Here's a quick update to Saturday's post on the lowering of the age for LDS missionaries (and ongoing conversations about gender inequality on the mission field), with links to several of the best things I've read in the ensuing days.
1) First, to those who pointed me to the post-session press conference coverage: Thanks. I wasn't able to view this on Saturday but caught up later. I am heartened to see journalist Peggy Fletcher Stack pushing on the discrepancy about the length of missionary service, and Elder Holland, God bless him, leaving the door very much open for the equalization of the 18 month/2 year tenure. "One miracle at a time," he said.
2) Joanna Brooks offers a wise and hopeful response to the change, expressing much of what I felt as the joy inherent in the roll call for women's missionary service and the frustration that the call appears to come with some qualifications. In the end, being Mormon means being useful:
So witnessing the change that could save a new generation of Mormon girls that desolating pivot–sister friend, it’s a big deal. And I know the mix of joy and sadness you are feeling. I understood it when I found myself not just shedding tears of happiness but actually sobbing on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game last Saturday. And connecting back to the young woman I was at 18, and what this would have meant to her. And how much more confusing life got after 18. Because it is totally confusing: this game of waiting be found by someone who might love you and thinking that means purpose. It drives some of us crazy.
I recognize the sadness you feel—it’s a hunger you may have never known how to even name: the profound hunger to be useful. Mormonism is a pragmatic faith tradition, and there is no higher honor than being useful to the work. Sweet is the work. And some Mormon women, we go our whole lives and never feel that we’ve really been useful in all the ways we could have been—might, mind, strength, and all that. The hunger, it runs deep.
Beautiful and true.
3) Finally, this well-researched and thoughtful post over at the history blog Juvenile Instructor gives historical context to the growth of Mormon women's service as missionaries. There were very few in the entire nineteenth century, and more after the missionary program expanded in 1898, but generally with the caveat that marriage was a far more important goal for which girls should aim. ("One of the reasons why so few women are missionaries might be that their first calling is to stay home and write to them,” said the Improvement Era in 1969.)
The author concludes the historical overview with these comments:
The age change puts missionary service for young women squarely along their road maps of major life milestones, even privileging “Mission” as a desirable step toward life preparation. Young women will have more opportunities for lessons about companionship, effective communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, public speaking, more intense gospel study, doctrinal preparation, church governance, and leadership. As with previous historical episodes, even if there is a pragmatic motive behind the Church’s policy change, in this case, the pragmatism comes with a great leap forward.