#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.
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,