Thousands Gather for 40th Annual BYU Women’s Conference
Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott and Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writers
- Thousands of women from around the world attended classes and completed service projects associated with the 40th annual BYU Women's Conference April 28–29.
Thousands of women from more than 13 countries and 48 states spent the day on the Brigam Young University campus in Provo, Utah, for classes and service projects as part of the 40th annual BYU Women’s Conference.
“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 of the conference. “Individual needs of our sisters have been considered carefully by this inspired committee.”
The conference, cosponsored by the Relief Society and BYU, brings leaders of the Church and women of all ages together for two days of instruction and service. The conference theme, “One in Charity,” comes from a line in the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (Hymns, no. 246).
“It is in perfect harmony with our Relief Society purpose, which is to help one another prepare for the blessings of eternal life,” Sister Burton said. “One of the ways we accomplish this purpose is by working in unity to help those in need. With whom do we need to work in unity? We begin on our knees seeking to know, and then do the will of our Heavenly Father. We then rely on the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide our footsteps.”
Sandra Rogers, the 2016 Women’s Conference chairwoman, conducted the session and gave the Thursday morning opening session address. BYU President Kevin J Worthen shared brief remarks and an “instant choir,” consisting of conference attendees, provided music for the keynote sessions. Sister Kristen M. Oaks, wife of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke during the afternoon general session.
“The mission statement of Brigham Young University says that the mission of BYU is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal lives,” said President Worthen. “Notice that that is not limited to students; it is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal lives.”
President Worthen invited listeners to be open to personal revelation during the conference. Using the analogy of an irrigation system, President Worthen spoke of the process of channeling water to the crops at the end of the row.
“Many times [we] don’t want to have water get to the end of the row; we want it to rain,” he said. “And that’s what we hope happens here, is that you receive inspiration from Heavenly Father. … Heavenly Father loves you immensely and wants to give you rain.”
Speaking on the topic “Hidden in the Circle of His Will,” Sister Rogers spoke of charity—the “defining characteristic of the extraordinary service of the Relief Society since it began in 1842.”
“I know that the Lord’s love helps us manage, and eventually conquer, our fears and circumstances,” Sister Rogers said. “Often those fears come because we are asked to do something very difficult, including overcoming resentment or mistrust, or forgiving someone who has hurt us or our loved ones, or even interacting with someone when contention is involved. 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.”
When a person is one with the Lord, their charitable acts are the things that the Lord would do for others, she taught. Being “one in charity” means a person sees others the way the Lord sees them, banishing judgment and fears for those who are “different.”
Thousands of women from around the world spend the day on the BYU campus for classes during the 40th annual BYU Women's Conference on April 28. Photo by Savanna Sorensen, BYU.
“One of the great blessings that comes from uniting our hearts with the Lord and then with others in charity is that all are benefited—both the giver and the receiver have the sweet blanket of charity to warm their lives,” she said. “Unity in a family, in a ward, in the Church—led by priesthood keys and supported by the priesthood power and gifts available to every covenant keeper—leads us on the path to becoming Zion, the pure in heart.
Blessings almost always come when a person wants to be united in God’s work with His other children.
“We live in a time of contention, mistrust, ill will, incivility, greed, covetousness, and selfishness,” Sister Rogers said. “We may harbor doubts, fears, resentments, grief, and sorrow. We may have regrets about our own behaviors. So I suspect that part of the great eternal efficiency of the Lord is that He knows the ‘I Was a Stranger’ initiative from our inspired auxiliary leaders will soften, open, and heal hearts for givers and receivers.”
During the Thursday afternoon general session, Sister Oaks shared a photo illustration of a woman juggling a laptop in one hand and a child in another.
“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 that 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. I testify these yearnings to be the best we can be are divine. 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. … 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, which states, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” Sister Oaks declared, “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.”
For the past 17 years a service element has been included in the two-day conference. Service stations around campus allow participants to work on projects with others, pick up projects, and return them while at the conference.