#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.

linda-k-burton-largePresident 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. 

 

Doctrine and Covenants 121:39 quickly popped into my mind, as I could only think that cancelling the women’s activity and obliging the women to provide the branch activity smacked of unrighteous dominion.  In further pondering, and as my heart softened, I came to the conclusion that the Branch President simply had no knowledge of the Relief Society anniversary. As it is the only activity mentioned by name in the church handbook of instruction, and the only once that effects both women with, as well as those without children, this celebration is sacred to me. But as this man had no remembrance or recognition of the celebration, it meant nothing to him, so he dismissed it, whilst taking advantage of the planning and work that had already taken place.

 

In further pondering, since we come under the leadership of the Mission, I realized that there is no Relief Society representation in the Mission structure. Everything is under the control of the men (Mission presidency) at the Mission Office, because we do not fall within the structure of a stake. In this, there is simply no Relief Society calling or position for the entire region for where I live. As a result, relief society-related items and events are routinely omitted from the regional calendar unless they have somehow earned enough attention from the mission presidency be included. What is more, for individuals like myself, there is no visiting teaching as I am not allowed to become administratively affiliated with any of the local branches. I, and others like me, are simply chattel to Mission church administration.

 

There are no women in position or who have any authority to ensure that the women of the region are being looked after, or that Relief Society presidencies are being heard by Mission leadership. There are no women who are called to sit in on a mission-based office and report the needs of the Relief Society and of women in that mission. The only minuscule feedback representing the voice of women is from sister missionaries, but their notes would be based on missionary work, and NOT reflective of the needs of women in the mission. Though it is a matter of protocol for the Mission President to meet with the male leadership of the Districts and Branches, this protocol does not include the Relief Society, which is unusual given the fact that many convert women attend Relief Society social activities before they attend a sacrament meeting, or as a part of their conversion process.

 

It does not make sense for this to fall to the Mission President’s wife. She does not have a Relief Society office or calling, and as an American, she is likely very out of touch with the needs of the church members in Regional Australia. Her calling is more in tune with the phrase, “Missionary Mother.” She looks after missionaries, likely being of specific help to the sister missionaries. But in this, her focus is not on the needs of church member women in Australia. Her focus is primarily aimed at supporting non-Australian missionaries. I do not blame her or wish her ill, I am simply recognizing that she is in the least ideal position to be of service to the women who live, work, and care for families in this area. It is not her calling to look after Relief Society needs, or arrange satellite visiting teaching. Nor should it be.

 

Women’s voices are needed in the church. In this, I ask for an office or calling dedicated to the representation of women be created. Since we are under the direction of a Mission, rather than a stake, it makes sense for a permanent calling to be organized to represent the needs of residential women. Just as there is a Stake Relief Society Presidency, there should be a Mission Relief Society Presidency. We need women in leadership positions in Mission Structures who can “offer feedback” and share direction or inspiration with male leadership at a Regional and Mission levels. Please consider creating a resource so the Relief Society in my area can thrive, and not be crushed or ignored by the overly abundant male leadership offices.

 

Please consider being a voice for me to the First Presidency. I have no hope that this letter will get beyond the Mission president should I address it to him because it is simply not something that is on his radar, or in his calling to address. Please ask the First Presidency to consider creating a calling where Regional/ Mission women’s voices will be heard so we can do the Lord’s work in “in unity with the priesthood to reach out and rescue those in need.”

 

 

Praying you will make a difference,

 

 

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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10 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    I hope this letter turns out to be helpful. How frustrating that you and your sisters’ needs are neglected. Your description of a fix sounds eminently reasonable.

  2. Ziff says:

    Wow, Spunky, your experience sounds so frustrating. I didn’t even know this was an issue. I guess I’ve always lived in stakes and never in a branch under a mission. I think you make an excellent point about the need for RS leadership at the mission level. I hope your letter is heard!

  3. Beth says:

    Do you not have a district Relief Society president?

    • Spunky says:

      Yes, Beth! We have a district Relief Society President. But think of it this way: When women in this region go to get a temple recommend, most women meet first with their branch president -where there is a branch relief society president (similar to a ward, where there is a ward relief society president.) Then, we go to a member of the mission presidency where there is no equal relief society office (similar to a stake presidency — but in the stake, there is a stake relief society president.)

      Although there is a district Relief Society presidency, they do not meet with the mission presidency. A further disconnect that is relevant to mention is that the mission presidency all live in the capital city, so not only do I drive 10 hours to get a temple recommend interview, all of these men attend *wards and stakes.* They do not operate themselves or their families within the mission structure, because their families attend wards and states. They simply have NO empathy or understanding that there is a disconnect because in branches, the relief society line ends with the district relief society president who only had the district president’s ear.

