In a historic first, the women’s session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference took the place of the all-male Mormon priesthood meeting.
A female voice announced the gathering for online viewers, and Jean B. Bingham, president of the female Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stepped up to the podium to conduct the meeting. A choir of teenage girls from Pleasant Grove provided the night’s music.
Though no woman was ever seated on the dais during the past priesthood sessions, the church’s governing First Presidency — President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring — as well as several apostles and other men were in red chairs facing the audience.
The first speaker, Joy D. Jones, general president of the church’s Primary organization for children, urged her female audience to focus on deity as they minister to others.
“When we focus on all that God has done for us, our service flows from a heart of gratitude. As we become less concerned about our service magnifying us, we realize instead that the focus of our service will be on putting God first,” Jones said. “ ... We can make each item on our to-do list become a way to glorify him. Can we see each task as a privilege and opportunity to serve him, even when we are in the midst of deadlines, duties or dirty diapers?”
When serving God “becomes our main priority in life,” she said, “we lose ourselves, and in due course, we find ourselves.”
It is never wrong to act on an impulse to help others, said Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency. “A good deed is never wasted, for ‘charity never faileth.’”
Sure, the timing may be inconvenient, Craig said, but “when prompted, we can leave dishes in the sink or an inbox full of challenges demanding attention in order to read to a child, visit with a friend, baby-sit a neighbor’s children, or serve in the temple.”
Craig said she is “a list maker,” who loves “checking things off. But peace comes in knowing that being more does not necessarily equate to doing more.”
Such peace has brought her a changed attitude, Craig said. “I see people, not as interruptions, but as the purpose of my life.”
Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, echoed the other women in discussing service and sacrifice.
“Are we giving our all to the Lord without reservation? Are we sacrificing of our time and talents so the rising generation can learn to love the Lord and keep his commandments?” Franco asked. “Are we ministering both to those around us and to those we are assigned with care and with diligence — sacrificing time and energy that could be used in other ways? Are we living the two great commandments — to love God and to love his children? Often that love is manifest as service.”
Oaks reiterated an idea he stated in the morning, namely, that “Latter-day Saint women understand that being a mother is their highest priority, their ultimate joy.”
His main counsel to young women was to limit their cellphone use (“it will bless your lives”) and to be kind (“it is not pleasing to the Lord if we are cruel or mean to others”).
He warned against “bullying, ganging up on someone or joining together to reject others.”
Nelson, presiding over his second General Conference since taking the church’s helm, talked about the role of mothers.
In a recent speech, Nelson recalled, he mistakenly said he was the “mother” of 10 children.
“In that moment, the deep longing of my heart to make a difference in the world — like only a mother does — bubbled up from my heart,” he said as the audience laughed. “Through the years, whenever I have been asked why I chose to become a medical doctor, my answer has always been the same: ‘Because I could not choose to be a mother.’
“Please note that anytime I use the word ‘mother,’ I am not only talking about women who have given birth or adopted children in this life,” he added. “I am speaking about all of our Heavenly Parents’ adult daughters. Every woman is a mother by virtue of her eternal divine nature.”
He then issued four challenges to Latter-day Saint women: Go on a 10-day fast from social media; read the Book of Mormon between now and year’s end; establish a pattern of temple attendance; and, for those of the appropriate age, participate in adult Relief Society.
“My dear sisters, we need you,” Nelson concluded. “We simply cannot gather Israel without you.”