Two weeks after the kerfuffle over the poster advertising the European Sisters’ Meeting, I was able to attend the broadcast itself. The poster was a bad start, but let’s see how we’re doing from a “show me, don’t tell me” perspective of the position of women in the church. I’ll give a brief overview of the programme, and then provide a little more detail on the content of the addresses themselves.
The meeting was conducted by a woman, Sister Silke Langner, Stake Relief Society President in the Frankfurt Stake, Germany. Elder Ballard was presiding. Opening and closing prayers were given by women. When those on the stand were introduced, the women were introduced by name alongside the men. There were 3 female, and 4 male speakers; a better split than we see at General Conference, but more men than at a General Women’s Meeting. The men also had more time. The broadcast came from Germany, it wasn’t broadcast from Salt Lake; an effort was made to come to the European sisters being addressed. The visiting GAs were accompanied by their wives, and in Elder Ballard’s case by a daughter as well. A sister was the first to speak. So far as I could tell, only one of the female speakers held a position as a leader, and that was the Stake Relief Society President, the rest were wives of GAs. As an aside, I do think this serves to emphasise the disjunction between the general and local auxilliaries, and I find it hard to fathom how having GA wives, nice as that is, address an area-wide meeting specifically for sisters, in which the General RS Presidency appears to have no involvement, doesn’t somehow undermine the role of the general auxiliary presidencies and their boards. And it would have been nice to know if the wives had particular callings of their own, because it leaves me asking, do those married to GAs have their own callings, or is being the wife of a GA deemed calling enough? Should we see them as having ecclesiastical function? As leaders? With what authority are they speaking? Having got that out of the way, I’ll move on to the talks.
1. Silke Langner (Stake RS President, Frankfurt Germany Stake)
I love that she began by saying it was her privilege to give her testimony, and then she went on to give a walloping good talk, setting the bar high. She spoke of how the prophecy by President Monson of a temple in East Germany was fulfilled some 16 years later, had seemed impossible at the time, and this experience had shaped her testimony. She spoke about God’s love for all of us, how he knows us, our feelings and our needs, and answers our prayers. She spoke of her distress as her son, who had almost died as a child, to whom she felt particularly close, left to serve a mission, and how as the plane took off she heard heard a distinct voice saying “Don’t worry. He’s in my hands now. I will take care of him.” Importantly I feel, she also said there have been times when she didn’t like the Lord’s answers, and times when she has been left waiting for answers. There’s one answer she has been waiting for, for 27 years now. She quoted D&C 78:18-19
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”
With particular emphasis on that first, the most importance sentence. The knowledge that Heavenly Father loves us whatever our circumstances can help us. She quoted the opening lines of both the Young Women Theme and the Relief Society Declaration, to emphasise the point. She told us she is grateful to be part of a worldwide sisterhood, and read a quote she has been carrying around with her scriptures for years, this:
“We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” Marianne Williamson
Thank you Sister Langner for exemplifying that quote in your assignment to bear testimony. This was a bold and brilliant address, perfectly delivered. You absolutely shone, and in so doing gave the rest of us permission to do the same.
2. José A. Teixeira (First Quorum of the Seventy, Europe Area President)
After speaking briefly of the strength of a congregation of sisters of Zion, Elder Teixeira then concentrated on two great women in his life, his mother and his wife. He joined the church at age 17, but his mother had always taught him “If you aren’t sure of something don’t do it. God always tells us what is right”, so that he would always wait for that confirmation. It was following the advice of his mother that he came to join the church, after receiving a confirmation that it was right.
He spoke of what a great teacher his wife is, always making use of little things in conversation to teach. He spoke how she paints in oils, and particularly likes preparing the palette for a painting. His wife compared marriage to preparing the palette. How two different primary colours (blue and yellow) can come together to create a third beautiful colour (green). How the blue and yellow are still there, but you just can’t see them. A metaphor for oneness. Does it say more about me that I was uncomfortable with the thought of being indistinguishable from my husband even though I’m still there? We have power to teach and instil learning in our families, and influence those at work and at church.
He told us that the sisters are marvellous, and he wanted to express love and gratitude for our service, for fulfilling our responsibilities and for the work we do nurturing. He reiterated his gratitude to his wife and mother and challenged us to teach and help others learn principles. He bore testimony of the Saviour, and said we are children of our Heavenly Father and we can listen to the Holy Ghost to know what to do or say to help others.
