The Potential of Priestesshood

Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Mormon women, priesthood, spirituality | 117 comments

mr. mraynes recently received a calling in our ward that necessitated his advancing in the priesthood to the office of high priest. my husband is blessed with an amazing father who, on two days notice, dropped everything and flew to Denver so that he could ordain mr. mraynes as a high priest. As a woman, and as somebody who comes from a family of all girls, I had never seen an ordination so I was excited to be present for this big step in my husband’s life. The blessing itself was beautiful, my father-in-law is a gifted wordsmith and the love that he has for his son was evident. Say what you want about the priesthood, moments like these are sacred and I was touched by the passing of keys from father to son.

After the ordination and the requisite handshakes and hugs, the counselor in the stake presidency took a moment to explain the ceremony to my children. I had already told them that grandpa was going to give daddy a very special blessing that would help him in his new calling. What I did not tell them was that daddy was getting this blessing because he was a boy. But the counselor talked about how special it was for mr. mraynes’ father to do the ordination, how meaningful that is for men and that one day mr. mraynes would do the same for his sons, George and William. I looked over at my daughter as he said this and saw a flash of confusion at being excluded flit across her face but then disappear as her attention turned to the lollipop the bishop had given her.

Bitter tears lept up and stung the back of my eyes–it never gets any easier to see my daughter be disappeared by patriarchy. The counselor in the stake presidency is a genuinely nice man, a benevolent patriarch, and I’m sure he had no intention of making my girl invisible. He was just telling it like it is. But no matter how benevolent the end result of patriarchy–of excluding women from the priesthood and institutional power–is that women become afterthoughts.

In discussing this with mr. mraynes I mused that girls and women should also be afforded moments like this–ceremonies that allow us to explore our authority as disciples of Christ and our connection to the Divine Feminine. I have mixed feelings on female ordination to the priesthood but I firmly believe that if our church will not extend priesthood to women then they desperately needs to explore ways of allowing women to serve and be served in a way that is truly equivalent to men.

Many of my posts end here, with an exhortation for the church to act. Of course, this has the convenient effect of taking all the responsibility off of me and putting it on the church’s shoulders. Over the past couple of days I have felt prompted that this is no longer good enough. I must provide tangible ideas to solve this problem. I believe that if God has given us the discernment to see where the problems lay then God will also afford us the guidance and grace to try and address these problems.

I have attempted to sketch out some of my ideas below.  I must say here that this is in no way intended to be the Way Things Are Done–many of my ideas are fluid and not fully formed. Without specific guidance from church leaders I am grasping at straws that might help to ameliorate the problem. Also know that this is a theoretical exercise only, I hold no belief of my own rightness or that the church should or would institute any of these ideas. Though we could do this without institutional approval, I believe that in order for this approach to be most successful the church must be supportive of this exploration. Additionally, this approach will not solve the problem of systemic gender inequality as long as priesthood continues to be tied to institutional power. The word priesthood needs to be divorced from leadership authority and ministering as there is no scriptural admonishment that women cannot do these things. It is a policy, nothing less.

I strongly believe that the time for waiting is over–we can no longer continue hoping for further light and knowledge from men who are unable/unwilling to acknowledge that women have an unique experience from men–we must begin seeking truth for ourselves. My intention here is to begin a dialog and a period of discernment in which we can join together as women, seeking to access the power of God in ways that allow us to live up to our full potential as goddesses in embryo. It is my hope that many of you will join me and offer ideas in the comments.

I believe we must start with an exploration of Heavenly Mother and what it means to be divinely female. We cannot know what God wants from women until we know who and what God Herself is. Once this is accomplished I believe that we can design a religious experience for women that is equivalent, though not the same as men’s. An approach like this would avoid the problems of ordaining women to the priesthood because it would offer women a way to utilize the power of God in other ways.

Using the current model as our guide, girls would be given the power of God at age 12 just as boys are. The Aaronic Priesthood is a training ground for young men to prepare for the responsibilities of mission, fatherhood and service. Similarly, the period between 12 and 18 would also be a time of training for young women. I have been researching the process of becoming a woman religious in the Catholic tradition and this could be easily used as a model to train our young women on becoming priestesses.

At each step in the process I would ideally like to see some type of ordination to priestesshood in the way that boys are ordained along each rung of the priesthood. We already have precedent for women to bestow this type of power onto other women in the temple. I would broaden this so that any endowed woman can perform a female ordination. Here is what the process could look like:

Beehives (ages 12-13): Young women are ordained to a lower order of priestesshood. During this time young women will receive guidance in methods of prayer and will learn more about Heavenly Mother and the meaning of religious life to broaden and deepen the understanding of their relationship with God and God’s children. They will participate in and provide meaningful service to the community.

Mia Maids (ages 14-15): In this phase young women will begin a privileged time when the community offers them the opportunity to study, ponder and assimilate the spirit of the Gospel and learn about the future covenants that they will make as priestesses. It’s a time of deepening relationship with Christ and our Heavenly Parents, during which young women will be encouraged to reflect on the grace and responsibility of a consecrated life. As young men begin home teaching at this time, young women of this age will begin their responsibilities as visiting teachers.

Laurels (ages 16+): This is a time of formation where young women will prepare more intensely to make the covenants of the temple and for their endowment of priestesshood.  They will begin learning how to balance the challenges of living in the world while more fully integrating their deeper spiritual awareness and understanding God’s calling into their daily life. At the end of this phase of formation, they will spend two to three months in intensive spiritual preparation to become a priestess.

When women are ready they can go to the temple to receive their endowment and become priestesses. A priestess will covenant to live a consecrated life and experience their womanhood deeply and fruitfully by nurturing life wherever they go. In accordance with the vision of Relief Society, a priestess is called to serve those most in need, to recognize the face of Jesus in those who are poor and less fortunate. Lastly, women will covenant to configure their lives to become more like Jesus Christ and their Heavenly Parents.

It will be made explicitly clear to all women who choose this path that they have been ordained as priestesses and are authorized to use the power of God for the good of humankind. This will include, but is not limited to, ministering to their brothers and sisters, giving blessings of comfort and healing to all those who ask or are in need, leading congregations, conducting and presiding over meetings, providing comfort to the comfortless and preaching the word of God. As men occasionally advance within the priesthood, so will women advance within their priestesshood when they are called to positions of leadership within the church.

