Unique Perspectives, Experience Guide New Church Primary Leadership
Jun 6, 2021, 10:20 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2021, 10:44 am
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The three women who now lead the Primary organization for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face the task of helping to guide children, their teachers and leaders back to church after a pause in meetings and activities during the global pandemic.
Each of the women in the new Primary General Presidency, announced in April’s General Conference, bring unique perspectives and experiences to their roles.
A Different Perspective
In the Portraits Room of the Relief Society Building on Temple Square, President Camille Johnson reflected on the women who came before her in this calling.
“It’s inspiring to see the faces of these beautiful, consecrated women who committed themselves entirely to the well-being of the children,” said Johnson. As the new Primary General President, she is unique among them as a career woman.
“I probably provide, perhaps, a different perspective as I step back and I look at the wall,” she said. “I hope that my life’s experiences will be a benefit. I trust that they will, if I rely upon the Lord. It’s His work and we are just privileged to have the opportunity to participate in it. And these women are beautiful examples of that.”
For 30 years, Johnson worked as an attorney, the president of her law firm – Snow, Christensen and Martineau.
“I didn’t try to shy away from my professional life at church, so I didn’t tuck it away and act like I wasn’t practicing law Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturday,” she laughed.
But she said her priorities were always clear.
“My husband and my children were always my priority,” she said. “I was firm. My commitment to my family was always, always, always first. And it took a lot of juggling.”
She has received messages from other Latter-day Saint career women, who have wondered if their work somehow disqualifies them from Church callings. Her response?
“Oh sisters, whatever your life experience, bring it to bear. We need you. And don’t disqualify yourself. The Lord does not disqualify you because of your professional life, of your need to work or your desire to work. It’s not a disqualifier,” she said. “The Lord needs you. He needs your experience. He needs you to bring that to bear.”
Returning To Primary
As new leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s Primary organization, Johnson, along with her counselors Susan Porter and Amy Wright, have stepped into the challenge of creating a plan to welcome more than a million children throughout the world back into church meetinghouses.
Where do they begin?
“Love,” said Johnson. “We want those Primary children across the world to feel the love of their Heavenly Father and of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We hope that those children are named and numbered, that the flocks are gathered. And I believe that our dear, precious Primary children will be the ones that get their parents back to Church. I think they’ll be anxious.”
“This is really a gathering on the local level of friends and neighbors. We’ve been so isolated,” added Sister Susan Porter, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency. “And if Primary teachers and leaders will go out and gather those children and remind them of the joy it is when they’re together.”
“And it’s so important that we focus on the positive, focus on what the children can do, instead of what they can’t, because there’s still some pretty stiff restrictions in some parts of the world,” said Sister Amy Wright, Second Counselor.
She said the past year has created “a lot of the anxiety for all of us, but specifically for the children, because they feel like they don’t have choices. But as we empower them with choices that are age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate, they’ll realize that it’s a safe place.”
The women recognized that bridging the confusion of the past year with faith will be key to creating that safe place.
“What’s going to work for one child may not work for another,” said Johnson. “And this personal revelation that each Primary leader is entitled to receive, each Primary teacher is entitled to receive, is going to be critical. I think addressing the needs of the children, one-on-one, they’re not all going to have the same issues coming back to Primary. And one size does not fit all here.”
They are well-educated, accomplished, intelligent women. Each brings different life experiences and strengths to their presidency and to the executive councils of the church, where they will be a voice for all women.
Johnson said lessons from her law career will translate to her new assignment.
“I do hope I was a zealous advocate on behalf of my clients,” said Johnson. “But the part of my professional life that I enjoyed the most, I think, was helping people problem solve — problem solve on the front end, and, if necessary, problem solve on the back end through the judicial system. As we identify the issues and the needs of the Primary children, their parents and their leaders, I hope my problem-solving skills will be of use.”
She and her husband have three sons and three grandchildren. Her trust in the Lord grew, she said, as they led the Peru, Arequipa Mission from 2016 – 2019.
“I learned really quickly that it’s the Lord’s work and I’m just blessed to be able to participate in it. And He’ll make things happen the way they’re supposed to,” she said. “I can go to Plan B, and I can go to Plan C now and I can go to Plan D, if necessary. So that flexibility, I think, will be a blessing to me as we problem-solve the problems that the world’s children are addressing.”
Porter has four children and 12 grandchildren. She lived and served in Europe and Russia with her late-husband, Elder Bruce Porter, before he developed serious health problems. As his caregiver until his death in 2016, she said her compassion grew.
“Spending time in hospitals… opened my eyes to the number of wonderful people who do suffer, so much,” she said. “I was able to provide that home dialysis – I was trained, they put a dialysis machine in our home. That enabled him then to serve in his calling, because he could serve all day, come home in the evenings. I would do the dialysis for him then.”
She said her role as a caregiver also “opened my eyes to the number of parents with maybe a disabled child or parents with elderly parents. So many [people] serve behind the scenes, giving absolutely Christ-like care, and I was very humbled. Mine was very simple, it was for a certain amount of time – others serve for decades and give this kind of care.”
Wright and her husband are the parents of three sons. While her husband attended dental school at Marquette University in Wisconsin, she worked in the College of Communications and during the summer, directed an urban journalism camp for inner-city youth, which she calls a “joyful experience.”
“What that did is instilled in me a desire to strive, to see the world through the lens of someone else’s experience. And when you do that, it gives you a heart. It not only expands your vision, but gives you a heart. But in order for that to happen, you have to be willing to be vulnerable,” she said. “You have to be willing to go to where they are, and sometimes, it’s an uncomfortable place. And some of those stories of those dear youth were really hard to hear. But one of my favorite things to do was to teach and testify to them, that they were agents unto themselves, that they had choices and their choices mattered, and that their possibilities were so much greater than their current circumstances.”
Five years ago, Wright was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. It pushed her, she said, to greater depths of faith.
“I learned in a such a beautiful and profound way that Jesus Christ is the answer to all that ails us. He is also in the infusion room and I felt his presence there every single day. There is sanctifying power in our individual journeys,” she said.
She and her family learned, she said, to look beyond the fear.
“When my focus was solely on me and the trials and struggles and the suffering that I was going through, the world became a really dark, dreary place. But when I turned my heart outward to others, and with our family, sought ways in which we could serve, and especially in those times where my capacity was the most limited, I found light and joy and peace,” she said. “And I know that was only possible because of the Savior, Jesus Christ.”
President Johnson and her counselors believe they possess the faith they will need to serve Latter-day Saint children and represent Latter-day Saint women throughout the world at this time in the faith’s history.