Matrilineal Lines of Authority and Marjorie Pay Hinckley

As a sister missionary, one of the (many) things that made me feel jealous of the elders was that little “priesthood line of authority” card that most carried with them in their scriptures. For those of you unfamiliar with these cards, they display a chart of a priesthood holder’s chain of authority from the person who ordained him back to Peter, James, and John, who conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1829. For example, my husband’s chart looks like this:

[My husband] was ordained a high priest by [his father] on [date].
[My husband’s father] was ordained a high priest by [his father] on [date].
[Skipping several generations here] Hyrum M. Smith was ordained an apostle on October 24, 1901 by Joseph F. Smith.
Joseph F. Smith was ordained an apostle on July 1, 1866 by Brigham Young.
Brigham Young was ordained an apostle on February 14, 1835 by Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris.
Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829 under the hands of Peter, James, and John.
Peter, James, and John were ordained apostles by the Lord Jesus Christ.

At first, I was jealous of the cards’ mystical ability to quash debate during the 3rd discussion (the discussion on the restoration of the priesthood). “Look,” I heard one elder say to an investigator, “I can prove to you that Jesus Christ authorized me to baptize you—I have it written down right here with the dates and everything!”

I also became envious of another aspect of these cards—the ability that they had to physically, spiritually, and emotionally link generations of individual men and their “priesthood descendents” one to another. I thought of the early priesthood holders and their hands—how their hands not only worked the land and provided sustenance for their families, but also served as a physical conduit of power and goodness that created a righteous expectation for each successive generation. The ordination process emotionally and spiritually linked the generations as well—because priesthood authority originated in one place, eventually every priesthood holder’s line merges into one of the apostolic lines. Those apostolic lines then quickly tie into Jesus Christ’s ultimate spiritual authority (think of an inverted triangle), forging bonds incomparable to any earthly relationship. I remember attending a zone conference where a group of elders pulled out their cards and discovered that each of them derived their authority from the same man’s line, and that particular man had lived less than a generation ago. I sensed the emotional connection that these elders felt with one another as a result—a feeling of shared purpose and mission that was much greater than their individual contributions.

My feminist sensitivities were only beginning to develop at that time, but I remember having a lively discussion or two about how unfair it was that the men of the church had such a thing as a priesthood line of authority to connect them all together, and that we sisters had nothing that could possibly compare in scope or significance.

Thus, eight years later, when I read the following passage from the Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley (Volume 1, p. 230), my interest was piqued:

“At the marriage of each of our daughters and granddaughters, my wife has presented a special gift. It is not a vacuum cleaner or dishes or anything utilitarian. It is a seven-generation family chart of her maternal line, beautifully framed. It is made up of photographs of her maternal great-great-grandmother, of her great-grandmother, of her grandmother, her mother, herself, her daughter, and her newly married granddaughter.

Every woman in that picture for seven generations has been a Relief Society worker. This beautiful family history chart becomes an ever-present reminder to the younger ones of this generation of the great responsibility they carry, of the great obligation they have to move forward this work in the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers in service in the Relief Society.”

My first thought after reading this was a hopeful “Maybe Sister Hinckley was a closet feminist! I bet she wanted her daughters and granddaughters to feel that they were just as important as her sons and grandsons who got the priesthood charts!”

Later, I was struck with the idea that perhaps the motivation behind these gifts was linked to that profound connection I had previously pondered with respect to the priesthood generations. I began to think of my matrilineal line and our physical, emotional, and spiritual connections to one another. For nine months I lay inside my mother’s womb, and she for nine months in my grandmother’s. Although no ordination took place, my grandmother, and her mother, and her mother before her, held her baby girl in her arms and spoke words of blessing upon her. For six generations my foremothers have served God, their families, and their communities through the Relief Society, and have taught their daughters and granddaughters that it is their duty and privilege to do the same. In a great rushing wind of the spirit I came to realize that I truly do have a heightened sense of purpose and devotion to righteousness through the legacy of these great women who came before me.