3. Jennifer Kearon (wife of Patrick Kearon, First Quorum of the Seventy, 1st Counselor in the Europe Area Presidency)
Sister Kearon announced that she would be speaking to the Young Women and any Primary age girls listening, and opened with an analogy about making a bed: the ordinary everyday making your bed is not too difficult, but changing the sheets is harder, and the far corner of the bed is the hardest, especially on a top bunk. We’re talking elasticated (and possibly stretch), fitted bottom sheets for this analogy. For many years she would start with the closest corner when putting on the clean sheets, and leave the hardest corner until last, when she would find the sheet tight and difficult to stretch to reach the far corner. She has torn holes in many sheets this way. She recently and finally realised she should do the hardest corner first, when she won’t have the rest of the sheet pulling against her. Doing the hardest corner first is the principle she wishes to teach.
She introduced Laman and Lemuel murmuring about what a hard thing it is to be asked to go and get the brass plates, compared to Nephi’s response (1 Ne 3:7), and asked are we trying to be like Nephi even if things are hard. When we are asked to do hard things we can have faith. She said she wanted to talk about 5 hard things, which she took from the For the Strength of Youth book, reading their introductory paragraphs from the book, and addressing each briefly. The five were, in order: Modesty, Entertainment & Media, Language, Music, and Dating. She said they might be hard, but that they are commandments from Heavenly Father to keep us safe, happy, and worthy of the Spirit.
She quoted a medley of scriptures about how we “can do all things through Christ”, “with God nothing is impossible” and he will “provide a way for them to accomplish the things which he has commanded them”.
She told the girls not to forget who they are, they are of “the noble and great ones”. Tackle the hardest corners head on with faith like Nephi, seeking God’s help through prayer. She asked why should we keep the commandments and standards, and answered with what if Jesus had said what was asked of Him was too hard. She then closed by quoting a section from the hymn “I stand all amazed”.
4. Donald L. Hallstrom (Presidency of the Seventy)
Elder Hallstrom opened by saying what a privilege it was to be there, and how much he’d been looking forward to it during the planning. That this was a historic meeting, and the largest gathering of sisters in Europe. Women of Christ have strength, power and understand who they are. His first message is “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Thank you for being good LDS women, wives, mothers, daughters, examples of true womanhood, for the sacrifices of life, strength of character, living as daughters of Heavenly Father. He quoted Proverbs 31 about a virtuous woman. He stated that in the gospel and the church we come to understand that women are not adjunct or secondary but essential, and that doctrinally there are complementary roles for men and women in our relationship to the priesthood and the ways we can bless lives and nurture. He said we need women’s voices, strength and counsel for the church to succeed in its sacred work. He galloped through all this very quickly, barely drawing breath. He said he loves women, their power, character and influence. ¾ of his children and 5/6 of his grandchildren are female.
He spoke of visiting his parents just prior to being called as a stake president. His mother told him she was pleased he was worthy, she didn’t say she was pleased about the honour, prestige or position, and her perspective of what was important stuck with him. He spoke of how when he was a busy young stake president, and his wife had just given birth to their fourth child, he was approached about whether she would serve as the new early morning seminary teacher. She got up at 4.30am for 11 years to teach the class, while he got the children up and gave them breakfast. He said that as a result of that service she is a great spiritual teacher in the family and a mentor to him; that she is emblematic of all sisters who know our capacity, strength and consecrate to the Lord.
In closing he repeated his thanks, for the consistency of our lives, said we need to work together to accomplish the work of the Lord, that we are daughters of a living Heavenly Father, and that we can receive peace from the Saviour through the atonement.
5. Diane Hallstrom (wife of Donald L. Hallstrom above)
Sister Hallstrom spoke about “Entrances to Holiness are Everywhere”. Being at the meeting is one such entrance.
Belief is an entrance to holiness: She spoke about Amy Sumner Porter buried at Winter Quarters, whose twin boys dies, and who expressed a willingness to sacrifice even her own life to build the kingdom should God require it, even though she didn’t know why such a sacrifice would be required.
