The Global Need for Priesthood Keys

 I am currently a member of a small branch in a geographically large region. My branch is a rented building that is an hour’s drive away from my home, while the permanent regional building is a four hour hours’ drive while the mission offices… well, to be honest, I’ve never been to the Mission office, but I am aware that they are about 12 hours’ drive from where I live, in the same town as the temple. I still love this small branch.

As a member of a small branch it is impossible to not consider women and the priesthood. The branch president, though he lives in town, rarely seemed to find the time to attend Sunday services. The first counsellor retained the majority of operational duties (assigning talks, making sure the building is open), but he does shift work, making it impossible for him to attend every Sunday. A little over a year ago, the regional president visited with an order stating who was in charge. It was a priesthood assignment line, directing the fewer than 10 active males (including the 2 male missionaries) who would be in charge of branch operations in the common case that only 2 or 3 priesthood holders were in attendance on a Sunday.

Prior to our branch being assigned missionaries, I attended one meeting where no males over the age of 8 were present. This meant that we officially could not have a sacrament meeting, because we couldn’t partake of the sacrament because there was no priesthood there to perform that ordinance.

I think an issue in arguing for women to have the priesthood is that most seem to argue for equality. Women want to bless their children. Women want to baptise their children. While this is a righteous desire, I think this is what initially created apathy for me in regard to women and priesthood keys. I don’t have children, so the ability to have priesthood keys for use within motherhood didn’t have a practical application in my life. If the reason women were given priesthood keys was only to bless their own children, then I wouldn’t be ordained.  In this argument, I could only comprehend priesthood keys being bestowed on mothers, which would leave me without keys and retain my second-class, non-priesthood keys status.  This did not make me an advocate (nor did it make me the opposition) for women and priesthood keys.

Until this branch. Because right now, in my tiny branch—men are absent. We don’t just want the keys because we want to bless children, we need the keys so we can take the sacrament. I wanted to partake worthily of the sacrament, but no one was there to perform the sacramental ordinance for me. It was then that women with priesthood keys became a need for me. This practical argument in support of women and priesthood keys is persuasive enough to me that it simply makes sense to encourage women to be ordained. Because we need to be able to perform ordinances.

Herein lies an argument that in the absence of worthy males, women need to be able to perform ordinances. But in following the argument that women should only be given priesthood keys when men are absent, we run into an issue with the church as an international organization. Consider women in World War II Germany, when all males above the age of 12 were conscribed for defence service. The women in these branches were given priesthood keys for the term of the absence of males, and when men returned, the keys were removed from the women (see Women of Covenant). In a quiet conversation I had today in the temple baptistery, the male ordinance worker suggested that this was because in World War II, people thought the second coming was at hand. So the world was in enough crisis to give women priesthood keys. In that one area. Temporarily.   

Does this mean that it needs to be a national or global crisis of apocalyptic appearance in order to allow women priesthood? What about in the region I live in? Why must we be denied the sacrament because the national and church governments are NOT in crisis? And…if the women in my branch are given priesthood keys so we can take the sacrament, what about the worthy women live in Salt Lake City who should be able to perform ordinances because of their righteousness? What about the single mother in California or Spain or Argentina who has a desperately sick child? What about the new widow in Japan who begs her visiting teacher for a Mother’s blessing to see through the current crisis going on there?

My apathy in regard to women and the priesthood is cured in consideration of the church as a global organization. There are women in the church today who NEED the priesthood so they can perform and take part in ordinances and make it possible for others to partake in ordinance work. This isn’t a want. This isn’t even about equality or authority. This is a requirement in order to do the Lord’s work. It is a need.

Just like today. I went to the temple to begin work for some of my female ancestors. My branch is twelve hours’ drive from the nearest temple. We don’t have an assigned “temple night” wherein we regularly attend, much less supply priesthood. Months ago, I made an appointment to tag in with a youth from another ward on a Saturday. I planned. I booked in. I travelled. But this ward youth group didn’t show. No one called, even though they had my number and the temple had my number. So I sat. In the baptistery. With one male, and 3 female ordinance workers. And I watched the sisters store the clothes and towels. One sister mopped the floor. Then they closed the baptistery. Because there wasn’t enough priesthood. So I could not do the work. 

