'Most glorious sisterhood' of Mormons gathers in historic meeting
More than 20,000 LDS girls and women gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City while millions more watched in Mormon meetinghouses across the globe Saturday night for the faith's General Women's Meeting, bringing together for the first time LDS females from 8 years old to 80 and older.
Noting the historic nature of the session, Bonnie L. Oscarson, general president of the church's Young Women organization, declared: "The combined power of our testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ surely constitutes one of the most faith-filled and powerful assemblies of women in the history of [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], if not the world."
The theme was making and keeping sacred covenants, while the tone and approach were multicultural and intergenerational. One Mormon hymn, "I Am a Child of God," was sung in eight languages on a prerecorded video, then picked up by the women in attendance wherever they were, adding scores of other languages.
LDS women have the "most glorious sisterhood upon the face of the Earth," Oscarson said at the united meeting of three LDS auxiliaries Relief Society for adult women, Young Women for 12- to 17-year-olds, and Primary for kids ages 18 months to 11 years "with an unbreakable bond between us."
Women in the Utah-based faith have various strengths and roles, but should not emphasize their differences or "be critical or judgmental of one another," she said. "We really and truly need each other."
Other speakers at the 90-minute meeting emphasized the nature of church covenants, which everyone makes, starting with baptism at age 8.
"Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us and empowers us," said Primary General President Rosemary M. Wixom. "As we strive to keep our covenants, our feelings of inadequacy and imperfection begin to fade, while the ordinances and the covenants of the temple come alive. Everyone is welcome to walk that path to eternal life."
Relief Society General President Linda K. Burton cautioned her listeners to avoid "perfectionism," doing their best to move forward, knowing that they are not alone.
Mormon women are "standing together with the other millions of sisters and brothers, going forth boldly, doing what disciples do serving and loving the Savior," she said. "It does not matter if we are not yet perfect and complete. We are devoted disciples who reach out and help each other along the way. Our sisterhood reaches across the generations to those faithful sisters who have walked before." Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the faith's governing First Presidency, concluded the evening by praising the women as "daughters of God."
"I have seen you as covenant sisters keep [your commitments] to comfort and help," Eyring said, "and do it with a smile."
God sees "greater potential in his children than we or even our earthly mothers see in us," he said, "and whenever you move upward on that path toward your potential, it brings him happiness. And you can feel his approval."
Ten-year-old Eliza Codner of Orem said she liked the evening a lot, "especially the singing."
She attended with her grandmother, Kristine Frederickson, also of Orem, and great-grandmother, Estelle Warren of Salt Lake City.
"I thought it was exquisite," Frederickson said. "I didn't know how they would involve little girls, but then they talked about baptism and I realized that making covenants starts early."
Some of the youngsters did fall asleep on their mothers' shoulders, play rock, paper and scissors, or braid one another's hair, but most seemed attentive and reverent.
Several members of Ordain Women, the group seeking female ordination to the all-male priesthood, attended to show their support for their church.
"I was worried about how they would appeal to all the different ages," said Hannah Wheelwright, a Brigham Young University student, "but they handled that really well by talking about intergenerational mentoring."
Suzette Smith of Washington, D.C., said she liked how Burton balanced the discussion of sisterhood and discipleship.
"I love President Eyring," Smith said, "but I would have loved to hear from the other six women in the auxiliary presidencies."
Both of the Ordain Women representatives were glad to be there, they said.
"We want people to know we are here," Smith said. "We are part of you."