem assembly: lds.org/general-conference/2018/04/media/session_1_talk_3/… – PyRulez Apr 1 '18 at 19:56

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