In Praise of the Village that Raised Me
I am back home from BYU in between semesters, and I am feeling nostalgic. Relief Society is what really gets to me. Growing up, I never expected to like it since my mom hates it. She struggles with many aspects of the church (the patriarchy, the temple, race issues, hypocrisy from members, etc.). Fortunately for her I guess, she almost always has a calling in Primary, the nursery, or the library.
With my mom holding down the fort in the library, I have been sitting by myself during Relief Society. I don’t know exactly how I fit into the ward anymore. (Some days I don’t know how I fit in the church either, but that is a more complicated issue.) I cannot picture myself as equal to these women that I have looked up to since my childhood. I find them more impressive and complex than ever before, which makes me conscious of my lack of life experience. Most Sundays, I just sit back and watch.
I watched a native Spanish speaker struggle to present her lesson in English. Before the class started, she had privately asked me if I could answer questions for her in case there was little class participation. But during the lesson, I hardly had the chance to speak. The class participated at least three times more than normal, providing her with enabling support and confidence. It was a beautiful lesson.
I watched a sister who had recently returned to activity become uncomfortable during a lesson on the Word of Wisdom. Finally, she raised her hand and expressed how hard she had been struggling during the past year to overcome her addictions. She spoke of her frustrations, prayers, and the years she should have been with her children but couldn’t be. I watched the other sisters immediately respond, not only giving words of encouragement, but also telling this woman what an inspiration her story was to them. She was more to them than her low-cut top and tattoos. They were more to her than their Utah Mormon roots or manicured lawns or conservative bumper stickers.
Each woman is an essential part of the odd tapestry that is our ward. There is the tireless sister that I knew for six years as my piano teacher and then for four years as my seminary teacher. She just completed her first triathlon. There is the scrappy convert from Boston who never lost her accent. During the holidays there are four generations sitting on her pew. There is the lost sheep sister who found herself in a jail cell a few years ago. She is back on track and has been working absolute wonders with the youth lately. There is the sister from Mexico who was the matriarch of a huge family here about 25 years ago. They are all in Utah now, but she comes back to visit at least every other month. There is the fiery sister who is the stake expert on genealogy and sass. At a certain age, I guess no one can disagree with you. Many others have come and gone and brought their own remarkable gifts.
Lately, I have been thinking about trying out some different churches. Just like my mother, there are many things that I struggle to understand in the Mormon church. A few weeks ago I thought, “Maybe I can just stay for sacrament meeting and then stop by the little church down the street”. But I still haven’t gone. That congregation meets at the same time as Relief Society and I can’t bring myself to skip. Being with these women has given me a strength and reassurance from God that I have been needing for a while.
I have a testimony of Relief Society. I have a testimony of the power that comes from strong women of God who “meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of [our] souls” (Moroni 6:5). I cherish that sacred, feminine space.
Please, keep on doing what you are doing: the smiles, service, compassionate comments, inclusive lessons, and everything else you do to feed the Lord’s sheep. You never know who out there is searching for a balm in Gilead. You never know when a queer BYU student will come home between semesters, looking for a place where she belongs.
SEP has three younger sisters and tries to be a good example for them. Besides Mormon feminism, she enjoys studying identity, intersectionality, and Spanglish. She has recently started publishing her musings at https://incaseoftb.wordpress.com/ .