Why Don’t We Respect Relief Society Presidents Enough to Give Them an Office?
I’ve heard it said many times that a ward Relief Society President works in a partnership with her bishop to run their ward together. I’ve also heard it said that the Relief Society President is basically the female equivalent, and even equal to, the bishop in her ward. I object to these conclusions for many reasons (which are another post unto themselves), but I was specifically thinking today about why the bishop and stake president get their own offices in church buildings, yet neither the ward nor stake Relief Society President do.
I live in Utah County, Utah, and it’s not unusual to hear people discussing church business in public places, and this week while lifting weights at the gym I overheard two women discussing the church and current covid protocol. One of them was married to an LDS bishop, and the other was asking about his experience serving in a pandemic. The omicron variant has been surging in Utah the past couple of weeks, and we’re smashing new daily case records left and right. My school district is in the middle of an emergency five-day online learning break, Hamilton performances in Salt Lake City were just postponed because of a covid outbreak in the cast, and my daughter’s volleyball practice was canceled this weekend. It feels a little bit like March of 2020 all over again. The woman at the gym asked the bishop’s wife, “Do you think we’ll go back to at-home church?” The bishop’s wife said, “Oh, I hope not! That was so hard for my husband to deal with.”
The woman went on to explain the things her husband disliked so much about leading his ward remotely, and three of the things she talked about specifically had to do with missing his bishop’s office. He hated not being able to meet with people face to face for interviews. It was hard for them to hold bishopric meetings over zoom, because it was difficult to concentrate with all of the distractions and noise in their homes. And finally, (she mentioned as a side note) he missed seeing primary kids on their birthdays, when the Primary President used to give them a coupon for a handshake and a piece of candy, redeemable at the bishop’s office. (This stopped at the beginning of the pandemic and hasn’t resumed even with in-person church in their ward.)
A bishop has a physical office in his church building where ward members, primary kids, and even visitors can seek him out. I imagine that a confidential conversation works better in an office than inside a bedroom closet over zoom because of the privacy it affords both parties. I also understand wanting to have bishopric meetings in a comfortable chair with your desk in front of you to put papers and take notes on. I especially can appreciate the fun of having children come to see you every week, excited to be recognized and get a treat.
Has anyone considered that a Relief Society President might appreciate the same level of privacy when meeting with a family to discuss their temporal needs? I’ve seen Relief Society presidency meetings that take place in empty classrooms, notebooks balanced on the women’s laps until the next ward kicks them out for the start of a Sunday School class. The luxury of a desk is not offered to the ward’s top female leader, and no one sends primary kids to see her on their birthdays.
On the other hand, the primary children learn songs about the bishop, get a message at the beginning of each month from a bishopric member, see these men on the stand each week, and even have primary lessons teaching them about who and what a bishop is.
At least twice I personally took a primary or nursery class on a field trip to the bishop’s office, but it never crossed my mind to do the same thing with the ward Relief Society President. And honestly, how would we? Where would we find her and meet with her if it was a busy Sunday with multiple wards using the building? In the hallway, or out in the parking lot by her car? She doesn’t have a home base anywhere.
Despite the pandemic and reports of wards and stakes collapsing worldwide, my corner of the world is still actively building new church buildings and dividing wards. Our growth here is steady as new neighborhoods go up and we experience an influx of Latter-day Saints from other states like California. Why not carve out a little office space in one of the brand-new buildings for the ward Relief Society Presidents? (Or what about for the Stake Relief Society President? Could she have an office in a new stake center?) These women take notes on their laps and use kitchen tables for desks, while the male leaders can close the door and focus without distractions. Why can’t women in the church have equal working conditions to the men?
Is that really too much to ask?