Relief Society: 'a serious work'
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All Relief Society meetings should fulfill the purpose of the organization — to help educate Latter-day Saint women and engage them in the Lord's work of salvation, said Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president.
Speaking to the Church News a few weeks after announcing new objectives and procedures for weekday Relief Society meetings, Sister Beck said the meetings should be used as tools by inspired Relief Society presidents and bishops.
If meetings "are not strengthening the faith of sisters, if they are not helping them prepare for the blessings of eternal life, then why are they being held?" said Sister Beck. "Relief Society was organized to engage sisters in the Lord's work and to teach them how to do that in their homes and in their personal lives."
During the General Relief Society Meeting Sept. 26, Sister Beck announced that "home, family and personal enrichment" meetings would now be simply called Relief Society meetings. She also spoke about specific guidelines for the meetings.
In essence, ward Relief Society presidents, working with their bishop, should oversee all meetings. Plans for the meetings, which generally will be held once a month, should be consistent with current policies about activities — including policies about finances — and should accomplish the "charitable and practical responsibilities of Relief Society."
The guidelines "are evidence that we are a global organization and that we have a global work," Sister Beck said. "We cannot write policy that fits only one culture or only one way of doing things."
Since the consolidated meeting schedule began in 1980, each general Relief Society presidency has worked to define a purpose for meetings outside of Sunday, she continued. Clarifying objectives and procedures provides a renewed focus and flexibility for wards and branches throughout the world, she added.
The big thing this policy does, she said, is to remind a Relief Society president to align all Relief Society meetings and activities under priesthood lines and direction.
The fact that the Relief Society — the largest Women's organization in the world — works under priesthood direction makes it completely unique. Carrying out what has been outlined will require "increased levels of counseling and communication between Relief Society presidents and bishops."
"A Relief Society has much in common with a quorum in its purpose, in its meetings and the way it operates," she said. "These guidelines help establish that."
The Relief Society has the responsibility to teach the women their roles and responsibilities in the gospel, and help them improve their skills and their understanding, she said. "If we don't teach the mothers, there is no place our mothers can go to learn their responsibilities. If we don't teach the young single adults what their contribution can be in the kingdom and we don't organize that, there is no place they can go to get it in the world. If we don't organize the women to do the work the Lord wants them to do, then no one else in the world will do it."
As part of that, Sister Beck is asking all Relief Society sisters to follow current Church guidelines on finances.
"We don't know who is being hit in these economic times," she said. "Relief Society should not be asking sisters to do anything, to pay anything, that could be exclusive because they don't have the money to do it."
This includes asking women in a ward to eat out at a restaurant for a lunch or dinner group or to pay for other things completed at a Relief Society meeting.
"It doesn't mean you can't go out to lunch with your friends anymore, but that is not a Relief Society activity," she said.
In addition to money, time is another valuable resource, she said. "The Lord is hastening His work. It seems we are all running faster. We have to respect the time of the sisters and what we are asking them to do. We cannot require anything from Relief Society that is going to weaken their lives and their homes and their families."
Sister Beck said women should not be made to feel that attendance at weekday Relief Society meetings is mandatory.
"Every woman needs to make the decision about what is essential for her family. And Relief Society presidencies need to be very, very careful what they are asking sisters to do."
Sister Beck said if the new objectives have a "serious tone" it is because this is a "serious work."
"It is a not a frivolous work. It is not a leftover, made-up job for the women. ... This is where the Lord organized His daughters to do His work. We have Sunday meetings to do that. We have visiting teaching that does that. And we have other meetings — if we need them — to help us teach one another and organize essential work.
"Then we expect that sisters will be friends and make friends and do many good things on their own outside of Relief Society."
Since speaking in the general meeting, Sister Beck said many people have asked: "Does this mean we can't have fun anymore?"
"I have never been together with two LDS women who weren't having a good time and sometimes they were doing different and messy work," she responded. "We feel the Spirit when we do the Lord's work and that is what we need more than anything."
In determining what types of activities are appropriate for the women in their ward, Sister Beck said Relief Society presidents need to petition the Lord and ask what to do. Sisters who will get on their knees and ask the Lord to tell them what they need to learn, and who will counsel with priesthood leaders, will have "unprecedented levels of revelation pouring down" to them.
"The meaning and purpose of Relief Society will take on a new strength and glory for them," Sister Beck explained. "We can receive inspiration that will be completely detailed and beautiful."
Further, she said, women don't need to go outside of their ward for ideas or teachers.
"The sisters in the ward grow from teaching and leading each other," she said. "We don't need to be more sophisticated than what we can handle in our ward. That is another part of this in a global Church. This way, a Relief Society in Chile can do what they need and they don't have to make it like what someone told them they were doing in Bountiful, Utah. They don't need to be made to feel that they are not measuring up. …
"If they are getting revelation for their needs, if they are counseling with the bishop to take care of their needs, if they are meeting with the frequency that is helping their sisters, they are doing a good job. If they are feeling the Spirit of the Lord helping and guiding them, if the sisters in the ward are getting strengthened and blessed and helped and stronger because of what they are doing, then what they are doing is right. It is not a contest.
"We have a specific purpose for being," she said. "We are not a social group and we are not entirely a service group. We are a priesthood-directed organization."