Following Sister Hinckley’s example, I just called my mother and asked her to send photos of my grandmothers, and I’m off now to the craft store to make the necessary purchases for my own framed matrilineal masterpiece. If it turns out cute enough maybe I’ll post a picture of it on Flickr for everyone to see.

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  1. jana says:

    I hope you will post it whether it’s “cute” or not 🙂

  2. Bored in Vernal says:

    This is beautiful, Maria. Thank you for these thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing your chart, too.

  3. jeans says:

    Yes, please post it for inspiration. What a wonderful idea.

  4. Hedgee says:

    This post reminded me of a book I am reading. It’s called The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes he says that in part of our DNA there is a marker in each of us that directly relates to our maternal line. Encoded in each of us is a link to our mothers, not to our fathers.. I think this is interesting.

  5. Jay McCarthy says:

    Women who’ve been through the temple could trace their temple blessings through women to Emma to Joseph to Christ. I think that’s awesome.

  6. Deborah says:

    What a beautiful idea! I’ve done my own informal verision — a four-photo frame with me, my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Also, I wear my gradma’s wedding band + my wedding ring was my husband’s mother’s and before that his greatgrandmothers. Then I have my own wedding band. So I wear rings worn by four generations of women. I take pleasure in that.

    And I’d love to see your result of your chart!

  7. Liz says:

    I was also jealous of the “priesthood line of authority” and of my brothers who got a special plaque from my dad with all the info on it.

    So, I love this idea from Sister Hinckley and am going to talk to my mom about doing something similar.

    Thanks for bring it to our attention!

  8. D'Arcy says:

    Just the connection a mother feels for her child, the fact that we were inside her, that we are a part of her, that is such a powerful and tangible connection if we let it be. I haven’t thought about the line that connects us in the church as women. Thanks for this post.

  9. Ana says:

    Love this! I am totally going to make them for my mom and myself and my sisters and our daughters! The stories of our foremothers that we grew up with have been very formative for all of us and I think may be part of the reason the women in my family stay very committed to the Church (the men do not).

  10. Anonymous says:

    this was so beautiful–i am definately using this for my own daughters.

  11. Jessawhy says:

    This is a great idea. I’d love to see yours before I give it a try.
    I have a 4 generation picture at my wedding. I actually used it last week in my primary sharing time about the plan of salvation.
    Maybe I’ll wait to have a daughter before I start mine . . . 🙂

  12. Anonymous says:

    I, too, felt an overwelming sense of love and connection when I looked up my matrilineal nformation after my third daughter was born and we were having trouble naming her. I wanted to find good old family names. And I found much more. It was a real feeling of being bound to these remarkable women in a way I’d never thought of before. Thanks for sharing Sister Hinckley’s idea. It’s just wonderful!

  13. Caroline says:

    This is a great suggestion, Maria. It’s sounds like an empowering and meaningful project.

  14. Zenaida says:

    I love that idea! Have you found personal information about them as well? I am now inspired to see if I can track down my grandmothers’ journals.

  15. Zenaida says:

    jay mccarthy:

    “Women who’ve been through the temple could trace their temple blessings through women to Emma to Joseph to Christ.”

    You know I can’t help but feel like temple blessings are still somehow dependent on a man, and therefore, my divine worth somehow depends on being with a man. It all seems so conditional there.

  16. Mellifera says:

    “Maybe Sister Hinckley was a closet feminist!”

    Marjorie Pay was around for a long time before the feminist revolution was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Maybe she was just a thinker. : D

  17. AmyB says:

    Maria, I absolutely love this idea. It makes me want to go and learn more about my foremothers.

  18. EmilyCC says:

    Yet another reason to love Sister Hinckley…

    One way I’ve felt a connection to the women in my family is by making their recipes. When I’m kneading the dough for my grandma’s rolls or chopping the dates for my great grandma’s Christmas bon-bons, I think of them doing the same, and it feels like a sacred connection.

    Great post, Maria!

  1. October 15, 2008

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