Taking it into the real world

A recent exchange over at this T&S thread got me thinking about what we all do to help increase community and communication between women in our own geographic locations. My own personal bias is that people who participate in the bloggernacle (write, comment, lurk), are looking for something that they are lacking at church, somehow trying to fill a void. Whether it be a need for more scholastic discussion, the ability to vent or engage in difficult conversations, or finding others who strengthen our spirituality … we’re all trying to create something to fill the void. And yet, I wonder how this translates in how we interact on a personal basis, in real time, when we’re face to face.

I confess that I don’t particularly like attending Relief Society. I’ll take a line from another woman in my ward, who states that RS always brings out her latent narcoleptic tendencies. However, I attend, and every once in a while I find something that renews my determination to keep attending.

So, I’ve been branching out to women in my area outside of RS. It’s been an interesting shift in focus … I’ve always had a small group of close female friends, and we generally did things together so that we could meet men, not other women. Planning fun events, networking with other women, finding time to hear one another’s stories outside of an organized setting, just trying to connect … it’s been really good.

And so, I’d like to find out what has worked with other women.

Do you find Relief Society (lessons, enrichment nights, RS clubs, visiting teaching) fills your need for bonding with other women? If yes, what have you or your leaders done that have made it so successful? What could be improved?

If you don’t tend to find community or close relationships within RS, where do you find it? What have you done that has seemed to help bridge the gap? Do you think there should be more church programs, or do you find that there’s already too many?

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Deborah says:

    I’ve been in primary for the last few months. At first I was a little sad to leave Relief Society. While the lessons were often so-so, I liked being in the company of women, liked watching the RS presidency conducting their own organization, liked hearing people’s stories during discussion — and I felt like I was just beginning to make some friends.

    What I’ve discovered is that primary is actually a much more social environment that RS — more casual chatting with teachers and presidency members. And watching the teachers, music leader, all of us, struggle to keep the group both reverent and appropriately active and invigorating — I stand all amazed at the, um, volunteerism that keeps the wheels in motion.

    So there’s one idea: if you crave new or richer interactions with ward members, it may be time for a new calling (and I’ve found that hinting really does work . . . 🙂

    Has blogging helped me build sisterhood in the “real world?” Absolutely. When I began posting to this blog 20 months ago, I was feeling quite isolated, missing my Boston ward, and filled with stomach-rumbling questions about my place in the church. My interactions on line have filled a specific need — and with that hunger partially sated, I have more to give. I suppose it is analogous to why I need friends outside of my marriage — even though that is my primary friendship. My ward is my primary interpersonal engagement with the church, but these outside blogging friends keep me from getting too restless. Blogging has also made me more interested in getting the know the stories of women in my ward — I am so intrigued and fascinated by the women who write and post on these blogs, why should the person sitting next to me be any less intriguing.

  2. Eve says:

    Ah, Relief Society.

    Because I’ve so often had callings in either YW or Primary, I’ve spent only maybe three of the past eleven years attending Relief Society. But whenever I start longing for more adult interaction and am actually returned to RS, however, I find that I miss the idea of it considerably more than the reality.

    I used to like RS better in my singles’ wards days. I’m not sure that I can entirely put my finger on what it is I don’t much like about it now, but I think that for me, it has a lot to do with the fakeness factor.

    Talk about the joys of Relief Society often tends to be, to my mind, suspiciously gushy and effusive, all about sisterhood and supporting each other and holding each others’ hands while we cry and gack. As someone who actually has sisters to whom I’m fiercely loyal, I can say that in general, Relief Society has nothing whatsoever to do with actual sisterhood.

    But for all that, and for all I’d like to see the fluttery, hand-wringy culture of RS severely revised, I don’t think this is a problem that can be easily solved. We’re all supposed to be desperately devoted to one another and all that, but let’s face it; we’re just a random collection of human beings who happen to have two X chromosomes and live within a given geographical area who’ve all been baptized at one point or another. This means virtually nothing about us or what relationships we might be able to have with one another.

    I’ve long wondered if we might do better to cut the lovey-dovey sisterhood goo and be a bit more briskly organizational and get something practical done. The trouble with goo-speak is that it does set an inhumanly high bar of expectations for what one will find in the RS room with the orange cushy seats. One might find one’s lifelong best friend soulmate, I suppose. But it’s not likely. And in my experience it’s better not to have expectations of friendship at church–although I can see why people do given the way we talk about it. And that’s why I think we ought to quit talking about it the way we do.

    Relief Society is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

  3. Deborah says:

    “but let’s face it; we’re just a random collection of human beings who happen to have two X chromosomes and live within a given geographical area . . . in my experience it’s better not to have expectations of friendship at church . . .”

