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Mormons hold signature conference virtually due to pandemic

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FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2019, file photo, President Russell M. Nelson speaks during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' twice-annual church conference, in Salt Lake City. For the first time in more than 60 years, top leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will deliver speeches at the faith's signature conference this weekend without anyone watching in the latest illustration of how the coronavirus pandemic is altering worship practices around the world. The twice-yearly conference normally brings some 100,000 people to the church conference center in Salt Lake City to watch five sessions over two days. This event, though, will be only a virtual one. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY – For the first time in more than 70 years, top leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will deliver speeches at the faith's signature conference this weekend without an in-person audience in the latest illustration of how the coronavirus pandemic is altering worship practices around the world.

The twice-yearly conference normally brings some 100,000 people to the church conference center in Salt Lake City to attend five sessions over two days.

This event, though, will be only a virtual one.

Church leaders will be inside a small auditorium with only a few other people as the speeches are broadcast live online in 33 different languages. Even the faith's well-known choir will stay at home. The music will be prerecorded.

Leaders from the Utah-based faith that counts 16 million members worldwide utilize the conference to provide spiritual guidance, underscore the religion's key beliefs and, sometimes, announce new initiatives or rules.

The last time the church conference was held without people in attendance was during World War II because of wartime travel restrictions. Flu epidemics forced the church to postpone the conference in 1919 by two months and cancel the conference in the fall of 1957, according to a church history of the conference.

Staying home and watching the speeches on TV or their computers or tablets won't feel much different for many church members, since most watch from their living rooms and attend only occasionally or on special occasions because tickets are limited.

The religion has been planning since last year to use this conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of when their founder Joseph Smith, then a teenager, says he had a vision of God and Jesus Christ in the woods of upstate New York that led to the formation of the church 10 years later.