Relief Society Presidents, for example, would be given the same amount of authority and deference that a Bishop is given. They would call their own counselors and sustain and set those in their stewardship apart. In my ideal view, the Relief Society President would be the female counterpart of the Bishop, presiding over the congregation and providing the same types of pastoral care to the men and women of this body.

I do not believe women have to be ordained to the priesthood in order to be fully equal in this church but steps must be taken to increase female authority and participation as well as decreasing the scope of priesthood oversight. The course I’ve outlined above might provide a model for how this can be accomplished. Like I said earlier, this is in no way definitive–clear cut responsibilities, for example, would need to be determined–but I am hopeful this will begin more than a theoretical conversation on how women can access and use the power of God.

 

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117 Comments

  1. I have believed for some time now that young women should be involved in visiting teaching. We need to show them what it means to be an adult Latter-day Saint — give them things to plan for beyond having a temple marriage and caring for children — because a good part of being an adult LDS woman is ministering to others in very concrete ways.

    • I completely agree, Libby. I strongly believe that encouraging young women to minister would go a long way to giving women the confidence to claim the power of God in more concrete ways. I think visiting teaching would need to be expanded from its current iteration to make it a more powerful source for good and I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how this could be done?

      • The YM become home teachers at 14, right? I think it wouldn’t be hard to assign the miamaids and laurels a companion and have them visit teach just like the YM do.

      • Exactly, none of these suggestions would be that hard to institute!

      • I think it could work very much like home teaching does — generally, as girls turn 14, partner them with an adult (their mothers, where possible) and send them out to VT. You know how you’re always more willing to ask your home teachers to do something for you if you think it’s going to be a good learning experience for the kid? And how after the dad gives the lesson a few times, you ask the kid to do it the next month? That. All of that says, “You belong in this church, and we value who you are, and we expect you to play a grown-up part in things.” It’s a much better way to spend your teenage years than sitting on a shelf until you’re of marriageable age.

    • I love this article, but having been through some very difficult life circumstances, it has been extremely awkward and upsetting to have young men “minister” to me. They have no business hearing about divorce, grief, disbelief, etc. I can’t speak about adult matters when a teenager is sitting there. I wouldn’t like the idea of young women being visiting teachers for this same reason. I have had some really private, spiritual moments with my VTs that would have been impossible with a teenage girl sitting there. Kids should be left to be kids. Perhaps they could minister to one another, but that just seems so fake. Can’t they just be friends and hang out and enjoy life with out worrying about deadlines, and reports?

      • You know, on one hand, I very much agree with you. On the other hand, there are some teenagers who have been thru some very difficult life situations as well.

        For instance, at eight, I was placed in foster care, I didn’t know where my brothers were for two months, and I didn’t know or speak to my sister again until I was sixteen. I also experienced some other things that are the direct result of being placed in foster Care.

        So, while on the face of things it seems like a bad idea, there are many teenagers who have lived thru divorce, Do you think they really don’t know what’s going on?, They know much more than what adults around them give them credit for.

        Sometimes, teenagers,(at least I was) are much more mature than the adults around them.

        What better way to teach a child to give service, especially if they’ve been thru a divorce than to listen to another child who is going thru the same process?

        Sure, sometimes, it might be awkward, and if that’s the case, then talk about something else and tell your home-teacher that you need to talk to them about something more personal latter on.

  2. Yes! Why do young men need so much training and so many opportunities for serving in our congregations but our young women are forgotten? I have long felt that our young women should be visiting teaching. I’d also like to see our young women pass the mic around in fast and testimony meeting, raise and retire the flag on Sundays, bring the bread for the sacrament, run errands for the bishop, and so forth. “The errand of angels is given to women and this is a gift that as sisters we claim.” I believe, as you do, that the errand of angels is to truly bless others as the sisters of our religious heritage have done. I just don’t see the institutional church willing to recognize this heritage.

    I have seen and felt more of a narrowing of the roles of women and am continually pushing back against that. So while I love these ideas, I don’t know how to implement them. Women aren’t even allowed to give opening prayers in our sacrament meetings anymore in our stake. How do we share these ideas and have anyone with authority care about them? That is the question for me. I teach of Heavenly Mother and equality, but she is still not an invited guest in the majority of our church meetings and activities.

    • Yes! I love the concrete examples you give of what girls could do to serve the congregation. Those could absolutely be included into the training for priestesshood! Thank you for this contribution, Vinniecat.

      I share your frustration and sadness that it seems as if the leaders of the church are unwilling to recognize the very real contribution women can make and actively working to limit women’s roles. My one source of hope is that sooner or later the church is going to have to deal with the hemorrhaging of young women who are leaving and start offering them a reason to stay. I am hopeful that some of these ideas could be instituted to help ameliorate the problem.

    • Original lyrics: “The office of angels is given to women, and this is a right that as sisters we claim.”

      • That’s even better!

      • It IS! And seriously, your stake isn’t allowing women to give opening prayers? Read the effing handbook, people.

    • Vinniecat, will you e-mail me off-line and tell me what stake you live in? l.boss [at] verizon [dot] net.

    • I know of one ward in Southern California where the young women Did bring (and even make) the bread for Sacrament for a time. Their leaders wanted them to be a bigger, more vibrant part of the ward, and saw that as one way the young women and men could work together to the blessing of all. Unfortunately, they were eventually told that even Bringing the bread was a Priesthood responsibility.

      I personally don’t believe that it is, and think it was a perfect (and simple) way to incorporate the young women.

      There is also absolutely no reason why women should not be allowed to open (or close) a meeting with prayer, or for women to give the closing talk. These are things I hope/plan to work with my own ecclesiastical authorities on.

