An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Occasionally a member of the bishopric visits Relief Society, but women never violate the male sanctuary of LDS priesthood meetings. Not that there’s anything secretive or even very interesting going on there. It’s just a well-entrenched Mormon tradition. I’d never given much thought about what goes on in priesthood classes, although, from comments made by George and our son Wort, I figured they comprised about the same blend of lessons and friendshipping as Relief Society—minus the tears.

A few years ago I was called to be ward teacher improvement leader. The bishop extended the calling personally, emphasizing the need to make sure pure doctrine was taught in all ward classes. My responsibility was to visit classes and provide support to teachers and auxiliary presidencies both informally and in quarterly inservice meetings.

With normal enthusiasm for a new calling, I contacted the Primary president, discussed her goals and concerns, and made appointments with teachers for class visits. The next month, I contacted the Young Women’s president and visited YW opening exercises and classes. YM was next on my schedule. I contacted the YM president and scheduled a class visit with the Deacon Quorum adviser. When I walked into Priesthood opening exercises and took a seat next to George, all heads turned in my direction. The bishop stared and the counselor who was conducting ignored my presence. It felt kind of like being the only person in town who took the “No Pants Day” prank seriously enough to show up in public sans trousers. Should I have informed the bishop I would be attending priesthood opening exercises when making class visits? In a perverse sort of way, the situation tickled my funny bone. Here I was fulfilling my calling and being perceived as some kind of nut, possibly a threat to the divine order of LDS life. I accompanied the deacons to class and a neighbor asked George, “Does Ann want the priesthood?”

The next Sunday the bishop conducted priesthood opening exercises and made a point of saying, “Welcome Brethren. . .  and Sister Johnson.” He gave no explanation for my visit. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the mystification of his flock. With his own perverse sense of humor, he may have been watching to see if I’d flinch under the floodlight of attention.

After visiting the YM quorums, I visited Relief Society for a month. Then back to Priesthood for the Elders Quorum and High Priests Group. The HP Group leader had been a bishop in a previous ward, knew the church programs well, and responded positively to my request to visit. Some of the gentlemen had figured out the reason for my presence by then, but others gave George a “Can’t you control your wife?” look as I sat beside him. At least no one went to sleep that hour.

The EQ instructor was a personal friend and explained the purpose of my visit . Reb led a wide-ranging discussion more or less on the lesson topic. The difference in EQ and HP discussions was equal to the difference between recess and reading groups in elementary school. Possibly the EQ discussions would have been even livelier without a woman present. As an 18-year-old prospective elder, Wort arrived home from his first EQ class thoroughly disenchanted by the honesty of the good brothers. In discussing family responsibilities, some of the brethren reached the conclusion that divorce was a way for men to give themselves a pay raise. Those remarks sounded similar to some of the gripes against husbands I’ve heard in Relief Society. LDS men and women generally go along with the church definition of gender roles, but that doesn’t mean they are blind to the disadvantages.

The men in our ward eventually got accustomed to my periodic invasion of the third hour of the block. I found I enjoyed EQ and HP classes more than RS because, although the lessons were the same, I hadn’t memorized the men’s responses to every question.  I also liked not having to carry home cutesy handouts to help me remember the lesson.


Comments on: "Trespassing in Priesthood Meeting" (10)

  1. I can picture you, demure and unassuming, a lone woman among men.

  2. Loved reading this! Thanks for linking to the Exponent blog . . . because it led me here, and I love finding new, thoughtful blogs by Mormon women.

  3. What a great story. It is strange being the lone woman in a priesthood meeting. When I was on my mission, in one of my areas, I was serving in a tiny branch. The branch president wanted to get the Elder’s Quorum and High Priests Group excited about missionary work, so he invited me to teach the lesson. My companion and I felt a bit out of place, but I taught the lesson anyway. The brothers took me seriously and treated me with respect. (Real respect, not condescending pedestal-respect.)

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. It is interesting how out of place we women feel in a priesthood meeting. Yet, the prophet and other general authorities routinely attend General RS Conference. And bishoprics, stake presidencies, and male missionaries occasionally attend ward RS meetings with no eyebrows being raised. Is it a matter of subordination?

  4. I have often attended priesthood meetings. It started when, as a single mother, my son was to be ordained a deacon. I was invited to attend the ordination. Another time, I was friends with a teacher in one of the quorums. Based on our lively discussions independent of church, I wanted to hear his lessons. As I sat quietly at the back of the room, I was welcomed by many in the class. I recall this comment from my neighbor (I later learned he was a former bishop), “You’re welcome here anytime. There’s nothing secret that happens here.”

  5. From a different perspective, our stake initiated an annual RS stake fireside in which the stake presidency answered questions that RS sisters had posed weeks prior to the fireside. As a newly called bishop and wanting to show my support to the sisters in my ward I attended the fireside with my wife. While the sisters in the stake greatly anticipated their time with the stake presidency, it was interesting to feel the many looks towards me, some of them I could almost make out saying: How dare you?

    • chololo

      Thanks for pointing out that feelings go both way. But, with the male stake presidency in attendance–in fact, presiding–I’ll bet you felt less awkward than I did as the sole female in our ward priesthood meeting.

  6. In my former ward we had hearing-impaired members attending, and several sisters in the ward were learning ASL (American Sign Language) to provide support to them. As a result we frequently had one sister attending our Elders Quorum to sign for those that needed it. We never made a big deal out of it, and I never noticed that any awkwardness, except when the lesson was on pornography.
    Oh, and on a different note, now that the Priesthood Session of conference is available to watch on TV, I stay home and watch the session while sitting next to my wife, and we talk about it. Before that, I would always come home and give her a report of what I had learned.

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