I am currently a member of a small branch in a geographically large region. My branch is a rented building that is an hour’s drive away from my home, while the permanent regional building is four hours’ drive. I’ve never been to the mission office, but I am aware that it’s about 12 hours’ drive from where I live and is in the same town as the temple. I still love this small branch.
As a member of a small branch, it is impossible to not consider women and the priesthood. The branch president, though he lives in town, rarely seems to find the time to attend Sunday services. The first counsellor retains the majority of operational duties (assigning talks, making sure the building is open), but he does shift work, making it impossible for him to attend every Sunday. A little over a year ago, the regional president visited with an order stating who was in charge. It was a priesthood assignment line, directing the fewer than 10 active men, including the two male missionaries, who would be in charge of branch operations in the common case that only two or three priesthood holders were in attendance on a given Sunday.
Prior to our branch being assigned missionaries, I attended one meeting where no males over the age of 8 were present. This meant that we officially could not have a sacrament meeting, and we couldn’t partake of the sacrament, because no priesthood holders were there to perform the ordinance.
Though not opposed to women’s ordination, I was not an advocate for women and priesthood keys until this branch, because right now, in my tiny branch, men are often absent. We don’t just want priesthood keys in order to bless our children. We need priesthood keys so we can take the sacrament. Because of my experience, this practical argument in support of women’s ordination is persuasive enough to me that it simply makes sense to ordain women.
It is clear that in the absence of worthy males, women need to be able to perform ordinances. But should women only be able to perform priesthood ordinances when men are absent, as was the case in World War II Germany? During the war, all German males above the age of 12 were conscribed for defense service. The women in these German branches were allowed to bless, pass and partake of the sacrament. When the men returned, the privilege was taken from the women. In a quiet conversation I had today in the temple baptistery, the male ordinance worker suggested that this occurred because in World War II, people thought the Second Coming was at hand. The world was in enough crisis, he opined, to give women priesthood keys. In that one area. Temporarily.
Does this mean that there needs to be a national or global crisis of apocalyptic proportions in order to allow women to perform priesthood ordinances? What about the region I live in? Why must we be denied the sacrament because the national and church governments are not in crisis? What if the women in my branch are given priesthood keys so we can take the sacrament? What about the worthy women living in Salt Lake City who should be able to perform ordinances? What about the single mother in California or Spain or Argentina who has a desperately sick child? What about the new widow in Japan who begs her visiting teacher for a blessing?
Because I now see the Church with a global perspective, I’m no longer apathetic about women and the priesthood. There are women in the Church today who need the priesthood so they can perform and take part in vital ordinances and make it possible for others to partake in ordinance work. This isn’t a want. This isn’t even about equality or authority. This is a requirement in order to do the Lord’s work. It is a need.
Today I went to the temple to begin work for some of my female ancestors. My branch is a twelve hours’ drive from the nearest “mini” temple. I drove 22 hours to the bigger temple to ensure it would have workers. Clearly, my branch does not have an assigned “temple night” wherein we regularly attend, much less supply priesthood holders. Months ago, I made an appointment to tag in with a youth group from another ward on a Saturday. I planned. I booked in. I travelled. But this ward youth group didn’t show. No one called, even though both they and the temple had my number. So I sat in the baptistery with one male and 3 female ordinance workers. I watched the sisters store the clothes and towels. One sister mopped the floor. Then they closed the baptistery. There weren’t enough priesthood holders. I could not do the work.
My tears baptize no one. My prayers confirm nothing. I seek to do ordinance work. I need priesthood keys.