This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Suzette Smith hopes all the speakers at Saturday's LDS General Women's meeting will be female.
The Washington, D.C., area consultant and devout Mormon believes the time is ripe for the faith's female leaders to take control of the semiannual meeting, which now has been designated as the official opening session of General Conference.
Typically, the three female heads of the church's auxiliaries Primary for children ages 3 to 11, Young Women for ages 12 to 17, and Relief Society for adult women offer individual sermons but the concluding speaker traditionally is a member of the all-male governing First Presidency.
"I hope you will consider claiming the General Women's session as exclusively female," Smith writes in a letter to the women leaders posted at Exponent II website. "I think it makes us stronger women when we conduct and preside in our own space. And it builds our spirits as we hear our female leaders teach us of the gospel, counsel us as women, and focus us on our female divinity. We are accountable directly to God as a worldwide sisterhood."
Smith believes the conversation around priesthood ordination is long overdue in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and applauds the work of Ordain Women (OW), which is pushing for females to be included in the faith's all-male priesthood.
She was once a member of OW's executive board, but last year stepped down and removed her profile from the group's website, saying that she still supports female ordination but views it differently than those activists.
Still, Smith is eager for the conversation about women in the LDS Church to continue and is frustrated that few church avenues exist for such discussions to happen.
"I am concerned that in our patriarchal structure of governance, women have limited visibility and voice," Smith writes in a second Exponent essay. "I am concerned that in the exclusivity of male-only priesthood, women have a reduced development in spiritual gifts and inadequate outlets [for] sacred expression."
To help foster healthy, open conversations with fellow believers, Smith has launched what she calls a "Fifth Sunday Project," in which she suggests that Mormon congregations use the "fifth Sunday" to discuss women's issues in a church setting and supplies resource materials on her Facebook page, including articles, blogs, scriptures and books. She also welcomes suggestions and participation from people of varying perspectives.
"In 2015, we have four opportunities to use this idea; the first fifth Sunday is just around the corner on March 29," Smith writes. "I entreat you to consider this idea in your local area. Talk to other ward members and be thoughtful. If you are a member of the ward council, bring this idea to an upcoming meeting. Engage the views of all council members to discuss topics, presentation, and facilitation appropriate for your local area."
She also has made a personal commitment to raising awareness of women's issues within Mormonism.
Starting in January, Smith has been fasting for two meals every Sunday "for the Relief Society and for women."
On those Sundays, Smith writes on her Facebook page, she is praying "for male and female church leaders as they consider the best position for the General Relief Society and the tasks that society might oversee allowing for positive integration in our governance structure and partnership with our men."
She also prays "for women's voices, visibility, influence and priesthood.
I pray that women will use their spiritual gifts well," she says, "to mother, to lead, to administer, to build, and 'to bless in humanity's name.' "
Peggy Fletcher Stack