This May marks the 45th anniversary of BYU Women’s Conference, co-sponsored by the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Church News. The conference, held entirely online and beginning April 29, will focus on the theme, “I am a Child of God, His Promises are Sure.” This digital event will include free sessions and paid packages, and also have content in Spanish and Portuguese. This episode of the Church News podcast celebrates women’s conference and features conference chair Sister Rosemary Thackeray. She serves as assistant to the president for assessment and planning at BYU and is also a former member of the Young Women General Advisory Council. She is also joined by Church News reporter Sydney Jorgensen Walker, who covers Relief Society, Young Women, Primary and family history for the Church News and who will be reporting women’s conference this year. Listeners are reminded that there is power in gathering, in-person or virtually. As children of God, they will connect from locations across the globe by a common belief in the promises of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”
This May marks the 45th anniversary of BYU Women’s Conference, co-sponsored by the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church News. The conference this year will be entirely online. It will include free sessions and paid options, and will also include options that will be translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Today, as we anticipate Women’s Conference, we are joined by conference chair, Sister Rosemary Thackeray. She serves as assistant to the president for assessment and planning at BYU, and she’s also a former member of the Young Women General Advisory Council. Sister Thackeray brings years of Church and professional experience to her current position as chair of BYU Women’s Conference. She is joined today by Church News reporter Sydney Walker, who covers the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary for the Church News. Sydney will be reporting on Women’s Conference this May.
Rosemary and Sydney, we’re so glad that you’re here with us today to talk about Women’s Conference. Rosemary, let’s start with you. Can you tell us about this year’s Women’s Conference and about how Latter-day Saint women can participate?
Rosemary Thackeray: Thank you, Sarah, for the invitation to be part of the Church News podcast. This year’s conference will be different than any other year. For BYU Women’s Conference. There are going to be two parts. The first part will be on April 29 and 30. We will have livestreamed talks by the general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, Sunday School, Young Men and Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Sister Melanie Rasband. These talks will be in English, Spanish and Portuguese. They can be watched live on those days. If you can’t watch live, they will be available afterwards on the Church News app or churchnews.com and other platforms. And you can find out all those locations if you go to womensconference.byu.edu. Also on April 29, we will launch our digital registration package that has 35 talks. It costs $59. You’ll be able to listen to all those talks as many times as you want between April 29 and Sept. 30. We will also have 10 talks in Spanish, five will be in native Spanish language, and five talks will be translated into Spanish. And there will be a special registration cost just for those that will be $20. For those 10 talks, you can find out more information about registration if you go to womensconference.byu.edu. So even though we’re not gathering on campus, you’ll still have an opportunity to hear from many women and men on a variety of topics just like if you would have come to campus, but it’ll be available to more women around the world than ever before.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this Women’s Conference has such a rich history, you know, it’s in its 45th year this spring, this is the first time that is going to be entirely online. Talk to us about the theme of the conference and what makes it relevant for this season.
Rosemary Thackeray: Yes, this is the first time that we’re completely online. Last year, the pandemic started just before Women’s Conference, and so we heard messages from the Relief Society, and then we had four other additional speakers. But this year, everything is available online, and our theme is “I Am a Child of God. His Promises are Sure.” And there’s really two parts to that theme. The first part is our identity as children of God. And then the second part is “His Promises are Sure.”
So if you look at the first part, “I’m a child of God” — in the world today, especially in the last couple of years, we seem to be more divided as we focus on how we are different, you know, whether that is what our race or ethnicity, or our religious background, or our beliefs in various social issues. We tend to focus on what we have that’s different. And if we focus on all being children of God, I think that’s stronger and can really unite us instead of dividing us.
Then the other piece with “His Promises are Sure,” as children of Heavenly Parents, we are promised incredible blessings. And some of those blessings are for here and now. And some of those blessings are for eternity. But regardless, whatever the Lord has promised us, those promises will be fulfilled. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of challenges and difficulties, and life seems hard and dark, we tend to forget those promises. And the promises that are immediate, that are in the scriptures are things such as, you know, “I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left.” So no matter what challenges we face, the Lord will be with us. And then of course, we have promises of eternal life and blessings we can’t even imagine. Focusing on those blessings can help us through the dark and challenging parts of mortality, that Heavenly Father has promised us incredible blessings, if we will just be faithful to him.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this is a season when so many people are feeling weary and tired and disconnected, and so longing for some of those blessings. Now, Sydney, you’ve covered the Relief Society, Young Women, Primary for the Church News. What does this theme mean to you?