  3. Joseph Smith gave the keys of the priesthood to Emma when the RS was formed in Nauvoo. Despite what is written in Daughters In My Kingdom, the RS president could minister unto the women over whom she had stewardship. These women could heal, give blessings, and call upon the powers of Heaven as needed. Brigham Young changed all that. He reined in their use of Heavenly Power, and limited their autonomy. Whether that was because he and Emma never got along, he really was power-hungry, or he simply didn’t think it was right, he revoked their ministering keys. It is a travesty in my eyes. He did that in this instance, and he created the policy that those of negro descent could not obtain the priesthood, despite Joseph having given the priesthood to numerous black members in his lifetime. In my eyes, the office/calling/power of the priesthood in the authority to act in the name of God, and if women are baptized and take upon them the name of God just as men do, we should not be denied using the power of God when it is needed.

    • It is ironic isn’t it, CG? What I’ve suggested here is really only what was given to women from the very start by Joseph Smith. Hopefully this fact will make it easier for church leaders to institute priestesshood since there is already historical precedence and Joseph Smith’s own words on the record. Thanks for the comment!

      • There is SO much historical precedent for it, which makes me hope the same thing. I will keep hoping it forever, if needed.

  4. I love this article. But, truthfully, I’m still not sure how this would be done with out the same power and authority that priesthood gives our male members.

    Another concern is that I already see young women serving our members in the same way that their mothers do. I see them having bake sales to support boys camp, yet, the boys don’t do bake sales to support girls camp.

    I would like to see more reciprocity.

    • But women would have the same power and authority, Diane, just with a different name. A name, I argue, that is more appropriate considering we are women. And you’re right, more reciprocity is absolutely needed. We cannot truly be the body of Christ until the needs and concerns of girls and women are treated with just as much import as those of boys and men. Thanks!

    • In my downtown LA ward the young men and young women DO help each other. The young men had a pancake breakfast (wherein They made the food) and the young women had a yard sale in the parking lot the same morning. The profits went to both the young men’s scout camp and the young women’s girl’s camp. They had a larger fundraiser (service type auction) on the stake level, where the profits were also split evenly between the young women and men, which I think, is how it should be.

  5. Thanks for posting. I have cried the same tears.

  6. “I strongly believe that the time for waiting is over–we can no longer continue hoping for further light and knowledge from men who are unable/unwilling to acknowledge that women have an unique experience from men–we must begin seeking truth for ourselves.”

    /\ This. Amen, to this. I would add specifically what you also alluded to, that some of that unique experience stems largely from a social divide created and perpetuated by such a male system. I tire so much with how much of the “female experience” is rooted in what we are excluded from. I hear male friends talk about their powerful experiences with the priesthood, taking for granted that those experiences are so absolutely central to their connection to God, their church experience, their faith, honestly just not even realizing how absolutely foreign what they’re talking about is to women. We are assumed and expected to just get what we get on our own, and yet there is absolutely no forum to do so. No man may be an island, but it seems like, Spiritually, every woman is. We are the gleaners, with no fertile fields of our own. We sit, teaching each other as best we can from correlated male-centric lessons from male-centric scriptures, nourishing ourselves as best we can from what falls from their table, “likening” what we can from the sidelines, living as echoes. And yet, so many women work so hard giving so much service, going above and beyond with what they do have. Can you imagine what it would look like if we did have a place at the table?

    I would love, love, love to see a sort of round-table on Heavenly Mother. Include people who are scholars on Wisdom/Ashera, and individuals who feel like they’ve made a connection in their own lives. Sit all around together, and brainstorm what a visualization of Female Deity would include.

    • Rune, I love your comment so much. I want to engage with it more because I think it is so important but I’m at the swimming pool with my kids. As soon as I get home I’ll respond more in depth.

      • Thanks. I think I’m actually going to expand my thoughts here into their own blog post as well.

        Can I say just how grateful I am for awesome and intelligent women to have these sorts of conversations with, and to continue these important dialogs with.

      • When you write the blog post please come back and post the link in the comments. I would love to see your thoughts expanded!

    • I just love everything about this comment, Rune. I don’t really have something profound to add other than the priesthood provides men with a privilege that goes largely unexamined. What is really unfortunate is that it sets women up to fail in these conversations because so many men just can’t understand the subtle and profound differences in experience and so disregard it out of hand. This is something that I don’t have a good answer for except give it time and eventually enough men will clue in. Also, I love the idea of a HM round table!

    • Rune, I loved your post.

      Mraynes, I love your ideas.

      Thank you both.

    • Yes! (to both Rune and Mraynes). I would love that roundtable.

    • I love that round table idea, as one who cares very Very deeply about Heavenly Mother, and had the unique opportunity to get paid full-time by BYU to study her for four months, in 2008.

      And of some of the first things you said, I had a class at my grad school last year called “Gendering Mormonism” (http://www.the-exponent.com/i-know-that-gendering-mormonism-is-true/) where everyone (member and not) was required to attend a three hour block of church meetings and ethnographically record/remark on the gendered nature of our worship. Since then I pay very close attention to how many female speakers there are compared to male speakers, and how many times women are quoted compared to men. This last Sunday while visiting a ward in Minnesota I heard a female PhD student who had just defended her thesis speak on homelessness and tenacity. She read male centric scriptures, but every quote she gave was by a woman: Joseph Smith’s mother, other prophet’s wives, pioneer women, BYU professors, and female ensign writers. It was amazing, and gave me a great pattern of how I want to teach my lessons/talks in the future.

    • “No man may be an island, but it seems like, Spiritually, every woman is. ”

      I was 19-years-old when I first felt bothered that there is no feminine form of “brethren” – a word which means a collective body of men. Even within temple ordinances men are referred to collectively as brethren. And women are sisters.

      This is not a small thing.

      • And Rune, Sunstone Symposium this year includes several sessions that are very much like the round tables you refer to. (Her table might be triangular, however)

        http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party/

        Anyway, it’s been wonderful. I wish more women had access to the symposium.

  7. For now I think it would be better to begin with something for which there is precedent and priesthood is not specifically required;  healing and blessings rather than the issue of Heavenly Mother which is considered off limits.  This shelters it from false doctrine criticism. 

    • I nderstand what you’re saying, Howard, and I don’t disagree but my point is that a church sanctioned exploration should be done. More knowledge about HM would benefit both women and men.

