I went home, and got dressed, and really mentally prepared for what was about to happen, not because I was nervous, but because I was about to make history. I was about to do something that I genuinely believed in, and it was something so many people in the Church look down upon, and claim to be apostate.
I went and parked at the Ballpark (1300 South) TRAX station, and got on the train to head downtown. I got there early so that I could listen to the rest of the afternoon session on Temple Square, and after the session I headed to City Creek Park on State Street and 100 North. When I got there, I saw over 200 women, active, worthy LDS women gathered, and ready to head over to Temple Square. I had some time to meet new people, and visit with my two friends, Bridey and Elizabeth. We were briefed on logistics, sang the hymn, "The Spirit of God", and had a prayer, and then we were off. We were off to make history.
By the time we left for Temple Square, we had over 300 women and male allies among us. As we turned onto North Temple, I pulled out my Scriptures, and started reading my patriarchal blessing. You have been blessed with a sense of right and wrong and with a willing heart to hear the truth and you are true to it. You will experience loving, tender feelings as the Lord visits you by the power of His Spirit to comfort you, to give you reassurance, and strength to go on in times of need. Those words sang true to me that day. I was truly doing what I absolutely know to be right. And it was exhilarating!
Once we made our way onto the Temple Square grounds, we got in the stand by line for the Tabernacle. It was real now. We were there. People started coming up to us asking what the line was for. On more than one occasion I replied with, "This is the standby line for admittance to the Priesthood session in the Tabernacle." Most looked confused, but then smiled and said thank you. Others however... they smirked, and looked me up and down, as if looking for the male genitalia requisite for holding the Priesthood. And then the Sister Missionaries came to call... three companionships total. The first two were pretty... hostile... in that sugary, sweet sister missionary way. But the third set as amazing... they listened, they heard me out, and they understand how hurt the marginalized groups in this Church are. It was missionary work at it's best. They listened. They actually listened.
It wasn't long until word came that we were officially denied entry to the session. It wasn't really surprising to me. We decided to turn and face the crowd of men walking past us... this way they had to look at us. And we walked up, one by one, to ask for entry to the session. Once it was my turn, I walked up to the man standing in front of the door, and said, "My name is Ellen Koester. I'm requesting entry to the Conference Center to hear the counsel of the Prophet and his Apostles." This man, replied, "As you know this is the standby line for men to enter the Priesthood session. It is for male members only."
That statement floored me. I was expecting to be denied, but I was expecting the reason to be because I don't hold the Priesthood... not because I don't have a penis. I looked him straight in the eye, and said ok... and paused to look through the doors into the Tabernacle before I turned to walk away. Soon after, they closed the door, pulled a red tape across the entrance, and eventually drove a mini garbage truck in front of it... as if they were expecting the well behaved women, who had been asking peacefully for entrance, to suddenly storm the building. We all soon gathered for a prayer, and to sing the hymn, " I Am A Child Of God", and we made our way back to City Creek Park. But not before noticing three men standing inside by the window staring at us. They didn't smile, they didn't show any sort of outward emotion. They just stared.
On the walk back, I did a lot of soul searching, and conversing with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. To hear their personal stories was unbelievably inspiring, and faith promoting... I felt the Spirit more strongly than I had all day... with the brief exception of when President Uchtdorf spoke that morning.
Conference weekend as a whole has been discouraging to say the least. But I am holding fast to the words of President Uchtdorf, "Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples is a strength of this Church." This taught me that my opinions and perspectives are valid, and that they are valued... even by the Church. "If you define hypocrites as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us are quite as Christ-like as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and sins to become better with the help of Jesus Christ.", and "If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come join with us." This taught me that although I break certain commandments, and have differing opinions about certain doctrines and practices within the Church, that I am valued. And that there is a place for me. I am Mormon... no matter what anyone else says or thinks. "If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed.", "If you are looking for a place of belonging come join with us." , "If you have left the faith you once embraced, come back again and join with us.", "If you are tempted to give up, stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here." He showed us that there is a place for us. He showed us that we are vital to the Church, as are our opinions and perspectives. He showed us that we were valued.
I am valued. I am wanted. My perspectives are valued. An Apostle of the Lord has asked me to stay. Many people have told me that I don't listen to the counsel of the Prophets, and that I should leave for the benefit of the Church, and the members around me. To them I say........ I'm listening. And I'm staying.