Sydney Walker: What I know now about councils at Church headquarters

I remember looking out the window of a TRAX car as I left downtown Salt Lake City one day after work and thinking, “After everything I have seen and felt today, how could this not be true?”

I was a few months into my job at the Church Office Building. That day I had attended an executive director’s meeting. As a staff assistant in the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department, I helped prepare for this meeting, manage the agenda, coordinate presentations and take minutes.

A small group of General Authority Seventies attended this meeting — one who served as the executive director of the department and others who served as assistant executive directors.

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss matters pertaining to the Priesthood and Family Department, some of which would then go on to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. Examples of topics discussed included ministering, “Come, Follow Me” integrated curriculum and the Children and Youth program.

I don’t remember exactly what items were discussed that day, but I do remember what I felt as I observed the General Authority Seventies in the room share their opinions, offering insight from their unique backgrounds and experiences. They weren’t out of touch with what was happening in the world; they were aware of members’ concerns and the challenges they face. 

Toward the end of the meeting, the Young Women general presidency joined to discuss an item. I watched as the presidency members and others in the meeting counseled with sincerity and humility while seated around the table together. 

As the conversation centered on strengthening faith in Jesus Christ and seeking His will, I felt the Spirit testify to me that the Savior does in fact lead His Church. He has called a Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, to guide us at this time in the history of the world. I also felt the Spirit confirm that these men and women were called of God to help direct the work in this specific area of the Lord’s vineyard. 

Over the next year while working at Church headquarters, I caught a small glimpse into what some might call the “behind the scenes” operations of the Church. I gained a deeper testimony that initiatives and programs such as “Come, Follow Me” and Children and Youth weren’t created on a whim — they were developed “line upon line” over a series of many council meetings as Church leaders sought guidance and inspiration from the Spirit. They were developed to help bring us closer to the Savior. 

I saw that what Church leaders encourage us to do in our stakes, wards and families, they do at the general level. They seek the Lord’s will through revelation. They counsel together. They listen to learn. They strive for unity. 

And every voice matters. 

These takeaways from my experience in the Priesthood and Family Department have been on my mind since I began working as a Church News reporter and were my motivation for writing the Church News “Inside Church Headquarters” series. 

Read more: What President Oaks and President Eyring have learned about revelation in councils

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was one of several Church leaders who testified of the principles of counseling during interviews for the series. These principles can be applied to any council in the Church, as well as individuals and families.

President Ballard said a parent should give individual focus on each child. When a father sits down with his teenage son, for example, it isn’t merely a father-son meeting. “He is in a council meeting with the most precious member he could possibly be counseling with.”

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon said sometimes in the Young Women general advisory council meetings, she notices a sister who has been quiet. “I’ll invite her, ‘Do you have any thoughts?’ And sometimes she is exactly the missing piece that we were hoping to have.”

In March, Sister Rebecca L. Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, posted a photo on Instagram of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. She wrote that she sits on that council with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham and other general authorities. 

She explained that other general women leaders participate in other executive councils and committees. “I also marvel how the leaders of the Church are so in tune with what is happening across the globe,” she wrote. “I can testify that the voices of women are sought after and valued in the leading councils of the Church.”

As someone who has sat in and helped coordinate some of these meetings, I have seen for myself that this is true. I have seen revelation in action. And because of what I have felt and seen, I will strive to make my stake, ward and family councils better when given the opportunity to participate.