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LDS women leaders share experiences from their callings as board members

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Liz Darger

Liz Darger was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received a bachelor's degree in family sciences and a master's degree in school counseling psychology, both from Brigham Young University. Darger works as the senior associate athletic director at BYU. She served as a part-time service missionary in LDS Distribution Services from 2003 to 2004. Darger also volunteers on the leadership team of the NCAA Common Ground initiative. 

When women are called to serve on the general boards of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church members raise their right hand to sustain them. Those members likely only know them as those who are not named but are “as presently constituted.”

To understand the callings and to get to know a few board members, the Daily Herald asked Tracy Browning, Liz Darger and Jennefer Free from the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary general boards respectively, to share what they do and who they are.

All three women were asked what they’ve learned about the children, teenagers and women of the global church that supports church President Russell M. Nelson’s statement from the October 2015 General Conference, that woman will play an important role in the growth of the church now and in the future.

In that conference Nelson quoted Spencer W. Kimball in a 1979 address where Kimball said, “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different — in happy ways — from the women of the world.”

Nelson added, “My dear sisters, you who are our vital associates during this winding-up scene, the day that Pres. Kimball foresaw is today. You are the women he foresaw.”

Who they are

To understand more about these three woman called to serve on a church-wide level, they have shared some of their personal life and insights.

From their church biographies we learned that Darger loves sports. Free loves to travel and grow things and Browning loves the culture and traditions of her youth.

Tracy Browning

Browning was born in New Rochelle, New York, but spent a good portion of her childhood on the island of Jamaica in the West Indies, the birthplace of her mother and father.

She spent 15 years working in the financial services industry at Morgan Stanley prior to joining church employment in 2015. Browning currently works as a client service director in the church’s Publishing Services Department. She and her husband, Brayden D. Browning, are the parents of a daughter and a son.

“Jamaica has such a big part of my heart, and has significantly influenced who I am as a person,” Browning said. “The privilege of growing up on my tiny island bestowed me with an appreciation of hard work, love of culture, love of homeland, and gratitude for all the beauty that surrounded me — from the people to the landscape.”

Browning adds, “For some, our physical circumstances are humbler than those in the U.S., but there is no shortage of joy, and accomplishment, and sunshine. Jamaica is a special place.”

Liz Darger

Darger was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received a bachelor’s degree in family sciences and a master’s degree in school counseling psychology, both from Brigham Young University. Darger works as the senior associate athletic director at BYU. She served as a part-time service missionary in LDS Distribution Services from 2003 to 2004. She also volunteers on the leadership team of the NCAA Common Ground initiative.

“My favorite sport to participate in is basketball. It is the sport I have played the longest and still play every now and again in city leagues or pickup ball. Having spent 15 years coaching at the high school and college level, basketball still has a very special place in my heart,” Darger said. “As a spectator, my favorite sport to watch is any BYU sport.”

Jennefer Free

Free was born in Salt Lake City, to Kenneth B. and Renee Hill. She is married to Brian D. Free. They have two children and one grandchild. Free has served in many stake and ward positions in the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society auxiliaries.

She has also given many hours of service in different capacities for BYU women’s conferences through the years. Free is currently studying marriage and family science at BYU-Idaho. She loves gardening, traveling, and scuba diving.

Free loves to travel and garden and enjoys a variety of plants and flowers like tulips, bleeding hearts and peonies in springtime. In the summer it’s Shasta Daisies and bright pink Japanese Anemone in the fall.

“Yes, I do love traveling. I love learning about and experiencing different cultures around the world, and as I travel I feel like my understanding of God’s love for his children increases,” Free said. “A favorite place I have traveled to is Fiji. We spent 10 days with the Fijian people and I grew to love them so much.”

Free added, “Not only do they live in a beautiful place, they are beautiful people who openly taught me about generosity and gratitude. I loved driving down the streets of their cities and villages and being greeted with a friendly wave and ‘Bula!’ from every person we passed.”

Free said she is looking forward to an upcoming trip with her husband to Bangkok Thailand. It’s at the top of her bucket list.

Their callings

Browning has been on the Relief Society General Board just three months. The Relief Society is for women 18 and older and is historically one of the largest women’s organizations in the world.

According to church statistics at of the end of 2017, membership in the Relief Society included 7.27 million women in 170 countries. The Relief Society’s motto is “Charity Never Faileth.” Women throughout the world meet on Sunday for gospel instruction and group discussions, but the rest of the week they can be found ministering, giving humanitarian aid or in volunteer service to others.

“As a Relief Society General Board member, I’ve been called to support the Relief Society Presidency in their global mission to help women of the Church prepare to look to the Lord Jesus Christ with increased faith, keep their covenants, and act in love and unity to help those in need,” Browning said.

Browning’s responsibilities include helping to train Relief Society leaders, sit on committees as a representative of the General Relief Society Presidency as well represent the goals and mission of the organization.

Browning said she works with six other board members, and that it has been a joy to serve in this capacity.

“I’ve been granted a front row seat to witness how the Relief Society Presidency fulfills their inspired role, and my testimony grows, as well as my gratitude for their leadership,” Browning said.

Browning says she meets with lots of women who share the deepest feelings, and some of the things that have hurt them be it abuse, health, family or other. She says it’s these kinds of interactions with women that make her role as a board member meaningful and allow her to minister to women’s needs.

