Happy birthday! 183 years ago today Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in New York. Starting with just six members, the church has grown over the past 183 years and now claims a membership of over 13 million.
Today, you can’t blame them for wanting to celebrate. Nor could you blame them for wanting to celebrate after their own style: by prayer. And what better way to celebrate than, for the first time in 183 years, finally allowing a woman to pray in General Conference.
It was Jean Stevens, who currently serves as the first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, who had the honor today of being the first female called upon to pray in a General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I won’t speak much about it either historically or socially. I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary about that, and done in a much more relevant and insightful manner than I could accomplish. But I do want to tell a little experience that I had when I was still a member of the church.
I was serving as a counselor in the bishopric. It was my month to plan and conduct sacrament meeting. We had bishopric meetings starting 90 minutes before sacrament meeting. In the bishopric meeting, we were reviewing the plan for the day’s sacrament meeting, and I informed the bishop that I had received a call just a few minutes prior to the meeting and that the man I had asked to give the opening prayer in sacrament meeting had told me that he would not be at church that day. The executive secretary told me that he’d make arrangements for another person to give the prayer so that I could focus on the meetings.
About five minutes before the start of the sacrament meeting, the executive secretary told me that he had found a replacement, and gave me the name. I was surprised that he had picked out a woman to say the prayer, but with just a few minutes before the meeting, I just thanked him and proceeded with the meeting. Sitting beside the bishopric on the stand was a representative from the stake high council.
I announced the prayer. The woman who had been asked came up and gave the prayer. Neither the bishop nor the high council member tackled her and wrestled her to the ground. No lightning struck the steeple of the church. Nobody even gasped. Perhaps a few babies, being closer to the spirit than the rest of us, cried out during the prayer. But overall, it was just another normal sacrament meeting.
Until after it was over. The high council member took me aside and asked me if I knew that the stake presidency had asked that the opening prayer for all sacrament meetings in the stake be given by holders of the Melchizedek priesthood.
I don’t know if that was official church policy. I don’t remember reading anything like that in the church handbook of instructions. Only that the meetings were to be held under the influence of the spirit. I don’t even actually know if it was official stake policy. My bishop never confronted me about it. But I always made sure in the future to ask only men to give the opening prayers.
And, think what you will, but today, in General Conference, men gave the opening prayers to both general sessions.