Series: #VisibleWomen: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: General Women’s Session

General Women's SessionA letter to the General Female Auxiliary Presidencies regarding General Women’s Session
(A similar letter to be set to my Stake Female Auxiliary Presidencies)
To: President Burton, Counselors, and General Relief Society Board
President Oscarson, Counselors, and General Young Women Board
President Wixom, Counselors, and General Primary Board

Greetings and warm wishes to you as we near the Easter Season.

The General Women’s Session is approaching and I praying for you: that preparations are going smoothly and that you feel inspired with words of counsel and love for the women of the church.

Thank you for the testimonies you have shared in the past.  It is obvious that you love the Savior and your testimonies of His grace have touched me.  I appreciate the way you have shared of yourselves in personal and vulnerable ways.

It appears that our church leadership values some same-gendered meeting time.  (ie: Priesthood Session is for men and General Women’s Session is for women – and – one hour each Sunday is set aside for women to meet in Relief Society and for young women to meet together.)  I see advantages to this approach as it allows us to explore our spiritual gifts, discuss concerns that may be unique to women, and most importantly, to be accountable directly to God for our stewardships.

I hope you will consider claiming the General Women’s Session as exclusively female.  I think it makes us stronger women when we conduct and preside in our own space.  And it builds our spirits as we hear our female leaders teach us of the gospel, counsel us as women, and focus us on our female divinity.  We are accountable directly to God as a world-wide sisterhood.

I know that you act with priesthood authority as you serve in your callings.  I look forward to hearing your testimonies, your counsel, and your teaching of the gospel of Christ.

Your Sister,
Suzette Smith
Alexandria 3rd Ward, Mount Vernon Stake, Virginia

cc:  Presidents Monson, Eyring, and Uchtdorf: The First Presidency
President Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve


Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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14 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I would love for a women’s meeting to really truly be a women’s meeting. I think there is great value in the words that the member of the first presidency shares with women specifically, but I also think that it could be even more powerful to hear that message in the general session. Many of my favorite talks (Elder Uchtdorf…) have come out of the women’s meeting. It would only add to the visibility and importance of women in the church if that same talk were given on a Sunday morning. We have talks in the general meetings that are directed especially at specific groups, though applicable to all. I don’t want to silence those great words at all, but when the keynote speaker of a women’s meeting isn’t a woman, then it isn’t really a women’s meeting in my book.

  2. Ziff says:

    This would be a great step!

  3. Anon says:

    If, as Elder Oaks said, women act with Priesthood authority and power when they serve in their callings, then why must the authority of the president of an organization (Relief Society) be superseded by the authority of men in a Relief Society meeting?

    • Andrew Sargent says:

      Because they as all who act with priesthood authority do act with a delegated authorization from the President of the High Priesthood: Thomas S. Monson.

      The authority they act with isn’t their own.

      Neither is a bishop’s or stake president’s. The authority belongs to he who holds the keys of the work.

      All others even members of the 12 act in a delegated capacity under that head.

      • Miriam says:

        Andrew’s right and not right. It’s about priesthood “keys”. But it’s not.

        All church services/meetings are held under the direction of people who hold the Priesthood keys to the work in that branch, ward, stake, mission, church. But “under the direction” does not mean they must be present. It just means that they are generally accountable to the Lord to assist and support and council with the leaders of those organization that hold those services/meetings.

        Key holders are not required to attend those meetings. For example they generally don’t attend the RS meetings , YW, Elders, Teachers or Deacons priesthood quorum or Primary meetings in our ward and stake unless they are invited to do so, or specifically ask if they may.

        Holders of Priesthood keys are not required to attend the General Women’s meeting either. However, if they and the leaders of the organizations who hold the meetings think it would be helpful or if they have something they wish to share, they are invited to participate.

        Knowing the above about priesthood keys, it’s very clear that the president of the church and his counselors are not there because the meeting cannot happen without them. The RS/YW and Primary presidencies could decide, due to the gifts that come with the setting apart to of their calling and divine inspiration, to not invite the first presidency to attend or speak and the meeting could be perfectly legitimately held without their presence (though, like ALL other church gatherings, they would still be “under the direction of”–with the awareness, support, and assistance of— people who hold priesthood keys).

        The members of the First Presidency attend the General Women’s Meeting because the various presidencies of the RS/YW/Primary have decided that they want them there.

        Some women like having them there and others would prefer an all female meeting. It’s up to the RS/YW and Primary presidencies, who do their work in their callings with the priesthood authority and power they exercise and under the divine inspiration they feel they have received, to work out what they feel is the most helpful.

        So, Suzettes’ request that they consider excluding men is a request that is not outside the purview of priesthood key responsibilities. It’s reasonable given what we know about priesthood keys.