      • Yes I saw that, but I didn ‘t understand if the time for waiting is over how you going to get church sanctioned exploration in the near term.

      • Ha, well I’m just taking it as a given in this post that HM will be explored and that everybody will agree to separate institutional power from priesthood–it’s kind of a dream world.

        If we’re being practical, you’re suggestion is probably the way to go! :)

    • Howard, with respect — Heavenly Mother *is* part of our doctrine. The fact that the leadership of the Church is currently uncomfortable with Her does not erase her from our religious tradition any more than shying away from talking about polygamy can erase that. I understand where you’re going about being correlated and PC and “safe,” but your suggestion does not help fulfill my own spiritual needs (I won’t presume to speak for anyone else).

    • The issue of Heavenly Mother actually is NOT considered off limits. I know because I was hired by BYU to study her full-time for four months. A BYU studies article came out of that, which you may find here: https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=8669

      In our research we found more than 600 direct references to Heavenly Mother by Prophets and other General Authorities, and not a single reference by a General Authority that She is “too sacred to talk about.” That idea came about by a (I’m assuming) well-meaning seminary teacher.

  8. Howard, maybe, but even that is now considered to be strictly Priesthood domain, and even historical precedent, if it can be proved to satisfaction to the entrenched, might not be enough to budge current belief on what would be unjust usurpation of Priesthood duty and power. We’re kind of stuck in a no-win position that way, no matter where we start.

    So, yeah, I’m tempted to say to the critics anyway, “Screw you. I want my Mother.”

    But, y’know, nicely.

    • I know many women and a few men outside the church who have the spiritual gift of healing quite independent of the LDS priesthood. I’ve heard many LDS women bless food that it will do our bodies good. How big a stretch is it to bless or heal our children, family or friends?

      • Not a big one, in my opinion, but if the question is of what would and wouldn’t be safe from claims of false doctrine or lack of authority, that doesn’t really solve that problem either. I’m all for the blessings and the healing. I gave my own baby a blessing on my own, before her “official” church blessing, and felt perfectly sanctioned by God in doing so. That didn’t make it any more recognized, or any less likely to raise eyebrows and uneasy admonitions to be careful about overstepping bounds.

      • I’m planning a women’s blessing for my daughter after her baptism. I plan to make it clear that it is not a priesthood blessing, but I want her to feel the strength of all the wonderful women in her life. DH is a bit apprehensive about it, but I think if I present it in the right way it will be a beautiful experience and not one that threatens priesthood authority. I feel that as her mother I have the right to do these things.

    • Maybe I love your, “Screw you. I want my Mother,” sentence.

  9. I love this so much, because I want so much to see something change. I want to make change happen in my ward, in my stake, in my area, and see it all over the world. I want to see my two daughters able to participate and be acknowledged and trained just as my son will be. I want to see the young women of my ward going on 5 campouts if they want to during the course of the summer, since the young men are (our girls are only doing one – girl’s camp). I want equality. I want someone to pay attention and LISTEN when we talk about the inequality, about the lack of opportunities for growth and spiritual progression and connection to Deity. But how do you make these changes in local areas? Especially when there are so few like-minded women/men in the congregations? When these suggestions will be viewed as dissent and problematic? How much are we willing to sacrifice, and how forceful must we be before someone in a leadership position with some influence will join us in agitating for change? These are the things I wonder, and my worries, and my fears, and my frustrations. I want change so much but it feels so hopeless.

    • Oh Blossom, I feel your pain. There are so many times I just want to scream at somebody, “Why don’t you see me? Why don’t you see my daughter? We are being harmed and you can’t even see it!”

      I don’t have a good answer other than keep being vocal when you can. Even if it’s only here using a pseudonym I have no doubt that somebody will read what you have written and be forced to acknowledge that your pain is real. I’m sending you love and peace.

    • These are excellent questions without excellent answers, at least yet. But that does not mean that we stop asking them. Keep asking them. Keep working towards answers, even if it is one conversation or relationship at a time.

      My husband is one who is not like-minded on these issues, but he will listen to him as I try to do everything I can to help him see how we see, and feel what we feel.

  10. These ideas just started flooding in and brought me such delight that I thought I would share (sorry if they’ve already been considered before). I am envisioning young women participating in the sacrament ritual. It seems to me that the only part that explicitly requires exercising the Priesthood is the blessing of the bread and water. So that leaves a lot of room for non-priesthood/priestess-hood participation. And it was thinking on the death and resurrection of Christ (which the sacrament is in part in remembrance of) that illuminated some possible ways.

    Let the young women prepare the sacrament table (save for the covering of the bread and water), for it was a woman who anointed Christ in preparation for his death (Mark 14:8) and it was prophesied that this “shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (really how often do we remember her and her action, certainly this would help with that). Plus I love the symbolic connection that there were those that chided and would have prevented her from doing so.

    Then let two young women stand (I’m envisioning them at the ends of the table, reminiscent of the angels overlooking the ark) as witnesses as the young men cover the bread and water as it was Joseph of Arimathæa who dressed Christ in the tomb.

    After either young men or women or both remove the cloth during the sacrament hymn, representing the angels who removed the stone, let the young women participate in the breaking of the bread (done before the actual blessing) as there were women at the death of Christ on the cross (Matt 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49). Then also let young women participate in the passing of the sacrament as women were first to arrive at the empty tomb and first to alert others that Christ was risen (Matt 28: 1-10; Mark 16: 9-11; Luke 24:10). These women were not first believed when they told others Christ was risen until Christ himself told the men. Shall we not also go forth in faith and tell our brethren that God has inspired us with these things and then they will believe when Christ tells them?

    • That is beautiful. I loved the female inclusion in sacrament being an echo of the women at the tomb. Just beautiful.

      • Me too.

    • Maureen, when I wrote this post I was hoping that many women would contribute ideas on how to develop a priestesshood that would be meaningful and equivalent to the priesthood. What you have shared with us here goes beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you. I have felt the spirit in this thread and I know it is working on many of us to discern a pathway to follow–you have provided one such pathway.

    • This is such a rich and beautiful idea. It would bring me so much joy to see it actually happen.

