M* summary of Women’s General Conference Session

March 2014 Women's Conference Choir

March 2014 Women’s Conference Choir

The March 2014 Women’s Conference was an historic meeting. Here’s my summary of the event, prompted (and encouraged) by Geoff’s desire to have M* coverage of the General Conference. After all, I’ve always considered the Women’s Conference to be part of General Conference – a sort of appetizer at the very least.

I was intrigued to see what impact I might observe regarding the announced symbolism of the color purple. The choir was clad in a now-typical uniform of modest shirts in a wide variety of colors. It appears the palette of acceptable colors were cool spring colors, including yellows, pinks, reds, and purples. The overall impact is like looking at an array of azalea bushes. This is such a striking image that I wonder whether the color scheme was set before purple was announced as a color with a message.

The initial choir selections were “Hark, All Ye Nations!” and a new composition, “Daughters of our Heavenly Father”. The choir contained women from stakes all over the Wasatch Front, including girls in Primary, Young Women, Relief Society sisters 1 The age range was from as young as 8 years old to at least one lady who was 80 years old. The continual choir message was of a unified, inclusive sisterhood.

Sister Wixom, General Primary President, was the initial speaker. She focused on how we look to one another for support and assistance–both how the young help those who are older with things like Facebook and simple enthusiasm and love. Those who are older provide those younger with guidance and support. My favorite moment was when she asked the girls from 8-11 years old to stand and sing “Teach Me to Walk in the Light of His Love”. All the older individuals then sang the second verse, “Come Little Child and Together We’ll Learn”. This singing was spontaneous, simply based on a few notes played on the organ, which were quickly recognized by the girls in the audience who were standing.

Sister Wixom’s comments were followed by a video, showing women from several countries, who then joined in singing “I am a Child of God” in their respective native languages. It was an aural and visual celebration of the cherished nature of God’s daughters around the world. The final verse was sung in English by the choir–

I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will,
I’ll live with him once more.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization, was next to speak. She focused her remarks on how we need to build one another up and support one another, not tearing ourselves or others down. The main focus in her talk for me was her recounting of the story of Mary and Elizabeth, how the miraculously pregnant young woman and the miraculously pregnant old woman, kindred sisters, relied on one another for the three months they spent together before the births of their special children. For me, as one-time 17-year-old Relief Society president and mother of girls who have and will make the transition from Young Women’s to Relief Society, it was clear to me that Sister Oscarson was laying out the pattern for how we can all work together to support one another at all times, including the times when we transition from one set of peers (e.g., Young Women) to another set of peers (e.g., Relief Society).

Sister Oscarson’s comments were followed by another video. The music was pleasant, but the intent was to show how women maturing through life. At multiple points in the video, we see the girls/women sitting before their bishop, signing their temple recommend. The video conveys a full spectrum of service in building God’s kingdom, including family history work and nurturing family. At the end of the video, the woman stands at her husband’s grave, again alone, but surrounded by the beloved individuals, young and old, male and female, that her life’s walk has brought into her sphere of influence.

Sister Linda K. Burton, General President of the Relief Society, delivered the final address from a woman leader at the March 2014 Women’s Conference. She talked of one woman who had only one hand, but still was able to serve. I loved Sister Burton’s coverage of the story where The Lord said, “If ye are not perfect, ye are not mine.” As I have been taught over the years, so Sister Burton taught all the women of the Church: perfect, in this scripture, is a Greek word meaning “complete.” In story after story as Sister Burton continued, she showed how we become the hands of our God, in helping and lifting one another, by committing to stay true to our covenants, by coming forward as others have, saying “Here am I. Send me.” If we are not complete, Sister Burton urged us to reach out in service to those around us, as the Savior did.

After another lovely rendition by the choir (a medley of “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” and “Love One Another”) President Eyring addressed the Women’s Conference. I enjoy President Eyring as a speaker, and when I listened to his remarks later in isolation, his address was fine. But after the powerful, inclusive, empowering addresses by Sisters Wixom, Oscarson, and Burton, President Eyring’s remarks in praise and encouragement of women felt like a denouement and not a climax. President Eyring talked about his wonderful mother, and how she had raised him and contributed so much to his later life of service. President Eyring told the story of Eve, and how important she was, that she was created to be an help meet for Adam. If President Eyring had intentionally set himself up as a foil to showcase the powerful nature of the ladies who had address the conference earlier, he would have been somewhat hard-pressed to do a better job while still retaining his apostolic mantle.

The meeting closed as the choir sang “Let Us All Press On.”

I noted that none of the speakers wore purple. Yet the ladies, at least, were quite inclusive in their comments (President Eyring did not speak out in any pointed way against the kind of people who might have worn purple as a message). This reaching out in love to all is something that women tend to do and do well.

If you’d like to watch the Spring 2014 General Women’s Conference, it is now available at lds.org in video, audio, and text formats (in multiple languages).

