Women’s Conference: Loving, strengthening others in the 21st century

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Thousands of Latter-day Saint women gathered at Brigham Young University for the annual Women’s Conference on May 3 and 4. The two-day session’s overarching theme was loving and strengthening others in the Lord.

Savannah Hopkinson
Women gather on BYU campus for Women’s Conference May 3 and 4, 2018. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The entire BYU campus teemed with life. Bright flowers pushed out of the earth and women, young and old, embraced one another as they walked around BYU grounds from speaker to speaker.

The speakers catered to a 21st-century audience as they spoke about pertinent topics like utilizing social media for good, loving the LGBT community, realities of mental illness, blooming after sexual assault and Christlike ministry.

Ministering

BYU President Kevin J Worthen opened Thursday’s session by encouraging attendees to practice inspired ministering.

“The Lord has efficiently and effectively — though not always obviously — been preparing us to be able to strengthen one another,” President Worthen said.

Citing the new policy of ministering announced last month at LDS General Conference, President Worthen said a good way to describe ministering is strengthening one another.

President Worthen said church members should not be overly concerned over whether or not a specific action counts as ministering. Instead, members should see their efforts to minister, whatever that may be, as a goal.

“We will be more constant, more efficient and more effective in our efforts if we understand the full purpose, the ultimate aim, of our ministering efforts,” he said.

According to President Worthen, the goal of ministering is ultimately showing love. The process of showing that love is based on one’s own discernment. Loving intent is the most important part.

Savannah Hopkinson
BYU President Kevin J Worthen encouraged Women’s Conference attendees to “strengthen one another in the Lord.” (Savannah Hopkinson)

“As we love our fellow beings more, we will naturally want to minister to them,” President Worthen said.

The General Relief Society Presidency also talked about ministering.

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor of the presidency, quoted President Russell M. Nelson, who called the new ministering program “a higher and holier way to minister” — something she said can be accomplished by “cherishing, watching over, comforting and learning from one another.”

This year’s Women Conference theme, “Strengthening One Another in the Lord” is the perfect way to describe this, she added.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor, said higher and holier ministering means ministering regardless of differences.

The instinct to judge, compare and compete can be replaced with compassion and charity.  This is a culture in the church that can be changed by the members, Sister Aburto said.

Sister Aburto also said the key to effective ministering is being a genuine friend to others, something anyone can do regardless of his or her testimony and personal situation.

“Ministering isn’t so much what you do — but what you feel, and how that person feels,” she said.

Carley Porter.
From left: Sister Sharon Eubank, Sister Reyna I. Aburto and Sandra Rogers sit on the stand during the closing session of Women’s Conference on May 3, 2018. Sister Eubank and Sister Aburto from the Relief Society General Presidency addressed the women. (Carley Porter)

Young Women General President Sister Bonnie L. Cordon echoed this idea in an earlier session when she said lifting those who suffer and responding to the Spirit is better than just delivering cookies. She invited sisters to ask themselves, “If not now, when? If not you, who?”

In a later session, writer and professional speaker Brooke Romney spoke about ministering through social media.

Romney said anyone can minister effectively through social media and stressed even the smallest influence can make a difference.

“I’m not a scholar, a teacher, and I’ve never been a missionary, but the Lord has trusted me to spread his gospel,” Romney said.

Effective social media influence is best done through simple messages, Romney reminded attendees. Reaching large numbers of people isn’t more important than reaching one.

“Stop scrolling, and make more deliberate decisions with your social media time,” Romney said.

Christlike love

During the closing session of Women’s Conference, Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Sister Susan L. Gong tied everything together by emphasizing Christ’s love.

Sister Gong said Christ shows his children love through using discernment, showing compassion and succoring others.

“When we have compassion — truth empathy — something wondrous happens,” Sister Gong said. “We begin to know how to help.”

Savannah Hopkinson
Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Sister Susan L. Gong address BYU Women’s Conference attendees about covenants and loving as Christ loves. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Elder Gong followed the same theme as his wife. He said strengthening others in the Lord connects people to God, which allows them to turn around and love their brothers and sisters in the same fashion as their Heavenly Father.

“By divine covenant, we belong to God and to each other,” Elder Gong said, clarifying that belonging to God is not an act of possession. Belonging to God is liberating because it allows for loving others deeply through strengthening one another in the Lord.

Other speakers at Women’s Conference also made it clear that Christlike love doesn’t exclude anyone. It applies to all.

During one session, Anne Cox emphasized the importance of creating a safe space in the church for anyone who identifies as LGBT.

Cox said ministering to the LGBT community shouldn’t be done with the intent of them returning to church, rather, “love and accept them for being gay because it is not a choice; don’t bash gay people or allow your children to do so.”

Another session focused on helping families learn to provide loving and unconditional support for their early return missionaries.

LDS family therapist Linda Wilson said missionaries who come home early often struggle with feelings of guilt and shame as they face the world, their family and themselves.

Wilson said it is essential to remember early returned missionaries are not failures, and the family is instrumental is making sure their child knows this.

“We need to create a climate of acceptance, healing and hope.” Wilson said.

In another session, BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine directed her remarks to survivors of sexual assault and extending Christlike love to them as well.

“Recovery begins with understanding and accepting that this was not your fault,” she said.

Valentine said Christ laid down his life to provide healing, but Christ also understands if anyone is struggling with their faith after being a victim of sexual abuse.

But there is always hope.

“No matter how long the winter is or how cold it is, the crocus always blooms,” Valentine said. “I tell my patients that is my goal for them: that they will find a way to bloom even after this very difficult experience that they have faced.”

Showing Christlike love for all God’s children stems from the conference’s theme of strengthening others, something Andrea Ryser summed up in a morning session on May 3.

“It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ to turn away from those who believe differently from us, it’s the natural man inside of us,” Andrea Ryser said. “We are children of God, and our fellow beings in and out of the church are our actual brothers and sisters.”

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