SALT LAKE CITY — With the promise of an unexpected Solemn Assembly on Sunday morning and additional unique announcements, President Russell M. Nelson opened the two-day 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday by speaking to an empty auditorium and millions of people worldwide.

“The purpose of this and every general conference is to help us to hear him,” he said, referring to Jesus Christ, the bicentennial celebration of the First Vision and his own invitation to members to “commence a lifelong quest to hear him.”

The church’s prophet and president also immediately acknowledged the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the church. Its 168 temples are closed, its missionary program has been interrupted and he was speaking from an auditorium on Temple Square instead of the 21,000-seat Conference Center across the street.

But he said life is full of trials and counseled members to remember that Christ told them in Latter-day Saint scripture that “if year are prepared ye shall not fear.”

“Of course we can store our own reserves of food, water and savings, but equally crucial is our need to fill our personal spiritual storehouses with faith, truth and testimony,” he said.

He also spoke about his promise last fall that this weekend’s conference would be unique, different from any other and memorable.

“Little did I know,” he said, “when I promised you at the October 2019 general conference that this April conference would be memorable and unforgettable, that speaking to a visible congregation of fewer than 10 people would make this conference so memorable and unforgettable for me.”

The solemn assembly is intended to be a spiritual highlight, President Nelson said, “as we express in global unison our profound gratitude to God the Father and his Beloved Son by praising them in this unique way.”

The First Presidency sat in chairs placed farther apart than typical, to provide appropriate physical distance.

The hymns for the conference are all recordings by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, some recorded specifically for this conference when President Nelson recognized the conference might not be able to go forward as expected. Others are past recordings.

The broadcast began with “Awake and Arise.” The choir also sang “The Morning Breaks” and “It Is Well With My Soul,” to which President Nelson referred in his opening talk.

Elder Richard G. Maynes, a General Authority Seventy, provided the invocation.

“We pray thy gift of inspiration with all those working diligently to find solutions to this virus,” he said. “We pray thy healing influence be with all those suffering due to this disease.”

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, is conducting the first session.

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