Reflections on the October, 2014, Ordain Women Priesthood Session Action
On Saturday, October 4, 2014, Mormon women throughout the world gathered as individuals and in groups at their local stake centers to attend the broadcast of the LDS General Priesthood Session. Some were admitted. Others were not. This week we will post the first-hand stories and experiences of women who in various ways participated in the Ordain Woman priesthood session action. We will begin with Roswell, Georgia (an Atlanta suburb):
Joanna Wallace writes from Georgia
My bishop and stake president have been very understanding and loving toward me from the day I moved here. I’ve been open and honest with them about my support of Ordain Women, and they expressed their desire that everyone, “Listen more, judge less and love more.” Their words have been my mantra—a constant reminder to see things from both sides.
The week before conference, my bishop stood up in Sacrament Meeting to make a special announcement. “If anyone not invited to attend priesthood session is still planning on attending, please see me.” I debated for an hour before I decided to text my bishop. I wrote, “Sounds like we need to talk. I am planning on reverently and respectfully attending priesthood session on Saturday.” I was in his office less then 15 minutes later.
I was told that I would not be turned away but the stake president asked him to remind me that I was not invited. “This is a meeting for the men and boys,” he said. I smiled and responded, “Bishop, you know me. I will be there.” He smiled and told me he’d been praying for me all week and wanted to propose a solution. He was worried that, though I might still be let in at the stake center, I would just be tolerated. He didn’t want me listening to the words of our leaders in such an environment, “… because tolerated is a lot different then welcomed.” He invited me to attend with him at the local ward building. He offered to pick me up so that everyone knew I was there as his guest. He even texted me later in the week to let me know that the Elders Quorum usually planned an ice cream social beforehand. He wanted to move the time up so we could participate in that as well.
Later in the week, when I received a few texts from my bishop asking to meet with me as soon as possible, I knew it was too good to be true. We met that afternoon, and I was told that the stake president was not comfortable with the bishop’s offer. Instead, they both offered to watch the priesthood session with me, at my home or theirs, and said I could invite anyone I’d like. We could watch it together. I politely declined. I explained that I respected their views, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to worship hidden in a closet or somehow ashamed of my faith. I told them I didn’t want to disobey them, so I would attend at another stake building. “No,” he said, “that seems like the least desirable option. You can come to the stake center or ward building. We’ll leave the decision up to you, but please let us know what you decide.”
I texted my Bishop Saturday morning and told him I was planning on going to the stake center that night. His response was beautiful: “Okay. Whatever the results, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. I love conference weekend and hope … that you have a great conference weekend too. If you need a change of scenery, we’d love to have you join us at our place for any of the sessions.”
Last night, I put on my Sunday best and went to my local stake center with other faithful LDS women. We watched a short Ordain Women video and then prayed before entering. The sign on the building said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Visitors Welcome.” The stake president was pacing the halls as we opened the door. “You are not invited here,” he told us. He then explained that he’d asked his priesthood leaders if we could attend, and they said, “No.” He told us he hoped someday we could watch the session together as brothers and sisters in Christ and that he would be thankful for that day, but “only after his leaders tell him that it is okay.” He then suggested we watch the priesthood session at home or online. He told me he loved me, but he turned me away. The kind, Christlike man I’d come to trust seemed nervous and scripted. I walked away feeling that trust betrayed and mourning its loss. I can’t shake the feeling that at that moment my stake president chose obedience over integrity.
Despite this experience, I will try to remember the multiple personal answers to prayers I received leading up to attending this event. I will remember the spiritual confirmation I had when writing my Ordain Women profile. I will remember the advice I received from past temple matrons who told me that the Lord has too much work to be done in the Kingdom to have only half of his saints administering it. Though my leaders are human and make mistakes, I will love them and try to have faith in them. I will pray for continued understanding that everyone is at a different point on this journey and that this is the plan my Heavenly Parents have for me.
Kristy Money writes from Georgia:
Three Ordain Women leaders prayed together under a stake center’s parking lot lamp on Georgia’s coldest night of the season–two of us on the Executive Board. My hands, clasped in supplication, were shivering. For inspiration, we watched Ordain Women’s newest video, hearing our own voices along with Elder Ballard’s lovely counsel and the melody to “As Sisters in Zion.” I was ready to walk into the Roswell stake’s priesthood session with my sisters. Joanna’s stake president was waiting for us. We each shook his hand and introduced ourselves. Joanna began speaking to her long-time family friend,
“Hi President. We are here to attend the priesthood session.” He responded,
“I knew what you were going to say before you arrived, just as I’m sure it will be no surprise to you what I’m about to say, that this session is for men and boys only. You are not invited to this meeting. But you are free to watch it online or in your homes.” Joanna respectfully and enthusiastically replied:
“Yes, but we want to attend this session, here. Women all over the country are being admitted into chapels, even at BYU’s Marriott Center. If even BYU, a church-owned school, won’t stop women from going inside, we can come in here.”