      In a stake structure, there is a stake relief society presidency. But in a mission structure, there is no equal relief society office. No local woman has the ear of the mission president in regard to the needs of the women in the area, yet the mission president has the authority of granting temple recommends, setting meetings times and schedules, and even shutting down branches.

      There should minimally be a woman or women who meet with the Mission President regularly in regard to the local women in the church who feed and sometimes house the missionaries, in addition to looking after her family, her household budget and so on, so she can teach him how the missionaries can support local membership in order to sustain the missionaries, converts and potential converts.

      I previously wrote about a disconnect with Mission Presidencies and local relief societies here, and am still trying to teach that the disconnect is wider than anyone in the higher echelons of the church seems to understand.

      Understand?

      • JrL says:

        I see your point generally about a mission-level RS structure. But I don’t see a direct connection between that point and the situation you describe. The conflict was a district one, not a mission one. The branch president works under the direct supervision of the district president, not the mission president. I see no reason to think that the mission presidency would have any involvement in the situation you describe. That mission presidencies and not district presidencies co-signs temple recommends seems largely peripheral to what you experienced. The kind of change you describe should never occur, at least not without the concurrence of the RS president. But unfortunately it does happen–but even in stakes with strong stake RS presidents.

      • Spunky says:

        I agree that there is little connection to my situation as it stands. But it is not a district issue; at least one other branch in my district has the Relief Society birthday on their branch calendar. So it is a branch issue, and if the branch president is inexperienced in relief society matters, the relief society and its members aren’t just marginalized; they are ignored.

        It boils down to an authority issue, and this is where I see the disconnect. According to the Church Handbook of instruction:

        For administrative purposes, the terms bishop and bishopric in the handbooks refer also to branch presidents and branch presidencies. The terms stake president and stake presidency refer also to district presidents and district presidencies. However, the offices of bishop and branch president are not equivalent in authority and responsibility. Nor are the offices of stake president and district president. The bishop is an office in the priesthood, and ordination is authorized only by the First Presidency. Stake presidents are called by General Authorities and Area Seventies.

        But the above isn’t correct, because the district president does not sign my temple recommend in the place of a stake president. Only a member of the mission presidency can do that. So even the above statement is incorrect, per the rules of the mission.

        This means that even the men have lesser authority in my area. Hence, Mormon women are pretty much worthless from an administrative perspective. There is no training for women on how to add events to the branch or regional calendars, nor is there a checks and balances in place to ensure that the Relief Society is working in partnership (or asked for “feedback”) from the men’s groups. The structure is run through the mission office, and NO WOMEN- no relief society callings- and extended via mission headquarters. (In the “olden days,” the mission president’s wife automatically assumed the role of Regional or District relief Society president. No longer does she do that- which suits me; looking at blogs by mission president’s wives, the topics are written for an American audience on how “fun” and “different” the local area is compared to life in North America.

        It is also important to consider that the men in the branch are less empowered as a result of the lines of authority which resonate from the mission office (also from the CHI2, my emphasis in bold):

        Some chapters in this handbook include instructions to contact Church headquarters or the assigned administrative office. The instruction to contact Church headquarters applies to priesthood leaders and clerks in the United States and Canada. The instruction to contact the assigned administrative office applies to priesthood leaders and clerks outside the United States and Canada.

        Administrative office = Mission Headquarters (in most cases.) Men with lesser authority, answering to a foreign mission president, and without any visible structure for Mission-based women’s callings means that women just don’t mean anything within the structure of a mission. Period.

        I also agree with you that in cases even when there is a strong relief society presidency, the stake president can discard the women’s input as per his superior institutional rank. But as this series is taking about #VisibleWomen, I only asked that a position for women be created, because there are no mission-based positions of authority for women (i.e. no Relief Society calling/office at mission level), women who live in Missions are utterly invisible in the church.

  4. Em says:

    This sounds so frustrating, I’m really sorry that you’re in this position. To me it would make sense to have more women’s leadership both for the members and for the missionary effort. Having a group that coordinates efforts would help everyone. The sister missionaries could use training from local women on how to better integrate and relate and the members obviously need better representation. I hope that you’re able to have some kind of birthday celebration for the RS — it is always one of my favorite activities of the year.

  5. JrL says:

    The “administrative office” is the area office, not the mission office.

    • spunky says:

      I not aware of there being an area office in this mission, but there could be. Regardless, I would not go to an area office worker for my temple recommend. My argument stands that there is no office within a mission structure that is similar to a stake relief society, so women’s activities, meetings and input is absent.

  6. Jenny says:

    What a frustrating experience! This is a really great issue to bring to their attention. I think your story is powerful in showing the personal affect of not having an equivalent female leadership position for every male leadership position.

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