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Provo • With little fanfare but much trepidation, members of the Ordain Women movement attended their first-ever LDS general priesthood session Saturday night albeit at satellite sites and not at the main meeting in downtown Salt Lake City's Conference Center.
Seven women, accompanied by three men, entered Brigham Young University's Marriott Center to watch the broadcast of the session. Another 13 women later joined the group.
Eight women also succeeded in Ogden, as did others in Logan, Tempe, Ariz., Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area.
However, Ordain Women, which is pushing for female ordination, tweeted that their supporters were turned away at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City and in Atlanta.
Lehi resident Abby Hansen, a BYU graduate, said that as she listened to the counsel of church leaders during the meeting, she couldn't help thinking "we belong here."
"It was pretty powerful for a lot of us," she said, "to hear women's voices singing along with the men."
Hansen and other Ordain Women members were met at the door of the Marriott Center by a bishop and his wife, who told Hansen and the other women that the session was for priesthood holders.
When Hansen insisted that they wanted to enter and pledged not to disrupt the meeting, Karen Roberts said, "We're not going to stop you."
Hansen hugged her and then entered the priesthood meeting, traditionally attended only by men and boys age 12 and older.
Inside the Marriott Center, men watched as the women walked down the stairs to take seats among the hundreds attending. There was no mention of their presence from those presiding, but men and boys near them took pictures on their phones.
Tiffany Jones, a BYU student who met a different woman at an entrance, said the woman tried hard to dissuade her, advising her to "listen to the words of the prophet." She entered anyway.
BYU student Jake Loveland said he hadn't even noticed the women and didn't mind their presence.
"The messages are for everyone," he said.
John Applesmith echoed that sentiment. "They show it online, anyway."
A smattering of men wore lavender or purple shirts in solidarity with the women.
M'lisa Martinez of Ordain Women described a similar experience at the Rock Cliff LDS Stake Center, a regional meetinghouse in Ogden, where the Stake Relief Society president tried to persuade eight women to not enter the session.
"Being here is a special kind of feel, a wonderful thing," Martinez tweeted from the Ogden meeting.
According to the Ordain Women website, women planned to seek admission to priesthood broadcasts at 17 sites in the United States, as well as in Brazil and Kenya.
The session also was broadcast live on television and over the Internet, a practice begun last year.
Boston resident Danielle Mooney, who brought her 2-month-old daughter to the broadcast of the priesthood session at BYU, said she wasn't surprised the women were allowed into the meeting.
"I came in a lot of confidence in the men that we would be welcome," Mooney said.
Her mother, Michelle Miller of Centerville, noted, however, that the women weren't exactly welcomed. They were just not blocked from entering.
And yet it makes sense that the priesthood session is open to all who can benefit from it, Miller said.
"Not every woman has a priesthood holder living in her home," said Miller, who is single. "I could read about it in the Ensign [church magazine], but it's not the same."
Mooney called Ordain Women's action a success. "One of our primary goals," she said, "was to create a space for men and women to have this conversation."
In June, Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly was excommunicated for "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church." She has since moved to Kenya, where her husband is attending school. Kelly's father, Jim Kelly, attended the priesthood session with Ordain Women members at LDS Church-owned BYU.
"The point of our movement is not just to attend a meeting," Hansen said. "The important thing is the discussion it has opened. It's important that priesthood holders worldwide see: 'There are women in my ward who feel this way?' "
A year ago, officials in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter to local lay leaders, saying that if women came to a meetinghouse and asked to be admitted, they were "to inform them that the meeting is for men and that men are invited to attend."
However, Mormon chapels "should be places of peace, not contention," the letter added, so if women "become insistent" about entering the priesthood session "to the point that their presence would be disruptive, please allow them to enter and view the conference."
LDS authorities did not disclose whether it offered the same directive for Saturday night's priesthood session, though it appears that at least some local leaders may have followed similar instructions.
"Church leaders have taught that attendance at the general priesthood session is for men and boys while the general women's meeting [held last Saturday] is specifically for women and girls," LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones said in a statement Saturday afternoon. "Church members must choose for themselves whether or not they will follow this counsel. Additionally, both meetings are streamed live and are widely available in a variety of formats."
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