ICYMI: General Women’s Meeting, March 2016

refugee-choirYou may not have realized it, what with all the spring break and Easter and whatnot going on, but General Conference did begin on Saturday with the General Women’s Session. I came very close to not attending this session myself since a) it had been a long time since I’d actually enjoyed one, and b) I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going to church. (Yes, I know it’s on the interwebs now, but I don’t have the self-discipline to spend my Saturday night in front of a computer watching church, of all things. Watching cat videos, maybe. Maybe.)

But tradition is a hard thing to resist. Since my teenage daughter would rather have her eyes poked out with a fork than sit in a dark room and watch church, of all things, and I am philosophically opposed to inviting children under twelve to something called a “women’s session,” I left both my girls at home and carpooled with a friend who was similarly age-appropriate-daughterless. I’m very glad I did because Saturday’s session was a much better than average women’s meeting.

That is probably because it didn’t follow the usual pattern of women’s meetings. Instead of one speaker after another saying, “SISTERZ UR AWESOME!! HEAVENLY FATHER LUVS U!!!11! STAY SWEET!!” one speaker after another issued an invitation to serve those around us. I offer a recap here, but bear in mind that I am working with my notes, not a transcript, so if there be mistakes, they are the mistakes of Rebecca; therefore, despise not the things of this meeting, for it was awesome.

My friend and I were a few minutes late (because I was the one responsible for getting us there on time), and when we walked in, our local leaders were ironing out some technical difficulties, so when things got started up in earnest, it was in the middle of the first video presentation, “When We Were Strangers,” about the plight of Mormon pioneers fleeing persecution and the kindnesses shown them by others as they were seeking their new homes. FORESHADOWING. The video was followed by a choir singing a medley of “I Am a Child of God” and ”Love One Another.” [1]

Throw away the mirror; look through the window

The first speaker was Cheryl A. Esplin, first counselor in the General Primary Presidency, who began by citing Jesus’s commandment to love one another. She quoted Thomas S. Monson’s famous exhortation to lose oneself in service and thereby find oneself. Our task is not a burden, but an opportunity to learn what love really is.

I should note that Sister Esplin addressed those sisters who already feel stretched to capacity by their obligations to others, be they small children, aging parents, loved ones who are ill, etc. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” Everything you do, even the most mundane task, in the service of others is service to God.

Be someone who reaches out to others, to “throw away the mirror and look through the window.” Here she recounted an object lesson where someone tries to have a conversation with someone who is holding up a mirror between them; one person could only see herself, the other only the back of the mirror. Replacing the mirror with a window frame, a real conversation was possible. (Yes, they had one of those helpful video illustrations; I bet you wish you had it right now.) When serving others, we must focus on the needs and emotions of others.

All of us can incorporate some service into our daily lives. Every woman must ask herself, “Who can I help today?” and “What might we do as a family?” She ended with a reminder that when Christ visited the Nephites, he took time to serve them by blessing the sick and afflicted.

The choir and congregation sang “Sweet Is the Work.”

What shall we do?

Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the General Young Women’s Presidency, began her talk with the story of Peter teaching about Christ’s resurrection. “And when they heard these things, they were stricken in their hearts, and they said unto Peter and the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And they obeyed Peter’s words with gladness. Noting that Easter was upon us, she hoped that we all would be “stricken in our hearts” and acknowledge Christ’s resurrection, repent, and obey with gladness.

Eliza R. Snow said of the Relief Society, “The Lord has laid high responsibilities upon us.” These responsibilities are still in effect. Our inspiration and intuition are needed to build the kingdom of God. We must nurture ourselves in order to nurture others. Develop a bedrock faith in the Savior’s gospel. We may need support of others to “let go of incompatible traditions.” She told the story of getting married in the temple as a young convert and having to travel from Louisiana to Salt Lake City without anyone from her family. She stayed with her fiancé’s aunt, a complete stranger to her, who nonetheless treated her as a daughter and made her feel safe and at home. Love means making space in your life for someone else.

Nurturing means to give life—emotional life and spiritual life. God’s plan requires selfless sacrifice. All we endure purifies our hearts and makes us more like our Father and Mother in Heaven.

