The increasing diversity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was manifested in the callings Saturday morning of new leadership in the Relief Society and Young Women organizations of the LDS Church.
Sister Julie B. Beck, who had been serving as a counselor in the Young Women presidency, was sustained as general Relief Society president. Serving as her first counselor is Sister Silvia H. Allred, the first member of the women's presidency ever to have been born outside the United States. She is a native of El Salvador and a convert to the church.
Second counselor Sister Barbara Thompson is unmarried and employed as executive director of an international assessment center for abused and neglected children.
Released with a vote of gratitude for their service to the Relief Society believed to be the largest women's organization in the world were Sisters Bonnie D. Parkin, Kathleen H. Hughes and Anne C. Pingree, who have led the organization for the past five years.
With Sister Beck's call to head the Relief Society, Sister Elaine S. Dalton, who had been second counselor in the Young Women, was reassigned to be first counselor. Sister Mary N. Cook was called as second counselor in the Young Women presidency.
At a news conference following the morning session of conference, Sister Beck said that work in the church "is the greatest work in the world today." Such service is a path to happiness in this life and offers the prospect of life eternal, she said. She spent five years in Brazil, where her father served as a mission president and she learned Portuguese.
She said she was influenced by the stories of faith that were related by missionaries who shared the 22-seat family dining table during those years.
Her determination as the new general Relief Society president is to support the women of the church in the important work they do with their families, she said, noting the Relief Society motto, "Charity Never Faileth." The motto was adopted at the creation of the society in 1842, stands the test of time and will continue to inspire women who live in a far different world as they serve each other with love, she said.
Her primary concerns are the lack of self-worth and sense of identity that plague too many women, she said, adding that Relief Society functions under inspired leadership and can help counter such feelings. Sister Beck said the Relief Society, Young Women and even the Primary association of the church can work together for the benefit of women.
Sister Allred said she became converted socially, culturally and spiritually when she joined the church at age 15. Her mother was called as a local Relief Society president soon after her conversion, she said, "and she was about to die. She didn't know what to do."
Her mother asked Sister Allred to serve as her secretary in Relief Society when she was only 16, and the experience left her with a lasting love for the organization, she said.
She and her husband have served in mission leadership positions in Madrid, Spain, and Asuncion, Paraguay, and most recently presided over the Missionary Training Center in the Dominican Republic.
"I have loved every country we have lived in," she said. "I feel like I belong." Although pleased and challenged with the new calling, she said she was just as happy to "be a visiting teacher."
Sister Thompson has worked in social services and has directed a number of state social-services agencies, including those that focus on family needs. She is an official with Christmas Box International, a charity focused on abused and neglected children.She said that in her travels around the church, she has met women in many different circumstances who are devoted and righteous and who care deeply about their families. Although she has not married and has no children, she said, "I have borrowed them."