Thursday, May 3, 2012

Feeding Sheep at Women's Conference

You might think I want to blog about the BYU Women’s Conference, but you’d be wrong. Our stake in Southeastern Michigan just held its annual women’s conference, and that’s my subject.

Now you might wonder why I would blog about a women’s conference. I had only a very tiny bit to do with this one. I did not present (though I did, with my wife, two years ago), but my lovely wife is in our stake Relief Society presidency, and she helped to plan and execute it. And she conscripted me to set up and take down tables and chairs…

But she and my daughter also told me about what went on there, and it was awesome.

Since I am not a woman, I do not know first-hand what kind of talk there is around here about what perfect women are supposed to be like, but I do hear that there is that kind of talk around Mormon culture. And there seems to be plenty of guilt among really good sisters because they somehow don’t match the perfect image. Hopefully those who attended our stake’s women’s conference left with a more realistic view of things.

The theme of the conference was the spirit of faith. And throughout the conference there were stories of faith – not stories of horror turning to gold or happily-ever-afters at the end of the rainbow, but real, gritty, in-your-face stories of how normal women work day-by-day to exercise faith to put one foot in front of another and keep moving toward honoring covenants in the face of adversity, rearing children in imperfect families, coping with difficult choices in life, and generally trying to do good things.

One of the activities that moved my daughter was the program over lunch. Certain sisters were invited to consider a particular statue from the Nauvoo Women’s monument, to write a brief essay describing the significance of that particular statue, and to re-enact the statue while a narrator read her essay. (My daughter was one of the narrators.) What could have been a rather pedestrian “here’s what the statue means to me” exercise turned out to be filled with personal stories of faith as sisters described their connections to one of the monuments or another. The sisters did not choose their subject; they were assigned. And still, each had a personal connection, a personal experience, a personal story to tell which allowed the spirit of shared experience to permeate the program.

As is common in women’s conferences, sisters could choose from a variety of workshops where they learned about subjects ranging from teaching faith in the family to learning faith in the temple, from studying faithful women from the scriptures to learning about offering help vs. co-dependence.

I wondered aloud to my wife why the sisters had such a conference and the men do not. My wife pointed out that she did not know why men did not have such a conference, but that the Relief Society program has long provided for such conferences at the stake or local level. (I found myself wondering if men would show up.)

My wife (who sat on the stand for the opening session of the conference) said as she watched sisters stream into the chapel (about 200 sisters attended), it occurred to her that each one came with a particular need to be filled; each one came to be fed spiritually. And my wife hoped that what they had prepared would fill that need. That is surely at least one reason why this particular conference was a success, because those who planned it prayerfully considered the needs of those who would attend and sought to feed them as the Savior taught Peter to feed His sheep.

It occurred to me that I could do better at adopting that attitude in my church service. I could do a better job of feeding my home teaching families, the classes I teach, and, of course, my own family.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful conference. Our stake just had one too. In 2005 I was privileged to present at BYU's Womens Conference. Most awesome experience I'd ever had and I'd do it again without hesitation. From 1995 to 1999 I was first counselor in a Stake RS Presidency and put on Womens Conferences. Much prayer and preparation goes into them. Men don't have conferences probably because they don't worry about improving themselves the way women do.

  2. Rozy Lass: "Men don't have conferences probably because they don't worry about improving themselves the way women do."


  3. Are you gonna let that slide with merely an "ouch" response? *shaking head*

  4. MMM, I'm trying to be charitable. And I wanted to see if RL would follow up with a smiley face emoticon to indicate that she was really kidding us...

    If I assume the best, I might RL meant to say that men do not have the same issues with feeling inadequate that some sisters do, so they might not be as motivated to self-improvement. I'm sure that's true for some. And I suspect a less charitable reading -- that some men just don't see that they need to do anything to improve themselves -- is also true for some.

    RL, in reality I think there are several reasons men don't have these conferences:

    1. In General PH meeting, Stake PH meeting, PH Leadership meetings, etc, men get lots of counsel about what they should be doing better. Some of that counsel is mixed with doctrinal discussion, but a lot of it is counsel to change behavior (or encourage certain behavior).

    2. Men are away from home a lot -- working, attending other church meetings, etc. If there were an "optional" meeting for men, I suspect there would be concerns about taking themn out of the home yet again, for something that is voluntary.

    3. The RS program (and handbook) allwos for an annual conference to replace one of the monthly additional meetings (what once were called "enrichment" or "homemaking" meetings). The local (that is, stake) women's conference is a nice parallel to the General Women's meeting that only happens once a year (compared with General PH meeting which happens twice).

    In any case, conferences or not, I'm man enough to admit (regularly on this blog, in fact) that I don't have it all figured out.

  5. Sorry for the ouch! Truly didn't mean it offensively. Men think differently than women--men want to improve but do it privately or through already established meetings. They don't think about getting together with the guys like women do. When men get together it is generally to serve (work project) or relax (ball game). I really like both of you and didn't mean to offend. Mea Culpa!

  6. This post really got my thoughts going. The trigger thoughts were - "about what perfect women are supposed to be like" and "why do women have such a conference and men do not".
    I really liked your focus of the post that the conference was focused on the one and feeding them spiritually.
    As I thought about all those things together one of my favorite quotes from the scriptures came to mind, "in the strength of the Lord" I can do all things.
    I'm not quite sure how to share my jumbled thoughts I had yesterday, but today as I read a past conference talk they all came together in words from Sheri Dew "we are not panicked about perfection, but we are working to become more pure. And we know that in the strength of the Lord we can do all righteous things because we have immersed ourselves in His gospel" . (1999 Oct Conf, We are Women of God).
    In her talk she also mentions how men are called to the priesthood and women are called to womanhood and this may answer in part why we have conferences, women gather, it is part of our nature and if we are to gather together it might as well be to nurture and strengthen one another.

    I thank you for this post that spurred these thoughts on and caused me to go back and read that wonderful talk by Sister Dew.

  7. RL, sounds like I was reading you right. :-) I figured you're too nice to hurt my feelings on purpose...

    Jenni, thanks for reading, and for sharing the quote from Sister Dew. I can't speak to the priesthood/wommanhood question, but I do certainly observe differences between my view of the world and my lovely wife's. (For instance, she is always right.)

    I think the notion that we do things "in the strength of the Lord" applies equally to men and women, and is at the core of the gospel.