My tears are not equivalent to eternal ordinance work.  I need priesthood keys.


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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41 Responses

  1. Amira says:

    I am so sorry about what happened at the temple today. Words fail. I’ve lived very far from the temple for long periods of time and I can only imagine how it would feel if I finally got there but couldn’t do anything because there weren’t enough priesthood holders around.

    My experience is a little different than yours, because I am married to a priesthood holder, so even though we don’t have a branch to attend, we can still have the sacrament. But my husband is not allowed to perform that ordinance for the women living around us- a foreigner isn’t allowed to it for them. If only they could bless the sacrament themselves, or give each other blessings. They don’t even dream of going to the temple. So many women are in the same situation around the world.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    This is so beautifully written, Spunky, so honest and from the heart. Thank you for sharing your plea and frustration. I hope you don’t mind if I share it. I think people need to hear this.

  3. Caroline says:

    Spunky, thank you, thank you for this perspective. This so needs to be heard.

    My arguments for women’s ordination tend to center around equality. To me it seems like the good and righteous thing to include all worthy members in the hierarchy of the church, give them all a chance to administer and minister in a ward and more general setting.

    Your argument and experience is incredibly powerful as well, and so different than what most of us in the Western US experience. (My ward is crawling with active worthy men, but it still makes me shudder when I think of only men in all these meetings deciding the direction of our ward without the input of a single woman.) You do indeed need priesthood. It’s unconscionable that you and other branch members can’t perform ordinances because there aren’t enough men around.

    I think it’s stories like yours which will ultimately make our leaders rethink an exclusive male priesthood.

  4. Keri Brooks says:

    What a beautifully written post, Spunky. Thanks for sharing. I had never thought about it this way before. (I had always thought of it in terms of equality.)

    If women were ordained to the priesthood, the number of priesthood holders on earth would more than double. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have twice the priesthood power available to bless God’s children?

    • spunky says:

      I agree, Carloine and Keri- that there is a desire for equality- I certainly have always had that. I just cooled to it when all of the feminist arguments for this seemed based in maternal care… because that didn’t speak to me. But it has become more and more real to me that we NEED the keys so we can do the work. I guess I didn’t write it well enough- but my feeling is that the need for women to have ordiantion is greater than equality… it is necessary so we can do the work that we are commanded to do.

      It would have been beautiful for those sisters and I to do the work in the temple, even using the one male there as a proxy to do more work. Having the priesthood is greater than equality- it is divine and enables us to do celestial work. I also try to think in temrs that would appeal to the prophets to make changes. I think that the prophets would respond to the need to further the progression of celestial work more than they respond to the term “equality”, hence my new perspective.

  5. Gail K says:

    Very good article. This needs to be forwarded to the TOP 15!!!

  6. Ben S says:

    Very interesting post. I’ve not been in a small branch like that since, well, never I guess. My French branches all had a few adult men, at least.

    “The women in these branches were given priesthood keys for the term of the absence of males, and when men returned, the keys were removed from the women (see Women of Covenant).”

    Is this the right source? I opened mine up to the WWII chapter, “Sisterhood and Service in a World at War, 1940-1945” but didn’t see anything about keys or sacrament. I’m interested in reading more…

  7. Allen says:

    Interesting post; thanks.

    I’m interested in further information about the experience of sisters during WWII. You reference a story about priesthood keys being given to sisters, and cite Women of Covenant. I couldn’t find the story in there, so I wondered if you could provide a page reference I could look up.

    • spunky says:

      I am not at home and I won’t be home for a week or so, so don’t have the book at hand and was going off of memory. It may not be in WoC, but it would be in a similar history. To be honest, it could have been from the LDS Women’s Treasury or a presentation or article from an MHA conference or associated Journal of Mormon history article. I do my best to find it when I get back to my personal library, unless anyone else has the reference at hand?

