Today’s Guest post currently hails from Central Asia. Amira likes to plan impracticable road trips between Turpan and Isfahan, in addition to her real jobs of researching minority recipes and homeschooling. She writes at The Golden Road to Samarqand.
One of the most common arguments I hear regarding why women don’t need the priesthood is that the priesthood cannot be used to benefit a priesthood holder since it is only used to bless others. In my experience, this isn’t entirely true. As I’ve lived overseas in very isolated areas of the Church, I have seen too many examples where women are unable to receive ordinances, do not have access to any leaders, and are excluded from Church administration. When I write about isolated women or men, I’m talking about people who are not assigned to a ward/branch/group/twig/ whatever, or who are living very far away from their assigned unit.
A priesthood holder can take the sacrament no matter where he is on the planet. I know a vulcanologist who blesses bread and water for himself when he does research on remote volcanoes. Church leaders have talked about carrying supplies to administer the sacrament while they were in the military. My husband can administer the sacrament to me and my family (if he is home), but many, if not most, isolated LDS women don’t have a priesthood holder around and are completely cut off from the sacrament. It bothers me that so many of us are not able to take the sacrament. I know women who have been active members of the church for nearly 10 years and have only been able to take the sacrament a handful of times.It seems possible to give isolated women authority to bless the sacrament for themselves. Women are allowed to participate in other specifically priesthood functions like missionary work and administer some temple ordinances. In my mind, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to extend the limited authority to bless the sacrament to worthy, isolated women. And there are many isolated women all over the world. Some were baptized while going abroad to university and then returned to live with their families in places where the Church isn’t organized. Somelive with their non-LDS husbands in countries or regions where the Church is not. Others like me choose to live in a country temporarily where there isn’t a mission, let alone wards or branches. There are many other reasons why women are physically isolated from the Church, but I feel that too many of us are completely forgotten.A major contributing factor in our isolation is that we have little or no access to our priesthood leaders. I have had no personal contact (including by phone or internet) with my priesthood leader for the last year and I know many other isolated women in the same situation-except some of them have had no contact for many more years. When I am without a ward or branch, I am under the authority of either an area or a mission president who lives very far away. There usually are no opportunities for in-person contact, and sometimes effort isn’t made to have phone, mail, or online contact. I’ve seen isolated priesthood holders in different areas who are in contact with their priesthood leaders, while women in the same places are not. In our authority-based church, all members need access to our authorities.
I fully understand that there are times when the political, cultural, legal, economic, and/or religious situation in a given country might make it difficult for a priesthood leader to be in contact with isolated women. It also is quite likely beyond the ability of an area president or mission president to keep track of all the isolated members in some missions or areas. Those presidents already have significant responsibilities and I don’t expect that they can be like a bishop or branch president to all the isolated members in a mission or area.
However, I think it’s almost never impossible to make sure isolated members, especially women, are at least in contact with the Church. One solution might be to have women leaders (if they existed) contact isolated women informally if necessary, or at least not as official Church representatives. They could also have more extensive contact with some women, making sure they are getting the _Liahona_ and General Conference if possible. I cannot tell you what it would mean to me to get a phone call or email every few months to help me feel like I am part of the Church again, or to have someone remember that getting _Daughters in My Kingdom_ to all women in the Church includes isolated women.
Another result of my being under a mission or an area is that there are no women in council or in a leadership position over me. I hope there are some men who would consider it a disadvantage to not haveany women in council over or with them, but I don’t think there are as many who feel that way as I’d like there to be. Particularly in the case of isolated women, there is no one at any level of the Church who speaks for us. I have longed for women leaders over me this past year- there have been issues I am greatly concerned about here that I feel I cannot contact my priesthood leader about (for many reasons), but I think I might be able to contact a woman. I’d be interested to see area Relief Society presidencies with councils made up of women from all over the area who have isolated women included in their responsibilities.