    • The part about women preparing the body of Christ brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful, all of it.

    • Wow. Thank you for this. I was hesitant as I read the post, fear and worry of being seen as usurping priesthood which isn’t something I’d want to do. Reading this and the connection to the women who prepared Christ for his death and burial – it washed that worry and fear away!

      • This was just beautiful. I’ll be honest that I’m not one who usually personally feels left out or slighted, but this idea resonated deeply with me. I wish it could really happen.

    • Maureen, this is a *beautiful* idea. And it rings true — it feels right.

      • Here, here! It feels true and right. Wonderful, Maureen.

    • MRaynes, consider posting Maureen’s comment as a stand-alone follow-up post . . . !

    • This is very lovely. Thank you for sharing it. Maybe someday we will see it come to fruition.

  11. I’ve been doing this personally for awhile but I was doing it with the thought it was a temporary fix until the church came around and started including women in ordinations for church administration. I’d much rather see a parallel priestess track be official within the church but I realize that I really don’t like holding my breath when it would be much healthier for me to live my truth and respect the process of the monolith as it comes to its own conclusions. I can only hope that it will change in my lifetime though my more pragmatic side says it won’t be. I have written out my ideas while are along the same lines as yours, though I hadn’t tied things as closely to advancement in the priesthood as you and I took a more woman/earth-centered approach rather than an traditionally religious one. I do like the idea of mothers leading their daughters through the cycles of womanhood like a father leaders his son through the stages of the priesthood. I agree it would be appropriate to be administered institutionally by the Relief Society.

    • It makes me so happy to hear that you are exploring your own priestesshood, Descent. While I also don’t hold my breath that any of this will happen, I keep hope that it will and I know that there are a multitude of women just like you and me who know there is more out there and are willing to explore what it is. I would be interested to know more of what your approach has looked like!

      • I wrote a description on my blog with my initial brainstorming: http://jenneology.blogspot.com/2012/04/copied-and-pasted-from-sisters-speak.html. I wrote that just before my second daughter was born. Since her birth, we had the welcoming party (which I need to put those entries up on my blog!)

      • Thank you for sharing, Descent. I believe that motherhood could play an integral role in women’s priestess good just as fatherhood does in men’s priesthood. I didn’t include anything about motherhood in this post because I wanted all women to feel like they could own priestesshood and as we all know, not all women get to experience or even want to experience motherhood. That being said, I think your ideas on how to encorporate motherhood into priestesshood are incredibly beautiful and ones that I hope more women adopt.

  12. Thank you for this. I agree that both of these topics – Heavenly Mother and women’s authority to act in the name of God (And I like priestesshood) – need to be discussed. This conversation is desperately needed among the Saints. We need to become a people able to talk about these sort of things.

    Maureen’s comment reminded me of a dream I had once. In it, I was visiting my cousin who lived in Texas at the time. I was at her ward, and the sacrament was being administered by the Young Women in the ward.

    At first, it struck me hard and I thought, “wow, things really are different in Texas…. Does Salt Lake know about this?”.

    And then it amazed me how beautiful and right it felt.

    And this dream was perhaps 12 years ago, when such an idea should have remained at the “shocking” level.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Leonard. It is such a hopeful sign to me that there are men out there who see the problems and are at least willing to engage with them. You’re dream is beautiful .

    • Leondard, your comment about your dream reminded me of a dream I had a few months ago, totally forgotten about until now. All I remember was that a woman was blessing the sacrament, and it was beautiful and in the dream I was crying because we’d finally arrived.

      Can you imagine what a force for good women could be if they felt endowed with this kind of priestesshood power?

  13. Just a minor quibble – VT and HT are not equal. VT is for the strength and support of just the women, while HT is for the strength and support of whole families. Granted, with the often improved numbers in VT, more help for families can happen than with HT alone, but how do these two programs fit together, even without a Priestesshood?

    • I’m glad you brought this up, Frank! I know that VT and HT are not currently equal and I think steps would have to be taken to make them so. I didn’t go into this because the post was already so long but there are a couple of ways we could go about changing them: 1) make VT about women and HT about men–personally I love the idea of men forming stronger friendships with each other. Under this system the needs of the individual would be paramount but of course family needs would also come into this. 2) Combine HT & VT so that there is a priest and a priestess partnership that ministers to the needs of a family.

      I would be interested how you would address this?

      • For awhile my parents were home teaching partners. They were asked to do it that way. I don’t remember the reasons, something about it being more comfortable for the famillies they were visiting. I think it could be a good practice all the way around.

      • I agree with the comments that HT should be a couples calling. Overall, I believe couples callings should exist in many other callings within the church – I mean, Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father serve together, why shouldn’t eternal partnerships here do the same?

        How powerful to have FAMILIES make connections with other families – to build relationships and/or accountability for each other – not just the priesthood holders building those relationships with the families they are assigned to serve.

    • Something I’ve been hearing more of is couples home/visiting teaching together. I love this method of caring for our flock and would love to work with my husband this way.

      • When my husband was called as EQP, I specifically spoke with my stake president about going with him on some of his “ministering” visits. (Leaders – men & women – in our stake are to do ministering visits once/week to members of their quorum/group/stewardship.) He said absolutely and that he knew that as a sister I may be able to get in to places where brethren alone could not.
        Also, my parents have been HT partners for over 15 years. My mom & dad go see his HT families together every month.

    • Amazing. Thank you.

  14. My daughter, age 9, asks me regularly why she can’t pass the sacrament when she turns 12 like her two brothers did. I don’t really have a good answer, and her BS detector is on overdrive. I asked her what she liked about that role, amd she said she thought it was cool to be involved in the service, organizing and working with others her age to do such an important service.

    I find all your suggestions for the youth at least to be excellent. I think the existing priesthood is so top heavy it’s hard to draw a parallel to the “worker bee” leadership roles women get. I’m not sure about creating co-bishops. Ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere.

    • I agree, that part of my call for priestesshood is not well fleshed out. And your contention that leadership is already too top heavy is a good one. I used the current priesthood model because it seemed like the least painful way for this type of change to happen. Do you think the whole system should be exploded and something more equality-based be put in its place? I’m not against that but I think it might be harder to accomplish. Thanks for the constructive comment!