      • spunky says:

        I am home and did some checking on the reference. I was wrong (I apologise), the quote is not from Women of Covenant. It is from an unpublished paper and following discussion at the Mormon History Association Conference in 2007, and was more along the lines that as a result of there being no men in one group of church members, the women blessed the sacrament for themselves. Sorry for the reference and content error, but the point is still clear: do all men need to be dead or assumed dead before women will be allowed to bless the sacrament?

  8. Katrina says:

    Absolutely fabulous post! I have never heard this argument before and it is fantastic. I seriously think that you need to send a version of this to the First Presidency. You are right in an earlier comment that this kind of argument would go much further than just the typical equality appeal. (Not that that isn’t also important.) I love this: “Having the priesthood is greater than equality- it is divine and enables us to do celestial work.”

  9. nat kelly says:

    Wow, Spunky, you’re on fire here. This is fantastic.

    I remember, not too long ago, that it was really, really out there for folks, even open feminists, to declare that they wanted female ordination. It was the best way to tag yourself instantly as a radical. But things feel different now. So many women now are just standing up and stating the facts – we want equality. It’s time. We are not happy with the present situation.

    You give excellent examples of how the current system is failing.

    I’m really excited about where we are all headed.

  10. Anna says:

    Pardon me for posting, but a friend sent me your link. I can see that you (and many of the other commenters) are struggling with this doctrine and it seems that you do not have a full comprehension of the nature and purpose of the priesthood.

    I was especially struck by your last statement, “I need priesthood keys”. The priesthood is given to men as an opportunity and a duty to serve, not because they need it to bless their lives and make them a little easier. A man may hold the priesthood, but he will never be able to lay his hands on his own head and give himself a blessing, he must ask someone else to do it for him. Thus, a man can never use the priesthood for himself. To bring this into perspective: if a man had shown up at the temple just as you did and there was only 1 other man, he would not have been able to do any baptisms as you still need 3 men (2 witnesses and 1 baptist). Thus, it would be wrong for any man to say he needs the priesthood as God will ultimately decide what His church needs and who is best to help fulfill those needs.

    Additionally, you bring in the words “priesthood keys”. It seems that you either simply do not understand the structure of the church or you are seeking a leadership position in the church, because very few men hold any “keys”. Only four men in an entire ward will ever hold priesthood keys at the same time: the bishop and the quorum presidents (deacons, teachers, and elders). These keys are not additional priesthood, they are the right to direct the use of the priesthood power.

    On a more personal note, I like to think of it this way: the priesthood is a responsibility and a duty, providing more opportunities for men to get out and serve. The women of the church have an outright talent for organization and for serving the families in the ward and community, they don’t need to hold the priesthood to do it, nor do they need the additional responsibilities that would come from holding the priesthood. As the second counselor in the YW presidency in my ward, a visiting teacher, and the wife of the Gospel Doctrine teacher, I already have my hands full!

    I know that that this is the Lord’s church and He is guiding and directing it and as long as we keep the faith and strive to follow the Spirit, we will be blessed with wisdom and understanding. I hope that you are able to feel the love of our Savior in your life and that you receive the answers you are looking for.

    • Spunky says:

      Thank you for commenting. There is no need for pardon, all are welcome here. However, if you post is real, I don’t think you have comprehension of my issue. Think about it this way: In Doctrine and Covenants 101: 81-101, the saints are commanded to demand compensation because they were not allowed to worship and do the Lord’s work. I am not asking for any more than that. I think women have every right to be able to perform ordinances in order for the work of the Lord to be fulfilled. Imagine how much more temple work could be accomplished if women were ordained!

      “The priesthood is given to men as an opportunity and a duty to serve, not because they need it to bless their lives and make them a little easier.”

      And I was forbidden from serving because there weren’t enough righteous men at the temple, though the temple was full of women. I was forbidden of the sacrament because there weren’t enough men. If there are no men to perfume necessary ordinances, what am I to do? I do not think you understand what it is like to attend a sacrament meeting where there are no men, so we can’t have the sacrament.

      “Thus, a man can never use the priesthood for himself. To bring this into perspective: if a man had shown up at the temple just as you did and there was only 1 other man, he would not have been able to do any baptisms as you still need 3 men (2 witnesses and 1 baptist).”

