Laughter, reverence, testimony and tears were among the many moments of the 1996 Women's Conference at BYU.
One could term it a spiritual and emotional smorgasbord as some 11,000 women converged on the campus May 2-3 for the annual event sponsored by the Relief Society and BYU. The number of attendees was up considerably from last year's count of more than 7,000.Based on the theme, "And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity" (D&C 88:125), the conference included keynote addresses, a plenary session, a fireside and two devotionals, as well as 58 concurrent sessions, given by 161 presenters.
One of the warmest moments was the fireside on the first evening of the conference. Thousands gathered in the Marriott Center for "An Evening with Marjorie P. Hinckley and Daughters," during which Sister Hinckley, the wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley, reminisced about her childhood and marriage to the prophet. Participating with her were her three daughters, Kathleen H. Barnes, Virgina A. Pearce and Jane H. Dudley. The crowd repeatedly showed their delight with applause, laughter and "ahhs," as Sister Hinckley's life was related by word and by a video narrated by President Hinckley, who was seated on the front row in front of the podium.
Seated with the prophet were President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Frances, and President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency. Also attending were other Church leaders and wives and auxiliary leaders.
Speaking of the "deeply rooted faith" instilled in her as a child, Sister Hinckley said: "My parents loved the Church so, that when we were very young, we learned to love the Savior because of their attitude. It seems to me that I was just born with a testimony. I never remember not having that great love of the Savior, and I can thank my parents for that."
Sister Hinckley spoke of when President Hinckley was called to serve a full-time mission in England. By this time, the young couple had known each other for some time and had dated. "I was very thrilled because I desperately wanted him to go on a mission, but I will never forget the feeling of loneliness and emptiness that I felt when the train pulled out of the station and he was gone."
While the future prophet was gone, he wrote the girl back home. "When he was on his mission, he did write me wonderful letters describing the places that he was seeing and the experiences that he was having," Sister Hinckley related. "I've saved them all. They're small masterpieces."
One of the most touching moments during the evening was when Sister Hinckley described her marriage to President Hinckley as "59 years of heaven on earth."
Such warmth was felt throughout the conference, which began with newly installed BYU Pres. Merrill J. Bateman offering welcoming remarks during the opening session in the Marriott Center. Giving the opening keynote address was Patricia T. Holland, wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.
"Our theme on charity suggests that we should be giving to one another the love and the strength associated with that word," she explained. "Today I wish to start at an earlier point in the process. I believe we cannot give love or strength we do not sufficiently have.
"If we expect to bless others with God's truths and compassion and sustenance, then I believe we must spend more time with God in a very direct way. We do not have to rely on anyone else's witness of the Father. We can and should have direct encounters of our own. If our cup is going to bring relief to the spiritually parched lips of our sisters, we would do well to spend a little more time making sure that cup is filled – and refilled – by Him every day of our life."
Sister Holland spoke of the concern among women in the world of a lack of commonality. "Isolation can be one of the most fearful and stressful circumstances of the human heart. We all need other people and the strong, sweet relationships we have with them. That is one of the joys of membership in the Church, of membership in the Relief Society and participation in this conference."
Sister Holland admonished: "We must fill ourselves at the fountain of living water, at the feet of our Heavenly Father Himself, or we have nothing of real strength to give. When we connect with God then we will connect with others. When we pay the price to see God, we are enabled to see how closely connected we are to each other."