Sydney Walker: I think it’s really significant that this theme is coming at a time when we’re studying the Lord’s promises. President Nelson invited us in the October conference to look for the Lord’s promises to covenant Israel. And so many women and Latter-day Saints around the world have been doing this. And so again, have this emphasis on the Lord’s promises that the Lord doesn’t forget us, and that He is very much aware of what we’re going through, and has great promises in mind for those who are faithful and keep their covenants. That stands out to me.
And another thing about Women’s Conference that I’m so excited about is that there’s going to be something for everyone. It doesn’t matter what age you are, or what your place is in life. For me, I fall into the demographic of being a young adult. And I think sometimes there’s this idea that Women’s Conferences for old ladies, if we can say that, but it’s not. There’s something there for everyone, that there’s this feeling of connection and belonging that all can benefit from.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, now, Rosemary, can you build on that? Talk about some of the highlights of this conference that are coming up.
Rosemary Thackeray: Yes, Sydney is right. There’s something at BYU Women’s Conference for everybody, no matter what your age or stage in life is. And as we were planning this year, we wanted to have topics that really focused on a wide variety of topics that were applicable to women, things that they’re facing right here and right now. Some of the highlights: We’re looking forward to hearing from the new Primary general presidency, this will be their first public speaking since they were called at the April general conference. Sister Porter will also be participating in the Sister to Sister conversation with Sister Craig and Sister Eubank from the Primary and the Relief Society, and that is always a highlight for women at Women’s Conference. We also have speakers from around the world who have a wide array of life experiences. Some names you’ll recognize and some names you won’t. Sheri Dew is giving a talk about our theme, “I am a Child of God. His Promises are Sure.” Other speakers that you might recognize are Sister Neil and Brother David Marriott, and Sister Marriott was a former counselor in the Young Women general presidency. Barbara Morgan Gardner, you may recognize her from the “Come Follow Up” on BYUtv. Also, we have Emily Freeman and Rio Grange, Paige Holland, who just recently returned from serving a mission with her husband, she’s going to talk about preparing children for missionary service. Tracy Browning, Liz Darger, who serves on the Young Women General Advisory Council, and then other just amazing women with life experiences who have thoughtfully and prayerfully prepared messages for women of the world. So we’re excited about the range of people and experiences that are going to be presented this year.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And so many women come to Women’s Conference each year so that they can connect to one another and to gospel teachings. Because the conference looks so different this year, how will we connect this year? What is going to be the secret ingredient to helping everyone feel part of this?
Rosemary Thackeray: That’s a great question. What will be the same this year, even though we’re not gathering on campus, is that we’re going to hear inspiring talks from amazing men and women and we’re going to listen to uplifting music. And then the interesting thing this year is we’re going to have a virtual choir. We received over 100 submissions of women singing the song that we selected. And these women are going to be speaking in English and Spanish, and they come from all over the world. So Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan, Portugal, 20 states in the United States. So that’s the starting point of participating, that musical event that will help sisters feel connected. We also requested music submissions related to our theme, and we received over 50 submissions, and three of those will be performed during the conference. There is power in gathering. So even though we can’t gather together physically on campus, it’s still going to be the same spirit. So we will gather virtually this year instead of in-person. But women can still feel the power of gathering through the Spirit.
Let me share two quotes from last year. So remember, last year, we had a mini virtual conference. And these are quotes from two women who participated virtually. One of them, Vicki, said, “I love the prayers, music and messages. But what I loved the most was that I felt connected with thousands of other sisters, even though I watched alone in my room.” And then Melanie said, “Even sitting on my couch with my two kiddos climbing all over me, I can still feel sisterhood with every woman watching or listening, especially seeing the comments from my sisters all over the world.”
I love this. So we know that it works. We know that women can watch virtually from wherever they are, and still feel that connection of sisterhood because it is the Spirit that connects us. I would invite sisters to watch Women’s Conference, and then talk about what they heard. And more importantly, what they learned through the Spirit with their neighbors, their ministering sisters, their family members. We also invite women to invite women of other faiths to watch the messages from our Church leaders. These are topics that are applicable to women, no matter if they’re members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not. So this is an opportunity to reach out and invite others to watch with you and share our faith and our testimony.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the things that has always connected women in the past at this conference has been the evening of service. Rosemary, will you tell us something about it?
Rosemary Thackeray: We have been doing service for 20 years as part of Women’s Conference. And interestingly, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, she was chair of BYU Women’s Conference when they started the service event, and it has just grown every year since then. It has become a big part of the Women’s Conference experience.