      I see that. But do you not see the irony- there were 4 worthy temple-recommend holding women there, and one worthy man. If the women had the priesthood, then we could have performed the ordinances. This isn’t about self-service, this is about doing necessary, commanded ordinance work. Have you ever been in a temple prayer circle where there was only 1 man, (who offered the prayer?) I have. In that case, women take the place of men in the circle. I have been there and done that at the Las Vegas temple. I see no reason why women can’t step in and use priesthood so other ordinance work can be done as well. I am not trying to bless myself. I am trying to do the work that has been commanded.

      “Additionally, you bring in the words “priesthood keys”. It seems that you either simply do not understand the structure of the church or you are seeking a leadership position in the church, because very few men hold any “keys”.”

      I don’t think you understand priesthood vs. priesthood keys. But that is another discussion.

      “On a more personal note, I like to think of it this way: the priesthood is a responsibility and a duty, providing more opportunities for men to get out and serve. The women of the church have an outright talent for organization and for serving the families in the ward and community, they don’t need to hold the priesthood to do it, nor do they need the additional responsibilities that would come from holding the priesthood. As the second counselor in the YW presidency in my ward, a visiting teacher, and the wife of the Gospel Doctrine teacher, I already have my hands full!”

      I glad that you have been blessed with the talent for organization, but don’t assign that one to me! That is not one of my talents. I am also very sorry for you that your husband had to be assigned priesthood in order to serve and that you are so exhausted in carrying the service load on your own because he won’t help you. I sincerely am. I hope your husband improves, and learns how to serve without being assigned to do it. I wish you good luck in that endeavor.

  11. Todd says:

    I feel sorry for you in your struggle and admire your courage for speaking up. Unfortunately you will never find equality in the LDS church. It has too many misogynistic teachings in the bible, and by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It’s not worth the fight. Anna’s comment sums up the problem with the church. If there is a problem at church, it is never the church’s fault, you are told that it is YOUR problem and YOU don’t understand. It may happen in 200 years but until then I would enjoy your life and experience equality outside of the church. Your intellect and talent are much better spent elsewhere.

  12. Kay G says:

    Spunky, thank you for your wise and insightful insights on this issue. I wish church leaders and members would understand that many of our practices are products of another era, but I’m afraid I agree with Todd that Mormon leaders and members are smugly content that priesthood for men is God’s way (just like slavery, no priesthood for blacks, and greater subjugation of women in former eras was God’s way).

  13. Corktree says:

    Great post Spunky!

    I actually think this is a VERY important reason to remove the obstacle for women officiating in the priesthood. The more I think about it lately, the more I view the priesthood itself as something that we have given our own spin on, and not inherently restrictive to one gender in any way. It just makes so sense and I think we will one day view the very nature of what we call the Priesthood very differently, and it will be a no brainer that it is available to all to use.

  14. mmiles says:

    Great post. It has been my feeling for a long time that if there will be a catalyst to ordaining women, it is the one you described–and globally, it’s a very big issue.

  15. Jenni says:

    I appreciate this thoughtful post.
    I have never felt the desire for the priesthood for women until just now when I read this. Your points in particular about not having men around to do the ordinances is very valid. While women DO do some ordinances in the temple (in the initiatories), they don’t do them anywhere else. How lovely would it have been to have been in the circle blessing my babies, or to have been the witness when my husband baptized our oldest son. (I have no desire to shut out the men, just to be part of things, you know? But it sounds like that’s the same as what you are saying.)

    I do want to share some thoughts about “Mother’s blessings.” I think we can do those already. We may not use the priesthood to do them, but the priesthood is just a tool–we can call on the power of Heaven and bless and heal without the priesthood. Think of an infant crying, and calming immediately when his mother picks him up. Think of the sick person in the hospital who is cheered up by having a visitor hold their hand and talk with them. The ‘laying on of hands’ is so much broader than just priesthood blessings. The ‘calming touch’ of a parent or ‘healing touch’ of a gentle care provider are real things. And they do not require the priesthood. They just require desire and intention. When my child is upset, I hold him. When he is sick, I put my hand on his back and send vibes of warmth/health/calmness/etc into him. I pray for him. I call down the power of Heaven upon him. I don’t need the priesthood for any of that 🙂

  16. CatherineAgnes says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post that so poignantly illustrates the trouble with a male-only priesthood.

