Linda Booth and Gail Mengel were swarmed by well-wishers Monday after church delegates approved their call to a top leadership body of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The two were the first women named to the Council of 12 Apostles, which is second only to the three-member First Presidency in the church hierarchy."This is a day of celebration for us all," delegate Marjorie Troeh said as she hugged Mengel.
An elderly Polynesian woman who does not speak English was among the well-wishers. She gave Booth a thumbs-up sign and tenderly kissed her cheeks. She then repeated the procedure with Mengel.
A sea of upraised arms affirmed the appointments as delegates voted Monday during the weeklong World Conference at church headquarters.
"It is symbolic in the sense that we now represent in the leadership of the church some of those persons who are serving at all other levels," said church President W. Grant McMurray. "I also believe that all expressions have real benefits as well as symbolic, because when people come from different backgrounds, they bring to the table a richness of experience that is beneficial to the process."
McMurray had said in a sermon Sunday that the church should be more open toward homosexuals. The church accepts homosexuals as ordained ministers if they are not practicing homosexuals, a church spokesman said.
Less than a handful of the 2,800 delegates voted against approving the appointment of the two Independence women to the council. Council members have both administrative and spiritual responsibility for specific geographical regions.
Booth and Mengel will be ordained Tuesday evening as members of the council, replacing Phillip Caswell and Joe Serig, who are retiring.
Addressing the delegates before the vote, Caswell said he advocates diversity in the church.
"I am grateful personally and ministerially that my change in responsibility enables the church to take another step in this direction," he said. "And I would respectfully remind us that we have a long way to go."
In a personal statement before the vote, Booth told the delegates that she resisted after hearing a voice in 1994 telling her to become an apostle.
"I began a one-year argument with God," she said. "I had a long list of arguments why I could not be an apostle. And every time I had an argument that I though was particularly strong, God would dispel it."
Delegate Bobby Hardin of Saginaw, Mich., said the vote was important for the church.
"I think that everybody who is qualified, whether male or female, should be able to serve to their full capacity," Hardin said.
The RLDS has about 250,000 members in 35 countries.
Conference delegates will vote later this week on a proposed name change. Approval of the new name, the World Church of Jesus Christ, would make it clearer that the church is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.