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She said with a smile that given the cold and rain, she would have been content listening from home. But Jannicke Brewer of Alpine bundled up and braved the elements Saturday evening to attend the annual LDS Church General Relief Society Meeting.

"It's worth it to be here," chimed in Brewer's daughter, Britt Jenkins, who'd prodded her mom along. "You can just feel the energy."

More than 20,000 women poured into the church's Salt Lake City conference center to hear from the Relief Society general presidency, take in the inspiration of prayers and songs, and embolden themselves with the power of sisterhood.

Even First Counselor Thomas S. Monson, of the LDS Church's First Presidency, knew who ruled this evening. As President Gordon B. Hinckley sat beside him, Monson looked out at the sea of women.

"As I speak to you, I realize that as a man I am in the minority and must be cautious in my comments," he said to a laughing audience. "I assure you tonight that I honor you, the women of the church, and am well aware, to quote William R. Wallace, that 'the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.' "

His words came at the end of a program that included speeches from the three women that make up the General Relief Society Presidency, all named to their positions during the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' spring general conference.

President Julie B. Beck spoke of the importance of the service organization's women, of which there are more than 5.5 million members in 170 countries, to "speak with one voice" and "stand strong and immovable for those things which are correct and proper," specifically nourishing faith and family, and providing relief to those in need.

First Counselor Silvia H. Allred, who was born and raised in El Salvador and is the first foreign-born woman to be named to a general presidency, told stories about the impact of visiting teachers, of how women reaching out to other women can change lives.

"When a shepherd cares, many of those who have wandered away can still be reclaimed," she said. "We can relieve spiritual hunger and feed the sheep."

Throughout the evening, there were mentions of social ills, many portrayed in the media, and challenges in families during times of war and crisis.

Second Counselor Barbara Thompson, a social worker, stood and said that Beck had asked her to speak to ways of strengthening families, an assignment that at first seemed ironic.

"I am a single woman and do not have children of my own," she told the crowd. "I think Sister Beck thought that I was qualified to talk about families because I have never made a mistake with any of my own children. Many women can't claim that."

Her opening comments were greeted with laughter, but her message was one packed with meaning, scripture and serious advice about how all families face challenges and can use the help of others. Even though she hasn't married or had children of her own, she reminded everyone that she is still "a member of a family."

"I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, and a granddaughter. I do have responsibilities - and blessings - because I am a member of a family. And even if I was the only living member of my family, I am still a member of God's family, and I have a responsibility to help strengthen other families."

Meeting time

The General Relief Society Meeting is held each fall before the LDS Church General Conference. The 177th Semiannual General Conference begins Saturday.

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