  17. Emily says:

    I agree with Anna. She might not expressed herself as well as she meant to, but I do believe she understands exactly what you’re trying to say. Priesthood is a special and specific calling given to men only, for many reasons – one being that women already have a number of special and specific callings. Yes, there is work to do, and God has already set down who is to do what.

    God organized the church this way for a purpose, and He certainly has provisions for when individual circumstances preclude fulfillment of certain ordinances. No woman or individual will be held accountable for not performing an ordinance they weren’t authorized to do, nor will they be held accountable for not having access to an ordinance. Just as people who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel in life will not be penalized for not having the information, women and children will not be penalized for not taking the sacrament when there was no worthy man to administer it.

    The work will all get accomplished, either here or in the Millennium, and it’s not our place to say how it gets done. It’s God’s place, and He already said how He wants it done; it’s only up to us to do it.

    • Corktree says:

      Emily, I would just like to point out that God has NOT said how S/He wants it done. At least not in regards to priesthood being restricted to men.

      • Emily says:

        Sorry, I’m not generally interested in a scripture chase, but I did want to point out that it is written both in the New Testament and in modern-day revelation that men, specifically, are to take on the priesthood. (Hebrews 7:5; LDS Basic Manual for Women

      • Caroline says:

        My take on male only priesthood is that it’s a current policy, but not a doctrine. Women officiated as priests/apostles/deaconesses in the first few hundred years of Christianity. That became phased out as the church moved from private spheres to public spheres (which culture prescribed as inappropriate for women).

        As for the Mormon church, it was restored in a time when culturally only men held priesthood office. This cultural context is something that Spunky is referring to in her following comment. It’s a testament to institutional inertia that priesthood hasn’t been extended to women (and black men) sooner. The Church is like an ocean liner and it takes a long long time to turn it. I believe it will be turned someday, however. The vast and visionary message of Christ is inclusion and incorporation of all into God’s tent — and I think that means men and women having equal chances to grow and contribute through the use of priesthood.

        The best thing that current church leaders can say about the topic is that they don’t know why women don’t have priesthood. (I think Pres. Hinckley used to say that.) I think that’s much more honest than coming up with reasons to justify the practice.

    • spunky says:

      I disagree wth your conclusions in regard to women, and the references you you are not finate. Especially the painful LDS Basic Manuel for Women. 100 years ago similar church material would have up doing nursing training and say it is our obligation to grow fruit trees… and those not doing it would be responsible if their children starved. So- do you suggest we antiquated advice blindly? Have you completed nursing training? Do you have fruit trees? If you are barren, like Sarah- are you okay to have your husband go and sleep with Hagar because modern adoption and so forth should be discounted because it isn’t in the Old Testament? Did your husband purchase you with a dowry? If not, have you been excommunicated because you refuse to do everything old-testament style?

    • spunky says:

      Beautiful, Caroline, thank you.

  18. Emily says:

    Caroline – as I quoted above, it expressly states in the NT that only men are to serve in the priesthood. That’s Christ’s direct revelation for church organization. That women served in priesthood roles in the years after the apostles died is no surprise, as that era marked the beginning of the Apostasy. Most, if not all, of the original organization of Christ’s church and His teachings were lost during that time. That women were again precluded from holding the priesthood again after the 4th Century (I assume by the Nicene Counsel?) may indeed have been culture-specific, but still does not contradict Christ’s original organization. And the LDS church is organized according to Christ’s church as set out by the Bible and Christ Himself, so I would hardly call that merely a “modern policy.”

    Spunky – I’ve read the LDS Basic Manual for Women, including the chapters you’re referencing. I won’t argue you point-for-point, but I will say that your comments simply reinforce my impression that you do not have a full understanding of the doctrine of the priesthood, nor do you understand the rights and abilities of women in the church.

