The Potential of Priestesshood
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.