        However, I’m guessing that the three presidencies feel that the attendance of one or more members of the first presidency is helpful so they will continue, for now, to invite them to attend and speak.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I had never thought about this before, but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing your letter, Suzette!

  5. Jenny says:

    Great letter! I have mixed feelings. I do like the idea of having female spaces, but I also think that desegregation is the key to equality. This would actually be a great step forward because desegregation isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but this would help us to achieve some autonomy.

    • Amelia says:

      I’ve thought about this a lot. And I wouldn’t want to see any strict desegregation that does away entirely with single sex spaces. I believe there is value to be found in a women-only space and in a men-only space. The problem is when the power structure that governs all the spaces is segregated. Because then the theoretically de-segregated spaces (e.g., sunday school or sacrament meeting) are in fact not truly desegregated. They’re controlled by men and women participate there as afterthoughts or guests.

      I would hate to see Relief Society as a women’s organization disappear. I think it offers unique value. I do think that in a church in which the governing body is truly egalitarian and de-segregated, perhaps the women- and men-only spaces could be more optional so that women and men who find value in such a space could choose to participate, but people who don’t find value in those spaces wouldn’t feel compelled to attend. But in that hypothetical church, the men-only space would not also have the aura of power it currently has, since it would no longer be a “priesthood” meeting and the women-only space would be truly women-only, never presided over by a man.

  6. Heather says:

    yes yes yes!!

  7. Garth says:

    The only effect to this request would be the dis-inviting of a person who is sustained by all, sisters and brethren alike, as a prophet, seer and revelator. Do you want that person specifically excluded from your meeting? Maybe the meeting should be 2 hours and 15 minutes so that the sisters can offer their full measure with 15 minutes for the First Presidency representative.

  8. sweatheart says:

    I would actually be disappointed if we didn’t hear from a member of the First Presidency. I look forward to hearing from the women as well as a member of the Presidency and will take any opportunity I can get to hear from the Prophet or First Presidency. If it gets limited, then I would be very disappointed. I don’t understand why others wouldn’t want to hear from one of them. I feel that the conference is already exclusively for women even if a member of the First Presidency speaks. I feel empowerment as women at the meetings. Would you think otherwise if the Savior were to speak at the meeting, or would you still only want it to be female? To me, it is as if they are speaking on behalf of the Savior specifically to women. I love their messages and Especially President Ucthdorf’s talk last year. It was wonderful to hear him speak about Heavenly Father’s love for me and had never felt it stronger. Prophet and Apostles have the authority to act on His behalf, speak on His behalf and lead and guide the church on His behalf and according to His will and I gladly accept hearing their words any chance I get. Hearing them is as if the Savior Himself were speaking to me and hearing them at the end of all the wonderful women leaders. To me, I love having their witness come after the women, and feel that their witness adds to the women leaders and confirms that what had been spoken of during that meeting confirms and is an additional witness that it is true. It saddens me that others see it differently and would want to exclude them from speaking. I wouldn’t want to reject hearing them speak and hope that they do know that there are others who do look forward to hearing them speak and that they are wanted at these meetings.

    • clasiklmuzik says:

      I agree very much with sweatheart’s (sweetheart?) answer. My main desire in attending conference is to hear the words spoken by the prophet, or other general authority, to us as women, and now as young women, and even girls. They speak to us, specifically, just as when they speak in priesthood meeting, that message is for them. It is not a political arena. While hearing from sisters can be uplifting, they are not the prophet. Their words can be inspiring, and no doubt full of love and timely, generated under inspiration; but, I want to hear the words of a prophet, directing and encouraging us collectively, and yet individually. We need their counsel during that meeting. What a sweet opportunity to later speak with other sisters, or daughters, or grand daughters, about the words spoken by a prophet.

  9. Mark and Mandy says:

    This is not even a subtle rejection of prophets. You are literally demanding to not listen to prophets. You are actually rejecting them from your meeting. This is very the definition of apostasy. Are the red flags really not coming up for anyone else on this site?

    • Emily says:

      I disagree, Mark and/or Mandy. I read Suzette’s thoughtful letter and did not get any sense that she is “literally” demanding to not listen to prophets. I would bet my HOUSE that if we had a general women’s session, which I think would be incredibly wonderful and powerful, our female leadership would continue to quote and expound upon the words of our prophets. In addition to that, they would add the words of revelation and inspiration given to them, as our ecclesiastical leaders do. Finally, they would “literally” be presiding over and conducting the women’s meeting, which seems well within the purview of their callings, and which has nothing to do with rejecting our Prophet’s voice or in some way not sustaining him. Your suggestion to the contrary seems hyperbolic, if not somewhat hysterical.

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