Ordinances that are performed by women

We talk so much about the priesthood and ordinances at Church, and we usually connect the two together. Since only men are given the priesthood, ordinances are always associated with men (with the exception of female ordinance workers performing ordinances in the temple).

Are there ordinances that are under the women’s stewardship? Are there ordinances that are unique to women? Or in other words, ordinances that only women can perform? I’m sure there are, but women’s ordinances in the church are not well-known. I think that people at church don’t speak much about women performing ordinances probably because these ordinances are not public or are not widely known in the church. For example, initiatories that women perform in the temple are only seen by women who have a temple recommend. Ordinances that men perform (like baptisms and the gift of the Holy Ghost) are public and can be viewed by members and non-members alike, since these ordinances can be done in a church building and aren’t limited to a temple.

Then there are also non-ordinances that men do, such as giving blessings. I believe that giving a blessing and offering a prayer are the same thing, so for this reason, I don’t view a blessing as an ordinance. Back in Emma Smith’s day, it was common for women to give blessings, especially in relation to childbirth and healing, and it’s very sad that the practice went away. It would have been very empowering to women if it had continued, but I think that church leaders connected ordinances too closely to the priesthood, which is connected too closely to men, and that’s probably one of the reasons why the practice was discontinued.

While reading Understanding Your Endowment, by Cory B. Jensen, I discovered a quote that refers to an ordinance that is performed only by women. On page 94, Jensen writes: “While we may not usually think of it in these terms, birth may be considered the first great ordinance of this life. It is a new living endowment, wherein a spirit is miraculously endowed with a physical temple or body…In light of this, perhaps there is no holier priesthood ordinance than the ordinance of birth.”

Jensen suggests that birth is “the first great ordinance” and that it’s the holiest ordinance. He makes a valid point. At Church we usually focus on the future, the potential ordinances we need to receive to reach the Celestial Kingdom, so for that reason the focus is very much on ordinances such as temple ordinances, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We often forget that birth is an ordinance too. After all, a person can’t be baptized unless they’re born first.

I’ve often heard quotes referring to women as “co-creators” with God. To me, this wording implies that birth is an ordinance of creation. We only learn about the ordinances that men do, but the ordinance in giving a spirit a body is something that only women can do. One blog says, “The only possible way to enter this mortal world is through the body of a woman and by the shedding of her blood… there is no other way.” Since birth is an ordinance, church members should give it the same spiritual honor and prestige they give to other ordinances.

Jensen suggests that there are three stages of the ordinance of birth. “The first step is performed by the priestess in giving birth, the second by the priest in the baptism, and the third by God Himself in bestowing the Holy Ghost” (94). All three of these have to do with birth (whether physical or spiritual), so it makes sense that they’re all part of the ordinance of birth. While Church members are accustomed to referring to baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost as ordinances, I’ve rarely heard people speak of birth as being an ordinance.

I believe that church members should give more thought to and talk about the ordinances that are unique to women. Men with the priesthood are not the only ones who perform ordinances in the world and in the church. Also, not all women give birth to children. I believe there must be other ordinances that are performed only by women. I’m not sure what they are, but I sincerely hope that new revelation will come that will shed light on ordinances that are performed by women. Who knows, maybe in the future we will find out that women have been performing ordinances all along and that church members just never recognized it.

Do you think birth is an ordinance? Why or why not? Can you think of other ordinances that only women can perform?

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12 Responses

  1. Andrew R. says:

    Whilst I do not agree with you in terms of blessings – that they are done by the power and authority of the priesthood makes them an ordinance – I can agree with you in relation to birth being an ordinance.

    Unfortunately, from what I have read here to try to reverence this as something special for women seems to bring a whole heap of other issues.

  2. Allemande Left says:

    Dani. Interesting post and thought provoking.
    Viewing childbirth as an ordinance would depend on how and who is defining the word ordinance.

    According to LDS.ORG…
    In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord.
    Other ordinances, such as naming and blessing children, consecrating oil, and administering to the sick and afflicted, are also performed by priesthood authority. While they are not essential to our salvation, they are important for our comfort, guidance, and encouragement.

    How the word is defined may not contain the full picture however.

    There certainly are things that occur only within a woman’s body, such as conception (excepting IVF), gestation, parturition and lactation. It is meaningful and appropriate that Eve is shown consciously choosing to partake of the fruit, thus consciously choosing to experience and offer these life-giving and life-sustaining ordinances (or chose some other word). It would be a different story all-together if Adam partook first and thus chose for us, these very physical, emotional, and spiritual responsibilities. I view the symbolism of the Adam and Eve story portrayed in the Endowment through this lens.

    On the same line of thought, it is important to acknowledge that Mary was asked if she would be the mother of Christ. She didn’t become pregnant without her consent. It was a calling.