“I’m sorry, but I was directed not to. I even brought it up the line, but the answer was still no.”
I followed up, “Excuse me, but can you tell me what you meant by ‘brought it up the line?’”
“I mean I asked my priesthood leaders. Even I have priesthood leaders, just as you have priesthood leaders: I’m Joanna’s stake president and I need to lead and guide her as Christ would, and this is what those who speak in behalf of our Savior have directed that we do. It is important that we all obey, even when we don’t understand.”
I kept close track of Joanna’s responses, because if she didn’t say something, I would. But Joanna did what I would have: she didn’t back down. She said,
“I read the letter from your leaders. It was published in the Salt Lake Tribune. It said we could be admitted. I feel this is very un-Christlike behavior to forbid women from coming in to listen to conference. If He were here, He would let us in. I know it.” She started to cry when she mentioned the Savior. I put my arm around her shoulder.
“Well, who knows what might happen in the future. Maybe someday women will be allowed to watch the session with the men and boys, and when that day happens, I will rejoice with you and sit down with you to watch it in this very building. But that day is not tonight. And in the meantime, we need to follow the counsel of our leaders and be patient.”
“He [the Savior] already does want us in that room.” Through the tears, her voice remained strong and steadfast.
“I’m sorry I cannot give you what you want tonight. I know how much it means to you, Joanna. And I don’t know you two (gesturing at Bryndis and me) but I can see how much you want this as well, and I would urge you to be patient. Where are you traveling from?”
“Georgia.” Bryndis replied shortly and sweetly with her melodic Southern accent. I smiled, and I also replied, “Me too. I drove almost 2 hours.”
Bryndis clarified, “Just to be sure I heard you correctly, you’re saying you won’t let us in, even though this meeting is being broadcast everywhere, and you know women are being let in around the world?”
“Yes, and I’m sorry you’ve traveled so far tonight and that I can’t give you what you want. I wish you the very best.”
“Well, we disagree with you, but we can disagree and still be respectful to each other.”
“Yes, that’s true, and I’m so glad I got to meet you two ladies, and to see Joanna again. She is such a strong spirit and a strength to our ward. I really appreciate her testimony.” He then held the door open for us to leave, adding, “Please drive safely tonight!”
The uncommonly cold air shocked me into reality. I left Athens at 6pm. We entered the building at 7:57pm. We spent 5 minutes trying with every piece of information and heartfelt desires we had. But still, the answer was no. While Joanna and I organized this action worldwide, we knew there would be risks, and that some women might not be admitted. But the idealist in me was hoping for 100% success among our supporters. We needed some sunshine after such a rough six months. And all three of us were thrilled to see updates from our sisters getting into the session all over the world—our friends Abby, Cally, Steffi, Shannon, Debra, Chelsea, Hannah—all were eventually welcomed in.
“You know, we’re in good company tonight,” Bryndis observed. “Joseph and Mary were turned away from the inn, too.”
My thoughts turned again to Mary on the long drive home, after whom I named my second daughter. As I held her for her baby blessing (our story is referenced here), my husband blessed that she would have courage like her namesake, who brought the Savior into the world in spite of being rejected and misunderstood by her community. I realized that night I was truly blessed to be surrounded by such courageous women here in Georgia. And so many women I knew also bravely asked their leaders, most of whom were granted the desires of their hearts to attend with their husbands, fathers, and sons. And so, I will continue to be strong for my daughters and rely on the Spirit. Like Mary in Bethlehem. And Joanna and Bryndis in Georgia.
Bryndis Roberts in Georgia
This weekend has been a roller coaster of feelings and emotions. I am so excited that members and supporters of Ordain Women were able to attend the Priesthood meeting/session in so many areas. I am devastated that Joanna and Kristy and I were turned away from the Roswell Stake Building. When I decided to participate in this action, I knew that there might be men in the meeting who did not want us there. I also knew that there was a chance we would not be able to gain entrance into the Priesthood meeting. I just never really expected that three faithful sisters seeking to enter the House of God to hear present-day revelations from God would be told that we were not invited to the meeting and would be turned away at the door. When we parked our cars in a corner of the parking lot so we could find each other, watched the Ordain Women video, joined hands to pray to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and walked through the cold and dark Georgia night, I clung to the belief that our attendance would be at least tolerated. Alas, it was not to be! My heart aches at receiving additional evidence that the Church I love does not feel the same way about me. My heart aches for my dear sister and friend, Kristy, who drove almost two hours one way to be told, in essence, that there was no place for her at the meeting. My heart aches even more for my dear sister and friend, Joanna, who was turned away by a Priesthood leader she loved and and trusted. Tonight, I will cry to soothe the aching in my heart. Tomorrow, I will join hands with my sisters and brothers to continue the fight.