Today is the 175th anniversary of the founding of the LDS Relief Society. When I was serving in the Relief Society Presidency of my local ward, initially as 2nd Counselor and then as Relief Society President, we (the wonderful women with whom I served and I) would spend countless hours planning an appropriate activity to commemorate and celebrate this day.
As with all the activities we planned, it was always our goal to hold an activity that would be enlightening, educational, encouraging, and enjoyable to all of our sisters. In so doing we were guided by the purposes of the Relief Society which were to “increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.”
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 9th, I received a notification on my smartphone that the purpose(s) of the Relief Society had been updated. I quickly clicked on the article to see what updates had been made and found that the purpose now reads as follows:
“Relief Society helps prepare women for the blessings of eternal life as they:
- Increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement;
- Strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants;
- Work in unity to help those in need.”
When I read the updated purpose, I took great joy in the fact that the word “individuals” was added in the second bulleted phrase. In our local Relief Society, with its large number of members who were not married and/or who did not have children, we had been well aware of our individual members and had taken great pains to meet their needs. I felt that the addition of that word meant that, on a church-wide basis, there was a recognition that in focusing on families, the LDS Church had failed to recognize that there were “individuals” in the LDS Church who had needs.
As I have continued to ponder and pray about the updated purpose, I am happy to see that the “official purpose” of the Relief Society specifically references and acknowledges the existence of individual members. I pray that it is a sign that the spiritual and temporal needs of individual members will receive the full attention of the LDS Church and that they will no longer be made to feel as if they are somehow less valuable. So, I celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the LDS Relief Society and applaud what I hope and pray is a move by the women leaders in the LDS Church to make Relief Society more responsive to all the needs of women in the LDS Church.
In the midst of my celebration, however, there is a part of me that wonders how much good the Relief Society would be able to do if the Relief Society functioned as it was envisioned by Joseph and Emma Smith or as it functioned in the days before the Relief Society lost control of its budget and its agenda. So, as we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society, it is my fervent prayer that the organization that the LDS Church describes as one of the “world’s largest women’s organizations” will be allowed to function in that capacity and not as an auxiliary or an appendage.