So this year, on Wednesday night, we’re doing a special broadcast. It will be on the Women’s Conference Facebook page, where we’ll give a history of Women’s Conference service event. we’ll have messages from Sister Nelson, and also from Mary Ellen Edmonds, who was chair of the service event for a number of years. We’ve also asked sisters to look for opportunities to serve within their communities during the week of Women’s Conference, and we’ve invited sisters to send in messages and videos of them doing service and what they’ve learned from that. So even though we can’t gather on campus to do service, we’re inviting sisters to find service opportunities in their communities and continue that tradition as part of Women’s Conference.
Sydney Walker: Yeah, I was just thinking as Rosemary was talking, that it’s through doing service that we feel that unity, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Sydney, I loved that you mentioned that this conference is so much bigger than what people may have thought, that it’s not your grandmother’s Women’s Conference anymore. And research shows that one of the things that connects the younger generation of Latter-day Saints is service. What are you hoping, Sydney, that can connect your demographic to this conference?
Sydney Walker: There’s going to be opportunities. I was just looking yesterday on the BYU Women’s Conference website at all the different service projects that are on there, and there’s so many. And so knowing that if I’m working on service this month, or the week of Women’s Conference, that there’s going to be women all over the world doing that as well, helps me feel united, like I belong and that I’m doing this great work with so many other women. And I think just now with social media and also with Women’s Conference being online, and Women’s Conference having social media accounts as well, that can also help connect us and reach the demographic of young adults.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Rosemary, I know we’ve all experienced that feeling when we walk into a huge room filled with women all working together for a common service goal. I am sure that that will be no different this year. You’ll just think of it as women all over the world doing the same thing at the same time. Is that correct?
Rosemary Thackeray: Yes, that is what we hope will happen: that no matter where you are in the world that you’ll find opportunities to serve within your local community. What communities need are going to be unique by their circumstances, and who knows best what they need than sisters in the Relief Society? So it is a great opportunity to reach out and serve.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, what do you hope is going to happen as a result this year of Women’s Conference?
Rosemary Thackeray: I hope that as results of Women’s Conference this year, that women will feel connected, and part of a worldwide sisterhood. No matter where they live, we have the potential to reach so many more women than we typically do coming to campus. In a typical year on campus, we may have 11,000-14,000 women. Last year, in our virtual broadcast, we had thousands of women listen. And I think this year, we’re going to build on that. And we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of women watching this. And I hope they feel the connection, that we as women of faith are standing shoulder to shoulder for truth and righteousness.
And I hope that women come away feeling like there’s hope and there’s help for the challenges that lie ahead. We have so many topics that are of interest to women today. We have several sessions on mental health related issues, suicide, taking care of yourself, we have topics related to what’s the difference between guilt and shame? How do you raise a child in a diverse world that we’re living in? How do you keep your children safe on the internet and social media? What do you do when family members have a faith crisis? And then we have all the typical testimony-building, faith-promoting sessions such as developing faith in Jesus Christ, developing our testimony, ideas for scripture, study, and so forth. So there really is something for everybody. So I hope that the women will feel connected (and) part of that sisterhood, and they’ll leave feeling a sense of hope and happiness, that they’re not alone in this effort.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as you planned the conference, as you prayed to know what to do to make this conference work so well, what feelings or thoughts did you have?
Rosemary Thackeray: We have a committee of about 20 women who help plan Women’s Conference every year. And we counseled together weekly, we met on Friday mornings via Zoom. Everything was virtual, which also allowed us to bring in two women who live out of state as part of the committee. And as we prayed and counseled together, there were a couple of things that stood out. One was, women are craving and they need uplifting content. They’re looking for light and truth. Also, the importance of focusing on the practical. We wanted women to come away from the sessions having tools that they could use, something that they could do right now to improve their lives. And we also wanted to make sure that we had a variety of women speakers from various stages of life, from young to old, to married, not married, to being in the U.S,, not in the U.S. One of our speakers is currently living in Germany. So we wanted to talk about real issues that women are facing, but frame those in the light of the gospel.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I was so touched as you were reading that feedback from sisters who had participated in Women’s Conference last year. Can you give me some specific examples or something anecdotal? Maybe someone that you know, or that you have heard about who has been touched by this conference? How does Women Conference make women better?
