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Mormon conference: A woman leads prayer for first time in 183 years.

A woman has led a prayer at the semi-annual gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City. Jean A. Stevens led the closing prayer for more than 100,000 members of the Mormon church Saturday.

By Michelle L. PriceAssociated Press / April 6, 2013

Some 100,000 people gather inside the Conference Center during the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Salt Lake City. A woman led a prayer at the conference for the first time ever.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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Salt Lake City

For the first time in 183 years, a woman has led a prayer at the semi-annual gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Jean A. Stevens led the morning session's closing prayer for more than 100,000 members of the church who've gathered in Salt Lake City for two-day general conference, and the millions more watching via satellite, radio or Internet broadcast.

A feminist group launched a campaign in January asking church leaders to let women lead the opening and closing prayer, a first for the conference, as a symbol of gender equality.

In addition to holding other church roles, Stevens is member of a three-person board that advises and assists parents to teach their children about the faith.

Women hold leadership positions in the church but aren't allowed to be bishops or stake presidents.

During the conference, the church announced plans to build two new temples in Rio de Janeiro and Cedar City, Utah,

Thomas S. Monson, the president of the Mormon church, made the announcement in his opening address.

Temples are considered sacred to Latter-day Saints and are used for religious rituals including proxy baptisms, marriage ceremonies and other rites designed to strengthen church teachings.

The exact locations of the new buildings will be announced at a later date, the church said. Worldwide, there are 141 temples in operation and 29 under construction.

The newly announced temple in Rio de Janerio will be the eighth planned or operating temple in Brazil, where there are more than 1.1 million Mormons. Six temples are up and running in the country and a seventh planned in Fortaleza previously had been announced.

The planned temple in Cedar City, which is located in southwest Utah, will be the 17th temple operating or planned in the state. The church had previously announced construction of temples in Payson and Provo. There are almost 2 million members of the faith living in Utah, where the church headquarters is located.

Monson also announced during his opening address Saturday that the church has created 58 new missions to accommodate swelling numbers of missionaries.

At the last general conference in October, church officials announced a lowering of the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men.

Leaders of the church and outside scholars believe that decision could be a landmark leading to many more women serving missions.

The church says applications for new missions are up two-fold since the announcement. About half of all new applications have come from women. Previously, only 15 percent of missionaries were women.

"The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring," Monson said.

As of April 4, more than 65,000 missionaries were serving around the world, Monson said, and more than 20,000 additional missionaries have been called to serve while another 6,000 are in the interview process.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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