Annual Women’s Conference Builds Church Sisterhood
Contributed By Rachel Sterzer and Marianne Holman, Church News
More than 14,000 women from around the world gathered on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, USA, to listen, learn, and feel uplifted during the annual Women’s Conference April 26 and 27. The conference is cosponsored by the Relief Society and BYU.
This year’s conference theme came from 1 Nephi 14:14 in the Book of Mormon: “And they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, spoke in the conference’s closing session. In total, more than 200 presenters—including all three presidencies of the Church’s women’s auxiliaries—came together to teach on various topics for women in all stages of life.
In addition to the classes, participants were able to be involved in seven service projects Thursday night. Some of the projects included putting together school backpacks and making blankets, pillows, bags, and Christmas stockings to go to local organizations and schools to meet needs in the community.
Elder and Sister Andersen’s Addresses
“While the battle rages, we need not fear,” said Elder Andersen during his remarks in the closing session. “The Lord will help you, your family, and others you love who need special help. We know the outcome. The Savior will triumph over all!“
Thousands of women filled the Marriott Center to hear the apostle and Sister Andersen speak.
Elder Andersen said that although it is a privilege to live during great days of destiny, individuals must be armed with righteousness and the power of God as they fight in the spiritual war that is raging for the souls of men and women.
“We recognize the enemy and understand his plan,” Elder Andersen said. “The pride of the world seeks to destroy faith by casting doubt on the existence of God or, if not His existence, His personal care and concern for His children.”
These tactics of the adversary aren’t new and have been around since ancient times, he said. It is through being armed in righteousness that individuals are able to withstand and feel the power and promises of their Heavenly Father.
“The spiritual battle rages because those who have chosen wickedness, darkness and self-conceit are never happy to go their way alone,” he said. “They form unholy alliances with what Paul calls the principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places, determined to take others with them” (see Ephesians 6:12).
Those tactics are especially strong for the youth, he added.
“While wanting us all, they especially pursue the young, the unsure, the undisciplined, and the weak, hoping to destroy any hope of Christ in the fragile and vulnerable,” he said. “You know all of this. You are on the battlefield, right in the crossfire. The conflict will not diminish but intensify in the years ahead. How will we—how will you—withstand the attack?”
It is through putting on the whole armor of God—as described by Paul in the New Testament (see Ephesians 6)—that individuals are able to withstand the attacks.
“As you arm yourself for battle, your protection comes from God who is our Father,” he said. “You have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and you take His name upon [you]. You are commissioned as a disciple of Christ, as defenders of the faith.”
Essential to becoming a disciple of Christ are a personal conversion of the gospel and a belief in Jesus Christ.
“You are ‘armed with righteousness and … the power of God in great glory,’” said Elder Andersen. “When you are armed with righteousness and the power of God in great glory, it is because something is happening inside of you, as well as the outward, public display of your discipleship. Your belief in Christ and your love for Him fills your soul. We sometimes refer to this as conversion.”
Drawing on words Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke nearly 50 years ago, Elder Anderson said, “‘Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted … and having a testimony are not necessarily the same either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost give the earnest seeker a witness of truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith; that is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion … is the fruit of, or the reward for, repentance and obedience.’”
Elder Andersen said that while baptism is a significant event, conversion is a process.
“Think about the journey of your own conversion and discipleship through the years,” he said. “When you are more sensitive in taking His name upon you, seeking the spiritual gifts from His sacred ordinances, and giving added care to following Him, you feel greater strength as you are armed with righteousness. You see more clearly, sense more deeply your identity as a daughter of God, and realize in greater measure the purposes you have accomplished, are accomplishing, and will yet accomplish.”
As individuals are armed with righteousness, the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost is magnified and elevated in them, he said. Happiness and peace follow—even in times of difficulty.
“You are absolutely critical to this cause,” Elder Andersen said. “Uniting together from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, and life experiences, you help advance the stone cut without hands, as it rolls forth to fill the whole earth” (see Daniel 2).
He continued: “I look forward to the future. “I hope you do too. To your children and grandchildren, your friends and associates, you can speak about the future with optimism, joy, and anticipation. You are living your mortality in a glorious time of destiny.”
Sister Andersen spoke of important principles she and Elder Andersen hope for for their granddaughters.
“Our prayer for our granddaughters is that they will be armed with the power of God and that they will know through all the times and seasons of their lives that their Heavenly Father knows them and loves them and that He hears all of their prayers,” she said.
