[Today on the blog, we are sharing reflections from participants in the Oct. 5th action. If you have an experience, either as a participant, that you’d like us to consider for the blog, please contact us. You can click on Danielle‘s infographic for an enlarged version.]
On Saturday I stood in line with my sisters (and brothers) and asked to be admitted to the Priesthood Session of General Conference. I chose to do so as an expression of my desire and readiness to be ordained to the priesthood. I did so to illustrate the inequality that exists in the Church. It is measurable. It is real. I stood in a park and listened to Suzette give a prayer that felt like a strengthening, sister’s blessing given to each of us.
I then walked to Temple Square and stood in line. Men and boys walked right past us, avoiding eye contact. I saw one man usher his son past us and say, “The back of the line is up here.” Up here. In front of us. I was passed up because I am a woman.
My heart sank when I heard the news: We would not be given entrance. However, I was grateful for the opportunity to ask personally, for myself, for a ticket. When it was almost my turn to ask, my heart ached, knowing what I was going to hear. Tears began to stream down my face, as I stepped up to the usher and said, “I would like to attend the Priesthood Session of Conference as an expression of my willingness and readiness to be ordained to the priesthood of the Lord. So I would like to request a ticket.”
He responded, “I appreciate that. However, this is a standby line for a meeting for men only.” I said, “Thank you,” and stepped aside.
Hearing those words, “men only,” was shocking to me. It was so strange to me, knowing I was being denied entrance to a building because I am not a man. That was the only reason.
As I stepped out of the line, crying harder now, I was embraced—enveloped in the arms of two women whom I had never met. I felt love, unity, and support from these women and all those who stood with me that day. Although I felt heartbroken and hurt, I also felt the spirit reaffirm that this is a righteous desire and that my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and brother Jesus Christ love me and my sisters. They are “no respecter of persons,” and my hope and faith that women will someday be ordained in this church that I love is stronger than ever.
On October 5, 2013, I joined nearly 200 of my sisters and allied brothers to stand in line for tickets to the Priesthood Session, never expecting to be let in. I know there were some who nurtured a hope of the doors being opened to us. I had no such hope, which will prompt the question by many people, “Then why did you even go?” I went because I knew that showing up was a demonstration of profound faith—faith in the Lord and faith in my Heavenly Mother and Father that they have called me specifically to this cause and prepared me for it my whole life. It was also an act of faith that this is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and that Christ is at the head of this church. I have faith that Jesus meant it when he invited us to knock, to seek and to ask. I have faith that Jesus meant it when He said that if anyone lacks wisdom to ask and that He would not upbraid the questioner.
I am not authorized to receive revelation for the whole church, and so I appeared in person at the feet of the Lord’s prophet to request that he ask the Lord for further light and knowledge on the role of women in the kingdom and in the building of Zion on earth.
I recognize that there has been a great deal of talk about the role of women, but none of it addresses the question of whether women should be serving alongside their brothers with full priesthood authority. I have heard speculation about why they do not do so; I have heard admonitions to stop questioning the way things are—that the Lord has not told us why women are not permitted to be ordained to the offices of or exercise the priesthood outside of the temple. “When He is ready, in His time, He will tell us,” I am scolded by family and others who wish I would sit back down and shut up. To wait without asking is to wait for a directive that will not come, not because the status quo is necessarily the will of the Lord, but because of the principle of agency.
As I understand agency, our Heavenly Parents cannot give us further knowledge until we search it out in our minds and hearts and then ask. This goes for the prophet as well as for me. To just tell the leaders of the church, “You know, it’s time to talk about this priesthood thing…,” without them searching it out in their hearts and then asking, would be to violate their agency. It would be to force upon them an answer to a question they have not asked, they may not want to ask, or for which they may believe they already have the answer.
What I did by standing in line for the Priesthood Session as a prospective elder was to make it harder for anyone who saw me standing there to dismiss me as a wild eyed, shrieking man-hater who is out to stir up contention, to be divisive and argumentative, and to force my will upon the church. What they were forced to see was a short, rather unassuming blonde woman, dressed as if to go to Relief Society, waiting quietly in the standby line as a prospective elder, requesting admission to hear our leaders speak. What the men who were admitted to the overflow area were forced to walk by was a long line of such women in all shapes and sizes, dressed as if to go to Relief Society, waiting respectfully and in an orderly manner in the standby line as prospective elders, requesting admission to hear our leaders speak.
It was a brilliant, blue-skied fall day. There was a definite chill in the October air, but staying in the sun blanketed my soul in warmth. The earthy death of summer was fragrant in my nose as Mother Earth released her colorful leaves in preparation for the winter to come. The vibrant leaves were the welcome mat for her daughters gathering in the park that day.
Women started trickling into the park, in the shadow of the tall, white Church Office Building. The towering building looked down on us, perhaps trying to intimidate us and dissuade from gathering. I ignored the building and the eyes behind it as I met my friends, my sisters. There were many I have never met before but have mourned with, laughed with, cried with and have come to love over years of corresponding with them through various ways on the internet. A powerhouse of women, who have struggled to belong by waiting in the shadows for the right time to step into the sunlight and be known, were gathered in a family reunion of sorts.
