The Little Things of General Conference

Amy Harris lives in the western US.  She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with family. Some might classify her approach to gardening as “mildly unhinged.” Like nature, Amy abhors vacuums (and irons).

There has been a lot of talk about all the major changes and exciting announcements from General Conference. I just want to add a few of the “little things” I noticed that made this the most energizing/enjoyable/uplifting conference experience I’ve had in years.  

Family history/temple ordinances have power to heal relationships. I’m passionate about family history and have thought long and hard about why we do it and what its role is within the church and within the doctrine. And for years, I’ve longed for someone at conference to delve deeper – to think beyond the typical way we frame family history work, to say something new or insightful about why it matters. Elder Eyring’s talk from last April did some of that, but Elder Renlund’s account of the healing power of family history/temple work, specifically its power to heal relationships and suffering, was like a breath of fresh air and an acknowledgement that wanting more from conference about family history was a good thing to want. And it was remarkable that he used an example of a group of people not technically bound by sealing covenants (a woman, her deceased son’s heart recipient, the doctor) to illustrate the point that the temple is not meant to seal me to mine and forget everyone else; it is meant to bind together all of our Heavenly Parents’ children.

Young women are useful and needed. President/Sister Bonnie Oscarson’s release is sad, but she went out with a bang. Here was a woman advocating for young women to be needed, useful, and valued – with specific examples of what that can look like. Her words were echoed by Sister Bingham’s comments. Her talk was clearly meant to lay the groundwork for the Sunday announcements.

Modeling leadership for young women. The new YW general president, Bonnie Cordon, worked outside the home while raising children. In the software industry. In management. Probably in the 1980s and 1990s when that wasn’t exactly celebrated. And now she is a model to all the YW of the church. Not a model that every woman should have management jobs, or that SAHMs are somehow less serviceable to the kingdom, but as a model that everyone has to forge their own path and make decisions that are right for them and their family.  2/3 of the new YW presidency served fulltime missions as young women and the new Primary councilor also served.  Given the increase in young women serving full-time missions, having general leaders with that background is a benefit.

Women and men are counseling together. There seemed to be a lot of language about men and women working together – the changes in the quorums and VT/HT mean RS presidents and EQ presidents can work together more often and more easily. There was a lot of overt language about that, as well as discussion that the quorums and HT were going to borrow practices RS has been doing for years. And instead of just saying it, what counseling looks like was modeled. It was clear that Elder Holland, Sister Bingham, and Sister Oscarson had been counseling together about these changes and about the specific talks they would give.  Showing themselves as a unified group – just like Sister Aburto counseled us all to be.

The combining of EQs and HPGs.  This has a potential benefit for single adult men in the church. Until now moving from the elders quorum to the high priests’ group required calling to a leadership position, or age. For unmarried men, particularly the never-married, this meant they often remained in EQ long after men of their age were ordained high priests because most leadership callings for men go, by practice, tradition or policy, to married men only. Combining the quorum/group, as has been noted, hopefully reduces using priesthood offices as a marker of a particular kind of Mormon masculinity. The added benefit of obliterating that hierarchy, is that it can also help erode the hierarchy based on marital status for men.

The leadership style President Nelson modeled. The change in priesthood quorums was made in the men’s session. His talk about revelation told us what is was like for him to choose counselors – to show behind the curtain. The announcement affecting all the members, was made in a general session, but then he delegated the discussion of the details and the doctrinal foundation for the change (motivated only by love was said repeatedly by Sister Bingham and Elder Holland) to others – including a woman, the RS general president, the most logical person to have make such an announcement. The new apostles described their callings as being issued with their wives present, in personal meetings with President Nelson, where he held them by the hand, told them he loved them, and asked them to serve.

