Poll: Women on the Stand

Posted by on February 26, 2012 in leadership, Relief Society, women | 36 comments

When my sister and I recently discussed her release as Relief Society President, she remarked, “I don’t think the women (or men) in my ward realize the work that the Bishop and I accomplished together.”  And I said, “You should have been on the stand with him.”

I have often felt that ward and stake Relief Society Presidents (and/or their counselors) should be on the stand.  I can think of five positive things it would do for the ward/stake:

  1. It would show respect and regard for the calling.
  2. It would allow ward members to see that the Bishop and the President are working as partners.
  3. It would give women and girls a role model they can actual see – and assure them that they are represented.
  4. It would remind ward members that the Relief Society President is set apart as a leader and has stewardship over the women in the ward.
  5. It would assure women and girls that their President is part of the decision making processes in the ward.

Many Bishops tell me that they counsel often with their Relief Society President and rely on her wisdom – and yet, she seems to remains in the shadows. The Relief Society President is often used as a rebuttal answer to feminists who point out that women have no leadership roles in the church – and yet, she has limited authority.  A male friend of mine commented (as I shared the text of this post with him), “I don’t see my ward Relief Society President with any real power. I think she just tends to the welfare needs.”

When I wrote to my Stake Relief Society President about Stake Conference, I commented that I hoped she would be on the stand where I could see her – and that it was inspiring to me as a woman to have her up there.  Here reply email started, “Oh, you’re cute …”  Cute?  I was dismayed by this response. I continue to feel that Relief Society Presidents do play a vital role for the wards and stakes they serve in – and should be sitting on the stand.

 

 

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36 Comments

  1. Great poll, Suzette.

    I deeply believe in the symbolic importance of representing women as spiritual authorities in the LDS Church. I worry that our young people will have a hard time learning to respect women as spiritual leaders if women hardly ever are visible as symbols of authority. So I think it would be an enormous step forward if the RS president was up on the stand every week. Even better — the RS president and a counselor or two. I think this could happen on an individual ward basis. We’d just need a bishop with vision who could see why this is important.

  2. The Relief Society President is only one of several (male AND female) auxiliary leaders in the ward. Why would she sit on the stand while the Primary President, or Elders Quorum President or YW President or High Priest Group leader did not?

    • Thanks for saying exactly what I was thinking. :)

    • I think Suzette outlined some why’s in her post quite nicely. You might not agree with them, but they’re all valid reasons for putting this into practice.

      • Plus, the fact that the RS president is an auxiliary leader doesn’t actually negate any of those reasons.

    • In addition to Suzette’s reasons, I have often heard the bishop described as the father of the ward and the Relief Society President as the mother, which to me, indicates equal authority. I have also heard bishops say that it is informative to sit on the stand because their eyes may be drawn to certain church members and they recieve inspiration and direction in that way. So, to have the Relief Society president (and counselors) sit on the stand would increase respect and esteem for her in a position of authority, as well as give her a visual perspective of the flock.

  3. I love the poll! Having never been in leadership, this hadn’t crossed my mind. But it will forever now! I think it’s a great idea, one I would support and agitate for.

  4. The best reason for putting women on the stand is that they’re nicer to look at.

    • Know your audience, Jack.

  5. Generally LDS male and female leaders sit up front in the meetings where they preside. There may be an exception here and there, such as General Conference where more leaders are on the stand than are presiding. I’d say in general that a Church leader ought to be at the front of the meeting where he or she presides.

  6. It’s done at General Conference so I can’t see why it can’t be done on a ward/branch level. It just makes sense.

  7. I really think this is something that has probably never crossed the minds of those in leadership, but is a fabulous, fabulous idea. It makes perfect sense and would go a long way in helping women feel represented.

  8. I would support this change because I think placing women in visible places of authority (in this case, literally) helps to elevate women in the eyes of their male and female peers, while keeping women behind the scenes perpetuates the belief that only men can and do run things, even where that isn’t true.

    However, unfortunately, I think your friend is right about the lack of “real power” offered to female auxiliary leaders. On the ward level, female auxiliary leaders are selected by male bishops, they report to him, and he has the authority to veto any of their decisions and even release them from their positions if they displease him. In contrast, the stake female auxiliary leaders’ roles are more like that of advisors, and any advice they give can be overruled by a local bishop.

    • I think you misunderstand the idea of ‘authority’. All authority within the church is delegated authority. No one has authority/power in their own right. Any Bishop who is smart will pay very close attention to the counsel and advice given to him by his Relief Society President. To suggest that a Bishop would release a RS President because of what she suggests shows a lack of understanding of how priesthood leadership should operate even within the home. Leaders are called under inspiration from Heavenly Father, not selected based on the Bishops preferences, and releases should be done when that inspiration comes.
      As for the topic, I can see the reasoning but have one question, Why do you think that we hear little doctrinally about Heavenly Mother? Do you think it is because Heavenly Father doesn’t see her as an equal partner? I would say that the answer to the 2nd question is a definite No

      • I don’t think any of these suggestions or observations show a lack of understanding of how authority *should* work, I think they show a keen awareness of and willingness to talk about the uncomfortable reality of how authority sometimes *does* work in the church, whether it ought to work that way or not.