    I see your point, but is this any different from living in a small town? Or having a group of co-workers? As kids, our friends were largely determined by the 25 peers randomly assigned to the same homeroom teacher. Don’t we almost always find our friends within our own limited geographical area? If I expect to have friends at work (and I do — I’m starting a new job at a new school and I firmly expect to develop friendships with my co-teachers), should we have reduced expectations of our ward community? It’s easy for me to have my social needs met elsewhere — less easy for mothers of young children who don’t work outside the home. I think the rhetoric comes from a very real need as social creatures . . .

  4. Eve says:

    Deborah, sorry, I got a bit carried away there on my last comment. I’m feeling very frustrated with church, as it seems I usually am, and I was more caustic and less careful than I’d like to be.

    You’re entirely right that the same things could be said of a neighborhood, an office, or a school–and that we do expect to and find friends in such associations. I guess I have to wonder, though, if church is socially somehow different from these other kinds of associations. (I believe it is distinct in that God’s involved in the LDS Church in a way that he isn’t in my homeowners’ association, which may very well be run by Satan himself, but that’s another story. But does the fact of God’s authority being present in the church make any difference socially? SHould it? I honestly don’t know.) At church we talk about being sisters in Christ; at school I’d be laughed out of the classroom for using such rhetoric.

    But I’ve made far more friends at school over the course of my life than I have at church.

    But in any case, Dora, I owe you an apology. I’m sorry for threadjacking your excellent post, and excellent questions, with my ongoing church trauma drama.

  5. Deborah says:

    Eve: It wasn’t a thread-jack — and I did *not* hear caustic in your tone.! I think it’s at the very heart of what Dora is asking. Would Relief Society feel more authentic if we acknowledged that we are a bunch of random strangers who somehow make it work, serve each other and (at times) find real fellowship? I’m fascinated by questions of how we “select our own society” (to quote Dickinson). I have found deep friendships from time to time — and am astounded that they came from:

    1) my randomly assigned VT companion
    2) the girl in the dorm-room down the hall
    3) the man in the classroom adjacent to mine (now my husband)

    I used to think that moving to a big university in a big city for college would explode my possiblities for friends. And I did make a more diverse group (ethnically/religiously); but most of them came from my freshman year dorm and small education program. Kathleen Norris’ writings about returning to small town Dakota speak to this eloquently.

    I’m sorry church (the attending with people part) has been difficult. Pronouncements about sisterhood can feel disturbingly inauthentic if you are feeling lonely in a sea of women. I remember once praying: “God, if you could send me just one really good friend, church would be easier.” That’s about the time we started this blog 🙂

  6. Caroline says:

    I’ve not found that RS easily facilitates close friendships. Mine is just too big – I think there are something like 284 officially enrolled in RS in my ward. (of course, only 50 or so come on Sunday, but that ‘s still a lot.)

    I have personally found that the best way to form friendships with other Mormons is to start a study group or a book group. Jana started a study group here in SoCal. It’s not just our ward, since we have people from the singles’ ward also coming. But it has been *awesome.* A great support and strength for those of us who yearn to talk about things we can’t talk about on Sunday.

    A hand picked smallish book group also is great. This kind of environment lets the real person behind the RS facade come through in interesting and surprising ways.

    So my short answer: I’ve had the most luck finding close friendships in non-Church sponsored groups.

    I think the new RS interest group idea has potential, but I think it’s had a hard time taking off. Very difficult to coordinate.

  7. Dora says:

    Eve, I’m almost always interested in what you have to say, so no apologies are needed. Besides, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in feeling alone in RS.

    However, to redirect …

    I’ve come to absolutely value the friendships I’ve made on-line. In the absence of women in my physical community to discuss with, it’s been a great comfort to find places where I feel so at home. And yet, I acknowledge that being physically present is very important to how I advance friendships. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about attending the Exponent II retreat in October … I’ll get to meet some of the women I co-blog with, but have never actually met.

    In RS, I generally don’t feel that same level of community. Which is why I’ve been reaching out to other women in my area. I agree that, although wards and stakes are great organizational tools, but have little to do with discovering kindred spirits and developing deel friendships. It’s a small beginning. Going out for brunch and a movie. Having dinner together. Starting with a small base, and reaching out to others, and making friends of our friends’ friends. I think it’s working precisely because it’s unofficial and not organized through a church program. Is it being selective? Yes. Does it help me experience the gospel on a more intimate level? Definitely.

