Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Around a Half Million Women Hold Leadership Positions in the LDS Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints just held its bi-annual General Conference this last weekend. These two days of broadcasts were a chance for Later-day Saints to hear from the prophet and the apostles and to gain added guidance and direction in our lives.

It was wonderful.

It is funny how when I was younger the only reason I looked forward to General Conference was because I could stay in my PJs all morning. Yet now, as an adult, my soul hungers for General Conference. It is definitely a spiritual feast for me.

There were lots of really amazing talks this year and I'm sure I'll reference many of them in the future. Yet this Conference what I was most looking forward to hearing was the Church Statistical Report given during the Saturday Afternoon Session.

Weren't you? Wait. You mean to tell me you were still coming out of your "in-between conference session nap" during that dazzling 2 minute talk! Oh, you missed out.

Brook P. Hales, the representative from the Church who gave the report, stated that as of December 31, 2010 there were

28,660 Ward and Branches (these are the names Later-day Saints use for their congregations)

and

2, 896 Stakes (which are a group of Wards and Branches, usually at least 3)

in the LDS church.

Why do I care about this?

Well if there are 28,660 Wards and Branches in the church than that means that for each of those congregations there are 12 women serving in leadership positions in each one of them. Each Ward and Branch has a Relief Society Presidency which includes a president, 2 counselors and a secretary. Each Ward and Branch has a Young Women's Presidency which includes a president, 2 counselors and a secretary and each Ward and Branch has a Primary Presidency which includes a president, 2 counselors and a secretary.

That means that within the church there are 343,920 women serving in Ward and Branch leadership positions!

In addition Brook P. Hales stated that there are currently 2, 896 Stakes in the church. Each Stake also has Relief Society, Young Women's and Primary Presidencies as well. Meaning that there are an additional 12 women in every Stake who are serving in leadership positions. This means that worldwide there are 34, 752 women serving in Stake leadership positions!

Which gives us a grand total of: 378, 672 women serving in leadership positions in the LDS church around the world!

I find that quite incredible. Can you think of another type of organization or church in the world that around a half a million women actively serving in leadership positions? It is really quite an astounding thing when you start to think about it.

It is even more incredible when you realize that there are women holding leadership positions and sitting on councils with men in countries where women traditionally have no voice or influence in their communities or families. In places where women aren't allowed to go to school, to defecate during the day, to show their faces, or to look a man in the eyes there are LDS women who are holding leadership positions and working along side men to administer the work of God's church. I don't think we quite realize how remarkable that is.

An image from the recent world-wide leadership training. Source

Granted things in the church aren't always perfect, because no where in the world are men and women perfect. There are many cultural traditions in countries around the world that often diminish the importance of women's voices (or men's voices) or perpetuate unrighteous dominion on the part of men and women. Richard G. Scott addressed this recently in the World-Wide Leadership Training held in February. He said:

I have observed—particularly in international areas, although it often occurs domestically—that sisters do not participate openly in ward council meetings. This is most unfortunate, because they have perspectives and experiences that are of immense value. When they can be encouraged to take part freely in ward council meetings, their ideas are always helpful and inspirational.

This challenge can be resolved easily in the following way. As the ward council meeting unfolds and specific suggestions are made, the presiding officer can call on individual sisters present by name, asking them to express their feelings regarding the matter. They will always respond to such an invitation. As they gain more experience in the environment of the ward council, they will learn to participate actively without the need for such an invitation.

When decisions by the council need to be made, the presiding officer can often determine whether or not it appears that there is unanimity of feeling on the part of the members present. Where he senses such support, he should propose that the council support a specific decision and then vote to sustain it. If no such unanimity is sensed, then he can indicate that since all have had the opportunity to share their feelings he will make a decision and request that all present sustain it and implement it unitedly and wholeheartedly.

An important aspect of meeting as a ward council is to clarify with each present that items discussed and decisions made must be kept confidential.

I have practiced the foregoing suggestions in international areas of the world where it is not common for sisters to publicly express opinions. Where a presiding officer calls them by name and expresses gratitude for the specific recommendations they make, the sisters develop confidence in working in this manner with priesthood leaders. Over time, they are much more likely to participate in ward council meetings and to share their valuable suggestions without the need for the specific encouragement of being called on individually.