A faithful heart waiting upon the Lord is an entrance to holiness: Our hearts are a spiritual centre of strength, affections, power and faith. She related the story of Hachiko, the Japanese dog faithfully waiting each day at Shibuya Station for his dead master, until the dog also died.
A broken heart is an entrance to holiness: She asked what kind of heart does the Lord have, maybe he has the kind of heart we are asked to have. She spoke about having a broken heart, being humble and teachable. That a broken heart shields and protects us. She quoted a Jewish proverb: “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart”.
A cheerful heart is an entrance to holiness: She spoke of one very stormy Sabbath when only the minister and one elderly lady had managed to get to church. The minister asked how she had managed to get there and she cheerfully told him that her heart gets there first, so it is easy for the rest of her to follow.
She quoted Deuteronomy 5:29
“O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!”
and quoted from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
We can seal our hearts to the Lord through making and keeping covenants which will bring power into our lives. She quotes Eliza R. Snow, who having taken 4 years to join the church said:
“My heart was now fixed and I was baptised.”
and Mary Ann Pratt (wife of Parley P):
“I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ, being converted to the truthfulness of its doctrines by the first sermon I heard. And I said in my heart if there are only three who hold firm to the faith, I will be one of that number. I have ever felt the same, my heart has never swerved from that resolve.”
Our hearts are bound by covenants. We should do our best and seek to have the Lord know our hearts, create a heart the Lord will know and remain his, that it can be said of us as of Eliza R Snow:
“She walked not in the borrowed light of others, but faced the morning unafraid and invincible.” Joseph F Smith
6. David A. Bednar (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Elder Bednar had lain awake thinking about what he wants to say, and whether there are the words to put it across. Pleads for our faith and prayers for the Holy Ghost to do what he cannot. We live in a world with false opposites, where we are pushed to polar extremes, even in church. Can’t say one thing without offending some group or other. Everyone becomes an offender for a word. Lets not have any “-ites” this evening, but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Travelling through Europe aware of secular influences. Talks about strong women on the Lord’s side who may be mocked for not being in the workplace. To listen with our hearts as he says thank you for our simple steadiness and goodness. Prays for every choice blessing on all, and that we be enveloped in the arms of the Lord’s love, and feel acceptance and affirmation now and always.
There are two dimensions to the atonement: cleanses from sin; strengthens and enables us to do better. Will be talking on the latter, building on his earlier talk. Nephi bound by brothers prays:
“O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.” (1 Nephi 7:17)
Nephi’s prayer an example of the prayer of an agent not an object, ie. he prays for the strength to be able to do, not for something external to happen to him. He gave it as his personal belief that Nephi would have had to put in the work to get those bands off.
His wife is an example. She suffered severe and debilitating sickness 24/7 for 8 of the 9 months of each of her 3 pregnancies (they have 3 sons). The severity was not lessened, prayers notwithstanding, but she was blessed with the strength to be able to cope, and developed strength of character as a result of experiencing that strengthening power of the atonement. If we’re thinking well she was going to be the wife of an apostle then we are called to repentance. These blessings are available to all of us. He quoted:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
We are yoked to the Saviour through covenants. He didn’t know that until he’d written it down and then read it. When we are yoked with the Saviour we can draw upon his capacity and strength beyond our own. This applies to all of us, but is contingent on His timing.
The world is complex and confused. We need simple steadiness, a light that chases away darkness. Simple steadiness and obedience. It doesn’t take too many of us to blind the world with the light of the restored gospel.
He talks about Elder Ballard and the other senior GAs. Describes them as warriors, compares them to Captain Moroni, fearless and courageous. He says they are leaders because of their wisdom and experience, which is what the kingdom needs, as opposed to youthful vibrancy. They have wisdom and experience because they have lived a very long time, and don’t panic about things because they have seen it all before. Some things 11 times before. Elder Ballard is the grandfather of the church and gives simple, wise counsel. We need to look to those who hold the keys. The priesthood is not men, but the authority of God. We don’t know why men have that responsibility. The senior GAs are not hypocrites, they are better in private than they are in public and endure trials in their lives just like anyone else. Testifies of empty tomb and resurrection. Tells us to read of the atonement in the Book of Mormon, to look for examples of those praying for strength to do what they didn’t have the strength to do.
