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Q&A with new Mormon women's leader

Published October 1, 2012 9:29 am

Q&A • We must 'include all within our circle,' says Relief Society President Linda K. Burton.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Six months ago, Linda K. Burton went from the sidelines to center stage as the new president of the LDS women's organization, the Relief Society.

On Saturday, the spotlight falls squarely on her as she delivers her first major churchwide speech to the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The occasion: the faith's General Relief Society Meeting at the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. The gathering will be viewed by millions of Mormon women across the globe.

Burton's counselors, Carole M. Stephens and Linda S. Reeves, also are scheduled to speak, along with a member of the church's governing First Presidency.

In advance of the meeting, Burton provided written answers to the following questions:

Who issued the call to be Relief Society president to you, and what were your first thoughts?

[LDS Church] President [Thomas S.] Monson issued the call, with President [Henry B.] Eyring and President [Dieter F.] Uchtdorf also in attendance at that meeting. My first thoughts were of inadequacy, given the magnitude of the call. President Monson was sensitive to my feelings and counseled me to have faith, reminding me that because the calling came from the Lord, the Lord would help me.

What experiences have you had in your life that have prepared you for this calling?

I have found that each experience I have helps to prepare me for future callings and for life in general. It has happened over and over again, and I feel certain that the pattern will continue with this new calling.

My life has shown me that no matter what age you are or where you live in the world, you can always rely on the Lord. One particular experience I'll never forget is being called to be a Relief Society president at age 19. There were about 20 young, single women in the group. I had never even attended Relief Society before. With their support and the help of the Lord, we made it work.

I treasure the time I've been able to spend around the globe with other women. Through church service, I've lived in New Zealand and South Korea. The women showed me both our diversity as well as all that we have in common. It showed me that no matter what our lives are like, we are all united by our faith in Christ.

As I accept this new calling, I remember the women I've met and hope to take a little bit of their spirit with me wherever I serve.

What is your vision of Relief Society and what would you like to see happen during your watch?

We will focus on the atonement of Jesus Christ, covenants and unity. We hope that this focus will help women increase their faith in the Lord and in themselves. As they increase their capacity, their ability to strengthen their families and provide meaningful service to those in need will improve.

We hope to help our sisters see Relief Society as an important part of the gospel path, progressing seamlessly from one phase of life to the next. We would love to see all sisters, regardless of their age or where they are on the gospel path, have an opportunity to serve in significant ways, especially the newest members of Relief Society. They need to be given opportunities to teach, lead and participate in every possible way.

How has your experience living outside the U.S. changed your view of Relief Society?

Because of the cherished experiences I have had living outside the United States, I often find myself asking if what we are discussing will work in Korea or Chile or New Zealand or Africa. My love for sisters around the world continues to grow with every opportunity I have to meet with them. I feel that most people are doing the very best they know how to do. Wherever I go, I am in awe of the innate goodness of all God's children.

What is the most important thing you would like the LDS Church's women to know about you?

I want them to know that I am trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, just as they are. Because I have been asked to do things that are beyond my own experience and ability, I have to remind myself that, as a disciple, I am expected to both learn and follow. I constantly remind myself that this is his church and his work, not mine, and that he will help us do the work in his own way and according to his plan. This is true for each of us.

I also want them to know that I love them. I know there are challenges in life, but this great Relief Society organization provides opportunities for us to lift and help each other. That is what disciples of Christ should do.

What do you see as the most pressing challenges of the job? In Utah? In the U.S.? Around the world?

The challenges people face across the world, whether someone lives in Utah or Uganda, are very similar and our challenge as a new Relief Society General Presidency is to help elevate women to a higher level of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also hope to help those not of our faith better understand who we are, what we believe — to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. It is the gospel that brings answers to life's questions and peace and joy.

Given that the majority of Relief Society women are under 30 and half of all are single, what are you doing to appeal to those women? What kind of changes do you think might meet their needs better?

All five of my daughters and my daughter-in-law are between the ages of 25 and 36 and are in Relief Society now. My 10 granddaughters will someday be in Relief Society, and I have a vested interest in helping them prepare for their Relief Society experience. This work is the Lord's work and not our own, and he loves all of his daughters, regardless of their current life circumstances. We want each sister to feel she has a place in Relief Society. We will continue to teach that principle wherever we go. We miss so much if we don't include all within our circle — all have talents and gifts and experiences to share.

We will do whatever we can to help each woman in the church increase her faith in Jesus Christ by helping her understand the atonement, keep her covenants, and work in unity with others to give service. With these as priorities, no matter where women find themselves on the path and no matter their circumstances — married, single, divorced or widowed — they will be better equipped to handle whatever challenges they face if they actively participate in Relief Society, the Lord's organization for women.

pstack@sltrib.com

LDS General Relief Society Meeting

When • Sept. 29, 6 p.m.

Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • See lds.org; live video streaming available at http://www.lds.org/broadcasts