By JESSICA GLEASON and DEON YOUD
Six months after President Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement in October General Conference, that “we do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program,” the statement has meant different things to women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Hinckley’s talk reported in the November 1997 Ensign said, “Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men (to serve a full-time mission),” in the October 1997 Priesthood session.
Emily Carpenter, a senior from New Canaan, Conn., has been back from her mission in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for two and a half years.
Carpenter said she felt no pressure to serve a mission. “The Church and the gospel meant so much to me that I just wanted to share, and it wasn’t really a conscious decision.”
Carpenter said, “I would never be in a position to try and persuade someone to go or not to go, but rather just to go on how they feel about it.”
According to Chelsey Penrod, 19, a freshman from Rexburg, Idaho, though, there is a lot of pressure on women at BYU to serve missions.
Penrod said that the attitude she perceives at BYU is that “if you’re 21 and not married and not seeing anyone, you’re kind of over the hill, and there’s nothing else for you to do but go on a mission.”
Penrod appreciated what President Hinckley said, because it relieved some of that pressure on women who may not want to go.
While missions are important, Penrod also said, “It’s important for young women to get their education, and I think that that would, for me, come before a mission.”
“Again to the sisters I say,” President Hinckley said, “that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.”
That message has not discouraged women who felt that a mission was right for them from considering full-time service.
Michelle Stockman, a junior from Rochester, N.Y., is leaving for her France, Bordeaux mission on June 3.
She made the decision to serve a mission, she said, because, “I’ve prayed about it, and I know this is what I need to do and where I need to go.” She learned the joy of sharing the gospel when she served a mini-mission in high school.
Stockman said that since President Hinckley’s address, she has felt more pressure not to go than to go. Stockman said that people tell her now, “Really, you don’t need to go. President Hinckley said you don’t need to go.”
But Stockman said, “I know this is my decision and I’m very fine with it. By making the decision myself, I know I’ve made the right decision.”