#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:


Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

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23 Responses

  1. Em says:

    My stake started doing this awhile ago. In lieu of a high council speaker we had a member of the stake YW and the stake RS speak to us. It was a great meeting, really engaging and interesting and touching. I happened to know both women already, but I agree that it would be great to have more. Ward conference always feels like this weird interloper moment when these random people come in and take over your auxiliary, when you don’t know them at all. It is hard to build a relationship of trust with stake leaders when you don’t know who they are, have never heard their testimonies and know nothing of their expertise and background. I think this is a great idea, and I’m sure wards would be happy to have some fresh speakers in the rotation too!

  2. Susan Gilbert says:

    This has been the standard practice in my stake for many years. All male and female stake organization presidencies are scheduled into the speaking cycle along with a high councilman.

    • Patty says:

      Great! A gripe of mine is that the wives of leaders are often asked to speak. Why? I really appreciate women whose reason for speaking relates to their experience rather than who they are married to.

      • Hedgehog says:

        That’s what annoyed me most about the European Sister’s Meeting. No-one from any of the Auxilliary General Presidencies or their boards. Two GA wives.
        The stake RS President was a star though.

    • JrL says:

      Ours, too.

  3. Davis says:

    Our Stake has been doing this for at least a decade.

  4. Caroline says:

    Our stake does not do this. How I wish they would. My husband is on the High Council, however, and he makes sure he asks a woman stake leader to be his speaking companion every single time he talks. But I’m quite sure the vast majority of other men on the High Council in this area don’t do that.

    Great letter, Emily.

  5. Cruelest Month says:

    A clear statement in the Church Handbook of Instructions directing stakes to include female stake leaders in the rotation of speakers would do a lot to improve the consistency of member experiences from one stake to another.
    I was fortunate to grow up in a stake with a very visible Stake Relief Society President. I knew Barbara from talks at church (although she was in another ward) long before she taught me to play poker on an overnight hike at girl’s camp. When through chance/tender mercy of Mother God she was the temple worker to take me through initiatories in the temple, I felt an enormous outpouring of divine love and grace. Barbara was visible and a role model to me of love, laughter, leadership, and service.
    All women in the church should have greater access to their female leaders through visible speaking assignments with the high council as they travel throughout the stake each month. Plus, it is rather tiresome (and tempting!) to look at the stand on High Council Sunday and see only male bodies in suits.

  6. Jack says:

    You would burden your stake leaders with more assignments?

    • Amelia says:

      Why only see the ‘burden’ and not the relief that this creates? theoretically it allows the men who would speak if the women did not more opportunities to attend church with their families. Growing up with a dad who was very often not with us at church because he had stake leadership callings and had to visit other wards, I can say that it would be a blessing to the men of the high council and their families if they could attend church in their home wards more often.

      And if the stake RS, YW, and Primary presidencies truly have the kind of responsibility for their organizations that we say they do, they should be more visible in the wards. They should have more opportunities to meet the people over whom they have stewardship. They should be able to preach and share messages that will impact their organizations across the stake.

      All church service is a burden. All of it. The question here is not one of burden, but of what can be done to make the church a more perfect zion. And I think this would help. Both from the perspective of connecting stake level leadership of RS, YW, and Primary to those over whom they have stewardship, and from the perspective of making women-as-leaders more visible in a way that helps counter some of the inadvertent but deeply harmful implications of Mormon patriarchy.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great idea and great letter, Emily!

  8. Hedgehog says:

    Our stake has been doing this for a while, thankfully. We had a counsellor from the stake YW presidency last Sunday, as well as a HC member.
    I totally agree on the need to know who our stake auxilliary leaders are.

  9. Anon for today says:

    My stake does not do this and I am delighted to hear about it going on elsewhere. I’m curious, who speaks last? I assume the high councilman?
    I am a stake RS counselor. I’ve had this calling for more than 3 years. The extent of our responsibility is sadly very small.
    – We provide one training meeting per year to ward RS presidencies. (more than one is allowed, but we have one)
    – We provide one meeting for all RS women in the stake per year. Usually we are able to get a great speaker and we provide a dinner.
    – We teach the RS lesson for every ward conference, which is once in each ward per year.
    – We are a resource for ward RS presidencies when they have questions, but their real means of help is their bishops. How much do ward RS presidencies come to us? Only two times in three years has an RS president asked our opinion on how to handle something.
    – We attend or watch on the Internet general and regional auxiliary training meetings. Since ward RS presidencies can also attend/watch, our role as a bridge between general/regional training and the ward is not necessary.
    – We visit the ward RS meetings often to encourage and sustain the ward RS presidencies.
    – We serve on stake committees for provident living and family history. A high councilman is in charge of these committees. We help organize stake-level activities in these areas about once a year or less.

