Podcast 7 Supplement: Twenty-six Things Priesthood Leaders Can Do To Help Value and Empower Women of All Ages

Podcast 7 Supplement: Twenty-six Things Priesthood Leaders Can Do To Help Value and Empower Women of All Ages July 28, 2011

Compiled by members of WAVE in response to a bishop’s request, and posted here as a resource for the Round Table’s  July’s challenge.

These ideas are drawn from the doctrine and principles found in talks from Church leaders, the newly revised Church Handbooks, as well as the ideas and feedback from other inspired women of God.

  1. Equalize funds and funding sources for YW and YM programs. There can be some built-in differences in the YM and YW programs, with Scouting awards being a huge imbalance. Scouting awards might be placed in a different budget category, with the rest of the funding equalized per youth.  If fundraisers for youth camps are needed, either do combined YM/YW fundraiser or insure the amounts raised are comparable.
  2. Have YW come up to the pulpit in sacrament meeting to be recognized when advancing in YW classes just as YM come forward for priesthood advancement. It would be appropriate to ask for “all those who can support this young woman in this advancement, please show with the uplifted hand.”
  3. Allow and encourage YW to do outdoor, high-adventure activities, campouts, etc. Often there may be a perceived lack of interest among the YW (and YW leaders) for camping/outdoor activities, but this may just be from lack of experience with these types of activities. To help expose girls to positive outdoor experiences, encourage ward daddy-daughter campouts (or mommy-daughter campouts if desired). Also encourage activity day girls to enjoy frequent outdoor activities and provide necessary funding.
  4. Support all YW events (YW in Excellence, New Beginnings, etc.) with attendance and offering set-up/take-down support. Make Young Womanhood Recognition Awards comparable to Eagle Scout awards. Have all YM come to those award nights to support YW in their accomplishment.
  5. Empower parents to talk to their young women (and young men) about sexuality and chastity. A resource many LDS parents have found extremely helpful is How to Talk to Your Children About Sex by LDS authors Richard and Linda Eyre. Although written for a general audience, it can be a great how-to for parents discussing sexuality with children of different ages. As priesthood leaders, when teaching and discussing chastity with YW and YM, avoid teaching that men are incapable of controlling their own sexuality and that women are responsible for reining in the sexual temptations of men (through dress and behavior). Avoid teaching negative chastity metaphors. Some oft-repeated metaphors that can send harmful messages about sexuality include comparing chastity infractions to a wilted rose, a licked cupcake, chewed gum, a board with nails, etc. Be aware that some young women may have been the victims of sexual assault/abuse and so clearly acknowledge that such victims are not unclean and do not need repentance, but do need love, counseling support, and can find healing through the Atonement of Christ. Read Kathryn Lynard Soper’s article “Why Standards Night is Substandard” to gain additional insights on YW’s relationship to their sexuality.
  6. Have women train men on issues relating to their organizations. The stake RS /YW/Prim presidencies can provide valuable training to bishops and ward priesthood leaders on how to give service to and serve with those ward auxiliary organizations. Ward RS/YW/Prim presidencies can provide valuable training to the entire ward council on the needs of women, young women, and girls.  Additionally, female leaders or ward members could periodically teach or participate in Sunday lessons in priesthood quorum meetings; for example a RS pres. (or other appropriate woman) teaching the men about righteous use of the priesthood, or women participating in panel discussion in a lesson on the gifts of the Spirit.
  7. Hold monthly, sit-down, individual, regularly scheduled talks with all female auxiliary leaders. Women leaders need to be listened to and see that there are open lines of communication.  Avoid micromanaging female led auxiliaries. Allow them to recommend counselors and others to serve in their organizations. Of course, gentle direction and counsel can and should be given when inspired, but in general allow (and empower) women to succeed in their callings without undue interference. When faced with questions and problems (other than clear-cut policy matters), be careful with trying to offer solutions to a problem too quickly. Questions like “As you have prayed about this, what have you thought and felt?” allow women to seek inspiration and guidance on the matter. Often, female leaders are looking for a sounding-board for possible inspired solutions, rather than instant directives and advice.
  8. Ensure that female leaders are present in every ward council meeting that will affect the entire ward. One great option is to invite RS, YW, and/or Primary leaders to attend PEC. Allow women equal voice in all council meetings and seek, recognize, and implement their inspired ideas.