We can speak with power and the authority of God by delegated priesthood authority. Julie B. Beck said that the ability to receive and act on personal revelation is the most important skill to develop in this life. As you follow Christ, you will feel his love and direction. Here she related another personal anecdote about the time a surly crank called her out of the blue and berated her over the phone for having so many children. Taken aback, she prayed that God would give her the right words, and she asked herself, “What would the Lord say to her?” [2] She was able to respond appropriately because she understood and believed the doctrine and prayed for the right words to convey truths.

What does the Savior do continually? Nurture, create, provide safe places for others. A place of belonging is a holy place. Women of all ages can do this.

Sister Marriott’s talk was followed by a second video presentation, “I Was a Stranger: Love One Another,” about a Mormon woman who became friends with a Muslim refugee.

“What if her story were my story?”

Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society president, spoke of “pressing calls and extraordinary occasions.” One such occasion was when the pioneers who had crossed the plains during the harsh winter entered the Salt Lake Valley, and Brigham Young called upon the men at General Conference to go out and bring them home. And what did the women do? They removed their petticoats right there in the tabernacle to send to the cold, suffering saints. [3] Brigham Young said of the newcomers, “Receive them as your own children.”

Today there are 60 million refugees worldwide. There are organizations set up to provide things like food and shelter, but what they really need is a friend, an ally to help them adjust to their new home. The Lord’s storehouse is composed of time, skills, etc.

When listening to a female refugee’s experiences, Sister Burton asked herself, “What if her story were my story?” In 2015 the First Presidency invited members of the church to serve the refugees in their communities. We have covenanted to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. The church has started an organized relief effort called “I Was a Stranger.” (There is a new web page on lds.org to help with resources and ideas.) Prayerfully consider what you can do. Ask for divine guidance to bless his children. We must all ask ourselves, “What if their story were my story?” Seek inspiration and act on impressions.

The choir sang “Come Follow Me.”

Hal Brings It Home

Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency was the concluding speaker. Our desire to serve others is magnified by our gratitude for what the Savior has done for us. He cited King Benjamin’s exhortation to impart of our substance to those who stand in need; otherwise, we are condemned. Amulek also taught that we must continue in service to obtain forgiveness. “If ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (It bears mention that while the brethren of the church may be used to these sorts of Come to Jesuses, we in the Relief Society are not accustomed to such strong language. Revolutionary!)

Tonight take away three memories and three commitments. Remember feelings of love—God’s love for you and love for others; charity is the pure love of Christ and a gift from God. Feel the Holy Ghost’s influence; he will help you find service to give. Remember your desire to be closer to the Savior. Commit to go and serve. You won’t go alone; the Lord prepares the way by preparing hearts and providing helpers. Each sister’s situation is unique; pray to know what to do in your circumstances. Here he relayed the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with the expensive ointment. Jesus blessed her for her service, saying, “She hath done what she could.” (This echoed a point made in Sister Burton’s talk with the same story.) Two thousand years later, her deed is known all over the world, though her name is not. Be modest in good works and do not your alms before men. Your faith and gratitude will lead you to do all you can. You will move up the path of becoming a holy woman. President Eyring ended with his witness that we grow closer to God as we serve others.

The choir sang “More Holiness Give Me.”

_____________

[1] The choir for this session was composed of 350 women from seven stakes; most of the sisters originated outside of the U.S. and many were refugees.

[2] Believe me, I’m as weary of “defending motherhood” stories as the next person, but Sister Marriott told it so charmingly, it came off less self-righteous than “sometimes people are a-holes, but you have to stand up for what’s right the way God would have you do.” But I do not wish to imply that Sister Marriott did or ever would use the word “a-hole.” She certainly would not.

[3] I have wondered what the modern-day equivalent of such an act might be, given that women don’t even wear pantyhose to church anymore.

Comments

  1. I didn’t go because I am so tired of hearing about gender roles and the family. But this sounds wonderful.

  2. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I had heard good things, so I really appreciate this report. (And I had never heard about the petticoats; that’s quite a story.)

  4. J. Stapley says:

    I enjoyed the session (and your write-up) very much. Thanks, RJ!

  5. Cynthia H. says:

    I almost didn’t tune in because I am weary of the same old same old. But when the beautifully diverse choir began to sing my heart softened. And then the meeting just kept getting better and better. It was a really refreshing way to begin General Conference.