Rosemary Thackeray: That is a great question. We received so many comments on our social media pages and our YouTube page about how the messages last year were just what they needed. And last year, I was invited by Sandra Rodgers, who was the chair of Women’s Conference for over 18 years, to be one of the speakers that they would do digitally last year. And I was very honored and humbled for that invitation. And as I prepared that, it was an unmistakable revelation from the Lord about what I needed to talk about, that He hears us, He sees us and He knows us. And I received so many comments from women about that is what they needed to hear that they just needed reinforcement that Heavenly Father really didn’t know them and see them and know what was going on in their lives. And I think it’s not so much what the speaker says at Women’s Conference that’s important, as it is what the Spirit teaches each woman who is listening. That’s really where the benefit comes. So no matter whether we’re gathering on campus, or we’re gathering virtually, the Spirit can be there. And the Spirit is the real teacher, and that’s what’s going to make the difference.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think we’ve all had that experience, where we’re listening to something and feel like, “Uh, that message was just for me, that was a personal message that the Lord sees me and knows me and understands some of my struggles.” Sydney, I’m interested, you, of course, didn’t plan or have any part in the execution of this, but you have written about it. And so what are some of the thoughts and feelings you’ve had as you’ve learned a little more about it in preparing an article about it?
Sydney Walker: That’s a great question. And I was thinking as Rosemary was talking about how it’s not so much what the speaker is saying, but more what what we as participants feel from those messages. I’m reflecting back on the first ever Sister to Sister event in 2019. I remember watching that, and I had never, to be honest, watched or participated in Women’s Conference before. But I watched that event, and I saw Sister Cordon and Sister Bingham and Sister Jones interact with Sheri Dew as the moderator. And they were so real in answering live questions. And they talked about, you know, belonging and doubt and inadequacy and feeling overwhelmed. And I felt like, “Wow, these women leaders know what’s going on in our lives. They know what we’re dealing with. And they deal with some of the same things.” And so that experience, and then also now preparing the articles for the upcoming Women’s Conference, I’m so excited. And I hope that other women will feel that too, that they’re not alone, and that whatever they’re going through, that the Spirit can comfort them. And I hope that they’ll be able to feel that at Women’s Conference, even if someone doesn’t say an answer to their question, they’ll be able to feel that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sydney, I’m so glad that you talked about the general women leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rosemary, you served on a General Advisory Council with some of these leaders. Can you just take a minute to reflect on that experience and what you learned in the process about Latter-day Saint women?
Rosemary Thackeray: I had the opportunity to serve on the Young Women General Advisory Council when Sister Bonnie Oscarson was the president, with her counselors, Sister Neil Marriott and Sister Carol McConkie. And our advisory council had representation from around the world. We had people from Japan, and South America, and South Africa, and New York City. It was an amazing experience. I said to Rosemary Wixom, who was the General Primary President at the time, I said, “Sister Wixom, do you ever have ‘pinch me’ moments?” And she said, “All the time.” And that’s what I felt like every single day that I got to serve, that it was a “pinch me” moment. Those sister leaders are incredible. I knew Sister Cordon, and Sister Bingham, and they are women who make you feel like you are their best friend and you are the most important person in the room. And they are faith-filled, smart, brilliant, kind women who are leading the women of the Church. And I think we sometimes underestimate the influence that they have. But they have incredible influence on what is happening in the Church at the highest levels. What I’ve learned about women in the Church and young women in the Church is that the young women leaders are faithful and dedicated. They’re really trying their best.
The young women are amazing. The young women live in a world where Satan is trying to tell them who they should be, how they should act, what should be important. And what we have to provide them as women in the Church is opportunities with the Spirit, where they can come to recognize what their true identity is. And when they recognize who they really are, and what their potential is, and what they’re capable of, things change. I saw some incredible young women who are going to be amazing leaders in not too many years, because their leaders now provided them opportunities to be young women leaders in their classes, and they mentored them through that process. I remember going to one New Beginnings event in a ward and it was amazing. And I found out afterwards that the 12 and 13 year old young women planned the entire event. At the end of the night, they were ecstatic because it had gone so well. So you can imagine what amazing Relief Society and young women leaders they are going to be because they were mentored as young women.
