Women’s session to return at LDS General Conference — ‘Hooray,’ says feminist poet

For first time in two years, Conference Center also will offer limited seating to the public.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) An empty plaza outside the Conference Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

After hosting primarily virtual General Conferences for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Friday that the upcoming gathering will return to in-person attendance.

The faith’s governing First Presidency also announced the return of a general women’s session, which has been a cause for both celebration and some concern.

In earlier days, “General Conference extended over several days with various types of sessions. In today’s high-tech world, with far more extensive means of communicating, there is much greater flexibility in the kinds of sessions the church is able to hold,” said Barbara Jones Brown, executive director of the Mormon History Association. “Having a general session featuring women leaders and speakers at this spring’s conference reflects that flexibility, while increasing women’s participation.”

To Brown, the move “reflects increasing efforts of church leaders to elevate and center women’s voices.”

Latter-day Saint poet and feminist Carol Lynn Pearson’s reaction was “hooray.”

The elimination of the annual women’s meeting “seemed to me to be another step in what correlation accomplished — limiting the power of female leadership,” Pearson said. “We have a great [women’s] Relief Society general presidency. They deserve to be seen and they deserve to be heard.”

April Young-Bennett, an Exponent II writer, worries that the women’s session is instead a step backward.

The past women’s sessions were “presided over by men [the First Presidency] and always had a man giving the closing speech,” Young-Bennett said. “It has never been by women for women.”

During the October 2021 conference, four women spoke in the general sessions, addressing both men and women, she said. “That means more men were hearing from female theologians.”

Returning to the old way — if that’s what it will be — Young-Bennett said, could be “a problem.”

Members and others can attend the 192nd Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on April 2 and 3, though seating will be limited not due to the coronavirus but because of construction on and around Temple Square. The conference will be broadcast on the church satellite system, ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the internet and other media services.

The women’s session, which hasn’t been held since October 2020, will take place on Saturday night of the two-day meeting for all women and girls 12 and over.

“A limited number of tickets will be distributed to stakes and districts in the United States and Canada,” the top leaders said in a letter. “Decisions about gathering to watch General Conference in meetinghouses will be left to the discretion of local leaders.”

The twice yearly conferences shifted to virtual in spring 2020 after the pandemic struck. They have continued that way ever since, though some invited guests were able to attend sessions last October in the 21,000-seat Conference Center.