SALT LAKE CITY —About 150 women and their male supporters requested entrance for women to the all-male Priesthood Session of LDS General Conference Saturday but were turned away and invited to watch the proceedings on the Internet or other broadcast outlets.
The carefully orchestrated event began at City Creek Park and featured a prayer and hymns by women who are part of a group called Ordain Women, organized with a website and leaders challenging the LDS Church’s all-male lay clergy and seeking ordination for women to the priesthood.
"I feel a little disappointed," group founder Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney from Washington, D.C., said. "We know that there's room in the Conference Center and we're being denied admission on the basis of our sex and because we're sisters and not brothers."
Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd met and spoke with the women on Temple Square and noted the church held a world-wide meeting to strengthen women one week earlier. She said the Priesthood Session was designed to strengthen men and boys.
"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive," Todd said.
We know that there's room in the Conference Center and we're being denied admission on the basis of our sex and because we're sisters and not brothers.
–Kate Kelly, Ordain Women founder
"Even so, these are our sisters and we want them among us, and hope they will find [the] peace and joy we all seek in the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Todd later said.
The peaceful event followed two sessions of General Conference that included talks by Sister Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that addressed the divine roles and responsibilities of men and women in the church.
Quoting Elder M. Russell Ballard, also a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Stephens said that Heavenly Father is "generous with His power."
"All men and women have access to this power for help in their own lives. All who have made sacred covenants with the Lord, and who honor those covenants, are eligible to receive personal revelation, to be blessed by the ministering of angels, and to commune with God."
Women and men need each other, she said. "We have different gifts and different strengths."
Elder Christofferson spoke of his grandmother's positive influence on his use of priesthood authority and of the moral influence women have on the church and the world.
All men and women have access to this power for help in their own lives. All who have made sacred covenants with the Lord, and who honor those covenants, are eligible to receive personal revelation, to be blessed by the ministering of angels, and to commune with God.
–Elder M. Russell Ballard
"My plea to women and girls today is to protect and cultivate the moral force that is within you. Preserve that innate virtue and unique gifts you bring into the world," he said.
On Temple Square, members of Ordain Women lined up feet away from the standby line. Then, one by one, they approached the usher at the head of the standby line, near the Tabernacle, and asked to be admitted. In each case they were told the standby line was to admit men and they were invited to watch it elsewhere.
Kelly was among those in the group with whom the morning conference address of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church First Presidency, resonated.
"I really took it as a message that there is room for us in the church," Kelly said before the group set out for Temple Square.
President Uchtdorf said it is natural to have questions or doubts, quoting a familiar Book of Mormon scripture, “Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true," he said. “Therefore, please, first doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith.”
Many from Ordain Women gathered in City Creek Park to listen to the Priesthood Session that was streamed live for the first time. Kelly said it was good to hear, but she was disappointed that they could not attend.
When asked about the meeting she said none of the messages resonated with her.
"Those messages are not directed to me," she said, but added that it is always nice to be in the presence of the prophet and those in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.