7. M. Russell Ballard (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Advice to Sister Bednar, when Elder Ballard’s wife was asked how she came to be the wife of an Apostle her answer was that he wasn’t one when she married him. His bed doesn’t look made even though he thinks he follows the instructions given by Sister Kearon, so he might have to ask her about that. Praises the Area Presidency. Why is he talking to us tonight? He wants to extend the personal love of the 1st Presidency and Q12, along with their gratitude and thanks for the work we are doing.
We should read the New Testament with this thought in mind, that Jesus Christ loves the women of the church. Refers to the meeting of Christ with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and that she was the first recorded to whom He declared He was the Messiah.
We can’t thank Eve enough for taking on, with Adam, the responsibility to multiply and replenish the earth. A choice daughter of God with a great responsibility. Chose to realise mortality by taking the fruit. We shouted for joy at the plan, to learn, to take agency, the capacity to make our own choices. At the end having learned from our experiences we’ll return to the spirit world. All of us will die.
The daughters of God are precious. Imagine the experience of Mary the mother of Jesus, the visit of the angel. How can we love her for her wonderful, faithful, marvellous life; her obedience in accepting the angel’s word. Jesus loved His mother. Even in the agony of his experience on the cross He thinks of her, and instructs John to take care of her.
The sisters are very, very important to the kingdom of God. Whatever our challenges may be, the circumstances in our homes or our nations, whether we have husbands, children, are single, Jesus has the capacity and power to help lift our burdens so we can successfully experience mortality. He served a mission 1948-1950 shortly after WW2. He found it had been the sisters who had held the branches together, and who had ensured the children had been taught the gospel. Though many of the men were away, there were just enough to perform the necessary priesthood ordinances.
9 of the Q12 are over 80 and still of sound mind most of the time. They are doing the best they can. When he returned from his mission, having seen the blessings, he thought “Thank God for the sisters of the British Isles”.
He’s looked at the lives of his forefathers and foremothers. The price paid by his grandmother makes him tearful. He spoke about his great-grandfather who married Scottish handcart pioneer Margaret McNeil. They served in callings for a very long time. Computers aid release from callings, you don’t get lost and forgotten. He spoke about his great great grandfather Hyrum Smith and Mary Fielding Smith. Says the sisters in our wards and branches are as resilient as Mary Fielding Smith. There are countless wonderful women. We must pick up our faith, take hold of our handcart and pull it.
We should be great missionaries. We know who we are, sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, little brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are blessed to have found the church, blessed to have the Book of Mormon and the restored priesthood. We know marvellous things. Our Junior Sunday School children can answer the question “Who is God?”, singing “I am a Child of God”. Are we becoming too comfortable in our own associations in our wards and branches in this part of the world? Don’t take it lightly. Become pioneers. We must let our voices be heard. Preparing the world for the second coming requires the support, strength and faith of women in the church. Our voices should be heard in our communities, wards and branches. Don’t talk too much in council meetings. Straighten the men out quickly and move on. Apostles are missionaries.
Before concluding he had his wife, aided by his daughter to stand. He has 5 daughters (2 sons). And 3 sisters. He was the only boy. Bears testimony of the importance of family. That families can be together forever, and tells us to do our best.
- Did you see the broadcast?
- What did you like about it?
- What did you make of the speaking assignments?
- Several speakers spoke of the power women have. What do you think they meant by that?
- Even though there were more male speakers, those male speakers did refer to and describe the experiences of women during the course of their talks. Though they also did an awful lot of telling as well. Do you think overall this represents an improvement or not for the “show, don’t tell” perspective of the position of women in the church?
- How well did the showing and the telling match in their representation of women?
- There was a lot of emphasis on our being daughters of a Heavenly Father, and knowing who we are as his daughters. No mention of Heavenly Parents or a Heavenly Mother that I noted. Do you think there are problems with this approach?
- What did I miss?
1. This has been compiled from the increasingly scribbled notes I took at the time. Errors are mine, as is the selection of hyperlinks.
2. Although broadcast from Germany, the entire meeting was conducted in English, including hymns and prayers.
3. Those wishing to watch the broadcast can do so here
from about 2:20:00 (with thanks to the church facebook page for that information). [deleted 15/9/14 – the broadcast has now been edited, removing the waste space at the beginning and begins with Sister Langner’s welcome to the meeting.]