BYU Women’s Conference: Thousands of women gather to learn, lift one another

Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News

On his first day on the job as the president of Brigham Young University, President Kevin J Worthen welcomed more than 11,000 women from around the world during the opening session of the BYU Women’s Conference held in the Marriott Center May 1.

“What a great way to start off my tenure as president of Brigham Young University,” said President Worthen. “I can think of very few other things I would rather be doing on my first day here than greeting this group.”

The annual conference — sponsored by BYU and the Relief Society — included two days of more than 100 classes on a variety of topics held in buildings around the BYU campus. This year’s keynote speakers in general sessions on May 1 included Sheri L. Dew and Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen. Friday’s keynote speakers included Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president (see May 11 edition of the Church News).

Sister Burton introduced this year’s conference theme found in Psalm 84, verse 11, from the Old Testament:

“ ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly,’ ” she said. “We are reminded here that the Lord willingly gives protection and His power to help us navigate this life’s unpredictable journey.”

She also invited all to look for ways in their own lives to walk more uprightly before the Lord and to do so with gratitude.

Although the majority of “students” at Women’s Conference are a different group than the BYU student body, President Worthen spoke of how Women’s Conference fits within the mission of BYU.

“In the very first sentence, it says that the mission of Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection,” he said. He recognized that it doesn’t say “Brigham Young University students,” rather it says individuals, making it a great place for learning of all people — especially those who go home and teach the future students of BYU.

“We hope as you come here, you get [the] sense … that you belong to a whole, a worshipping, building, expanding kingdom of God and that you have a role to play in it,” he said.

Sister Dew, who is the CEO of Deseret Book and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency, focused her remarks on the grace of Jesus Christ. Touching on four points — what the grace of Jesus Christ is, what difference grace makes in life, how the Savior makes his power available to all and what individuals must do to gain access to that power — she spoke of the gift given to all through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

“His grace can change our very nature and over time transform us from who we are into who we can become,” she said. “What difference can grace make in our lives? All the difference. … We owe every divine gift and all access to divine power to the grace of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Hafen, an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy, and Sister Hafen focused on the redeeming and strengthening powers of the Atonement during their general session talk.

“Our hope today is that perhaps we might clarify some key elements of the Atonement’s doctrine and clarify how we participate in that doctrine,” Sister Hafen said. “In doing this, we hope you will feel reassured about Christ’s desire to lift our burdens and that you will feel more comfort in your ability to stick with Him no matter what. We also hope that as we increase our understanding of what Christ has done for us, that we might also increase our willingness to submit to whatever He would ask of us.”

Elder Hafen said that “this earth is not our home; we are away at school,” and we call this school mortality.

“Just knowing that much gives us a unique understanding of who we are, who God is and why we’re here, and we need the atonement of Jesus Christ,” Elder Hafen said.

All will, in this life, taste some sin and bitterness, Elder Hafen said. “Not because we’re innately bad, but because we can’t learn to prize the sweet without actually tasting the bitter. And because the effects of that bitterness may separate us from God, we need the Atonement to overcome any separation. That’s what the word means — At-one-ment.”

Sister Hafen said the Atonement plays a key role in two categories of blessings: unconditional and conditional. She then said that unconditional blessings are given freely to everyone, but conditional blessings require three areas of participation or “conditional blessings,” which are forgiving, strengthening and perfecting.

The Lord’s “grace is with us before, during and after we do all we can,” Elder Hafen said. “When we take our repentance seriously, we can have a conversion experience that Alma called ‘the mighty change of heart,’ which may be sudden, or gradual, and then begins the Atonement’s interactive strengthening process as our obedience interacts with His grace.”

Referencing the hymn “How Firm a Foundation,” Sister Hafen said that “as thy days may demand” could mean, for some, experiences of grief, pain and tragedy beyond our control. She said the purpose of the Atonement is to help us grow and develop, not to take away our problems. Through the Atonement, weak things become strong.

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