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Of Women and the Priesthood Part 2: What other authority can it be?

relief society

"Just as necessary is the labor of the Relief Society in the Church as it is—shall I say?—with the quorums of the Priesthood. Now some may feel that I am expressing this a little too strongly, but my own judgment is that the work that you, our good sisters, are doing, finds its place and is just as important in the building up of this kingdom, strengthening it, causing it to expand, laying a foundation upon which we all may build, just as much as it is for the brethren who hold the Priesthood of God."Joseph Fielding Smith 
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I'm not sure how much we talk about priesthood power as women. I think because it's really personal. Sometimes we might discuss it in Relief Society or listen to someone mention it in a conference talk. I think we should talk about it more. But, I think it is also interesting that Elder Oaks' April talk made a point to clarify that women have priesthood authority in their callings and this is distinct from priesthood power. First, he quotes Joseph Fielding Smith from 1959:
In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: 'While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.'
In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, 'You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.' He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.'
Then Elder Oaks clarifies that it isn't some nebulous or undefined authority, but priesthood authority:
We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties. 
I have been endowed with priesthood power in the temple of Jesus Christ, and I wear the garments of the Holy Priesthood every day. Because of temple ordinances, I feel the confidence to act in God's name as I serve and love others around me, and as I receive revelation for my own challenges & questions. I have access to this priesthood power in my in my life every day dependent only on my faith and honesty to promises I made in my temple ordinances.

I've felt priesthood power as I participated in my church assignments, but I wouldn't have called it "authority" consciously—and I do think Elder Oaks' naming it this way changes things.

The doctrine Elder Oaks clarifies here is really empowering to me not just because it gives a name for how I've felt many times before as I served in a church assignment (especially before I went to the temple)—but, because it helps me feel more the confidence and support of the Lord.

Since Elder Oaks' talk, I've been thinking about how I think about priesthood authority and my service in the church.

When I visit a woman because I am her visiting teacher, do I feel priesthood authority? Do I name it with this term? When I prepare to teach an Relief Society lesson, do I feel priesthood authority? Do I feel priesthood authority when I write the Relief Society lesson summary emails? When I act as a representative of the ward or Relief Society in any assignment?

I think it's important to really think about what Elder Oaks said, and call it "priesthood authority"—out loud and in our minds.

A few months ago, I was asked to prepare a dinner for a man in my ward whose wife had died the night before. The couple didn't have children, or their children were grown—I don't know because I had never met him. When I tried to call, there was no answer and he had no real voicemail message that confirmed the existence of a human being on the other side of the phone who lived at the address listed in the ward directory. I figured I could make a simple dinner that wouldn't spoil if no one was home (and I had to leave it on the porch).

As I was preparing the meal, I thought about the work women did during the time of Christ's ministry—part of which included preparing meals. I thought about preparing food to give someone sustenance in grief. Why can't that be sacred? Why isn't it a kind of ordinance? I felt like it was an ordinance that afternoon. I felt it was holy to prepare the meal, wrap it in a brown paper grocery bag and walk the short block to his house where I knocked, then left it on his front porch. I came back later, and it was gone—a light on at the back of the house.

Later, someone told me that the widowed wasn't sober a whole lot. I thought it didn't affect the holiness of the action. If anything, the holiness mattered more, was needed more. I hoped the man felt the love of God and the love of his community.

Because Elder Oaks had named it, I felt the priesthood authority in being a Relief Society woman—delivering a meal on behalf of the ward. I had felt this feeling of sacredness in service before, but it was magnified with a name—with specificity.

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So, what else can I do to magnify priesthood authority in my church ministry and service? My church callings and assignments?

The other day, one of my friends posted a link to this gorgeous talk by Patricia Holland on Facebook.

She talks about overcoming worry and fear, and becoming women of greater faith in Jesus Christ. She says, "I would like to a pose a question for each of us to ponder. How do we as women make that quantum leap from being troubled and worried to being women of greater faith?"

I think a similar question applies to the discussion of priesthood authority in church work.

What if I asked, "How do I as a woman make that quantum leap from being unaware and unconscious of priesthood authority to being  a woman of greater faith and authority in Christ?" 