    I do appreciate your position, being without worthy priesthood holders. It may not do any good to say I’ve been in the same position before in my life, but I have, and I still have a strong testimony of the truthfulness and power of the priesthood as God defines it. Thanks for something to think about. Good luck!

    • Caroline says:

      Emily, The New Testament showcases women who were apostles and deacons (Phoebe and Junia) during the time of Paul. See Romans 16:1-2 and Romans 16:7. Paul has no problem with these women and their offices. Would you claim that the Christian church in 60 AD was already in apostasy, and Paul along with it?

      I’m confused about your reference to Hebrews 7:5. Many translations of the bible talk about priesthood belonging to the “descendants of Levi.” How does that exclude women, and why does it have anything to do with us now? Mormon men don’t have to be the descendants of Levi to hold priesthood. That was an Old Testament idea.

      I look at women’s priesthood ban the same way I look at black men’s priesthood ban. It was a product of a certain time and culture, and it’s policy. What makes you think that it’s doctrine and unchangeable? Do you consider the black men’s priesthood ban as doctrinal, and does the fact that it changed make you question whether doctrine can change? (Personally, I think doctrine has changed in the LDS church…. but we don’t like to talk about that.)

    • Corktree says:

      Emily, I would be interested in hearing how *you* define the priesthood. I have yet to read or hear of a satisfactory answer that tells us why it is something that should be restrictive in practice. And from your understanding of the scripture that you quote, I’m not altogether getting the impression that you have a full understanding of the doctrine of the priesthood either. But I would really like to hear how you view it more specifically.

  19. Alisa says:

    I’m sorry for this terribly frustrating situation, Spunky. I think you raise such a good point. A lot of people think women’s ordination would be completely unnecessary. Out in much of the world, it really is. A certain % of Priesthood holders are required to form wards, etc. If women could serve and be counted, it would help the Church grow. Missionary work is a duty of the Priesthood, but they’ve granted this opportunity to both single women and married couples. I’ve been in certain parts of the endowment ceremony where not enough men or women were present, so members of one sex stood in for another. Seems like there should be a way of getting there. Even if women could be witnesses in more parts of the temple, such as sealings and baptisms, that would ease the burden for men so much.

  20. O says:

    I would LOVE to read Women of Covenant. Is there a place online to read it? I looked at Deseret Book online and it said it wasn’t available. Amazon has it for $31 used, or the Kindle version for $20. Does anyone have the kindle version that they could send to me? Does Deseret carry it in the stores? Is it even in print anymore?

    • Caroline says:

      Hi O,
      I noticed on Amazon there is a hard back copy of Women of Covenant available for $12.54. Not cheap, but it is a great resource….

  21. Melissa says:

    There are a lot of arguments out there for why women should have the priesthood. And admittedly there isn’t an answer that can satisfy everyone for why things are the way they are. I do know that this church is led by a prophet who speaks with the Lord and is doing what the Lord would want. I would never say that I know how things should be better than him. With the testimony of a living prophet I can put my questions aside on this matter and trust that things are as they should be. It can’t be argued that I follow “blindly” because that would only be the case if I didn’t know that Christ was directing this church himself through his prophet. I’m sure that in time, maybe not in this life, I’ll gain a better understanding of why males are the only ones ordained to the priesthood. For now I’ll just be content with what I have been given.

  22. Julie says:

    Today I was feeding my 18 month old toddler a a slice of bread, and though I broke it into bites and only gave her a part, she stuffed it in until she was choking and couldn’t close her mouth all the way and then made a huge fuss for the other half of the bread though she still had several pieces in front of her and hadn’t actually eaten any.

  1. March 20, 2011

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  4. May 22, 2014

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  5. January 23, 2016

    […] This is one of the first posts I did after I became a perma. Though I am no longer living in that rural area, I have not forgotten the lessons I learned there. With the many recent posts in support of women’s ordination, I thought I would pull it out of the archives to ensure my voice was not forgotten. The original post and comments are here. […]

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