This is not my favorite book about Mormon women, but I loved this chapter. This opening quote by Boyd Packer showed what Relief Society can be for the women of the church
“This great circle of sisters will be a protection for each of you and for your families. The Relief Society might be likened unto a refuge–the place of safety and protection–the sanctuary of ancient times. You will be safe within it. It encircles each sister like a protecting wall.”
As I read this quote, I was reminded of Spunky’s last two visiting teaching message write-ups. In February’s message, she shares a time when she felt alone and unloved in Relief Society, and in March’s she talks about a time when she found a friend and felt included by at least one person. I think we have all had similar experiences in Relief Society; I know I have. I have been in Relief Societies where I felt that no one knew me and no one cared whether I was there or not. But the one I currently attend is wonderful; they make me feel loved and welcomed even with my strong opinions. This chapter explores the best of what Relief Society can offer women.
Worldwide Sisterhood/ A Place of Refuge:
These sections share Boyd Packer’s story of traveling to wards behind the Iron Curtain. He asked the Relief Society sisters he spoke with if he could take a message back from them when he spoke at the next General Relief Society Meeting. One sister wrote “A small circle of sisters send their own hearts and thoughts to all sisters and begs the Lord to help us go forward.”
I love this statement. This is what Relief Societies can be, a circle of sisters reaching out to each other in love and compassion, all helping each other move towards God.
Relief Society is also described as a refuge from all kinds of struggles: physical, emotional and spiritual. In the early church, women supported each other emotionally and spiritually, as well as providing for the physical needs of the women involved. The same can be true today. Belle S. Spafford, the ninth General Relief Society President said “Through the years, Relief Society has been just as constant in its purpose as truth is constant. The purposes that were important for a handful of women in Nauvoo are still-important to women world-wide. That is the miracle of Relief Society.”
So how can we make our Relief Societies look like a circle of sisters? How can we expand our love to the women around us?
How can we make Relief Society a refuge? What specific needs can we help to meet?
A Place of Influence:
The Relief Society has a strong history of being a force for good in and outside of the church. My favorite examples aren’t listed in this chapter (I’ll admit to not having read the entire book) so I thought I’d add a couple.
In the early days of the Utah church, Relief Society leaders were heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement. They attended meetings of groups like the National Women’s Suffrage Association and called for the vote nationally and in the territory and state of Utah. Emmeline B. Wells, fifth General Relief Society President and editor of the original Women’s Exponent magazine, published articles in favor of suffrage in the Exponent.
President Wells also started a Relief Society grain storage program. She started it in 1876, and it continued for decades. At the end of World War I (1918), the Relief Society sold 205,518 bushels of wheat to the US government.
My favorite example in this chapter is about the construction of the Relief Society building in Salt Lake City. In 1947 a plan for the building was approved and each Relief Society sister (at that point there were around 100,000) was asked to donate $5 for the building. Women all over the world sent donations, raising $554,016. Some women sent objects from their homelands to decorate the building. Belle S. Spafford, General Relief Society President at the time said this:
“This achievement represents great monetary value, but not monetary value alone Herein are represented many intangible values-values of supreme worth-appreciation for the honored position accorded women in the gospel plan; testimony of the divinity of the work of the society; and gratitude for the opportunity given the sisters of the Church to serve…; loyalty to leadership; unselfish devotion to a great cause. It is a reflection of the greatness that is inherent within the society.”
What I love about these examples is that they show the great things women can do when they work together. The Relief Society can do great things for the world and the church when all of us work together towards a common goal.
This chapter also shares examples of the great things Relief Societies do on a local level. 1992 was the 150th anniversary of the Relief Society. May Relief Societies celebrated by doing service in their communities. “[Sisters] made lap rugs in South Africa for those elderly in the home… They planted flowers around a clock tower in Samoa. And they did so many things with homeless shelters or providing books for children or painting homes for unwed mothers, that sort of thong.”
I think often we feel that we can’t do much with a small group of busy women, or we are afraid to try to make big changes in our community in case it offends someone or is outside the scope of Relief Society. But our history shows women involved in community actions and doing big and difficult things.
So what kind of service can we provide for our communities and the church? What do we want to help accomplish and how can we go about doing it? How can we follow the example of action set by our foremothers?
Strengthening Sisterhood Through Expressions of Charity:
President Monson said “I consider charity-or, ‘the pure love of Christ’-to be the opposite of criticism and judging.” In my experience, the difference between Relief Societies where I feel welcomed and those where I do not is the level of charity expressed by the group. Some groups go out of their way to make everyone feel loved. They don’t judge others’ decisions or struggles. Other Relief Societies seems to demand conformity in exchange for acceptance. Often, this is unintentional. For example, one ward I attended just after I got married was full of young families. Most of the women had children or were expecting. Because of this, Relief Society lessons always seemed to shift towards motherhood, no matter what the topic was. I never felt I had anything to add, or that the lessons were helpful to me as I was focusing on school and a career. The activities tended to be oriented to young families and took place during the day when I was at school or work. It was difficult to get to know anyone, and I felt very alone. No one was actively mean, but there were expectations that I was not meeting that kept me from feeling involved.
Since the Relief Societies motto is “Charity never faileth” how can we show charity to the women around us? How do we make Relief Society welcoming to everyone?
Relief Society can be a powerful force for good in the lives of individuals, the church and the world. I love our history of change and our goal to show charity. This chapter gives us the chance to celebrate the great things Relief Society women have done and determine how we can carry that legacy on.