KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a call she did not seek, and when it came to her three years ago, her startled response was, "Are you sure?"

But she accepted, and today, Becky L. Savage is a counselor in the First Presidency of the Community of Christ, formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

This year is the 25th anniversary of women's ordination to the priesthood in that religious body, the second-largest church to trace its origin to the revelations of Joseph Smith from 1820 on.

As the Friday luncheon speaker at the 45th annual Mormon History Association conference meeting near Independence, Mo., President Savage reflected on that anniversary and on being the first women to occupy the position she holds.

When called to it in January 2007, she was director of leadership for the Community of Christ and had held priesthood offices. But the new call,

extended from church President Stephen Veazey, was far beyond anything she had ever imagined.

"Totally forgetting that this is the president and prophet of the church, I'm saying to him, 'Are you sure?' And very kindly and patiently, he expressed his personal experience and growing awareness of my call to that office."

She said she called her husband and informed him of the call. His response was, "I know."

"He sent to me a postdated letter he had sent to our daughters in October of 2006," she said. In the letter, he wrote, "I have come to understand that your mother will be called to be a counselor to the president of the church and member of the first presidency."

"Now how do you explain that," she asked, "except through the grace and spiritual presence of a God that brings blessing? And yet through even that affirmation, I'm struggling with 'Are you sure?'"

She added: "I said 'yes' on faith, not assurance. I said 'yes,' because in the midst of all the blessings that have occurred in my life and my family's life and the life of the church, this was an opportunity to be responsive even when I didn't think or plan that type of a responsibility."

Regardless of whether one serves in an ordained ministry, "it is our call, each and everyone, to respond to that sense of God's presence and guidance in our lives," she said.

"In Community of Christ, all are called," she said. "The call for women to the ministry was an additional step in an alignment with that particular responsibility and enduring principle of our faith."

Taking a question from a member of the luncheon audience, President Savage said the church's current policy regarding gay, lesbian and transsexual persons is that if they are celibate they are eligible for ordination.

"We do not at this point in our continuing journey and movement allow our priesthood to perform marriages," of such persons, she said. "We are currently journeying toward that, and most recently, at our world conference the latest words of counsel and revelation to the Community of Christ are expressing a need for us to further explore what it means to be accepting of all persons."

The conference continues through Saturday. Consistent with this year's locale — Independence is the world headquarters of Community of Christ — the theme is "The Home and the Homeland: Families in Diverse Mormon Traditions."

e-mail: rscott@desnews.com