  9. I don’t think anyone should be on the stand except for the speakers and whoever is conducting. I think the stand should be reserved for purely practical purposes (and alliteration!). I think the leaders should be sitting *with* the congregation, not separated from them, and higher away from them. I think Jesus, in his humility, would be sitting down with us, next to the old ladies, the dads wrestling with their toddlers, and the teenage boys resting their heads on the pew in front.

    • I agree. I think it just not needed at all.

      • By that I mean that I think anyone who is not actually doing anything productive need not be on the stand. I think it creates a weird vibe, and a hierarchy that need not exist. If we are all equal than why not act like it. I think that even thought who speak could walk up when it was their turn. Just my idea.

        But I do think that there should be women on the stand if there is going to be anyone up there it should be balanced.

  10. Oh, I’d love to see this happen — the RS president is the spiritual shepherd(ess) of the women in the ward.

    Here’s another reason: #1 objection my (nomo)-husband has every time he has come to church = “Why aren’t there women on the stand? You can talk about lay leadership empowering women to act in a pastoral role. But look up. Where are the women?” It’s not a great visual for people investigating the church. Some weeks, when HC, SP, MP, + bishopric are all there, you can see 6-7 suits + the three boys at the sacrament table.

    Simple change. Powerful message.

  11. Deborah,

    I’ve been trolling these parts for eight years.

    • Well, at least you know yourself!

  12. Would also be revolutionary if we used women’s auxiliary titles when we spoke to or about them, such as “President Mayberry” when referring to a Primary, Young Women, or Relief Society President. The men do this most of the time, start noticing. Especially when they’re in a formal church occasion such as priesthood meetings. As to sitting on the stand. women NEVER preside over a communal meeting, with men and women. Even in our general RS meeting in Sept. a member of 1st Pres. presides. I guess the only meetings where women truly preside would be in Primary, Young Women and Relief Society – where there are no men. True indeed that this is another example of why LDS women have no “hard” power.

    • The Ensign sometimes uses President Beck to talk about the general RS president. Would be great if it caught on….

  13. One more thing – YES – to a Relief Society President being likened to a “Sheperdess.” I love the imagery. She is just as vital to a ward as a Bishop and should be acknowledged as such by using her title and recognizing her service. Too bad most men have no idea what a RS Pres/ and her counsellors do.

  14. Cute is making bento box lunches for your kids.

    I haven never known who my Stake Relief Society President is. I would know if she sat on the stand.

  15. I agree it would be a great visual representation of the importance women play in the ward. Good idea.

  16. I agree that it would be a simple and subtle change that could bring great things to pass. Just this morning, I walked into a chapel with nearly 7 men at the front. Not a single woman. Not even speaking.

  17. I see a logistical problem. Where would they sit? If on the front row, it puts the speakers back a row, so it is difficult for them to get up and sit down when speaking. If behind the Bishopric, if reinforces the illusion that the RS is subservient to the Bishopric.

    The other problem is in stewardship. RS presidency is not analogous to the Bishopric. RS Presidency is analogous to the Elders Quorum presidency (not High Priest, which is a Stake Quorum, and doesn’t have a female counterpart).

    • “RS presidency is not analogous to the Bishopric.” But it’s the best we’ve got, with responsibility for 50%+ of the ward, and often women’s families (in cases of illness, etc). I am not sure most men know the sheer number of hours most RS prez’s put into the job. It really is more analogous to the bishop than to the EQ prez.

      • The RSP is right up there with the bishop in welfare–she and the bishop together fill out food orders for the Bishop’s storehouse. In this area–ward welfare–she is very much the bishop’s equal.

  18. I think having the RS president (or presidency) on the stand during Sacrament meeting isn’t necessary and in some cases may put an undue burden on individuals and families especially in some small wards. For example, I have been in a ward where, for a time, the Bishop was married to the RS president and they had 3 small children. . . Also, when I was a RS president I found the time immediately before and after sacrament meeting good times to minister to my sisters and feel that sitting on the stand may have restricted my ministering just a little.

    As for calling the RS president by her title, I think it makes sense insomuch as we call others by leadership titles. It can be interesting, though. I have been in a PEC where the EQ president and the RS president were married. When the Bishop said “President Hatch. . .” they asked which one so, he began saying “President Sister Hatch” and “President Brother Hatch” to distinguish.

    On the other hand, I think the Stake RS president (or presidency) could and perhaps should be on the stand in stake conferences. Although, unlike some of you, I have usually known who the stake RS president (or at least someone in the presidency) is within a year or so of being in an area, I think the visibility and knowledge of the RS by the whole stake is important.

  19. As a stake YW president I’ve been asked to sit on the stand when I’m visiting other wards even when I’m not speaking (but it’s not consistent–I think it’s a bishop’s preference). I think it’s a great message for the YW that their auxiliary matters, and I’d like to see more of the type of thing addressed in this post.

  20. What happens if the RS president is a single mother? Or married to a non member? Then she can’t sit with her kids in the congregation to take care of them. Will that then limit who they’re willing to call as RS president? I don’t think anyone really wants to sit on the stand. I’m sure it makes everyone feel a little ridiculous to be up there. I’ve always been glad to attend wards where even the speakers aren’t expected to be up there the whole time.

  21. I disagree. What a pompous lot we have become if we think sitting on the stand is some kind of status symbol. Are we that shallow? The minimum number of people should sit on the stand. That means only those directly participating. The rest should be sitting with their families. Personally as Bishop I sat with my family as often as I could. If my counsellor was conducting my place was with my wife and children.. not looking the part, being the part!

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