The Testimony of Sister Geddes.

One unique aspect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that, among most if not all Christian branches, they do not have a paid clergy. Every leadership and priesthood position in the church is volunteer. This means all talks and teaching on any given Sunday Sacrament Service are provided by various members of the congregation. All members are spiritual family members with a lesson to share from their experiences during that week.

In honoring that tradition, I would like to introduce Sister Emily Geddes to share her testimony and wisdom regarding her experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Hello, Project Conversion Ward!  I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on my faith with you.  By way of introduction, I’m a 33-year-old homeschooling, politically independent, feminist, stay-at-home, faithful Latter-day Saint mother of three wonderful boys.  I love reading, writing, learning, and embracing truth wherever I find it.  My best friend/love of my life and I have been married for just over twelve years now.  I’ve gone skydiving, earned an MBA, interned at an electron beam accelerator facility, lived all over the U. S. of A. and, for a brief time, in Europe, and recently learned how to make pickles (it’s surprisingly easy!). 

I was born and raised in an active Latter-day Saint family.  While my dad joined the Church in his early twenties, my mom is from a long line of pioneer stock – yes, some of her ancestors crossed the plains with Brigham Young.  Coming from a strong background of any faith, it’s easy to take it for granted.  At some point, however, everyone has to determine whether the path on which they were born is the path on which they should stay.  I floated passively along this spiritual path of least resistance with a token rebellion here and there during my teenage years.  Then, when I was 15, life-threatening injuries from a car accident left me with several physical scars and a terrifying realization that I did not know who I was or who I wanted to be.  The faith I thought I had was completely inadequate to sustain me through this trial.  During my recovery I decided it was time to find out for myself if what I had been taught at church and by my parents was really true.  That was the beginning of spiritual discovery – simply making a choice to actively seek truth from the Source.  My conversion wasn’t an instantaneous experience by any means; on the contrary it’s a process that continues to this day. 

One aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ that consistently grounds me is that we are literal children of God.  We have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who love us and want us to be happy and to learn and grow and fulfill our potential.  And because we are all children of these perfect, omnipotent Parents, our potential is unlimited!  As I’ve experienced parenthood, my appreciation of this principle has deepened immeasurably.  The overwhelming love I feel for my children gives me a taste of the love my Heavenly Parents must feel for each of their children.  I watch my boys as they grow and struggle and make mistakes and learn by experience and understand a little better why our Heavenly Parents sent us here and what They want for me during our time apart. 

We believe in eternal progression; that we learn “line upon line, precept upon precept;” and that God isn’t done revealing truth to the world.  I love that our faith has a tradition (starting in modern times with Joseph Smith) of asking questions and getting personal answers.  We have both the right and the responsibility to communicate directly with God and receive personal, individual direction for our lives.  The answer isn’t always what we expect, and sometimes doesn’t come exactly when we want it, but it comes. 

Challenges, of course, come frequently.  Applying the teachings of Christ in every interaction with others is a tall order, and I fall short every day.  Reconciling beliefs that I hold dear, but at first seem contradictory (please note, for example, the descriptors “feminist” and “faithful Latter-day Saint” in my first paragraph) is a struggle that I often work through on my knees in prayer.  But since I believe that the Gospel encompasses all truth, and that God hears and answers my sincere questions, I believe that reconciliation is possible.  So I keep praying and working to understand what I don’t yet grasp. 

Most of my challenges with my faith community are more a result of the culture than the doctrine.  And let me be very clear: there is a difference between the two!  It irks me to no end when cultural conformity is equated with righteousness.  There are those who seem disproportionately concerned with what I consider trivialities or peripherals, or who insist that their interpretation of doctrine or scripture is the only possible “right” one.  But every faith has its zealots and I’m trying to be more loving and patient when I run into them in my own.  Thankfully, I’ve found that they are not the majority. 

As Elder M. Russell Ballard, one of the Twelve Apostles, said in the last General Conference, “the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, no matter how much we try to make it complicated.”  Over and over, it boils down to Love: the love our Heavenly Parents and our Savior have for us, the love we should have for each other and for Them.  Another Apostle, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, reminded us recently, “Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood.”  I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it calls me to love and serve others, to question and struggle and study and find answers, and to eventually return to my Heavenly Parents, continuing to progress with my loved ones forever.

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Thank you Sister Geddes! I hope you’ve enjoyed her testimony and that you will consider sharing your own thoughts here via comments or on the Project Conversion Facebook page.

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  • Colin Faux

    “Reconciling beliefs that I hold dear, but at first seem contradictory
    (please note, for example, the descriptors “feminist” and “faithful
    Latter-day Saint” in my first paragraph)”

    “It irks me to no end when cultural conformity is equated with righteousness.”

    “I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by The Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it calls me to love and serve
    others, to question and struggle and study and find answers, and to
    eventually return to my Heavenly Parents, continuing to progress with my
    loved ones forever.”

    Amen Sister :).

    • EmiG

      I’m glad you appreciated those sentiments, Colin. :)  Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1739444196 Joan Anderson

    Sister Emily Geddes says at one point that she decided that one thing she needed to do was “simply making a choice to actively seek truth from the Source”. This is something I think everyone needs to do; not just once but periodically. IMHO, unless you do this you can’t know if you are in the right faith community. For some people, it needs to change during their lifetime, sometimes more than once.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. Different stokes (of the fire) for different folks.

    • EmiG

      I’m right with you, Joan!  It’s a choice that needs to be made and re-made throughout life, a spiritual re-orientation, if you will, to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.  Thanks for your thoughts!

  • David

    Thanks for your testimony, Sister Geddes.