Enthusiasm.  People shouted out their enthusiasm for the new temples and instead of waiting with a straight face for such “irreverent” behavior to cease, President Nelson openly laughed and smiled with them. Mormons could stand with a little more enthusiastic behavior in church, in my opinion, so I like that spontaneous, genuine excitement wasn’t squelched in the name of “reverence.” I kind of think the same way about the woman who shouted out “stop protecting sexual predators.” More frequent spontaneous, honest responses (positive or negative) from members might do us all some good.  

Even watching on TV this conference felt energizing and full of possibilities. It felt like leaders were openly saying change is good – change is a sign of trying to gain more revelation and mature spiritually.  Even Elder Oaks seemed to be smiling a lot.

Comments

  1. I was touched that the song that came after the woman shouted out about protecting sexual predators was “Where Can I Turn for Peace.” I know some people found her disruptive/irreverent/inappropriate. But after hearing her shout out her pain, this phrase in the song was searing to me: “when with a wounded heart, anger or malice I draw myself apart.” Abuse tortures so many and leaves them hurting so much. And I think Christ’s response to the outburst, *even if done out of anger or malice*, is clear: “Gentle the peace He finds for my beseeching. Constant He is, and kind. Love without end.”

  2. Swisster says:

    Elder Gong mentioned that he and his wife were together when the apostle was calling was extended. I seem to remember that one of the apostles who was called last time around told his story and implied his wife was not there.

  3. Kristin Brown says:

    Reliving the energy felt during General Conference. Thank you. I also noticed the new insight on an old subject taught by Elder Renlund.

  4. Christopher Jones says:

    Thanks for this, Amy.

  5. Elder Oaks is actually a really smiley guy most of the time. When general conference comes around, he seems to put on his serious face. But if you’ve ever met him in person, you know he is always smiling and always joking about something.

  6. I love that we’re using the word “minister” to refer to both women and men. So far it seems to be “minister” as a verb or “ministering” as an adjective, but how long can we bear to keep saying “ministering brothers and ministering sisters” when it’s so much better just to say “ministers”?

  7. Loursat, you silly, if we just said “ministers” then we haven’t designated someone’s gender, which is absolutely essential in all things! Because men and women are different and you can’t go mixing them up together!

  8. Paul Ritchey says:

    Does anyone else have a knee-jerk reaction against the “ministering” label because of that term’s long association with the evangelical movement? I think it’s a wonderfully expressive term, but at least for me (I’m a Mormon raised in the American south), it’s got some unfortunate theological baggage.

  9. Paul, No knee-jerk reaction here, though “minister” would raise questions about communication with those not in-the-know about such a new use.
    My guess is that the “unfortunate theological baggage” is a regional and possibly generational thing. Raised in the American Northwest, “minister” was the common term for the priests/ leaders of Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches, even when some of them preferred “pastor” or “rector” or other titles. It had no particular association with the evangelical movement, though such leaders in that movement would also have been included in the term. I think the American South religious scene was much more dominated by the evangelical movement.
    In a number of situations, years ago male LDS missionaries were “ministers of religion” for purposes of qualifying for the 4-D exemption/deferral from the selective service draft as “Minister[s] of religion, formally ordained by a recognized religion, and serving as a full-time minister with a church and congregation.”
    A search for “minister” in the scriptures on LDS.org would show ample basis for the use of the word in this context as well as a basis for possible confusion with “priesthood” in the sense of administering ordinances (or “sacraments”, in some other churches’ language).
    I suspect that the terms “ministering brothers” and “ministering sisters” rather than “ministers” may be an attempt to avoid confusing their roles with those of full-time ministers of religion.
    I would expect a habit of referring to them as “ministers” will develop, adding to the Mormon-speak vocabulary that uses common English words with a meaning that those not familiar with Mormon-speak will not understand without explanation.

  10. Rechabite says:

    Thanks, Amy. For me too, this was the most the most energizing/enjoyable/uplifting conference weekends I’ve had in years, and you have helped me to articulate some of the reasons why.

  11. Thank you all for your insightful comments.