Relief Society Lesson #5: The Holy Priesthood—for the Blessing of God’s Children
I am going to dive right into this lesson by addressing what I think is the most predominant challenge it presents: everything about this lesson is masculine. George Albert Smith grew up in an age anxious to re-establish an ideology of masculinity that was perceived to be dying out as a result of Victorian/Edwardian (Progressive) Era industrialization. It was also a period of wars– the First and Second World Wars played out in Smith’s lifetime. Important to note is that during the Second World War, women gained employment in workplaces that were absent of male employees as a result of the draft. At the end of the war, and the start of George Albert Smith’s tenure as prophet, women were removed from the workplace, primarily to reinstate men in traditional “breadwinner” roles that were seen as necessary for war recovery. In this period, the church was focused on providing relief to church members who had been devastated by war (I can’t help but think of President Uchtdorf’s talk, “You Are My Hands”). Because of George Albert Smith’s time in history, much (but importantly- not all) of his work, but most certainly this lesson, are centred on men and men’s priesthood responsibilities which echo the masculine re-building attitude in this historical period. (The text for the lesson is here.)
Because of the outward manliness in the text, I am starting this lesson plan by addressing the most obvious issues and adding some thoughts on how to avoid an outwardly masculine-dominated lesson:
1. Find a female voice / encourage the Holy Ghost. I often download audio files, including the Relief Society lessons from lds.org. There is one voice used for all of the George Albert Smith lessons and the voice is clearly male. I would think that since a narrator is reading the lessons (not an actor verbalising the part of George Albert Smith), that a female voice would be used sometimes for the online audio files since this book is for Relief Society and Priesthood lessons. Not so. As a result, when listening to a male voice telling me about the priesthood keys of males, it was extremely difficult to comprehend that this particular lesson was directed to women in the least. So, in teaching this lesson—ask yourself and your class to share the female voice. How is this accomplished? With an emphasis on the Holy Ghost. As Julie Beck said in 2010, “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life.”(The talk this is taken from is also a good resource for this lesson, “And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit”).
The Holy Ghost resides with each of us after confirmation and is a reminder that a priesthood ordinance has given us the power of personal (priesthood) revelation. Outside of the temple, this is the only gift of priesthood that women personally use; invite the spirit and invite the women you teach to share the voice of women.
2. The only mention of women in the text is as wives and mothers, i.e. in roles that are created by the presence of men (wives must be married to a man and women must have a relationship with a male in order to become mothers.) Wives and mothers are wonderful, but when we position women only in support roles of men, we inadvertently teach that women have passive, or worse– are void of personal responsibility in regard to priesthood. Remember that women have an active responsibility in inviting, listening and acting upon inspiration as directed by the spirit that resides with all members of the church by virtue of the Holy Ghost. This personal authority can be used at work, in marriage and dating, at home, with friends, and otherwise. In positioning women as receivers of inspiration, the place of women changes from a passive role to pro-active contributor. Emphasise the fact that ALL women can receive inspiration and direction, and because of this should act upon the spirit, regardless of the absence or presence of men.
3. A portion of the lesson is aimed at training young men in Aaronic priesthood. The typical Relief Society knee-jerk reaction for most would be to focus on how mothers can encourage and support thier sons. Because of this, single and childless women would have no ability to participate. It also ignores mothers of all daughters, women with grown children and women who have sons who have left the church. As a result, the “how to train your sons” angle can be so deeply problematic that it can drive the spirit away. So, if your Relief Society class wholly consists of mothers, then this could be appropriate. If not, I suggest skipping this section and re-directing the class members to remember that the Holy Ghost is bestowed with the Mechezedek priesthood (the higher priesthood); that women have the righteous privilege of the Holy Ghost, and Melchezedek priesthood is actively used by women in temple ordinance work.
On to the lesson!
From the manual: The priesthood is the authority of God. Those who hold the priesthood must be worthy and use it to bless others.
What are some things we can do to be prepared to bless others? (In other words, and to borrow from Steven Covey, how can we spiritually “sharpen our saw”?) How can being in tune to the Holy Ghost help us to serve more effectively?
From the manual: Jesus Christ restored divine authority to the earth during His mortal ministry.
When the Savior came in the meridian of time, He found that great city of Jerusalem teeming with evil. The inhabitants were living in such a way that they had lost divine authority, so [God] sent His Son into the world and began again a Church possessing divine power. … There were those in His line who were good people, … and there were others who were still officiating in the Priesthood, but it was necessary for the Saviour to come to restore divine authority. …
What is divine authority? Who has divine authority? Do daughters of God have divine authority? How can you use this to serve others?
Now consider this quote:
“It is very hard for some people to believe that women are acknowledged of God as holding any priesthood or power. But time will demonstrate the harmony which exists… and prove that all women are not an inferior race of beings… to those who feel there are prophetesses as well as prophets, we may speak of these things. To us, they are sacred truths.” – Emmeline B Wells, quoted in An Advocate for Women, The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, Carol Cornwall Madsen, BYU Press, 2006, p. 86.
How can we, as women, be prepared to heed the spirit so we can make use of the power of the priesthood that we individually have (note: this is NOT “priesthood through your husband”)? How can we remind women that we each have the divine ability to receive revelation (consider Barbara Thompson’s talk, “Personal Revelation and Testimony“)?