  15. I wish I had beautiful ideas to contribute, but I am well-trained and unimaginative. It occurs to me that your imagined priestess development track should not strike me as earth-shattering. But for me, it is. How beautiful are the paths I never allow myself to imagine! My soul starves for an organized, authoritative path of spiritual development. I’ve spent too many years feeling empty, aimless, rejected because of a gender I cannot change.

    • Oh Kristen, your comment is heartbreaking to me. This is the result of our current system and there are many women, including myself who have a hard time imagining anything different. I hope that for our and our daughters’ sakes we will not have to starve much longer.

  16. One this I’ve felt strongly about for some time now is that if women can have authority to do the Initiatory for women in the temple, surely they can have authority to interview women outside the temple. Even without any female-specific authority being assigned as a whole, the authority could be delegated. A 13-year-old girl should not have to be in a closed room talking about sex or anything related with a man.

    • Yes, absolutely this! This practice is so wrong and I can’t imagine why the church continues it. I think you’re right, if women can be trusted to perform initiatories, which I believe is maybe the most profound ordinance for women in the temple, why can’t they be trusted to do this? I once heard of a bishop who did exactly this; he delegated this responsibility to a woman with counseling experience that other women and girls could go to if they didn’t want to meet with him. I hope more will follow his example.

  17. Lovely ideas, MRaynes. Yes, I think we need to train young women toward priestesshood, and help women–all women–magnify their priestesshood.

    This post made me very happy.

  18. If only…do any of you really think/feel deep in your hearts, that this could ever happen? I’m in my late 50′s and have seen and experienced a lot in the church. I have five daughters and four sons. I also divorced their dad over abuse directly relating to the church’s teachings about women. My soul LONGS for the day that I will be valued as deeply as men in the church. I also WANT/NEED to find like-minded women to associate with. I feel so lonely ads I re-think and adjust my personal beliefs regrading Mother in Heaven and my place in the church. Anyone live in the southern Colorado area?

    • Sherry, my soul longs for that day too, if not for me, then for my daughters and granddaughters. I don’t live in southern Colorado, but I can tell you that you are among friends here.

    • I can so empathize with your pain, Sherry? I don’t know if these ideas will ever come to pass but I think there is still power in saying them out loud. I don’t know if it’s too far for you but there is a Mormon feminist retreat in the Rocky Mountains every year. Let me know if you’d like more information and I would be happy to pass it along. Love to you.

    • Hi Sherry! You are not alone here in Southern Colorado;) Perhaps we can attend the retreat together w/our daughters? Mraynes, I would LOVE that retreat information. & Sherry, I am using my middle name, but we’re even in the same ward:)

      • Exponent blog WIN!

  19. Thank you for this post. It is time for creative ideas and it is great to see them. This post fostered a discussion between me and my husband last night which was very positive. There are men who are open to these ideas. As the younger men (especially those with wives, daughters and sisters like the women here) move up the ladder of church responsibility, change can happen. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, but it would be nice to be surprised.

    • I should have added mothers to that list of women, because I have adult sons and sons-in-law, with whom I hope I have some influence.

    • I’m so happy to hear this, Catherine. I also had really constructive, and sometimes intense, conversations with my husband as I’ve mulled over these ideas for the past couple of days. I think you’re right, it is only a matter of time before men who have been influenced by feminist-leaning women gain critical mass and make important changes. It is for this very reason that I believe it is so important to speak up, even if it is only to our husbands or sons–it might accomplish nothing in the time being but in the long run it will make a profound difference.

      • It may not be dramatic or sexy, but this will be the key to future progress towards an appreciation of the divine feminine in the Church.

  20. I think all you said sounds great and that we could even add to it by ensuring that there is more integration and cooperation between the genders–the boys and men should have more of a push to also learn about Heavenly Mother and to work with the women.

    However, I must say that while I like these possibilities as well as the idea of a Heavenly Mother who is equal and powerful, I struggle to feel connected to Her because I feel like she could be as one of the women I know who have embraced the expected Mormon role so much that they can’t even see how held back they are. If she’s like that, then I feel like there’s little we can do. :(

    • Thanks, Michelle. I have at times felt ambivalent about further correlated knowledge on HM for the exact reasons you state. It is ironic that HM could potentially be a dangerous tool used against women to limit their roles. If this were to happen I think I would be heartbroken but at the same time reject it since I just feel too strongly that HM is amazing. I like Rune’s idea of having a council seek for further light and knowledge about Her and perhaps that would solve the problem of a limiting vision of her?

  21. Lovely! What a lovely & uplifting thread!! I simple don’t have another word to describe my experience of reading here today. I am often asked, “How can you be a Mormon & a Feminist?” (As if they are mutually exclusive) I am a mother of five amazing daughters & two sons. I often wonder, “How can one be a Christian & NOT be a feminist?”, as Christ is such an incredible example of feminism in action. While reading this thread, I couldn’t help but think of the little known ways God often answers a need. The many, many African American Saints (of whom many were women) who wrote letters to the prophet questioning the policy that forbade them the priesthood…the letters that led a certain prophet to his knees to inquire of the Lord, which led to the revelation that blacks could have the priesthood after all. We could just email this link;)

    • Thank you for your kind words, Michelle. I absolutely agree with you that it’s hard to be a Christian and not a feminist. I hope my contribution in this post will be among the many droplets of water in the tidal wave calling for change.

  22. I posted this link on my FB page and got a variety of comments. Most negative were from active LDS women – interesting. they said they felt very valued and supported what all the prophets have said about women. The CatherineWO and mraynes, thank you for your kind words. I rarely attend my ward mostly because my X attends with his temple-married new wife, which makes me the odd one, being married to a NOMO. When I do attend and make feminist comments I am ignored or argued with. For me emotional health I don’t attend. I’ve seen the Rocky Mtn. retreat but am chicken to attend, thinking everyone there will already have friends; childish yes. But I’m still vulnerable inside. Part of me wants to write a book about my LDS experience, especially about the abuse I’ve gone thru from X and how the Church is not truthful and how its teachings damage women. But I don’t…maybe someday. Anyway – THANKS for THE EXPONENT. I deeply appreciate knowing my “sisters” thru these blogs.

