Series: #Visiblewomen: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See : Generous Quotes From Women in Relief Society Lessons

President Linda K. Burton
Relief Society General Office
76 North Main
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Dear Sister Burton,

Would you please consider increased and generous quotes by women in Relief Society and Priesthood Manuals?  As an educator, I know the importance of having relatable examples in the stories and quotes used to illustrate and teach a topic. As a learner attaches a teaching to one of their own experiences, long-term learning and profound change occurs.

Years ago in my teacher training  program I was assigned to count examples of men and women and people of color in textbooks. The counting helped me to notice and reflect on who was likely to connect with the material of the text and who was likely to be left out of the experience of relating, connecting, and learning. Applying the same exercise to our Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum, voices of women are noticeably absent. I believe both women and men are harmed by the absence of women’s voices.

I remember two years of Relief Society after I left the Young Women’s program when it seemed every Relief Society lesson helped me to connect my experiences as a young adult to the legacy of LDS women who came before me. Then I went on a mission and when I came home we began utilizing the Presidents of the Church manuals. Quotes and examples of women became sparse, I liked Relief Society a little less but didn’t know why. For the past seventeen years, our Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum has lacked the wisdom, diversity, and incredible strength of LDS women.

As a Relief Society Instructor, Relief Society President, and Relief Society Secretary I’ve had the opportunity to repeatedly observe how women light up and share precious examples of the atonement working in their lives when quotes from women are included in our lessons. Men do too! My father has received a wonderful response from his High Priest Group as he has supplemented his lessons with material from Daughters of my Kingdom and examples of women from scriptures, General Conference, and our family.

This year as we study the life and teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, I have enjoyed my own independent reading on the remarkable Flora Benson. Sadly, no teacher has included her in a lesson thus far. Yet, President Benson was always quick to recognize the essential support of Flora and his children in all of his achievements.

Too many women and men are adversely impacted by worldly portrayals of women as objects. We need more examples of multidimensional women who have led good and meaningful lives. Please consider incorporating the words of more wise women in our Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum.

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I’m not broken.

 

strength through the agesTrigger warning/content note: sexual abuse, coming out.

I recently revived my monthly contribution here at The Exponent as part of our Queer Mormon Women* series, and it has me thinking.  How did my Mormonism affect my queerness?  When did the messages first get mixed together?

(In fact, these questions have been swirling around in my brain for so many weeks now that I have decided to start writing regularly again here.)

Like most things, they are connected.  I don’t know that I can separate them, at least not completely.  It’s this idea that I have been pondering since my last post; the idea that I thought I was broken for so long.  I thought the sexual abuse I had endured was what broke me, and I thought that the way it broke me was with regard to my sexuality.

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Series: #visiblewomen: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: Primary Pictures

I teach Primary Sharing Time.  I love it.

I love the teaching, the stories, the kids, and the fun.  When we talk about Jesus, I tell the children the stories of His life and the men and women He lived and worked with.  When we talk about the courage to do what is right, I read from “Girls Who Choose God”.  When we talk about faith, I tell them of both Nephi and Abigal.

I tell them stories from my own life and any stories of President Wixom that I can find.

I use pictures a lot.  Aside from the pictures I bring myself, there are few pictures of women.  I will be writing a letter to President Wixom and her counselors, asking them to consider including more pictures of women and girls in packets / manuals provided to Primary teachers.

I believe this will be a great advantage to both girls and boys.  They will learn that both women and men can be examples of faith, courage, and service.  And they can strive to be like them.

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#VisibleWomen Series: Please Add a Women’s Regional Calling to Missions

This is my letter to the Relief Society General Office in regard to the creation of a regional or Mission-based Relief Society Presidency or similar.

