Mormons gather for historic women's meeting

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon women gathered around the world Saturday night for what leaders called a historic meeting of the faith.

The General Women's Meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the first time brought together female members from the age of 8 and older.

More than 20,000 women and girls gathered in Salt Lake City for the united meeting of the church's three female auxiliaries: the Relief Society for adult women, Young Women for 12- to 17-year-olds and Primary for 18-month- to 11-year-olds. Millions more watched in Mormon meetinghouses worldwide.

"The combined power of our testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ surely constitutes one of the most faith-filled and powerful assemblies in the history of the church, if not the world," said Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president.

Tana Clayton attended the meeting with her 10-year-old daughter, Halli.

"It's cool that I get to be here even if I'm young," the girl told KUTV-TV.

Linda Burton, Relief Society general president, praised attendees' faith and willingness to give.

"You do this without fanfare or publicity, drawing attention to the God you worship, not yourselves, and with no thought of what you will receive," she said.

President Henry Eyring, first counselor in the church's First Presidency, stressed the importance of the meeting whose theme was making and keeping sacred covenants.

"We have been taught with spiritual power tonight," he said. "I pray that the word spoken by these great sister leaders will go down into your heart as they have mine. This is an historic meeting."

It was the latest change for women in the church. In 2012, the church lowered the minimum age for women to depart on missions from 21 to 19. More women now speak and pray at the faith's semiannual General Conference.

Members of the group Ordain Women commended the united meeting, but want women and girls to have an opportunity for expanded roles in the church, including positions in the all-male priesthood.

"We want people to know we are here. We are part of you," Suzette Smith of Washington, D.C., told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Members of Ordain Women will try to gain entrance Saturday to the priesthood session of the church's General Conference in Salt Lake City. Church officials have said they will not be allowed to attend. The group was barred admission last year.