    I think the Initiatory is symbolic of the blessing bestowed to all of us before we entered our mortal tabernacle or temple. It seems to be a beautiful blessing equipping us for life on earth.

    There is a difference (for me) between a prayer and a blessing. A prayer is a conversation, that can take different forms, such as a prayer of gratitude or a prayer seeking specific help or guidance. A blessing is a bestowal of gifts to be used by the recipient for healing, health, wisdom, etc. President Nelson recently commented on the difference.

    I like what you say about the 3 stages of birth (being physically born, being born of water and born of the spirit). Scriptures say we must be saved by the blood, the water and the spirit. There is an interesting connection between John 3 and Moses 6.
    We are saved through Christ and the birth process might be a likening of process through women.
    There is so much more to ponder and know. Thank you for the posting.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I really like what you said about Eve. I hadn’t considered what it would have been like if Adam had eaten the fruit first. Very thought-provoking!

  3. Tessa says:

    Neither pregnancy nor birth were holy for me. They ranged from uncomfortable to unbearably painful and there was a constant undercurrent of my body being stolen from me.

    I respect that pregnancy/birth may be ordinances for some women. But for me they were not.

    • Anna says:

      I am with Tessa on this. I hate the comparison of men have priesthood and women have motherhood or calling childbirth an ordinance. It isn’t holy. I was supper sick to the point the doctor had had given up my baby would be born alive and just hoping he could keep me alive with my first and the second and third pregnancies were the same. More like holy hell than holy.

      I resent the comparison because while the ordinances men do are clean, neat, not painful, and have a ceremonial public recognition, but the ungodly torture of pregnancy is dirty, messy, painful, and private. The ordinances my husband gets to do for our children never came close to killing him and never had him throwing up for hours and waddling around like an overweight duck.

      While getting my children here was worth it, I hardly think the process if an ordinance. More of a necessary evil.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Very true! I’ve never been pregnant, but the thought of potentially getting pregnant in the future really fills me with anxiety and fear. I wish childbirth was an easier process, and it seems unfair to me that women have been given the worst biological task. I think that women who choose to go through pregnancy and childbirth have a lot of courage and strength.

  4. Emma says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I’ve pondered on this very topic lately.

  5. Anna says:

    In thinking about this some more, by saying that childbirth is dangerous, painful, messy, and whatever else, that is not to say it isn’t sacred. When you consider the amount of work that goes into the ordinances of the priesthood compared to the nine months it takes to get a child here on earth, then the greatest thing you can do for another person is give birth to them. It is greater than all the priesthood ordinances put together. With out birth, there is no eternal progression, so it is the only essential part of the plan of salvation. Everything else can be done in our third estate by proxy. But there isn’t any proxy birth.

    So, really, the other way that there is just no comparison between childbirth and priesthood ordinances, is that giving birth is by far the greater service you can give another human being.

  6. Kaylee says:

    Thanks for the post! I’m enjoying this discussion. It’s giving me more ideas than I have time to articulate right now.

    Dani, I know you’ve read this, but for others who are interested in this topic I thought I’d link to my old post about the connections I see between ordinances and breastfeeding.

  7. Violadiva says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Dani! I can see how your observations are intended to bring a new perspective about women’s contributions to humanity. For many mothers, bearing children is a challenging burden, and sometimes we are so uncomfortable and unhappy that we may not fully appreciate the scope of our action. Through our blood, and body and time, we are literally perpetuating a whole species, and there is something of tremendous magnitude there, not at all commonplace! I’m sure that to many men, this whole experience in a mystery, but it also contributes to the way they put us up on pedestals (which is honorable, but severely limits our movements.)
    I think rather than calling the process of giving birth an “ordinance” I’d lean more toward calling it a Sacrament. Much like the 7 sacraments we see in Catholicism. One quote I found on a Catholic church’s website said this: “Jesus touches our lives through the sacraments. Our celebrations of the sacraments are signs of Jesus’ presence in our lives and a means for receiving his grace.”
    For me, giving birth, the sacrifice of my body for 9 months, the process of my pain and blood and fear (and everything else) was a personal Sacrament. I felt powerful and happy, but also was filled with a sense of wonder at what I considered a poignant metaphor for the atonement of Jesus Christ. It helped me relate to Jesus in a new way, that my blood and pain was for the sake of another’s life. Not all women will experience birth, and not all women who experience birth will find it analogous to anything relating to Jesus Christ, but I found personal symbolism and meaning in it. Thanks for the nice post!

  8. Emma says:

    The hell of pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and motherhood seem a necessary evil, but so to was the atonement and tortuous crucifixion of Christ. The way we currently view the value of women and men is still seen through a glass darkly. Lots of mysteries in those beautiful heartaches that must be taken heavenward. May we seek to understand the reason for it all.

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