“All of us, men and women alike, received the gift and the gifts of the Holy Ghost and are entitled to personal revelation. We may take upon us the Lord’s name, become sons and daughters of Christ, partake of ordinances in the temple from which we emerge armed with power (D&C 190:22), receive the fullness of the gospel, and achieve exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. These spiritual privileges derive from the Melchizedek priesthood, which holds the ‘keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church.’ (D&C 107:18)” -Sheri Dew, “Famous Last Words”, The Arms of His Love, Talks from the 1999 Women’s Conference sponsored by Brigham Young University and the Relief Society. Bookcraft, 1999 p. 400.
It is recorded and recognized in heaven and on earth that creeds and denominations multiplied after [Jesus Christ] left the earth, and the churches increased in number upon the earth, until in the days of Joseph Smith, our beloved prophet, there were many denominations. There were many men who pretended to possess divine authority, and I think some of them thought they had received it. …
When the time came and the world had lost the authority or Priesthood, the Lord called a humble boy and gave him a heavenly manifestation and talked to him, told him what he should do, and sent other messengers and heavenly beings from time to time, the result of which was the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in that Church was deposited divine authority. …
Before The Restoration, was it common for religious leaders to anoint members of their congregations to hold powers of personal revelation? Why not?
Why is it important for us to note that proper priesthood keys needed to be restored through John, then Peter, James and John? (Because it was a direct line from God through proper lines and ranks, it was not created or diverted by man.)
Elder George Q. Cannon wrote: “The spirit of the Church of God is that manifested by Moses. … The genius of the kingdom with which we are associated is to disseminate knowledge through all the ranks of the people, and to make every man a prophet and every woman a prophetess, that they may understand the plans and purposes of God. For this purpose the gospel has been sent to us, and the humblest may obtain its spirit and testimony” (in Journal of Discourses, 12:46).
When Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society, its members were women who had already been blessed by some priesthood ordinances and covenants. They had been baptised for the remission of sins. They had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, giving them the right to to the constant companion of the Spirit and the ability to be guided by personal revelation…The Lord had healed them, comforted them, and instructed them according to their needs, their faith and His will. – Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 128.
Using priesthood keys, we are ordained with the Holy Ghost. When we are in tune, we can be personally directed and influenced by the spirit, which makes active use of that priesthood ordination. What are some ways that we can we sustain the continuous influence of the Holy Ghost?
From the manual: Priesthood ordinances are essential for us to enter the celestial kingdom.
Why are ordinances necessary for us to enter the celestial kingdom? (I think the most obvious answer would be the cleansing of sin by partaking of the sacrament; because I love all discussion of the Atonement, I would encourage any dialogue emphasising the Atonement).
“Through priesthood ordinances (such as partaking of the sacrament), the recipient gains knowledge of God and received the power of godliness, that is, the power to live ‘godly lives. It is the power of godly men and godly women, through the ordinances of the priesthood.’” -Richard D. Draper, A Fullness of Joy, Covenant Communications, 2002, p. 98
From the manual: The priesthood … is a blessing that, if we are faithful, will open the doors of the celestial kingdom and give us a place there to live throughout the ages of eternity. Do not trifle with this priceless blessing.
Why are we warned to not “trifle” with the blessing of the priesthood? What would misuse of the priesthood feel like? What does proper use of the priesthood feel like?
From the manual: Priesthood holders have a responsibility to live exemplary lives and use the priesthood to bless others.[George Albert Smith:] Some men think that because they hold the Priesthood that that gives them a special way in which they may conduct themselves in their homes. I want to tell you that you men who hold the Priesthood will never get into the Celestial Kingdom, unless you honor your wives and your families …
The authority of our Heavenly Father is upon the earth for the blessing of mankind, not to make those who receive that authority arrogant, but to make them humble; not to make those who have received special privileges feel that they are greater than others, but to make us humble in our souls, prayerful in our hearts, and considerate of all men in all that we do, and thus exemplify by upright lives that which our Heavenly Father desires us to teach.
A short example I have of this is through a beloved friend of mine, who I will call Annie. Annie was considering becoming a surrogate for a woman she knew who could not have children. When she told her husband and asked for his thoughts on the topic, he responded that the choice was up to her, and he supported her choice no matter what it would be. Annie took her time, and decided that she should offer to be a surrogate. She did this, with her husband’s full support. Her husband later said that when she first asked him for his advice, he immediately felt the spirit witness to him that it was right for her to do, if she chose to do it. But he didn’t say anything at that time. “I knew it needed to be her choice,” he said, “So no matter what my prompting was, I knew she was the only one who could gain revelation for her body. When she told me what she had decided, I knew my job was to support her in her choice.”
How did Annie make use of the divine revelation with which she had been endowed? How did her husband’s support manifest a shared witness of the priesthood in their lives?
In closing, consider this quote:
“In showing this relationship [of Adam and Eve], by a symbolic representation, God didn’t say that woman was to be taken from a bone in the man’s head that she should rule over him, nor from a bone in his foot that she should be trampled under his feet, but from a bone in his side to symbolize that she was to stand by his side, to be his companion, his equal, and his helpmeet in all their lives together.” – George Albert Smith, quoted by President Harold B. Lee, Ensign, February 1942.
(If needed, clarify the term “helpmeet”: In Hebrew, two words are used to describe Eve in the bible; Ezer, which means strength or “to save”, and k’enegdo which means “equal”. In Eve’s case, as is the case of all women, the literal translation of helpmeet is “a power equal” [to Adam/men]. See here)
How is your personal influence of the spirit side-by-side (equal) to the spirit that is used by men? How can you improve recognition of the spirit and thereby apply the priesthood in your life? How does being humble prepare you to act and teach by the spirit? What are some things you can do to feel in tune to the Holy Ghost?
Suggested hymns: #2 The Spirit of God -or- #157 Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls
What are ways that you can encourage the voice of women in this class?