There’s always the first time for everything, but then there’s a first for the Mormons, something not done in their 183-year history. A woman led a prayer Saturday at the semiannual gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jean A. Stevens led the morning session’s closing prayer for the more than 100,000 Mormons gathered in Salt Lake City for the two-day general conference, and the millions more watching via satellite, radio or Internet broadcast.
Among other church roles, Stevens is member of a three-person board that advises and assists parents on teaching their children about the faith, which has more than 14 million members worldwide.
A feminist group launched a campaign earlier this year asking church leaders to let women lead the opening and closing prayer — a first for the conference — as a symbol of gender equality.
Women hold leadership positions in the Mormon church but aren’t allowed to be bishops or presidents of stakes, which are geographic areas similar to Catholic dioceses. At past conferences, women have regularly given speeches and could pray in the audience.
The “Let Women Pray” campaign was launched in January from the same group that drew national attention in December by urging women to wear pants to church rather than skirts or dresses to raise awareness about what they perceive as gender inequality within Mormon culture.
At the last general conference in October, church officials announced a lowering of the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women, and from 19 to 18 for men.