    • Sherry, last year was my first time at Rocky Mountain Retreat. I went with my sister, but made some brand new and very good friends. Come. I’ll be your friend.

  23. I think writing to any of the higher-ups is a good idea. I have actually started a book on what it means to be a woman in this Church, and why so many women feel empty about their membership. Perhaps now is the time to make this happen.

    • Quick remark. Sort of on subject. I’m very new to this site. I am one who speaks my mind. I’m in my late 50′s and converted at age 20. Anyway….Years ago, when the VT message started to be published in the Ensign, it was way in the back someplace and you had to hunt and peck to find it. I wrote to…can’t recall who….asking it shouldn’t be put in front next to the HT talk because VT was just as important. I received a return letter with some reason…but, to my recent surprise, look where it is today!!!! Was I ahead of my time? Perhaps, perhaps we all are.

  24. “…I was touched by the passing of keys from father to son.”

    Just for clarification, there were no keys passed during your husbands ordination. There are only 4 individuals in each ward that hold Priesthood keys. At the Stake level, only the Stake President actually holds Priesthood Keys.

    • She’s aware, since at my last setting apart (as elders’ quorum president) the passage of keys was highlighted. We considered this issue and agreed that the poetic wording (using “keys”) was better than any other option. “Authority” and “power” were both bad options, since priesthood actually is neither. But that’s another post.

  25. Great post and discussion. I would recommend researching the priesthood offices women held in the early church and using those in the hierarchy as well.

    We know that RS presidents were ordained and given the responsibility to anoint and bless. We also know that there was a “midwife” calling that was very common in the early church where women were ordained and set apart as midwives and were given the responsibility to “anoint and administer” to their pregnant sisters.

    I am sure there were other priesthood callings for adult women that could be restored that I just don’t know/can’t remember right now. With historical context at the end-game (adult leadership priesthood authority) filling in the preparation becomes a necessary process in addition to equality.

  26. FWIW, when my X re-married in the temple and I subsequently requested a cancellation of my sealing, I was asked to write lenghthy letters and I included numerous articles from FMH, Kevin Barney’s “How to Worship Mother in Heaven Without Being Excommunicated” (I think that’s the title) etc. I suggested numerous ways to make LDS women more equal, etc. And I asked lots of questions. NO ONE, NO ONE – not even the SP and certainly not from the 1st Pres. replied or even acknowlegded my letters. NOT ONE OF THEM! To me, that spoke volumes about how women are treated in the church. Even the letter I recieved from the 1st Pres. notifying me about my cancellation, was a form letter; a form letter!!!! Nothing about my personal experience. I showed it to my Bishop and he agreed – it was a form letter. I was initially asked to write about three things – if X was current in child support, the details of our marriage as to what led up to our divorce, and how I felt about his re-marrying in the temple. I truthfully answered all that I was asked to do. I lost a lot of faith in priesthood leaders up and down the chain of command over that experience. I could care less if he was sealed to new spouse but I would be damned if I would stay sealed to the son-of-a-gun! Did NOT want to fuel his belief in eternal polygamy! Again – NO ONE would give me a definitive answer as to my children still being sealed to me. I wanted to make sure that was still in place as that’s how my heart felt. Yet, one of my daughters recently told me that the kids dad, my X, received a letter about my cancellation request and it DID state he was still sealed to his kids – what the HELL! Why did he get an answer and I didn’t? Because I’m a woman – because I don’t hold the priesthood? If I sound a little angry, it’s because I still am. Bottom line – LDS women are NOT treated as equals. AND I was extremely active in my ward – served in every calling excpt priesthood ones over the years. We were a high profile couple/family. Arghhhh – I digress – need to calm down. And as always – thanks EXPONENT for your forum. If anyone wants to contact me privately,please do. I would love to hear your stories…

    • I would love to contact you privately. How can I so?

    • Sherry,

      I hear you loud and clear, when I had problems with my leadership and wrote letters, no one answered or even bothered to call. Indeed, I had to write a few letters after that for them to even take my name of the records of the church.

      I really don’t get it. But, I understand where you are coming from and it really does seem unnecessarily mean spirited

  27. Serving a mission as a young woman was my first major eye opening experience with the discrepancy between gender equality in the church. I was set apart to preach the gospel just as the elders, but was unable to hold any of the missionary leadership positions such as district leader, zone leader and assistant to the president. It was many of the young elders first experience with the control and power of leadership and they used it clumsily and aggressively. I worry about the message it sent to both elders and sisters alike when it comes to service in the church : men are valued and capable while women are merely tolerated.

  28. I absolutely love the ideas here. However, I am not hopeful that meaningful change will happen institutionally, for a number of reasons.

    1. Institutional change is incredibly slow and difficult. You see this happening currently in the Catholic faith in the events that have transpired between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and The Vatican. There are currently fascinating and very relevant discussions happening that I find incredibly informative to our experience as “thinking” Mormon women. There was a wonderful interview on NPR–Fresh Air last week that is well worth checking out. But the fact is 3 men with the proper authority have been assigned to reign in 80% of the Catholic women religious (nuns) in the U.S.

    Which begs the question, how does one approach changing institutional authority that claims God’s power, when the institution claims your role precludes you from direct access to that power?

    Which brings me to my next thought.

    2. Within our faith Patriarchy is doctrinally considered an Eternal principal. The roles of men and women are talked of as eternal in nature. Men lead and women support.

    3. In my experience the majority of women in the church embrace Patriarchy as God ordained. They hold tightly to the roles, as set forth in The Proclamation to the Family. They have embraced their role as wife and mother with a vengeance and will defend it as God Ordained to the death. (this maybe a bit overstated:) And they often police, or shun those of us who feel differently.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love ideals. I love the idea of creating a spiritual order for women in the context of Mormonism and reclaiming some of the autonomy that existed historically in the church. But when you are talking about change you have to consider the reality that this is not a democratic institution, it is a Patriarchal hierarchy. Any ideas that are not sanctioned by those with the “proper authority” or that challenge that authority are often dismissed as heretical or squashed.

