SALT LAKE CITY — More than 200 women gathered outside the Salt Lake Temple on Saturday afternoon to sing hymns and celebrate their shared plans to serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Anna Finneran, who organized the gathering of soon-to-be sister missionaries, said she thought maybe 50 would show up for the event.
Finneran said she got the idea for the gathering from a Facebook group, Many Are Called ... But Few Are Sisters.
"I know a lot (of women who have received mission calls) are in Utah, so I thought it would be fun to all get together and meet," she said. "So I just made a little event tab and said, 'Hey, let's just all meet up. … Let's sing and celebrate where we are all going."
The large number of young women getting ready to serve LDS Church missions stems from an announcement in October that reduced the minimum age for missionary service from 21 to 19 for women. The age for young men also was reduced, from 19 to 18.
"I've been wanting to go since I was 16 but didn't think that I would ever be able to, just with school and stuff. I would be in the middle of my major," said Sheri King, who just turned 20 and has received a mission call to Tallahassee, Fla. "But now that it is lowered, I can go before I start my major — kind of like the young men have been doing."
Lindsey Lockhart said she is excited to serve a mission before she is 21 as well because she won't have to interrupt her life to go.
"Now that I can go at a younger age instead of having to be 21, there are so many other things I can do when I come back," Lockhart said, "and I don't have to necessarily interrupt my life with a mission."
For Camille Masino and Jillian Sudweeks, both of whom are from California and have been called to serve in St. Louis, the change in missionary age requirements came at just the right time.
"A couple weeks before they made the announcement, I had broken up with my boyfriend and didn't really know why," Sudweeks said. "And then two weeks later, they made the announcement and everything fell into place. It all worked out. I've never been so sure about something in my life."
Masino said things that haven't worked out recently in her life now make sense, "because I am supposed to go on a mission right now."
Finneran said she believes the new age requirements are going to be a huge boon for the church's missionary program.
"Growing up, everyone says we want to serve missions, but we have to wait until 21," she said. "Now, it's just really reasonable that we can all serve."