Another thing that I learned is that the gospel transcends language barriers and cultural barriers. On our General Advisory Council, we had members from around the world. So we had members from Japan, in South Africa, and South America, and New York. And then of course, in Utah. Megumi Yamaguchi, who lives in Japan, she came with her parents to conference a couple of times. And then two years ago, I went to Japan to visit them. And Megumi’s parents do not speak any English, and so Megumi is the translator. But I felt a love and a connection for her parents and her mom, especially, from the moment I met them, the first time when they came to Salt Lake City. And I think it’s because of the Spirit and the gospel that that’s what connects us as women aegardless of what our background is.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I was thinking back, as you both were sharing your favorite Women Conference experiences. I have been at the Church News now for about 26 years. So I’ve covered many Women’s Conferences, not all of them. But my favorite was a session in 1999 When Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley was speaking with her daughters. And I remember listening to that and thinking, “The gospel is fun. The gospel can not just unite us, but it can bring us great, great joy.” And the Marriott Center was full and everyone was laughing. I think that session was later put on a DVD, and distributed so other people could feel that great joy that can come as Latter-day Saint women gather together and share their experiences. I so appreciate you sharing the feelings you’ve had as you’ve met and worked with women across the globe. We do have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always give our guests the last word. And I actually want to hear from both of you today. Sydney, let’s start with you. Because you’ve had an opportunity to write about Latter-day Saint women, what do you know now, after thinking about and writing about Latter-day Saint women, and as you have prepared to cover BYU Women’s Conference?
Sydney Walker: I’ll go back to that first Sister to Sister event that I watched in 2019, where a question was asked by a young mom. I think she had three little boys and was overwhelmed. And she asked the question, she said, “Everywhere I look their voices telling me to do more, to be more, to fit in more, and spend more and more and more.” She said, “How do we balance this? How do we say no with the high commission given us as covenant-keeping, relief-providing sisters in the kingdom of God?”
And I love what President Jones answered. She said, “It’s easy for us to fall into comparison, to feel we’re not enough, that we’re not giving enough, not doing enough, not being enough. In reality through our Savior, we are enough.” And so that’s one thing I’ve learned just covering the women leaders and also as we get ready for Women’s Conference, that we are enough. That the Lord sees us, that He knows us, that our voices are needed. And now, when we come together, there’s such a strong sense of sisterhood and connection.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you so much. Rosemary, as you have prepared for this conference — which we’re so excited about — the Church News, along with the Relief Society, is a co-sponsor of Women’s Conference this year. But as you have prepared about it, if you have prayed for Latter-day Saint women, as you have anticipated this event as it approaches, what have you learned, what is it that you know now?
Rosemary Thackeray: I have loved BYU Women’s Conference for years before I became a faculty member at BYU. And I have enjoyed coming to Women’s Conference with my sister. and as you were speaking about Sister Hinckley back in the 90s, I remember that session and I remember laughing. And the beauty of Women’s Conference is really that sisterhood and coming together. And I hope the sisters feel that same spirit this year.
What I’ve learned, as we’ve prayed and fasted and made preparations for this year is that the Lord is in the details of our lives. And He’s in the details of Women’s Conference. Women matter to Him, and the opportunity to gather and to testify of Him and His plan of happiness for us is important. The things that come together, the miracles that happen with Women’s Conference are real. This is an important part, to gather together, to hear other women speak and testify not only of gospel truths, but of the happiness that comes in living the gospel, living life in a way that is guided by gospel principles. There’s joy in living the gospel, there is power and gathering, whether it’s going to be in-person on campus, or virtually, there’s something that connects us as we gather. And I hope this year is just the beginning of a wider reach for Women’s Conference, that women all over the world will want to be part of the sisterhood, not just those who can physically travel to campus.
When I was set apart from my calling as part of the Young Women General Advisory Council with Sister Oscarson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland set me apart. One of the things that he said in that blessing was, “We cannot lose one young woman.” I’ve thought about that for many years. And I’ve pondered about that, about the why. Women are a vital force in the world. We are the women that shape the future. And it doesn’t matter if we’re married, or if we’re single. I happen to not be married, but I claim to be the favorite aunt of six nieces and nephews. And being here at BYU, I’ve had the opportunity to interact and influence many students.
And while there can be a lot of opportunities as a woman in life, and President Hinckley said, “The whole gamut of human endeavor is open to women. The most important thing that we can do as women is to be a wife, and a mother.” That is where the real influence in the world comes. The influence in the world doesn’t come in the boardroom or in the office. It comes in what happens in our families, and the influence can come regardless of what our marital status is. I know that God is in the details of our lives. I know that He knows us individually. He knows our strengths. He knows our talents. He knows what contribution that we need to make in the world. He has a plan for each of us and that plan includes beautiful promises. Not all those promises will come in this life, I can testify that some promises won’t come until the eternities, but whatever He has promised, He will do. I know that Jesus Christ lives, I know that He walked upon the earth. I know the Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers, and I leave that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.