I’m currently the second counselor in my ward’s YW presidency, and so when we recently had a temple baptisms night and the temple staff asked for us to provide 6 adult volunteers—3 men and 3 women—to accompany the youth, I agreed to go. I find the initiatory and endowment difficult, but I usually enjoy baptisms for the dead, and I always enjoy spending time with the young women of my ward, who are bright, inquisitive, funny, kind, and exploring their lives with faith and verve.
When I arrived that evening, one of the temple works overseeing the baptisms warmly welcomed me, telling me how glad she was I had come. They really needed all three women volunteers, she said, and she had been worried they wouldn’t have enough. She then gave me my instructions: stand in the hallway to show the YM to the confirmation rooms after their baptisms, so they wouldn’t wander off and get lost. For the next hour, I stood in the hallway and pointed to the confirmation rooms that were fully visible, six or seven feet away, from the door of the baptistry. In that hour, my pointing skills were needed precisely twice; most of the YM had started with confirmations or had completed their baptisms before I arrived. At one point I asked a passing temple worker whether there was anything else I could do. Oh no, he told me, your job there is far too important to leave. And so I kept standing there, alone, waiting for my next chance to point a teenager towards a clearly labeled, visible, and open door.
That evening at the temple felt symbolic as I lived it: I want to serve, to give my time and talents to the church I’m trying to love. I want to come to God with who I am; I want to lay my self and my abilities on the altar of sacrifice, and see what part I can play in building the kingdom of God. But far too often, when I do, that kingdom shakes my hand, greets me, tells me warmly that they are glad I have come, that I am valuable, that it is important for me to be there, and then asks me only to stand and wait.
And so, I heard Elder Nelson’s talk with mixed feelings. I’m a married-but-childless woman with a managerial career, and so it’s not often that I hear that people like me are even wanted at church, not to mention needed; mostly I hear my choices held up as worldly mistakes, the archetypical temptations of misguided women, and my life regarded as a selfish waste. I heard Elder Nelson’s repeat of Elder Packer’s call for women with executive ability with gratitude, an acknowledgement of women like me and a nice change from the rhetoric that recognizes women only for their sweet, angelic mothering. I’m glad Elder Nelson mentioned other skills as well, acknowledging from the pulpit that women have brains and spirits and hearts as well as bodies, and that we can bring the church a full human range of abilities—managing, teaching, nurturing, organizing, strategizing, listening, talking, administering, and ministering. It felt like the warm welcome of the kind sister at the temple, and it’s a wonderful, if small, step forward.
But that nice feeling by itself fades rapidly, and faith without works is dead. After a repeated apostolic call for women with executive ability, will the Church make more space for them to use those abilities in service of the kingdom, or will they be asked to show up to stand in hallways or pass out towels? After a call for women to speak up, will we take their voices seriously, or will we smile and jokingly remind them not to talk too much? After a call for married women to be contributing and full partners with their husbands, will we grant them their own personhood and choices and histories, or will we automatically change their names on church records and ask them to hearken and call their husbands to be apostles without inviting them to join the conversation?
As for me, I went to the temple to help with baptisms again just a few weeks ago, and, after my ward group was gently chided for providing only two adult women to help, and after standing in the hallway for a while again, I eventually got to hand out towels. I’m trying to exercise patience and humility, to offer my presence in holy places where I know I will be useless as a sacrifice to God symbolizing my willingness to serve, and I’m finding opportunities outside the Church to serve more concretely with my distinctive capabilities. Yet, even if God has no need of either woman’s work or her gifts, in the Church there is too much to do to only stand and wait. To Elder Nelson’s plea to his sisters, I return a plea of my own: as women of the Church step up to take their rightful and needful place in their homes, in their communities, in the kingdom of God, more than they ever have before, let’s expand that place—more than we ever have before.