  9. Follow-up on all requests for callings from women leaders in a timely manner. Staffing ward callings can be tricky because individuals requested for callings are often not available, busy in other needed callings, have life challenges unknown to those requesting them, etc. It can be helpful to give a list of available women who can serve and/or ask female leaders to provide a list of suitable sisters that can then be prayerfully considered. Inspiration is often found in greater information about individual’s talents and capacities, so before issuing a calling, female leaders could ask a number of available sisters to temporarily help in that capacity (i.e. teach a lesson, help with a YW or RS activity, etc.) until the best “inspired” fit is found. When extending callings, do not ask a husband’s permission for his wife to serve in a calling. It can often be very helpful to have a spouse present when extending callings to make sure they can support their spouse in that new calling, but it should be irrespective of gender.
  10. Be aware of differences in counseling women compared to counseling men as noted in article “Counseling Women.”(See attached article). Be sensitive in counseling women with chastity issues—priesthood leaders need appropriate information so we can help in repentance, but avoid inquiring about unnecessary details. It can be very intimidating and frightening for a woman of any age to come talk about intimate, personal matters with a priesthood leader. Allow (and even offer) for a female member to bring a parent or trusted friend when sharing these personal matters.
  11. Become more educated on how to support women who suffer from domestic abuse. Recognize that a marriage does not require physical cruelty to be considered abusive. Emotional and financial abuse and control are just as real and damaging. Be aware of resources for women who are in an abusive relationships, how they can break free, and what support they will need. Priesthood leaders are not trained counselors, and so professional counseling services (including LDS Family Services counselors) can be facilitated and paid for with fast offerings. Although priesthood leaders are not to directly advise members on whether to divorce, help and support should be ready when that decision is made.  *Add basic resources/websites about domestic abuse for further reading*
  12. Give helpful and informed support to women whose husbands struggle with pornography. Often, the focus of a priesthood leader’s support is the husband’s repentance process. Make sure needed support is given to the wife and family of the man struggling with this problem. If his family is unaware of his problem, be ready to provide support to a devastated wife after she is told. Make sure women understand that they are not to blame in any way for a man’s pornography problem. Help wives find the resources they need to strengthen themselves and, if they are able, to support their husbands. Resources can include addiction support groups (including LDS-run addiction recovery meetings) for spouses, professional counseling, counseling with priesthood leaders, printed resources, and trusted female friends or leaders. *Specific websites/books?*
  13. Be sensitive to the needs of women in sacrament meeting. Avoid having men always speak last in sacrament meeting. Sometimes have all women speakers or at least a woman as the final speaker. As directed in the handbook, avoid having husband/wives always speak. If a husband and wife are speaking, ask the wife if she would like to speak last. Avoid giving General Conference talks as speaking topics without clear guidance to avoid reading large portions of the Conference talk and that the Conference talk is only a jumping off point for the members to share their own insights, experiences, and feelings. Assign women to say opening and/or closing prayers in sacrament meeting. Do not perpetuate the incorrect policy that women are not allowed to say opening prayers in sacrament (or other) meetings. One idea for helping include the influence and inspiration of women in sacrament meeting is to call a woman to be a “Sacrament Meeting Coordinator.” This calling could include her working with the bishopric to identify sacrament meeting topics and find people in the ward who she feels would be good at speaking on those topics (or be blessed by the opportunity to speak). She could work with the ward music leader, chorister, and choir director to identify supporting hymns and musical numbers.  She could also help insure the other above suggestions for sacrament meeting speakers and prayers are implemented. If a female sacrament meeting coordinator is not utilized, then seek input from women and female ward leaders on topics for sacrament meeting speakers.
  14. Have women stake leaders (RS/YW/Prim presidency members) speak on a planned rotation with high councilors on “high council” Sundays. Have female ward leaders speak regularly (at least yearly) in ward sacrament meetings.
  15. Periodically attend Sunday RS, YW, Primary meetings. Have bishopric members  attend Sunday YW meetings (perhaps once a month) and offer to share a brief (2-3 min.) message or even teach a lesson on occasion. Have a bishopric member frequently (maybe once/month) share a brief message in Primary. Occasionally, the bishopric could teach a Primary “Sharing Time.” Have the bishopric counselor over Primary inquire every Sunday about needs for subs or extra people to help and have him help if available. Periodically attend Sunday RS meetings. Attend weekly YW meetings as needed and at a frequency desirable to the YW and their leaders.
