#hearLDSwomen: As Relief Society President, I Was Kept Out of the Loop
As Relief Society president, I asked the bishop if I could attend some of the PEC meetings. My request was ignored. I asked again and received the reply that nothing was discussed in there that would involve me. Our ward membership was over 50% female.
I’m happy that the next RS President had better luck.
I was once the Relief Society president in a ward with many single mothers and widows. Most of the ward was women or families run by women. I did not attend PEC, which felt strange because it was hard to imagine most any ward issue that didn’t directly affect Relief Society women. I always felt like an interloper when I did attend Ward Council (because it was held monthly at the same time and place as PEC). Once when I walked in the room, a man looked up at me and said, “You know it must be Ward Council when the women come in.”
I remember clearly at one of those meetings making a comment about a pending issue (an update of some kind about a needy family). My comment went unremarked upon, which didn’t strike me as strange until later in the meeting when a man made the exact same comment–same content, similar wording–and it immediately changed the direction of the conversation. Everyone basically said “oh really?” with rapt attention. As if they hadn’t heard it before. Which I guess they hadn’t.
It was the first time I had had that type of experience, and it felt so strange and unnerving. I felt confused. I’m grateful that now that type of thing has a name and is commonly recognized. And I’m grateful that PEC no longer exists so Relief Society presidents are acknowledged as leaders of virtually the whole ward.
And I’m grateful that now as a Young Women president, I attend a much more collaborative Ward Council where my input is overtly valued. I think church culture has made progress in this area.
– Angela Ashurst-Mcgee
More than a decade ago, I was called to be Relief Society president in my ward by a bishop who had earlier been my High Council adviser when I was serving as Stake Young Women President. We had a good relationship then, and I surmised it was one of the reasons he called me to head up the ward Relief Society.
My new counselors and I set to work , organizing our board and tackling the perennial problems related to Visiting Teaching. We interviewed each of our visiting teachers, a time-consuming task, and made adjustments where needed.
Three months into my calling, we’re told there is to be a special Sacrament Meeting that all must attend. Just minutes before the meeting is to begin, the bishop informed me that another ward was going to be combined with ours, and I would continue as Relief Society president over the merged wards. Imagine my shock!
I was soon to learn that the bishop knew about the ward merger when he called me to be Relief Society President. In fact, a new bishop had already been called to preside over the combined ward. The bishop who called me to my position later told me he had chosen me because he knew I could handle the many problems that would arise from combining wards.
I received a choice comment from the wife of the new bishop who, of course, had known about the ward merger for some time. She said, “I was wishing I could have told you what was coming when I saw all the time you were taking holding visiting teaching interviews.”
The experience made me see that for all the talk about women and the Relief Society being the backbone of the ward, in practice they’re really second-class citizens who will be told what they’re asked to do without given an opportunity to give input.
In the Relief Society presidency in our small diverse ward, our welfare system was a mess, and, as most recipients were women, the bishop asked our presidency to take charge and create a clear process that would provide temporary and long term benefit to recipients. For weeks, we studied the manual, prayed, and worked on a simple clear process, which was then shared with the bishopric via email. Later that day, the executive secretary at the time replied with a version full of edits that mostly said the same thing (mansplaining, if you will) but in a way that stripped the Relief Society president of authority, and ran everything through the bishop instead.
The four women in our presidency put this together over weeks of study, thought, and prayer. This guy thought about it for maybe 20 minutes before treating it up because in its wording the Relief Society president was too involved. Our process was never implemented (at least during our presidency).
Pro Tip: Give women the information they need to perform their callings. Allow them to seek and follow their own revelation, and get out of their way.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)