Notes:

  1. It is worth noting that all women who are no longer girls or “young women” are members of Relief Society, even if they are ministering in one of the other organizations.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

11 thoughts on “M* summary of Women’s General Conference Session

  1. Some questions…

    If I understood what you wrote, you’re asking us imagine that President Eyring might have intentionally toned down his message to create some kind of false impression.

    Why?

    My perception was that the traditional full time allocation for the conference was not filled. It was about 80 minutes or so. Was this intentional? Why should I suppose otherwise, for a staged event that was so meticulously planned out, to the last detail?

    I speculate that perhaps some part of the planned program was omitted. Perhaps the “OW” movement kidnapped one of the intended speakers. Perhaps the Church came to know that the “OW” planned some kind of disruptive demonstration, and they foiled the timing of the plan by peremptively cutting the meeting short.

    Or then, maybe the program just went a bit faster than anticipated.

  2. Jim, they have always scheduled 2 hours for the Women’s/RS/YW meeting in the past, but it never goes that long. It always ends around the 80-90 min mark.

    Meg, thanks for the write up. I was planning to do one for M*, but life kind of ate me up this week, and it’s still sitting in draft form in my own files, and probably will stay there, now that main part of Gen. Conf is upon us.

  3. Meg, I didn’t feel that Pres Eyring was a foil to the women, or anti-climaxtic. I thought his remarks were very good, and very heart felt. I could tell he was very touched by the meeting. I’m glad he talked about Eve. I think Mother Eve is so demonized by the world, but she really was a smart woman.

  4. As I listened to the addresses, I felt that the three ladies who are presidents of the women’s organizations in the Church provided powerful, emotionally resonant talks that had clear ministerial objectives related to binding us together as a female community in the service of God.

    President Eyring’s remarks were more conventional, and so therefore paled a bit in comparison. Where the ladies who spoke (and the artists who assembled the videos and music) were striving to reach out to all of us, empower us, and cause us to look to each other for support, President Eyring brought the constant refrain that mothers are so important to the men they raise up and Eve was created as an help that could stand next to Adam as his required companion.

    The standard message we hear from men is fine. And Mormon theology has a much more positive view of Eve (theologically) than that held by traditional Christianity. But it was like being offered vanilla pudding yet again, after having been served vanilla pudding every day for several weeks, when we’ve had an appetizer of crispy scallop dumplings with slivered celeriac and hijiki, followed by an exquisite entree of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna prepared with foie gras, toasted baguette, toasted chives, and extra virgin olive oil.

    Thus my supposition that a divine individual guiding these speakers might have inspired an apostolic messenger to deliver a simple and familiar course as a foil to the extravagant excellence of the other offerings.

    In dance, the male partner is supposed to stand by in subdued costume, his strength as a foil to the beauty and elegance of his female dance partner. In the talks given on March 29th, it seemed that a similar pattern was followed by the speakers of different genders.

    I just wish the final offering had been, if familiar, at least limned in glory and portent, like the offerings that preceded it.

  5. I quite enjoyed Elder Oaks’ talk during the priesthood session.

    I know it would have been inappropriate for Elder Oaks to have given that address to the sisters. He isn’t a member of the First Presidency, and that final address in the Women’s conferences has always been given by a member of the First Presidency. Also, despite the cool things that have been given at Women’s Conferences (e.g., the Proclamation on the Family), Elder Oaks talk had be be given in the Priesthood Session.

    However where I was concerned that Elder Eyring’s comments were merely vanilla pudding, Elder Oaks’ address was an exquisite Creme Brulee. It was still vanilla pudding, but topped with a caramelized (e.g., burnt) crust of sugar.

    All members who serve in the Church serve under the authority of the priesthood. Men have the keys of priesthood administration. But all that the Church does is to bring souls and families back to God and Christ. Men in the Church were not given all keys, notably missing the keys of creation and the keys of resurrection.

    Eve’s daughters were given the keys to create the physical bodies for God’s children. Adam’s sons, if they are righteous, may be given the keys of those ordinances required to save God’s children.

    Because of God’s plan, which allows posthumous salvific ordinance work, there was not a requirement that the saving keys be held by each and every man throughout history. However the children of God required physical tabernacles, whether or not the men of history had retained the saving keys. Thus the fundamental difference in how those keys were conveyed.

    My daughters currently have not exercised the keys of creation to fruition. One is too young to righteously exercise that power. One is autistic and similarly not in a position to righteously exercise that power. The eldest hasn’t had a child despite years of trying.

    Meanwhile, we see select women who exercise the power to create children without regard to God’s laws. Such women are feckless in how they conceive the children or are neglectful or abusive of the children when they arrive.

    And yet had God required righteousness of all His daughters before allowing them to bring forth His children, it’s not certain mankind would have continued. The plan would have been null and void if there had never been a Savior or if the final work binding all mankind together had been cancelled due to lack of humanity to perform that work.

    I will be very interested to see the dialogue in the Church that proceeds from this point on.

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