    Having said all that, I do believe there is real value in sharing our stories and our experiences as thoughtful Mormon women. When women are authentic about their spiritual seeking everyone benefits. I love your post. I love all the ideas. Beautiful.

    Personally, I am taking the approach that I will do my best to serve and love my new, very traditional, Mormon community. If they judge me because my daughter sometimes wears spaghetti straps, my boys have long wild hair and come to church in flip flops or because I am honest about my own spiritual experience, which is very different than most traditional Mormon women, that is about them and not me. I will not take offense. It has been an incredibly freeing experience so far and I hope it will continue to feel that way.

    • Well put, Twila. Thanks for taking the time to frame your thoughts so beautifully. You’ve spoken for me and others here.

      Also: You go, girl!

  29. Meghan, this is wonderful! Your heart and soul come through–clear and powerful. Clear and powerful–much like the God in whose image we are formed. When I read this post I thought, “Yep. There She is. God the Mother. Coming right through her daughter in a blog post.”

    As for suggestions about what the feminine priesthood might look like, I may have to think about that for a while. I certainly know what it “feels” like inside of me, but the organizational and functional structure has not quite taken shape for me. I love what you and others conceptualize here and I hope to be able to add something at some time in the future.

  30. Twila and others, as a Methodist married to a non-practicing Mormon man, I’m curious to know: how spiritually free and different can you be in the Mormon community?

    Can you, as a woman, live freely with a man without being married to him and still be embraced in the church?

    Can you openly state that gay men should be allowed to marry, and still be embraced in the church?

    Can you be an avid coffee drinker and still be embraced in the church?

    Where is the limit drawn, in your experiences?

    • Interesting question, Nancy. I believe the answer to all of your questions is yes…as long as the church is working as it should. Of course, individual experiences will vary depending on your local congregation. I believe we are very good at embracing those who don’t fit the typical mold in my congregation but this may not hold in another ward.

  31. Very interesting posts here! I would like to share my experience.

    I married in 1989, to a wonderful man who is still the love of my life. We have four children, one of whom is currently serving on a mission. A pretty well balanced group with a boy/girl/boy/girl, ages 2o to 12.

    I would frequently question the validity of the patriarchal setup of the church, simply as a way of addressing the whole ‘equality’ issue. Like many of you I felt that I was somehow less valued or less important in the scheme of things spiritual. Then one day, in a ‘miffed’ mood about the patriarchal order of things, the ‘patriarchal’ blessing entered my mind. So I went to the file cabinet and pulled it out, thinking maybe there was a reason it came to my mind.

    Sisters, I have read and re-read my patriarchal blessing many times, but this time something jumped out at me with a fury, as if it was meant for me not when the blessing was given, but for that exact moment in time.

    “Families are designed by Heavenly Father to be for all eternity, with the father at the head, through the Priesthood, and the mother at the center, FOR THE HOME ROTATES AROUND HER. The family thusly working together with love brings happiness in this mortal life and truly, joy throughout the eternities.”

    When I read that I was floored. My husband is a great man, a very kind and generous soul, and he had listened to my protestations over the years about equality in the church and basically told me the same things many of you have heard and read, “That’s the way the Lord did it.”

    If I am a the center of my home, and my home rotates around me, then I am at the very center of the family unit! An eternal family, and I am at the center! And it rotates around ME!

    It was like a lightning rod to my very soul, I am the center! I am perhaps the most important part of my own family, as the CENTER! Of the eternal family structure!

    And it was then that I realized that perhaps my soul searching about equality within the church, had it done damage to my relationship with my husband? Had it made him question my faith? For that matter had I myself, questioned my faith?

    After some frank discussions with my husband I realized very quickly that he never doubted my faith and that my questions of “why” or “why not” had not dampened his faith, or his faith in me. What a wonderful man I am married to.

    In short, sisters, that day I decided, yes, decided, to simply accept the role that I play in the grand scheme of the Gospel, as a help-mate to my spouse, as a mother to my children, and I have not looked back. Why should I?

    I am the center of my home, and my entire family rotates around me.

    I have never been happier. I can’t speak to each of your experiences but I can say that the day I chose to accept the role the Lord set forth for me my life changed for the better. But it wasn’t because anything outside had changed, I had changed. I pray that each of you can find the happiness the Lord wishes for you all.

    • I had a similar “lightning rod” moment when I realized that my children needed to see the example of a mother who valued education and her own capabilities. And that I shouldn’t feel guilty for breaking the taught-to-me-since-Young -Women’s mold.

      I managed to balance two graduate programs while nursing all my babies, and now my full-time academic appointment requires a 10-hour on-campus commitment.

      I’ve been able to supplement the family’s income in a pretty dramatic way without sacrificing my availability (at home while they were small, now I have classes to teach while they’re in school).

      I’ve found the happiness our heavenly Parents intend for me. And I’m glad that that happiness can look different for everyone.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Wilda! While this interpretation doesn’t particularly work for me–I believe that both my husband and I are equally at the center of our family–I am glad you found an explanation that brings you peace. I strongly believe that each of us is on an individual journey to reconcile the inconsistencies of mortality and return home to our Heavenly Parents. Congratulations on finding fulfillment in your journey.

  32. Twila:
    I believe flip flops have their time and place but church meetings? How far do you think yours sons would get if they showed up at an office job interview in flop flops? Enlighten me if I have missed something.

    • Henry,

      I believe at this moment we are not talking about working in an office, and if we are depending on the office on certain days you are indeed allowed to wear flip flops,

      But, that’s beside the point, Twila, stated herself quite clearly if there’s a problem with wearing flip flops and one is going to judge, than you are the one who is wrong( not a good word choice here, but, at the moment can’t think of any other) she is instead focusing on attending and the spirit of the law rather than letter of the law

    • Henry, there is a big difference between a job interview and trying to participate in the community of Christ. I’m pretty sure that Jesus Christ rejoices whenever we come to worship, regardless of our footwear. Also, appropriate footwear is not the topic of this post.

  33. This is an amazing vision I want my future daughter to experience! :) beautiful!

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