  16. Support RS nights by insisting husbands take childcare duties so wives can attend (or hometeachers or YW taking childcare duties for single mothers if nursery is not available) and have priesthood holders assist with set-up/take-down help and building security.
  17. Honor women’s requests to be called by the name they desire, whether it be a married woman with a different surname, a divorced woman returning her maiden name, etc. Make sure all ward lists and directories reflect these desires. Insure that a woman’s cell phone or other contact info be included with ward lists and directories. It is not respectful nor helpful to have only a husband’s cell phone as the only contact for a family. Be sensitive to combined/separate names on tithing statements. Follow-up on women’s requests to have husband and wife’s names on tithing statements.
  18. Give accurate and specific (not condescending) praise to women’s leaders for activities/lessons/etc. that you attend. A small card or brief email of sincere thanks and appreciation after the activity can be very positive.
  19. Take seriously The Family: A Proclamation to the World’s guidance on being a righteous father and sharing as equal partners family duties with a spouse. Because motherhood is recognized as the highest duty a woman can have, then fatherhood should be recognized as the highest duty of a father. Have lessons stressing the duties and blessings of fatherhood. Encourage men (and lead by example) to be equal partners in their marriages. Teach husbands to help with all childcare responsibilities at Church and at home. Of course every couple will handle these things differently, but we can help create a positive environment for equal partnership in all marriage and child-rearing tasks.
  20. Remember that although The Family: A Proclamation to the World tells us our primary responsibilities—a man is to provide, a woman is to nurture— it never tells us how we are supposed to do that. It does not specify a man’s career choice or that a woman has to be a stay at home mom. Respect a mother’s ability to receive inspiration for herself about how to fulfill this responsibility. Recognize that as different as a father’s professions may be, it is okay that a mother’s nurturing styles and choices vary.
  21. Be extra careful in planning Mother’s Day activities or gifts at Church. Many women have complicated and even negative feelings on Mother’s Day for many reasons: infertility, divorce, being single, having poor relationships with their own mothers, etc.  A leader could choose to honor mothers with all female sacrament meeting speakers with a Mother’s Day theme. Rather than extolling perfect mothers, speakers could be asked to talk about motherhood in all its beautiful complexities. It can be tricky and awkward to have all “mothers/women” over a certain age stand and be given a gift. Alternatives to that could include a donation being made from the ward to a local women’s shelter in honor of the ward women or a gift left on the tables in the foyer for any woman that may want it. Some wards have had success with a special combined women’s 3rd hour meeting run by the RS (with men taking most of the Primary/YW duties). Similarly, Father’s Day activities should be equivalent to those of Mother’s Day.
  22. Recognize that baby blessings can be a hard experience for some women. They have made huge sacrifices to bring a baby into the world and can feel discouraged that the only public recognition of this fact in the Church is by their husband and male members of the ward. Make an effort to recognize the mother and her sacrifice from the pulpit and/or give her a moment to speak (perhaps asking the mother beforehand what she would prefer).
  23. When discussing the frustration women can feel with the inequalities in Church structure and function, avoid trying to explain the differences away as “motherhood is equal to priesthood” or other such explanations. Instead seek to recognize the sacrifices women make and acknowledge the disparities. It is okay to say things like “We don’t understand exactly why the Church is organized as it is and we recognize that it can feel unequal at times. I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt this way. Let’s talk about some things we can do within the parameters of the Gospel to help things work better.”  We cannot solve all the inequalities, but we can listen with empathy and do what is within our power to change some of the disparities.
  24. Follow the example of the General Church leaders and use gender inclusive language whenever possible. If a scripture or quote says man but means all people, then it is okay to change that to man and woman, sons and daughters, male and female, etc. We see this kind of emphasis in General Conference and in the talks of our Church leaders.
  25. Seek out, learn from, and have female spiritual heroes. This can be someone from the scriptures (with over 200 women mentioned in the standard works to choose from), church history, or a living example. It is important for the women in our stewardship to hear us value, use quotes from, and tell stories about women. By having female religious examples we can empower women to do the same.
  26. Teach women the necessity and eternal importance of priesthood ordinances and blessings, but also empower women of all ages to know they have direct access to the Lord. Women should be helped to understand that they have access to all needful Gifts of the Spirit to bless themselves, their families, and those they serve through their faith and righteousness.
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