Patricia Holland says, "Often we fail to consider the glorious possibility within our souls. We need to remember that divine promise, 'The Kingdom of God is within you.' (Luke 17:21.) Perhaps we forget that the kingdom of God is within us because too much attention is given to this outer shell, this human body of ours, and the frail, too-flimsy world in which it moves."

Patricia Holland names five steps toward this kind of "the kingdom of God within you" actualization and great faith in Jesus Christ:
Prayer
Scripture Study
Charity
Humility
Holiness to the Lord

Prayer
[...] If we are to search for real light and eternal certainties, we have to pray as the ancients prayed. We are women now, not children, and we are expected to pray with maturity. The words most often used to describe urgent, prayerful labor are wrestle, plead, cry, and hunger. In some sense, prayer may be the hardest work we ever will engage in, and perhaps it should be. It is pivotal protection against becoming so involved with worldly possessions and honors and status that we no longer desire to undertake the search for our soul.
Scripture Study
We must turn to the scriptures for God’s long-recorded teachings about our souls. We must learn. Surely every woman in this church is under divine obligation to learn and grow and develop. We are God’s diverse array of unburnished talents, and we must not bury these gifts or hide our light. If the glory of God is intelligence, then learning, especially learning from the scriptures, stretches us toward him. 
He uses many metaphors for divine influence, such as “living water” and “the bread of life.” I have discovered that if my own progress stalls, it stalls from malnutrition born of not eating and drinking daily from his holy writ. There have been challenges in my life that would have completely destroyed me had I not had the scriptures both on my bedstand and in my purse so that I could partake of them day and night at a moment’s notice. Meeting God in scripture has been like a divine intravenous feeding for me—a celestial IV that my son once described as an angelical cord. [...] I have discovered that by studying [the scriptures] I can have, again and again, an exhilarating encounter with God.
Charity
Through the last decade, Satan has enticed all humanity to engage almost all of their energies in the pursuit of romantic love or thing-love or excessive self-love. In so doing, we forget that appropriate self-love and self-esteem are the promised reward for putting others first. “Whosoever shall seek to save [her] life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose [her] life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33.) [...] With charity, real growth and genuine insight begin. 
Humility
This is a time for self-evaluation. To see ourselves as we really are often brings pain, but it is only through true humility, repentance, and renewal that we will come to know God. “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart,” he said. (Matt. 11:29.) We must be patient with ourselves as we overcome weaknesses, and we must remember to rejoice over all that is good in us. This will strengthen our inner selves and leave us less dependent on outward acclaim. When our souls pay less attention to public praise, they then also care very little about public disapproval. Competition and jealousy and envy now begin to have no meaning. Just imagine the powerful spirit that would exist in our female society if we finally arrived at the point where, like our Savior, our real desire was to be counted as the least among our sisters. The rewards here are of such profound strength and quiet triumph of faith that we are carried into an even brighter sphere. [...]We are reborn—
Holiness to the Lord
For those of us who, like the brother of Jared, have the courage and faith to break through the veil into that sacred center of existence (see Ether 3:6–19), we will find the brightness of the final [step] brighter than the noonday sun. There we find wholeness—holiness. That is what it says over the entrance to the fifth [step]: Holiness to the Lord. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Cor. 3:16.) I testify that you are holy—that divinity is abiding within you waiting to be uncovered—to be unleashed and magnified and demonstrated.
(Please read her talk because these five excerpts are just a small part of it.) 

Why is important to understand priesthood authority (in addition to priesthood power)? To embrace what it means as I serve in Christ's church?

I'm not sure, but I keep thinking of the scripture in Moses, For this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the eternal life of man, and the verses in First Corinthians where Paul talks about unity and says: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. 

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Let's try this experiment of naming priesthood authority in our lives: When have you had an experience where you felt priesthood authority in an assignment for church?

If you are a woman, has the way you view service in your calling changed since Elder Oaks' talk? Or, if you're a man, has the way you view women's service changed since Elder Oaks' talk?

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Reading List
To Bless and Sanctify: 3 Meditations on the Sacrament
Women at Church  
1st Corinthians 12:7-31
Of Women and the Priesthood Part 1 




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