PROVO, UTAH — In the vibrant city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, a widow with four daughters struggled to make a living that could help her afford to send her children to school. Unable to turn to her family for financial support, the mother did all she could to find educational opportunities for her daughters.
When she heard about a free school, run by Latter-day Saint service missionaries, she sent her daughters there, explained Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, during a session of Brigham Young University's Women's Conference on Thursday, May 2.
After being baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the widowed mother worked hard to become self-reliant, eventually starting her own business selling food at the construction site of the Kinshasa temple.
This woman's covenants changed everything about her life, Sister Aburto explained. "The baptismal covenant and the gift of the Holy Ghost gave her power to pull her family together," she said. "Temporally and spiritually, she found power when she had none."
The story of this woman and her daughters provides just one example of how the power of the priesthood can be used in the lives of women, the Relief Society leader explained.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 3,000 women in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus, Sister Aburto, along with Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, and Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, discussed four specific questions that address how the priesthood fits into the personal lives of women everywhere.
What does it mean for a woman to be endowed with priesthood power?
Addressing the first question, Sister Bingham said that to be endowed means to be given a quality or attribute which enables one to become more than they were before receiving it.
"When we are endowed with priesthood power, it is an infinite source that constantly renews and can never be exhausted," she said. "Each woman must qualify to receive the gift and can then continue to draw on that power as she faithfully keeps the covenants she has made."
ChurchofJesusChrist.org recently highlighted how women are essential participants in the work of the priesthood.
The purpose of the priesthood — as the eternal power and authority of God — is to help God's children access "the grace and power of Jesus Christ's Atoning sacrifice and become more like Him," Sister Bingham explained. But they are then expected to use that power and knowledge to assist others in the same journey.
"Being endowed with priesthood power — God’s power — means having greater power to press forward in fulfilling God’s purposes," Sister Bingham said. "… It magnifies us to be more than we could be on our own."
In that sense then, "Priesthood power is spiritual power used for priesthood purposes," she said. "I have been given a gift of power — power to receive revelation, power to act."
Too often, women don't realize that it is through priesthood power that they go about accomplishing good in the world, she continued. But all good in the world is done through God's power.
Sharing a story from when she was set apart to serve on the Primary general board some nine years ago, Sister Bingham explained how she began to cry, thinking of her personal inadequacies for such a position. The late Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who set her apart that day, told her, "Don't spend a nano-second thinking about your inadequacies." His words helped her understand that the Lord, through the power of the priesthood, will make up the difference.
"We are given the power and capacity to do the Lord's work as we focus on seeking and doing His will," she said. And Heavenly Father is generous with His power. He is "anxious to share it with those who are willing to do His work in His ways."
How do women receive priesthood power? Through keeping covenants or through someone else, or both?
In response to the second question, Sister Aburto shared that when she had the opportunity to visit the home of the widow in Kinshasa, it caught her attention that the woman had a long mirror in the corner of her small living room.
"When I saw the mirror, I knew she had bought it for her daughters so they could see themselves, how beautiful they are and who they could become," Sister Aburto said. "Our covenants are like a mirror. They help us see ourselves, but also our future; where we are now, and also where the Lord wants us to go."
When women participate in priesthood ordinances and keep their covenants, they receive priesthood power, Sister Aburto explained. But access to priesthood power "also requires personal righteousness, 'gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.'" Each individual woman has access to priesthood power through her covenants and righteousness, Sister Aburto continued. "No one can take it from her, but no one can give priesthood power to her outside of the covenants and her individual striving to live true to those covenants."
She explained that she often hears women confuse the priesthood with the offices of the priesthood. "I always feel sad when I hear a woman say: 'I don’t have the priesthood in my home,'" she said. Just because there is no one in the home who holds a priesthood office doesn't mean the priesthood is not there. Single women or women whose husbands do not hold a priesthood office are not cut off from priesthood power and blessings, she said. While they may need to call on brothers with a Melchizedek priesthood office for blessings, "they are nevertheless themselves a source of priesthood power for their own homes."
Often, the confusion comes from the differences between priesthood power and priesthood authority. "Priesthood power is God's power in the lives of men and women who keep their covenants," Sister Aburto explained. "Priesthood authority is the permission or license to perform specific priesthood duties and comes from ordination to priesthood office and from being set apart for callings in the Church. Priesthood authority is conferred by the laying of hands under the direction of those who have priesthood keys." For women, this authority comes in the form of a calling. For men, it is in the form of a calling or an office in the priesthood.
What is the difference of “before” and “after” receiving that power?
There is an inherent power in kind, moral, charitable and good women, Sister Eubank said. "When a person resists the negative influences in their surroundings and keeps the two great commandments to love God and love their neighbor — whether or not this person has made formal covenants to do so — there is already godly power at work in that individual’s life."
But when a woman makes covenants with God, her power can be greatly magnified in three specific ways, Sister Eubank said.
First, a woman's power can be magnified by knowledge.
Sister Eubank spoke at a UN summit in Geneva on refugees and preventing religious discrimination. Read more here.
Knowledge at its heart is the power of ongoing revelation, she explained. "And the beautiful thing is that covenants are open to the most humble of people. There's no requirement for money, position or worldly education," she said. "By making our most sacred covenants, the Spirit opens up great treasures of knowledge to us as we sacrifice, consecrate, obey the law of the gospel by living it in hard circumstances, and stay faithful in our relationships."
Second, power can be magnified by community.
"When the Lord organized quorums and Relief Societies after a priesthood pattern, He was giving community to His sons and daughters," Sister Eubank continued. "We draw strength and sisterhood from one another because of the Relief Society. We teach each other. We comfort one another. We accept one another — or at least we should. A worldwide sisterhood is a great gift of power."
And third, priesthood power can be magnified when individuals choose to act in the name of the Lord in their callings and assignments.
All callings and leadership positions in the Church are "authorized positions of authority in the work of God and there are specific spiritual gifts that accompany a person who has been set apart to function with priesthood authority in a specific calling," Sister Eubank said.
But the main difference, she said, of the "before" and "after" with priesthood power is "not in our own magnification, but in the ways we magnify and lift others."
What is the Church teaching now about the priesthood and how it applies to women?
Women's roles with the priesthood have been less clearly defined than men's. But, "a clearer understanding of doctrine can lift our vision and inform our interactions" as together, men and women work to build the kingdom of God at home and at Church, Sister Bingham said.
In recent years, prophets and apostles have reaffirmed again and again that priesthood power is accessible by all, men and women, and that it blesses all God's children the same. Nevertheless, Sister Bingham acknowledged that Church leaders are aware that, for some women, it can be a source of frustration to know that women are not ordained to the priesthood through offices.
Quoting Sheri Dew, a former counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, Sister Bingham said, "Sisters, some will try to persuade you that because you are not ordained to the priesthood, you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge ‘armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fulness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can be received only by a man and woman together.”
Sister Bingham went on to explain that receiving the blessings and priesthood power available through the endowment is a goal that every woman can reach, regardless of her individual circumstances. A woman "is never without access to priesthood power as long as she is keeping her covenants," she said.
In her concluding remarks, Sister Bingham extended an invitation for women to teach the younger generation — their daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, young women and young men — that "in Church callings, temple ordinances, family relationships, and quiet, individual ministry, Latter-day Saint women and men go forward with priesthood power and authority."
The interdependence of men and women, she said, "in accomplishing God’s work through His priesthood power, is central to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and will help prepare the world for the Savior’s Second Coming.