PROVO, UTAH

On his first day on the job as the president of Brigham Young University, President Kevin J Worthen welcomed more than 11,000 women from around the world during the opening session of BYU’s Women’s Conference May 1.

“What a great way to start off my tenure as president of Brigham Young University,” President Worthen said. “I can think of very few other things I would rather be doing on my first day here than greeting this group.”

The annual conference — sponsored by BYU and the Relief Society — includes two days of more than 100 classes on a variety of topics held in buildings around the BYU campus. This year’s keynote speakers in general sessions on Thursday included Sheri L. Dew, and Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen.

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, introduced this year’s conference theme found in Psalm 84:11 from the Old Testament:

“ ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly,’ ” she said. “We are reminded here that the Lord willingly gives protection and His power to help us navigate this life’s unpredictable journey.”

She also invited all to “look for ways in our own lives that we might walk more uprightly before the Lord and commit to do so. And, may we also look for eyes of gratitude.”

Although the majority of “students” at Women’s Conference are a different group than the BYU student body, President Worthen spoke of how Women’s Conference fits within the mission of BYU.

“In the very first sentence it says that the mission of Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection,” he said. He recognized that it doesn’t say “Brigham Young University students,” rather it says individuals, making it a great place for learning for all people — especially those who go home and teach the future students at BYU.

“We hope as you come here you get (the) sense … that you belong to a whole, a worshipping, building, expanding kingdom of God and that you have a role to play in it,” he said.

Elder Hafen, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and Sister Hafen focused on the redeeming and strengthening powers of the Atonement during their general session talk.

“Our hope today is that perhaps we might clarify some key elements of the Atonement’s doctrine and clarify how we participate in that doctrine,” Sister Hafen said. “In doing this, we hope you will feel reassured about Christ’s desire to lift our burdens and that you will feel more comfort in your ability to stick with Him no matter what. We also hope that as we increase our understanding of what Christ has done for us that we might also increase our willingness to submit to whatever He would ask of us.”

Elder Hafen said that “this earth is not our home, we are away at school,” and we call this school mortality.

“Just knowing that much gives us a unique understanding of who we are, who God is and why we’re here, and we need the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Elder Hafen said.

All will, in this life, taste some sin and bitterness, Elder Hafen said. “Not because we’re innately bad, but because we can’t learn to prize the sweet without actually tasting the bitter. And because the effects of that bitterness may separate us from God, we need the Atonement to overcome any separation. That’s what the word means — At-one-ment.”

Sister Dew, who is the CEO of Deseret Book, focused her remarks on the grace of Jesus Christ. Touching on four points — what the grace of Jesus Christ is, what difference grace makes in life, how the Savior makes his power available to all and what must individuals do to gain access to that power — she spoke of the gift given to all through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

“His grace can change our very nature and over time transform us from who we are into who we can become,” she said. “What difference can grace make in our lives? All the difference. … We owe every divine gift and all access to divine power to the grace of Jesus Christ.”

Focusing on the access to priesthood power, Sister Dew said, “Too many women think we don’t have this privilege. But that is not true. Women who have been endowed in the temple have as much access to priesthood power for their own lives as ordained men do.”

Priesthood keys are the manner through which the Lord authorizes the use of his power for both women and men, Sister Dew said, adding that there are distinctions between priesthood keys, authority and power.

“Priesthood keys are required to authorize ordinances, priesthood authority is required to perform ordinances, and priesthood power is available to all who worthily receive ordinances and keep the associated covenants. … Both men and women who serve under the direction of priesthood keys serve with divine authority,” she said.

Where spiritual things are concerned, men and women are equal before the Lord and have equal access to the Lord’s highest spiritual privileges, she taught.

“When we serve in any capacity under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys, we have full access to the power that flows through those keys, just as men do,” she said. “We as women never lack for divine authority. Further still, God’s highest ordinances are available only to a man and woman together.”

Access to divine power hinges upon more than what a person knows — it comes as people do all they can as they become a disciple of Jesus Christ. That being said, Sister Dew taught that no matter how much or little an individual does, it is the Savior’s grace that will ultimately save them.

“We can never earn exaltation,” she said. “But we can indicate by the way we live our lives that we want to be part of the kingdom of God more than we want anything else. And that is discipleship.”

Mholman@deseretnews.com, scarlson@deseretnews.com