    Would I welcome the responsibility to speak to wards as the High Council does? Yes!
    But structurally it seems that it would make sense only if the Young Men and Sunday School stake leadership do so along with RS, YW, and Primary. All the auxiliaries should be treated equally, don’t you think? I’m sure my counterparts in stake YM and SS feel the same. Stake SS especially is even less visible than us, since they do not have any activities outside of the three-hour block. Alternatively, perhaps only the RS presidency should be in a speaking rotation. The YW and Primary have many responsibilities that we do not have (stake girls camp, frequent stake YW and Primary activities).

    I would love more voice in my stake. I feel like I am a minor figurehead with very little real responsibility.

    • Em says:

      In my ward when it happened the two female leaders were the only speakers that day, no high council speaker at all. So we don’t hear from them every month, but presumably as they go around the stake that means one high council speaker is getting a day to spend with his family. I agree with a poster above that making it a matter of church policy would create a uniform application of this great idea.

      I am interested to hear your experience as a stake leader, because honestly that was always my impression — I wondered what on earth they did. That was less true for the YW leaders, but certainly for the RS leaders. To me the ideal would be that the leader would be a support person and a resource that you can turn to in addition to your ward leadership. This is especially true because sometimes conflict or personalities within a ward can make it harder to address issues on the smaller level, and having an outside perspective could be helpful. I also think it would be great for auxiliary members (primary children etc.) to have a better sense of who their leaders are, or that such leaders exist.

    • Anon for today says:

      Thanks for the clarification, Em. And I guess I missed the point that Susan Gilbert and JRL made, that all the stake auxiliaries are in the speaking rotation. That seems like a good system, although the stake YM and YW are awfully busy already.
      The stake RS, YW, and Primary presidents are part of the stake council, which meets once a month. As a counselor I don’t attend those.
      I wish with all my heart that we could one day be a resource that women in the stake could come to for the help that the church offers. I could listen, give counsel, provide welfare. I wish I could be with any women who is undergoing church discipline. Why are women talking about very personal matters with only men? Could I sit in on disciplinary councils?

  10. Lauren Davis says:

    It has long been a practice in the Church for the Stake Relief Society Presidency to visit and teach/speak at every Ward Conference during the Relief Society hour. In a typically sized stake this would require them to teach/speak in this very intimate setting about 9 times a year. I’d say that keeps them just about as busy as any high council speaker.

    • Anon for today says:

      That’s true, assuming that each of the presidency speak in every ward conference. That gives each of the presidency about 7 minutes. We’ve done it that way, but this year we are taking turns teaching the entire lesson. Thus each of us teach two or three lessons per year. And we don’t reach all the women in the ward, let alone the whole ward.
      Stake RS presidencies are not nearly as busy as the high councilmen, in my experience. (My husband was a high councilman.) The high council meets regularly with the stake presidency in stake council. They meet with ward councils. They sit on disciplinary councils. They have many assignments from the stake presidency about missionary prep classes, ad hoc committees, buildings, financial oversight, etc.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      If Barbara (Stake RS Prez) had only spoken to the Relief Society in Ward Conference, I wouldn’t have formed such a high opinion of her before meeting her at Girl’s Camp. As a YW I grew to love and respect the Stake RS president through her stake speaking assignments in my ward. When she came to girls camp my third year I wanted to be around her because I had already connected with the stories and experiences she shared during her visits to my ward as a stake speaker.

  11. Jenny says:

    I love this suggestion. Even as a young woman without a feminist explanation to help me understand my feelings, I hated hearing from so many men. I had a hard to relating to their messages and I just wanted to see women and hear women’s stories. I hope this change comes soon.

  12. April Young Bennett says:

    I am pleasantly surprised that so many of you report that Relief Society officers in your stake have rotating speaking assignments. I have never seen this in any stake I have ever lived in and I didn’t even know it was a thing.

  13. Ernest says:

    I am an executive secretary for my stake presidency. We have the women auxiliary presidents speak in Sacrament at ward conference (plus the bishop and stake pres.) as well as teaching the lesson in their auxiliary meeting during the third hour. We also have a stake women’s leadership meeting for all women in ward leadership positions just like the priesthood leadership meeting (although it isn’t done every single year- more like biannually).

    My favorite stake presidency meetings are the ones when the youth present their plans for youth conference and young women’s camp. (And it is “young women’s camp”; if anyone calls it “girl’s camp” the stake president corrects them IMMEDIATLY). After hearing the plans the youth have made with the guidance of their leaders, the stake president is like, “That is great! How much money do you need?” To which he responds, “Sure, and if you need some extra, you can have it.” I doubt any of our young women have any notion that they are treated unfairly or that our stake presidency thinks less of them. And they certainly know who the stake young women’s presidency is. Similar experiences are had by the stake Relief Society presidency in planning their reception that is held prior to the broadcast at the stake center of the Women’s Session of General Conference, as well as the stake super Saturday activity.

  14. Ernest says:

    Whenever our high councilors speak, they usually have a recently returned missionary speak with them. We have plenty of sister missionaries to choose from so they are often speaking on High Council Sunday.

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