Many hugs were exchanged. Lipstick marks were imprinted on cheeks. Hands were held. Smiles were abundant. The feeling of sisterhood and a sense of belonging and peace lingered in the clean air. More faces came, and behind most of their eyes, lay anticipation as to what the near future held. These faces did not know if they would be accepted or rejected by the church they loved and in which they wanted to be able to fully serve. Heartache was possible, but hope hung in the air as dried leaves fluttered to the ground. It was time to belong.
And then we gathered. We sang. It was a chorus of sisters and the spirits of our foremothers singing together in a harmony of voices that filled the park. A sweet prayer was then offered for guidance, love, and acceptance from the church leaders. Next came a few thoughts from the leaders of our group. I could feel such a warmth and love for these people standing next to me, many of whom were strangers. Our plan was to ask for standby tickets, so we could join our brothers in a meeting specifically held for them because they have the priesthood, the power of God to act and govern His people on earth.
Many sisters want to join in that governing power and be included in the top decision making processes of the church. Many of these sisters are ready to serve and use their talents to help their fellow sisters and brothers to the fullest extent possible. These sisters seek the power of the priesthood, and the purpose of today’s event was to show the all-male leadership that it was time to be included in all aspects and areas of the church.
I was there to support my sisters. The church of my birth lost me a few years ago. My heart was done being broken and disappointed because I was treated differently as a woman. I no longer believe or attend church services, and I have chosen to govern my own spirituality and growth. My being there was to be a shoulder for my sisters, to mourn with them and to listen. I remember how empty inside it feels when you are treated as a second-class citizen.
Any left-over emptiness and uncertainty I felt quickly dissipated as we lined up to make our way over to the Tabernacle, where we hoped to get standby tickets. Silently, we walked, our shoes clicking along the sidewalk like horses hooves on cobblestone. I felt a sense of belonging and unity among these brave ladies. My tender heart swelled as I gulped in a big breath of Mother Earth’s scent, holding back tears my proud heart wanted to cry. It reconfirmed to me that the choice I was making was the right thing. I knew this is where I needed to be, and I was proud to be included among these modern-day pioneer women.
We worked our way down the sidewalk, with the grey granite Conference Center on the right and the temple grounds on the left. Crossing the sidewalk, we passed through the black, rod-iron gates onto the temple grounds. I made my way to the front the line to get a sense of what would be going on. Now in the shadow of the temple, the granite for which was harvested in the very mountains I hiked as a child, we were greeted by a church public relations representative. Smiles were abundant. Handshakes were exchanged. I held my breath, as I am sure others were, waiting for welcoming admittance or rejection at the very doors of the Tabernacle—the same Tabernacle and temple many of our ancestors sacrificed to have built. These structures still stand today because of the tithes and service of the very members who were waiting to see if we would be allowed past the oak doors.
Slowly word trickled around that we would not be allowed inside, where we would have waited for tickets to watch the Priesthood Session live in the Conference Center with our brothers. We were told the Conference was to strengthen men and boys only, and we would not be granted entrance.
We did not walk away. Instead, we stayed in our line and shifted out of the way so our brothers, young and old, could pass by our line and through the oak doors without care. As we waited, some men snickered, most men kept their eyes downcast or staring straight ahead, ignoring their sisters who were standing there waiting and wanting to join.
After waiting for a while, it was decided those in line would ask the head usher, one-by-one, for a ticket, knowing the answer would be a short no. I had decided earlier I was not going to ask for a ticket. I was not a believer, and it did not seem right to me, but I still felt needed. I needed to be there. I helped send the message down the line to let others know what was going to happen, then I went back to the front of the line and stood slightly off to the side, watching.
Slowly the women and male supporters in the line requested a ticket. One after the other was turned away from the Tabernacle doors. Many faces, as they turned around, showed sorrow. Some showed tears. It was at that moment I knew where I was needed; I took a few steps closer, ready to hug those who had been cast off and rejected by the church.
The most touching moment happened to me when a woman who is a foremother in the feminist movement of the church, took her turn. As she pivoted around, I caught her. Her face was red, tears streamed from her eyes down her cheeks, and I offered my shoulder. In the very footprint of the temple, I saw years of rejection and pain in her eyes from the very institution that should have brought peace and comfort.
One after another was rejected and turned away from knocking at the oak doors. It made my stomach drop. I could see and feel their disappointment. It was a quiet rawness. With about twenty-five people to go, they suddenly shut the doors and walked away, not even acknowledging the remaining people standing in line or letting them know it was over.
And then we gathered again to buoy up our spirits. In the very heart of Temple Square, we sang. Voices rang out in the still, fall air. “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here… Lead me. Guide me. Walk beside me. Help me find the way.” Arms wrapped around each other, heads held high, tears falling at our feet, only strengthened my resolve to finish what they had started—to finish what my foremothers started.
This was not the end. It was a new beginning on a path that had been walked before and one I will continue to be a part of in my own supportive way. I love these sisters, these strangers, and my shoulders are broad and strong.