There is sometimes a complementary blessing that comes to the homes of priesthood leaders who observe the benefits that result from sister participation in ward council. These men can become more appreciative of the sacred role of their wives in their own home. This is particularly true where local cultures tend to minimize or ignore the contribution of women in the home.

There will always be room for better communication and more respect between men and women in every country and within every Ward, Branch, Stake and family. The church and its people are a work in progress. Yet I believe that most of its members are striving their very hardest to be true disciples of Jesus Christ and it gives me great joy to realize that I belong to a church that has such an elevated understanding and practice of men and women's relationships in the family, the church and in society. I think that as the restored gospel of Jesus Christ begins to be poured out upon the earth we will see hearts begin to soften, people and families begin to change and cultures and nations embrace the great eternal truths of the gospel teaches about men and women.

So while it might seem kind of silly I think that my new favorite part of General Conference will be listening to the Statistical Report (it is only given in April) and thinking about the hundreds of thousands of women around the world leading and serving in the church! Thinking about it makes me so excited to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ or Later-day Saints and to be a woman in this dispensation!

10 comments:

  1. Not to split hairs, but unless I'm missing something, that should be "12" instead of "15" women in each ward/branch and stake - 4 in RS, 4 in YW, and 4 in Primary. That adds up to 378,672 women in leadership positions - if every ward, branch, and stake fills all those callings. And according to the new handbook, small units might not (and probably should not) fill all of the callings. It's still a remarkable number, though.

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  2. Opps, that is embarrassing ;) Math and spelling are my two weaknesses, if you haven't noticed! I'll fix that right away. The numbers aren't exact but it gives a ball park number. It really is still a lot of women!

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  3. I've never thought of it this way, Heather! That is amazing! And I loved your quote from Elder Scott. I don't really think of that kind of thing since I was raised in a home where my mother's opinion was highly valued (both in our home and in our community) and so I was raised to be a very strong personality (the nice way to say stubborn and bossy, apparently ;) ) but it is very significant that he (and you) pointed that out. We are attending a Portuguese ward, and the cultural differences are astounding! I can only imagine the struggles women face in other cultures.

    As a side note, I was raised in the south, and PJs at General Conference wasn't part of my life until late high school (when Satellite TV brought us BYUTV, and hence, General Conference). We always went to the chapel, dressed in our Sunday best, armed with lots of snacks, Conference bingo sheets, and food for the pot-luck between sessions. The thing I always looked forward to was hearing Elder Oaks' voice. Seriously, I have loved listening to his voice ever since I can remember!

    Thanks for this really neat post. I enjoyed it!

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  4. I remember hearing Richard G Scott talk about this in the training. And, YES! This is an awesome statistic!!! Wow! It does make me so excited!!! One more reason to love our church the church I belong to. I am so grateful to God who teaches his daughters through leadership positions to care for one another.
    PS Thanks for your comment on the ABC proclamation guest post at Jocelyn's!

    -CK

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  5. Heather, I don't think your mistake really mattered anyway because not only are their 12 women per ward but there are also 12 women per Stake and many other leadership positions that women serve in. For instance, the last two stakes I have lived in, the REGIONAL public affairs chairperson was a sister in the ward. These normal everyday sisters work with politicians and media people, representing the church and its causes.

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  6. You may also be forgetting that there are Singles Wards and Branches which have no Primary nor Young Women's organizations. But it is a pretty incredible thought!

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  7. I never thought of it that way. It's really touching to think of women in other countries that can't speak out and the church is the only safe place for them to express themselves. I think I forget how blessed I really am to live where I do without that fear. Thanks for the thoughts!

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  8. These are incredible numbers. However, I am in a tiny branch on a tiny island, and we just don't have enough women to fill all those callings. Both our Relief Society and Young Women's presidents are sans counselors, and the Primary president only has one. I'd imagine that is the case in a number of branches. So, while it is amazing to think of all the incredible women serving in leadership positions, there probably are not quite as many as you may imagine.

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  9. Great reminder, sometimes we forget how blessed we are in the church that we take women in leadership positions as a given.

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  10. Wow. I really never looked at it that way. You've got me thinking some more, Heather. It's wonderful to know that Heavenly Father has not forgotten about His daughters. I feel so blessed to be in a Church that has women holding leadership positions. I really don't know where I would be if it weren't for women in an organization to relate to, grow with, and learn from constantly.

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