    Andrew, I suggest that you link to http://scriptures.lds.org if you use scripture references/quotes in future posts this month, so that your readers can easily view the scriptures in context and possibly investigate further.

    Since we’ve just celebrated Independence Day, Doctrine and Covenants 101:80 is a
    fitting reference for an example, as it shows our belief that Jesus
    Christ (the speaker in the verse) took an
    active role in the formation of the United States. It is hard to imagine how the Church could have been restored (especially at that time) without the unique and revolutionary religious freedom found in this country. Even with that freedom, religious persecution was tremendous.

    D&C 101:80

    And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

    Link: http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/101.80?lang=eng#79

  • Tina

    Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your spiritual journey, Sister Geddes! I was struck by your statement:

    “Reconciling beliefs that I hold dear, but at first seem contradictory (please note, for example, the descriptors “feminist” and “faithful Latter-day Saint” in my first paragraph) is a struggle that I often work through on my knees in prayer.”

    Interesting, indeed. When I was in a faith community, I  too experienced cognitive disonance regarding patriarchy and women in religious doctrine. It would be interesting to hear about how you have made peace with this very important issue. I hope we hear more from you this month!

    Peace, Tina

    • EmiG

      Hi Tina!

      I can’t say that I’m completely at peace; it’s honestly more like a temporary truce most days.  Just this Sunday someone in our ward’s Relief Society (the organization for women which meets during the third hour of the Sunday block of meetings) said something during a lesson about family responsibilities that got my dander up and I was less than tactful in disagreeing with her. :s

      At its essence is my firm conviction that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother love their daughters and sons equally.  In their eyes I am no less loved (and no more loved) because of my gender.

      Someone recently described the CoJCoLDS as “conservative…in the classic sense of changing slowly, but it does change deliberately in its own good time.”  There have been hopeful signs.  For example, recent training from Church headquarters encourages bishops to fully involve women in the leadership councils that run each ward, specifically soliciting their ideas and opinions.  I actually think that the “I’m a Mormon” campaign which profiles individual members of the church, is doing a great deal of good highlighting the broad spectrum of people of our faith.  If you type “feminist” in the search engine at mormon.org, several dozen profiles (all of which have been screened to some extent before being published on the website) pop up – which may not seem like much, but a decade or so ago that “f-word” just wasn’t uttered by good faithful Mormons.  Church leaders emphasize marriage as an “equal partnership.”  In this latest General Conference, one of the Apostles explicitly stated that we shouldn’t judge each other’s choices regarding working or staying home – which is a far cry from the message women got in the 1980s.  Heck, even the fact that nylons are no longer required by the dress code for sister missionaries or female Church employees is a leap forward!  There is change; it’s slow and sometimes almost imperceptible, but it’s trending in the right direction.

      There are many feminists who would say that those steps are not sufficient.  There are many LDS who would say that I’m disloyal or heretical for wanting anything more or even seeing that there might be more to want.  So I inhabit my somewhat uncomfortable middle ground and cling to those fervent beliefs that I have received personal confirmation of: I am loved by my Heavenly Parents, the Book of Mormon is true, living prophets lead the Church, God isn’t done revealing truth.  I don’t believe the Church is perfect; it’s made up of and run by imperfect people, after all.  But I have to trust that the Gospel is perfect, and the Plan is perfect, and God is bringing us closer and closer to perfection as we go.  Even if it’s not exactly the way or as fast as I – with my finite mind and limited view – would like. ;)

      I hope that helps, Tina!

      Emily

      • Tina

        This is a very thoughtful response, Sister EmiG! My struggle with patriarchy and women’s issues was one of the central reasons I left my faith after 30 years. There were MANY more reasons why my spiritual journey led me away from religious orthodoxy and mainstream Christianity, but for years I remained faithful to my religious foundations while wrestling with the whole concept of “spiritual authority” in general and specifically women’s inability to serve in the same leadership capacities as men. I love your phrase “a temporary truce”. I maintained a ‘truce” of sorts for a long time, but then my spiritual sojourn eventually resulted in my leaving “the fold”.

        Thank you for your thoughts, Emily! I am sure we could have a long heart to heart conversation on this subject alone. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/danjjensen Dan Jensen

    Thanks for sharing your personal story, Emily. The whole “eternal progression” and “unlimited potential” doctrine is of particular personal interest to me, having been raised in another religion that teaches something similar (the Baha’i religion). Though I am critical of both your religion and that of my parents, yet I think the idea of eternal progress, of both the individual and society, is an idea that people of other faiths would do well to consider. Also, like the “Saints”, the Baha’is also do without paid clergy. I think the equality that this establishes among believers supports the idea of “unlimited potential”. Unfortunately, believers often end up blindly following other believers in a manner that contradicts this principle of divine equality, but then we’re only human. :-)

    • EmiG

      The concept of eternal progression is one that just “clicked” with me from a very young age, especially within the framework of being a child of Heavenly Parents.  It made sense to me that we were to grow up to be like Mom and Dad, you know?

      As for unpaid clergy, I’ve found some of my greatest growing experiences to be those callings that were extended to me for which I felt completely inadequate to the task.  They forced me to rely on divine assistance and stretch myself in ways I probably wouldn’t have on my own.  There is also a leveling effect in the thought that the person who is teaching Sunday School one year can be directing music next year and the stake president this week could be a worker in the nursery next week (I’ve seen that happen – and I think he was much happier in the nursery!).  

      Following blindly is tempting because it is so easy, you don’t have to put any effort or thought into it and you can “pass the buck” to whomever it is you’re following blindly.  But then where’s the progression?  That’s another teaching that I love from the CoJCoLDS – we’re supposed to gain our own confirmation of what we’re taught instead of relying on anyone else.  And everyone has equal access to that.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dan!

      Emily