Sharing stories from her family and friends, Sister Andersen gave examples of important elements of the gospel learned through life experience. She shared the importance of the gift of the Holy Ghost, belief and faith in the words of prophets and apostles, and the knowledge of a Heavenly Father who loves each person.
“Our prayer for our granddaughters is that they will come to know with certainty the truth declared by an apostle of the Lord this day,” she said. “That Jesus is the Christ, the Holy Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.”
At the conclusion of the conference, Elder Andersen spent more than 45 minutes shaking hands with and greeting those in attendance.
Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, welcomed guests to Women’s Conference on Thursday morning during her first public speaking assignment after being sustained as general Relief Society president March 31.
She spoke of the conference’s theme and referenced an image of a pioneer woman chosen to represent the theme.
“I love the image of this pioneer woman, one hand on the handcart, shoulder to shoulder with her husband, arm raised high, and mouth open as if inviting those around her to follow in her footsteps,” she said. “I like to think she is calling to us this morning to follow her path of discipleship which she has undertaken. With great faith, she provides a meaningful symbol of a valiant woman armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
Later on Friday in an open discussion format, Sister Burton and her counselors, Sister Carole M. Stephens and Sister Linda S. Reeves, spoke about the duties women have in the Church and the vital role they play in the gospel.
The presidency shared that collectively they have had many experiences in their own individual homes, immediate families, or extended families. It is through those experiences that they have come to understand their duties as they relied on the Savior.
“Those have included unemployment, cancer, drug addiction, miscarriages, infertility, death, twins, divorce, adoptions, disability, financial loss, depression, alcohol addiction, and pornography,” Sister Stephens said. “These experiences have strengthened our testimonies, and they have created opportunities for us to rely on, and be strengthened through the atoning power of, our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Sharing personal experiences, the presidency spoke of the importance of personal behaviors that invite the Spirit into an individual’s life and the lives of their families.
Sister Reeves shared a story of when she was a young mother—something she had always looked forward to as a young girl—with four young children at home. She spoke of how she was struggling to keep her home clean and her children fed and dressed, and felt that she was not happy as she focused on all she needed to do.
With her husband, she decided that they were going to find out what the Lord would have them do, so they went to the temple to plead with the Lord.
“What came to me and my husband is that every day we needed to have personal prayers and prayers with our children,” Sister Reeves said. “We needed to read scriptures individually and with our children. On Mondays, we needed to have family home evening, and we needed to attend the temple as much as we could.”
It was through concentrating on those four things that she was able to prioritize the things in life that were most important. Sister Reeves said that as she and her family did those things, a sweetness came into their lives, and she gained a confidence before the Lord.
“Prioritize. Concentrate on those important things. Do those important things every day, and everything else will fall into place,” she said. It doesn’t mean that all will be easy, but peace and happiness will come as individuals do the most essential things first, she said.
Focusing on gospel habits—prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and temple attendance—the presidency taught that those actions are vital to filling one’s spiritual vessels with living water.
The presidency also spoke of the concept of “intentional parenting,” or being very aware of what is going on within the walls of one’s own home.
Sister Burton told a story of a mother who was concerned about her daughter’s friends. The mother wondered what to do and finally decided that she was going to attend the temple once a week with her daughter.
As they attended the temple, the mother-daughter pair started to invite others to attend with them, and eventually, a handful of mother and daughters were doing so. The concerns the mother had started to fade as her daughter made friends with young women who shared her same values.
The presidency taught that it is through understanding the vital role women have in the gospel that women are able to increase faith in their Savior and in His infinite Atonement, strengthen families, and help those in need.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president, stood with her daughter, Sister Emi Edgley, and spoke of the power available through making and keeping the sacred covenants of baptism, endowment, and marriage.
”My covenants,“ said Sister Edgley, ”give me stability as I navigate life's inevitable difficulties and chart my course.“
Sister Dalton explained that a covenant is an agreement between God and man whose terms are set by God and entered through priesthood ordinances.
Baptism, said Sister Edgley, initiates the covenant relationship with God. ”When we are baptized, we are washed, not only outwardly, but inwardly as well.“
The covenant of baptism, they explained, brings power as a person keeps the covenant and is promised in return the companionship of the Holy Ghost and power to receive personal revelation.