Darger, has served since September on the General Board of the Young Women and says she has learned much in that time.

“I have served now for a little over three months and am one of seven Young Women general board members, “ Darger said. “We help support the General Young Women Presidency as they guide the direction of the Young Women program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We meet on Thursdays in the Relief Society Building on Temple Square and are also involved in focus groups, subcommittees, and providing training for local leadership.”

The Young Women organization helps prepare Young Women to be nurturers and leaders in their families, their communities, and the church. We encourage our Young Women as they develop Christ-like characteristics and assist them as they seek more education and acquire new skills, Darger said.

Darger noted that serving in this unique capacity is particularly meaningful to her as her late grandmother, Arlene Barlow Darger, served as First Counselor in the General Young Women Presidency from 1978-1984 under General Young Women President Elaine Cannon.

“Gram had a natural love of others and a fierce desire to do right. She wanted more than anything for the Young Women of the Church to understand who they were, and why it mattered,” Darger said.

Free has served on the Primary General Board since September 2017 and serves with six other board members.

The Primary organization is for children ages 3 through 11 and provides basic learning of the church’s beliefs and doctrines from the creation of the earth to more in-depth scripture study as children grow from class to class. There are more than 1.08 million primary children worldwide.

Beginning in January, the Primary curriculum will parallel what is being taught in the teenage and adult Sunday classes. Music and giving short talks on gospel subjects is also a part of Primary. The teachings in Primary are intended to help supplement family gospel study in the home.

“We receive assignments from the Primary general presidency and support them in their responsibilities. These assignments include being members of committees and councils within the Church with a focus on curriculum, music, training, messaging, family history, temple and priesthood preparation, social issues, and children’s products,” Free said. “The time and travel involved in our callings varies depending on our different assignments. Most of our travels are within Utah and Idaho. However, there may be instances where we are assigned to travel to other areas within the United States.”

Free added, “For example, I recently spent time with members in the North America West Area. I attended meetings and participated in training assignments with saints in Long Beach and San Diego, California. However, in representing Primary internationally, the Primary General Presidency are the only ones who travel on those assignments.”

Strength of women

As a Primary leader Free said, “I have learned that we are all needed in the Church – children, teens, men and women. As President Nelson taught, all of God’s children have been given special gifts and abilities that are needed to strengthen the membership of the Church. Sometimes we doubt our own ability or even question whether the Lord fully trusts us. Through my service I have learned that the Lord has great confidence in us.”

Browning said, “I’ve learned that the women of the Church are eager to be a part of that vision that Pres. Nelson described. Many are currently standing prepared to be responsive to the work, while others are in the process of preparing themselves to do so.”

“Ultimately, we have a strong membership of women, around the globe, who have clear testimonies of the Savior, and a sensibility that was stirred when Pres. Nelson shared that message,” Browning said. “They recognize the need for women in this work, and they are willing to help.”

For Darger, the interaction has been inspiring.

“As I have interacted with many young women, not only in this calling, but in my job working with BYU student-athletes, I am blown away by their goodness, their faith, and their determination,” Darger said. “Their potential for influence is striking, and I believe we are just barely tapping into it. We have more young women choosing to serve missions, and what an incredible work they are doing.”

Darger added, “We have young women who are serving in their families, their schools, and communities. Young women are a vital part of ministering efforts, family history, and Temple service. They are taking on critical roles in the gathering of Israel and are eager to lead out in important ways. I am inspired by them.”

As young women transition into the Relief Society at age 18, many of them prepare to serve full-time missions for the church.

There are now about 17,860 women serving on missions, making up more than a quarter of all missionaries, according to church information. The number of sister missionaries has nearly tripled since the age minimum was lowered in October 2012.

Words of wisdom

As these three auxiliary board members met the girls, young women and women of the church, they have also come to learn what they believe what will help them as they grow.

“We need to help our young women learn how to develop real, meaningful relationships with others,” Darger said. “Most importantly, we must teach our young women how to anchor themselves to Jesus Christ, as His disciples, and to recognize the safety and peace that comes from staying true to those beliefs.”

Free said she has learned much from Primary children.

“I have learned never to underestimate Primary children! Children have the capacity to understand and apply the doctrine of the gospel,” Free said. “I have watched children in Primary engage in learning and loving the teachings of Jesus Christ from age 3 to age 11. I have heard children share personal experiences of sharing the gospel with their friends and family. I have seen children light up as they share how they have participated in family history. I have come to understand more fully how they are blessed by their participation in the Lord’s work and how the Lord’s work is hastened through their participation.”.

Browning wants all women to understand their worth and that they are loved.

“Whenever and wherever possible, I remind women that their divine value and worth are not determined by their circumstances,” Browning said. “Our worth to our Heavenly Father and our Savior remains intact even in the midst of our struggles. Feelings of shame, guilt, and resignation to our circumstances only serve to mask the truth of our divine nature. I encourage our sisters to access temporal and spiritual resources to help with life’s challenges and to be gentle with themselves, as God is gentle with us.”

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter

@gpugmire

A 32-year veteran of covering news in Utah County, Genelle covers Provo, Orem, Faith/Religion, including the LDS Church and general assignments.

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