President Linda K. Burton
Relief Society General Office
76 North Main
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

 CC: Mission President

 

Dear President Burton,

 

I live in Regional Australia. My family’s records are associated with a Branch that is about a 3 hour drive (each way) from where we live. Because of the tyranny of distance, we received permission from the Regional President for my husband to bless the sacrament at home with our children on Sundays. In these special meetings, we share a unique spirit while we teach lessons to our children directly from the Friend and other church materials. It has been a beautiful experience for us as a family, but we also love attending branch (and regional) activities and meetings as often as we can.

 

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled when the Branch Relief Society announced that they had changed the date of the Relief Society anniversary celebration. The date was changed from a weekday to a Friday—the start of a weekend-  specifically so I would be able to attend. I felt love and connection with the women of this branch in a way that is only shared by women in the church, and their desire to include me brought tears of gratitude and belonging. My husband and I quickly budgeted to ensure I could attend this, with family in tow!

 

You can imagine my disappointment when I had a message shortly thereafter stating that the celebration had been cancelled by the Branch President. He said that the women did not “ask permission” to have the celebration, or to move it. As there was a “District Family Discovery Day” scheduled on the regional calendar for the Saturday, he enlisted the Relief Society to manage that entire activity for the branch. “The Priesthood” would supply “supplementary food”– i.e. it was a potluck, so I was still assigned to bring a dish, but the men would bring soft-drinks. It was evident to me that he had forgotten about the Relief Society celebration (it happens annually, for Heaven’s sake!) and was content to have everyone else forget it as well. The funny thing is that the branch activity closely mirrored the Relief Society activity, but rather than focusing on the women of the church, the focus was to be on the church in general. The branch relief society president, a quiet and patient woman simply accepted the pronouncements. She said that her only choice was  “be angry ….or be supportive of the church.” In this, she advised me that she was choosing to follow the Branch President. 

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Real Talk

Two Women were chatting in office(1)I confessed to being Mormon at a cocktail party recently. The startled expressions of my coworkers indicated that I had either said too much, or was clearly not in good standing with my religion, or some combination of both. I wondered if I had once again failed at small talk. I valiantly attempt to admire necklaces or recall the weather, but inevitably I end up asking a question or revealing some piece of information that veers the conversation way beyond customary topics and into “Here be Dragons” territory. I had brought up religion. In the Midwest. At a work function. I was courting exile.

An offhand mention of a construction assignment at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints church building had elicited my proclamation. Much to my surprise, after the initial reaction, my two female companions eagerly started discussing their own religious upbringing and current involvement. We chatted about families, attendance, and what had shifted for us over the years. Then one of them looked me in eye and asked what I believed in now.

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#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:

 

Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

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#VisibleWomen: We are daughters of Heavenly Parents

Esther

Dear President Oscarson, Sister McConkie, Sister Marriott, and members of the YW General Board,

As I write you this letter, we are celebrating International Women’s Day throughout the world.  I am filled with love and a feeling of strong kinship as I think of the ways that my sisters around the world of all faiths lead, inspire, and serve in their communities.  I think of many of my own personal heroes from past and present: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Ellen Sirleaf, Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai, Esther, Ruth, Anna, Mary, and so many more.  I honor them and look for inspiration from their lives as I look to make my own corner of the globe a better place as much as possible.

I am a life-long member of the church and have had the privilege of serving in many capacities.  I currently serve with the Young Women, specifically the Mia Maids, and am constantly challenged by working with such incredible young women in my community.  They are smart, strong, and ambitious girls who are navigating the tricky waters of adolescence with faith and resolve.  I have been doing my best to teach them and inspire them to follow God and to live a life patterned after the life of Christ.

Every Sunday, we stand together and say the Young Women Theme.  I love this ritual – it draws our minds and our hearts back to the values that we stand for, and it reminds these women of their divinity and worth as daughters of God.  However, I am a bit concerned that one opportunity for reminding these girls of their divinity in the YW theme is being missed: that they are daughters of not only a Heavenly Father, but Heavenly Parents, and that their divine nature stems from both a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother who love them, and they love them.

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