  8. woundedhart says:

    I don’t actually have anything to add that hasn’t been said, except that I am so grateful to people who can talk about these things, so I know I’m not the only one who feels them. I feel like I’ve had these frustrations for a long time, but I haven’t been able to talk about them, out of fear of being ostracized for not being a cheerful, obedient, non-murmuring member.

    That said, I probably wouldn’t have any friends in my area if it weren’t for RS.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Why not use the suggestions “go out to brunch or to a movie” with one or more of the women in your RS? If you really want them for friends you have to get to know them and you can’t do that on Sunday when you are supposed to be listening to a lesson. I have many dear friends that I have met in church but I know we wouldn’t have the close relationship we have if our interactions had only been in church. Don’t discount all the women in RS, they are more different than alike and there are sure to be some you could be really good friends with if you got to know them. RS on Sunday is basically just a meeting, if you want the rich sisterhood often talked about you have to interact at other times and in other places in addition to RS.

  10. Paradox says:

    In 6 short months, I will be 18 and have the opportunity to move up to the Relief Society. We have had a problem in our branch with the Young Women going to Relief Society, staying for a week or two, then going to the Branch President and begging to stay in Young Womens. My best friend actually went to a Singles Ward, came BACK to our branch, and comes to Young Womens ever Sunday because its the only place she fits in.

    In order to “help,” someone had the idea for the YW and the RS to combine for opening exercises once a month… which then turned into twice somehow.

    All I can say is, I may be jumping ship with my friend. I love the people of my branch and all, but I’m fairly disappointed in the RS because it isn’t want I thought it would be. I was hoping to find fellowship with other women like me with real thoughts and experiences… instead, it’s a weekly Molly Mormon meeting that I’m in no hurry to join. I have no husband. I have no children. And to be honest, once I do, they won’t be the reason I breathe every second of my life. I will love them dearly and do the best I can and all… but Relief Society seems to be a place to go when you want to convince yourself that, as a sister, that’s all you need.

    I dread that I will become the caustic, misunderstood sister that becomes dissatisfied with the Church because I can’t relate to the stay-at-home mothers, even if I become one. I’m the kind of person that finds her place in stories like Deborah and Jael (courage through war), not Ruth (fellowship of sisters.)

    Fortunately, the Church has always been a reflection of the members. If we don’t like something, we can change it. Slowly but surely, the sisters in my branch are beginning to see that I’m not a threat; I’m a person that just happens to need the lessons they’ve exchanged for personal (goo-talk) anecdotes because they’ve had the lessons about CONTENT since baptism at the age of 8.

    It’s a convert’s plight, I must say in all honesty. But as they get to know me better, I become less of an outsider. I can only hope that there’s a place for women like me in the Relief Society.

    If not, there’s always Young Womens. Or (God help them!) Primary. LOL

  11. Caroline says:

    Paradox, thanks for your input. It’s so interesting to hear a younger pre-RS perspective.

    I hope you try to stick with RS, for a little while at least. Your RS will need someone like you to raise your hand and bring up the pertinent and important issues and questions in lessons.

    You may also want to consider talking to your RS pres and sharing your feelings. Chances are she’ll go out of her way to listen to you and try to make it a place you’ll feel comfortable.

    Another option is to consider that singles’ ward in your area. Some people hate it, but I found it easier to transition to RS there than at my family ward, since the women there were in a similar phase of life.

    Good luck!

  12. FoxyJ says:

    I’ve never expected to get much personal interaction out of Sunday church because the format just isn’t set up that way. That being said, I think I’ve been blessed to be in wards where there was a diversity of experience and most lessons aren’t just gooey rhetoric about spiritual sisterhood or mothering (I’ve rarely heard that at church, to be honest) Most of my friendships with women at church have been formed through smaller, non-Sunday interaction such as serving in callings together, visiting teaching, or things like playgroups or Enrichment. At the same time, while I feel like I am friends with a number of women in my ward, I wouldn’t necessarily call them close friends or anything like that. With such a diverse group of people it’s pretty much impossible to be bosom buddies with everyone. What I have done is sought out those who seemed to share my interests or ideas and found things to do with them. Use church as a springboard to find friends, but don’t feel bad if you aren’t close to everyone in your ward. At the same time, don’t make assumptions about others in your ward. Like Deborah said in her first comment, most women are pretty intriguing once you get to know them.

  13. Dora says:

    It’s good to hear that not everyone gets a weekly serving of goo-speak in RS lessons. What types of approaches do the teachers use that realy appeal?

    Do they take a more doctrinal approach?

    Or deal mostly with the pragmatics of applying past counsel from past presidents of the church?

    Besides the standard “have women read from flowery index cards,” what stretegies do effective teachers use to get lesson participation without the usual goo-speak from those who are generally most eager to share?

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