Debra’s Reflections from Ogden
I was 12 years old when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a new stake center in my area. I had just started attending LDS services, and I was moderately interested in what this new building would mean. Over the years, I enjoyed countless firesides, seminary socials, Young Women activities, and more in that place. Eventually, I moved away and got married. Two years later, my husband and I bought a house in the same stake I had grown up in, and the stake center became my ward building as well. For more than 15 years, I spent more time in that building—for callings and activities and regular Sunday worship—than anywhere else except my own home. But there was always one meeting I was never allowed to attend: the General Priesthood Session. And from the age of 12, the reasoning behind it had bothered me. But I prayed about it, and I was patient. Then, on October 4, 2014, I was determined to walk through those doors so I could hear the words of the general authorities to current and prospective priesthood holders. I fasted the whole day and prayed continually leading up to that 20-yard trip to the front entrance. It was not an easy walk. I had to pass the disapproving looks of some members of the stake high council, and I was met with a reproachful message from women in my stake (some of whom I have known for 25 years). But that walk was worth it.
The messages of this meeting were addressed to “brethren,” but they resonated with my soul and touched my heart more than any words I had heard in the General Women’s Meeting. When Elder Cook discussed the importance of decisions we make today to reach goals tomorrow, and he included a focus on college and careers, I thought of how my daughters would not hear that counsel in the women’s meeting. When President Eyring tearfully described his preparatory experiences as an Aaronic Priesthood holder, I realized that my son would have these same opportunities to serve, but his sisters would not.
But most notable for me, though many people might not have felt it, was the stark contrast in tone at this meeting compared to the General Women’s Meeting. The mutual respect between the speakers and the audience was clear, and it was built on common experiences and shared responsibilities. The admiration given to the men and boys in attendance felt genuine: There was praise, but no pedestal.
Though the messages were not meant for me, they were meaningful to me. Though my leaders spoke to the brethren, I felt spoken to. And though attending that meeting may have cost me everything—including fellowship I have cherished for decades—the Spirit I gained from that meeting gave me comfort and strength that will see me through.
For the first time in years, I feel more optimistic for the blessings that may be shared, and I feel more prepared for the duties that I pray will come. This is the meeting for me, because I believe that women will be ordained.
Mark’s Reflections from Provo
Before heading down to Provo for the local General Priesthood Session action, I stopped in Centerville to pick up an Ordain Women Supporter from Montreal, Canada, who was the first active, full-time LDS missionary to submit a profile to Ordain Women. She just recently returned from her mission to Madagascar and was in Utah visiting family. She had requested a ride, so that she could publicly demonstrate her support for the ordination of women. As we drove, she told me stories of her adventures in Madagascar–of her efforts to implement programs to better the lives of the people–and she explained how gender inequality damaged the lives of the women she worked with during her mission. Listening to her talk, I could tell that I was listening to a person of exceptional courage and commitment. We drove on to American Fork, where we picked up three more Ordain Women supporters, one of whom was the organizer of our local group. She worked tirelessly to put our Utah/Salt Lake County group together for this action. The plan was to hold a short devotional in front of the Marriott Center at BYU and then enter the building to watch the broadcast of the General Priesthood Session. She is a wonderful leader. She has a very Mormon demeanor, and is one of the toughest people I know. She has sacrificed a great deal for her commitment to equality and to the ordination of women in the Mormon Church.
We pulled into the Marriott Center parking lot at 5:00 p.m., just as the press began to arrive. We quickly gathered and casually conversed with OW supporters and reporters, as we waited for the time to start our short devotional. At approximately 5:35 p.m., we began. A male OW supporter lead us in singing “Do What is Right.” Another spoke and gave us words of encouragement. He pointed out that our local group had more than twice the number of people who attended the organizing meeting of the Church in 1830. A female OW supporter said a prayer for success, and we were on our way.
The group headed toward the Marriott Center doors, where a female usher and her husband greeted us. Our spokeswoman told her she was sure they knew who we were. She replied, “Yes,” and asked if we knew that the General Priesthood Session was available online. Our spokeswoman explained that we knew but that it was important that women be allowed to attend in person. The back and forth had a ring of familiarity from our prior actions on Temple Square. I was sure that, once again, the women of OW were being turned away. I was surprised to hear her say: “We will not stop you.” Our spokeswoman gave her a big hug, and into the Marriott Center we went.
My seat turned out to be just behind an OW leader from Boston and her baby daughter, who, at 2 months old, was the youngest Ordain Women supporter in attendance. A few more supporters arrived, making twenty-one supporters in all. For the most part, the men attending the meeting were polite. We watched the talks, sang “We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet,” and rejoiced in the thought that women had been allowed to openly attend the General Priesthood Session of conference at Brigham Young University.After the meeting, we drove to an OW supporter’s home for ice cream and cake. We were all euphoric after our experience. For me personally, this was my most spiritual priesthood meeting experience. I felt the warm embrace of our Heavenly Parents, who let me know that Ordain Women is making a positive difference in Their Church.
An Ordain Women supporter from Utah
I participated in the last April [Ordain Women] action by proxy card. I have not “gone public.” … So even though I considered it, I did not go to the Marriott Center today.
…I was troubled and depressed throughout the day about women and the priesthood. … I prayed several times … asking that the male leaders’ hearts would be softened. I checked media frequently to try to find out if the women had gained admittance to the priesthood session. I was overjoyed at 7:30 pm when I saw the photos in the Salt Lake Tribune [of] the very first woman to gain admittance to the Marriott Center priesthood session! [She was being hugged by a LDS woman who had been asked to be an usher] in anticipation of women trying to get in.
…To me, the photo symbolizes the union of these two kinds of faithful LDS sisters—the older, traditional, unquestioningly obedient woman, hugging and warmly welcoming the younger, feminist-and-faithful sister to a priesthood meeting! I want to print this photo and hang it on the wall! I acutely feel the historicity of this moment …