LDS Women Share Unity during 2016 BYU Women’s Conference
Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News contributor
- A feeling of unity comes with sharing spiritual experiences with others.
- The Lord’s love helps us conquer the fearful circumstances of life.
- The kingdom of God is within each of us.
“That’s what I love [about women's conference]. These are all my sisters. We’re all friends. We all love the Lord.” —Kathryn Coules, Crawley England Stake
When individuals read “East Essex, England,” on the name tags of Tonya Easter and Kathryn Coules, the standard question they heard was, “Did you come all the way here just for women’s conference?”
But the two women were quick to respond. There should be no “just” in that question, the two women agreed.
“Personally, it’s one of the biggest blessings I have in my life to come to [BYU] Women’s Conference,” said Sister Easter, a member of the Brighton Ward, Crawley England Stake.
Sister Coules, a member of the Kingston Ward, Staines England Stake, and Sister Easter were two of the estimated 14,000 women from around the world—including 13 countries and 48 states—who spent April 28 and 29 at BYU for the 40th annual conference.
The conference, cosponsored by the Relief Society and BYU, brings leaders of the Church and women of all ages together for instruction and service.
Sister Easter and Sister Coules have made it a priority to attend the last five years. Sister Easter said they save all year to travel roughly 5,000 miles to Provo. This year they sold Pampered Chef products to many people they know—family, friends, and friends of friends—to afford the trip.
Living in an area where there are few members can make her feel isolated, Sister Coules said. Coming to women’s conference helps her feel connected. “You just come here and think, ‘I’m not alone.’ These are real women [dealing] with real issues that have real solutions.”
It’s a blessing, she said, to sit shoulder to shoulder with her “sisters.”
“That’s what I love. These are all my sisters. We’re all friends. We all love the Lord.”
It’s that feeling of unity and sisterhood that fills her “spiritual cup,” Sister Easter added, and makes attending worth any sacrifice. “I think to come here and to sit with 10,000 women and to know that we’re all united, that we all love the Lord, that we’re all just trying, makes it so that you know that you can fall but you can pick yourself back up and you can go on.”
That sense of unity was reflected in this year’s conference theme—“One in Charity”—found in the lyrics of the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (Hymns, no. 246).
“Every topic, every speaker, every decision has been a matter of earnest prayer,” said Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President, as she welcomed women to campus during the opening session.
Sandra Rogers, the 2016 BYU Women’s Conference chairwoman, conducted the opening session and gave the Thursday morning keynote address. Sister Kristen M. Oaks, wife of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke during the afternoon general session.
The Lord’s love helps individuals manage, and eventually conquer, fear and circumstances, Sister Rogers taught. “Often those fears come because we are asked to do something very difficult. … But I bear my witness that the Lord’s love helps us in those gut-wrenching times. It does the same thing as we work to conquer any attribute of the natural man standing in the way of us becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ.”
During her address, Sister Oaks shared a photo illustration of a woman juggling a laptop in one hand and a child in the other.
“This is a picture of a woman torn in half by the worldly demands placed upon her,” Sister Oaks explained, “a woman divided against herself.”
Sister Oaks said the world teaches that motherhood, children, and marriage and family are not important. However, “many of us who most value family time must still work to ensure that there is food on the table and a house over our heads.”
Single women may feel torn between the world and a family they do not yet have. To them, Sister Oaks said, “Respect your emotions, sisters. They are God-given. … Embrace them, learn to balance them, and thank the Lord for them. They are a gift of God to remind us of who we are—celestial beings in a telestial situation.”
Others may examine the photo and see themselves torn between a distorted version of womanhood depicted by the media.
“We may begin to count calories instead of blessings. Facebook convinces us we are missing out on the fun everyone else is experiencing,” she said. “Time spent on shopping sprees may surpass time spent on scripture study. The result is a deflated spirit and feelings of inadequacy.”
Quoting Luke 17:21, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” Sister Oaks said, “We know our identity, and as daughters of God we do not have time to be distracted, diverted, or diminished. We live in a world desperate for our goodness, our purity, and our testimonies.”
On the second day of the conference, the newly called Primary General Presidency made their public speaking debut. During a breakout session of the women’s conference, they discussed the “threads” individuals can weave together to create stronger family unity.
In addition to the Primary General Presidency, Friday’s lineup included remarks by Sister Burton, as well as Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund.
For the past 17 years, a service element has been included in the two-day conference (see related story).
Women walk between classes held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, as part of the 40th Annual BYU Women's Conference on April 28.
Photo by Savanna Sorensen, BYU Photo.