  6. Yes, thanks RJ – this sounds like a much needed respite.

  7. Sister Burton’s announcement of the new relief effort to help refugees felt to me like what it might have been like in Relief Society long ago, when they had more autonomy and gave many such calls to action. The call to action was careful to not overburden anyone; service to immediate family comes first. This was a great meeting all around and I loved it.

  8. I don’t normally watch/listen/read Women’s Meeting, because a) I don’t belong to the target group and b) because they usually are just some ladies talking in the primary voice followed by an old geezer telling women how wonderful they are. But after I had read about this meeting, I actually listened to it from beginning to end. I wish that the rest of the conference will be as good, but the bar is set pretty high.

  9. The modern day equivalent of removing petticoats would be to hand over our coats, knowing that we would have to walk home without them and couldn’t easily replace them. We donated winter coats to the refugees, but while wearing other coats and with the full knowledge that I have enough money in the bank to go buy an additional coat, should I need one. It kind of makes me realize that my “sacrifice” while good, was nothing compared to the sacrifices others have made.

  10. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, RJ. I’m going for the chance to watch the session soon.

  11. Peggy Fletcher Stack cited Neylan McBaine in the SLT who called this a LDS feminist victory. Women had been removed from real participation in humanitarian efforts for quite a long time, focusing instead on home and family. This is a return to the RS’s original purpose. Additionally, it appears like the women were partnering with the men in making it happen, even leading it. She has an excellent point. This is a step in the right direction.

    That being said, I feel underwhelmed by the lack of coordination in the initiative and overwhelmed at what is being asked of me. We’re supposed to donate to the main LDS humanitarian efforts so the church can support big refugee aid projects (UNICEF, Red Cross, etc.). Then, we’re supposed to also fund our local actions. Nothing is being done to coordinate these two things. It’s not a top-down operation. As a matter of fact, there’s a huge gulf somewhere in the middle. It’s as if they decided that it wasn’t worth it to connect the dots. This leads me to ask, if we can just donate to the Red Cross (individually) and help our local refugee neighbors (individually) then what is the freakin’ point of having a church? If we’re not going to synergize our efforts (1+1=3) and everyone is just going to do their own thing, then what’s the point of even bothering with a church? Are they there just to prick our consciences?

    Also, I don’t know what to think about the throngs of people wiping away tears of joy about this, knowing that 80% of them vote for local and national leaders who campaign on promises to KEEP REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS AWAY. Out of sight, out of mind. Sure, we can go to church and say that we’ll help refugees, and then secretly in the polling booths vote to ensure that they never reach our shores.

    I feel quite frustrated, but I’m still going to go volunteer and donate to the local refugee organization (which, by the way is a huge operation- an official governmental refugee center- run by a religious group that is smaller than Mormonism.) I just feel alone in it. I seriously doubt my ward will do anything of substance, structure, or permanence together- just nag us each week. Consequently someone will deliver a no-bake cheesecake to someone.

    Also, how long do we think this initiative will last? Until the Women’s Leaders rotate out of their positions (in less than 3 years?) That’s the pattern.

    Curmudgeon rant over.

  12. I was bothered by Sister Marriott’s story of her wedding — she spoke about how her parents had planted a magnolia tree so that she could have magnolias at her wedding, and instead got married without her family present. She framed it in terms of her husband’s family being welcoming to her, but I couldn’t help but feel for her own family that she was neglecting. Why couldn’t she have incorporated those magnolias into her wedding to honor her parents? Even if she insisted on having the wedding itself in a temple (and I won’t get into how gut-wrenching and exclusionary this can be for non- and part-member families, which I think is a horrible policy on the part of the church), there were many ways she could have included and honored her parents.

  13. debo, I completely agree with you on this. In fact, it was my initial thought when she started telling the story. Originally I had a parenthetical comment about it in the post, but since the post was already too long, I didn’t want to make it longer with my Debbie Downer asides (especially since I would be using more words to express my dismay than to convey the point of Sis. Marriott’s story). But yes, the practice of holding weddings in temples and excluding non-LDS and/or non-recommend-holding loved ones is horrible and gratuitously harmful. No argument there.

  14. Anon for this says:

    If I could go back in time and be married civilly first and include my family, I would gladly do so. Preparing alone in the brides’ room was gut wrenching. If sealings are just as valid in the majority of countries where it’s legally required to be civilly married , there’s absolutely no reason to continue to separate families on such an important day in the US, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.