”Why does God require us to make covenants?“ Sister Dalton asked. ”Covenants are a blessing provided by our Heavenly Father to give us power over evil, deception, and those things which will detract from our happiness as individuals and as families,“ she explained. Heavenly Father makes covenants with us ”because He loves us and wants us to return to His presence proven, pure, and sealed.“
As a mother and as the Young Women general president, Sister Dalton said her vision is the temple and assisting parents and leaders in helping every young woman make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple.
”When we attend the temple, the Lord promises each of us that we will come forth from His holy house endowed ‘with power from on high' (D&C 95:8) That promise is true,“ Sister Dalton declared. ”We will receive protection from heavenly hosts and 'angels [shall have] charge concerning [us]' (D&C 84:42) This means that we need never face the adversity alone,” she said.
In a separate session on April 27, Sister Mary N. Cook, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, told women that they must “remember who [they] truly are.”
“In today’s world to know who you truly are is probably one of the most important principles we can know,” Sister Cook said. “It may be the most important principle we can know, and we can learn for ourselves and teach our children.”
Understanding one’s identity will greatly influence choices, happiness, and ultimately, destiny, she said.
“The topic of identity is one that has concerned me greatly, especially in working with young women, as it is probably at the top of the list of helping young women become truly converted, to help them live the principles of the gospel, [and] to help them be worthy to make and keep sacred covenants. It is probably the most important in preparing for her most important role as wife and mother,” she said.
The current climate of the world is filled with movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements that bombard women with messages that looks are what matter most. They encourage women to focus on the things they aren’t, rather than all that they are, Sister Cook taught.
“It may seem an insurmountable task to stop this profusion of propaganda, but we can turn away from it, and we can focus our attention and the eyes of our young women to those who are doing good, rather than those who are looking good,” she said. “As women of virtue, we must become visible. We must drown out the elevator music, trumpeting that which is virtuous, lovely, and of good report.”
Women can recognize their true identity as they understand that they are daughters of God, who has been given many spiritual gifts, Sister Cook taught.
In her remarks Thursday morning, Sister Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, outlined the plan of salvation and the path each must follow to return to the presence of God.
The path of each person's life, she warned, may sometimes be bumpy and challenging, and the path will be different for each individual. Using words from the Primary song "He Sent His Son," Sister Dibb offered three guideposts to help along the way, no matter how difficult the path.
First, have faith. Sister Dibb related the story of the man who sought Christ's healing power for his son. “'And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' (Mark 9:24) And the Savior healed the son. Have faith,” she said.
Second, have hope. “Hope, too, is a spiritual gift. We have hope when we trust in God's promises. … It was revealed to Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail, 'My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment,' (D&C 121:7). Have hope.“
Third, live like His Son. “The surest guide to help us on our mortal path is our Savior's perfect example,” Sister Dibb said. “… The Savior loved His Father, and He kept His Father's commandments. The Savior loves us. He was honest in keeping His covenants with Heavenly Father and with us by fulfilling the Atonement. He kept the commandments, and so must we.”
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president, stood with her counselors, Sister Jean A. Stevens and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, and spoke of igniting and growing the embers of faith in the hearts of children.
Drawing from a quote by Elder Neil L. Andersen, who compared the spiritual core of the rising generation to a flame that must be fanned, Sister Wixom said, “The precious soul of each child really matters, and the greatest thing we can do is to help ignite the embers of faith that are in their hearts.”
As the world becomes more difficult, children need resilient faith, Sister Stevens said. “As persecution increases, we need to be prepared ourselves and prepared to help our children.”
Sister Wixom shared the experience of the W. Grant and Geraldine Bangerter, parents of Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general president. While on their honeymoon, the Bangerters wrote on a lunch sack a list of hopes and dreams they had for their children. The presidency encouraged the audience to make their own list of what they can do daily to create the future they hope for.
“[The Bangerters] actually did something with their list. What are you going to do with yours?” Sister Esplin asked.
The presidency said one of the best ways to fan the flame of faith in children is to immerse them in the gospel of Jesus Christ in their homes as well as with love and the Spirit. The presidency also spoke of ways to invite the Spirit, including making a priority of family prayer and family scripture study.
“Take it from three seasoned mothers of [a total of] 16 children and 38 and one half grandchildren who have learned that teaching moments can come when we least expect them and [that] the most important lessons are taught when we respond to the Spirit,” Sister Esplin said.