I have seldom been more excited than I was while waiting in the airport for the arrival of sisters from Zimbabwe, Australia, Germany, Korea and Mexico. They were coming to Church headquarters to tape segments for the Relief Society sesquicentennial satellite broadcast on March 14.
I hurried to the first gate, awaiting the plane from Seoul, and wondering how I'd recognize Sister Kim. A young woman deplaned, but before I could approach her, she was enfolded in the arms of a waiting man. I asked another woman if she was looking for Relief Society or Sister Jack, but she showed no recognition of either name.Then Sister Kim came through the gate. Her smile of recognition told me immediately our sister had arrived.
At each gate I had a similar happy experience of meeting a sister who was new to me, yet part of our Relief Society sisterhood. The importance of this sisterhood was never clearer to me than when the week of their visit ended and these five women spent two happy hours checking home addresses, exchanging photographs, sharing family stories in four languages, and tearfully bidding each other goodbye. In just a few days their mutual love of the gospel of Jesus Christ had bound these strangers into friends who loved one another.
Our Relief Society sisterhood is like that - a strong bond that can surround each sister with support, spiritual nurturance, service and sisterhood. The roots of this sisterhood reach back to the organization of the Relief Society itself.
In Nauvoo in 1842, women joined together in loving service to others. The Prophet Joseph Smith instructed these women, "Said Jesus, `ye shall do the work which ye see me do.' These are the grand key words for the Society to act upon." (Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, May 26, 1842.) Each contributed what she could - a spool of thread, 12 cents, fabric, sewing talents. The immediate result was shirts for the workmen building the temple. The long-term result was the formation of a sisterhood that transcends time because it is built on testimony of eternal principles. The wise women who founded Relief Society knew that together they could become a force for great good wherever Latter-day Saint women united in Relief Society units.
Throughout the Church I see evidences of the good that genuine sisterhood does for individual women:
- A Relief Society lesson on adversity prompted one teacher to speak openly for the first time about some extreme challenges in her family. As she shared her feelings about the recent death of a son, an aged mother needing constant care, serious financial trials, and a daughter's inability to have a child, the women in her ward felt closer to her. Many had only seen her as a self-confident and self-contained woman who could tackle anything. As the woman shared her heart with the sisters, they responded with personal experiences that showed empathy. Others expressed love and support. Her Relief Society president reported, "that teacher brought a spirit of sisterhood to our meeting. We all feel we know each other better."
- When her son was in the hospital, a young mother called a 78-year-old ward member and asked her to pick up her other children from school. The young mother said, "She's never been my visiting teacher or an officer in Relief Society, but we're friends. Almost weekly she sits by me in Church and asks, `How are you?' and I tell her."
- While she was investigating the Church, a woman resented it when the missionaries called her sister. "I'm not your sister!" she vehemently exclaimed. After joining the Church and experiencing Relief Society, she said, "Now it's the dearest term I know. Just call me Sister Annie."
- A visiting teacher discovered that a sister she visited could not read. She determined to teach her, even though they lived far apart and transportation was difficult. Because of her loving interest, the sister learned to read sufficiently that the two could share the scriptures together during their regular visits.
- Sisters in a ward treated a single mother to a day out. They helped her choose a new outfit, took her to lunch and to a theatrical production. Although the sister who organized the day had as much need as the single mother for the clothes, she felt boosted because of the obvious enjoyment of her sister for a rare break in a demanding daily schedule.
These few examples demonstrate the understanding and acceptance that women can feel for each other. These feelings are best promoted by heart-to-heart sharing of what gospel principles mean to sisters. They come to the fore when sisters bear testimony in Relief Society, knowing others understand their feelings and have likely shared similar experiences. Every Relief Society function should be an occasion in which sisters feel closer to each other because they are learning about the gospel and enjoying the spirit of the Lord together.
To achieve the best of our sisterhood we must be singular in purpose. We must seek the Kingdom of God individually and together. As we do, our hearts expand with compassion for each other, and the term sister can become a term of endearment, not just a designation we use on Sundays for each other.
Sometimes we are kept from a rich sisterhood because we get distracted. The world gives many visible rewards for social position, a certain appearance or manner of dressing. Sometimes a sister's obvious skills as a seamstress, musician, teacher or mother engender feelings of inadequacy in us. In other cases a spirit of criticism and judgment creeps in, silently driving wedges between us. We may misperceive shyness as disinterest or a flamboyant personal style as conceit.
The Apostle Paul explained a principle that can help us in any of these situations. He reminded us that "the body is not one member, but many. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:14, 21, 25, 27.)
In Relief Society we are many members, but we are one in purpose and spirit. Just as our physical bodies need each member to function correctly if we are to maintain good health, so our Relief Societies need each member to be loved and nurtured so she can maintain good health and grow in Godlike qualities. If any member is unhealthy, the whole of our sisterhood will not function as it can or should.
The best experiences I have with friends always involve a spiritual element. We may take a walk, listen to beautiful music, have fun at a picnic, shop or share scriptural insights. In every circumstance, I enjoy companions who bring a spiritual dimension to everything they do. In Relief Society I am surrounded by such sisters. They teach me by their examples, introduce me to many wonderful new aspects of life, and in countless ways enrich my family and me.
To enjoy a unified sisterhood is a warm, satisfying conclusion of the Relief Society mission statement. It reminds us that we can unitedly enjoy the blessings of our Relief Society sisterhood and fulfill the Savior's commandment, "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine." (D&C 38:27.)
Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president, was born and raised in Cardston, Alberta. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school, she attended the University of Utah where she met her husband, Joseph E. Jack. They were married in the Alberta Temple and have four sons and nine grandchildren.
Pres. Jack, a member of the Holladay 18th Ward, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake, has served in many Relief Society positions, including 11 years as a member of the Relief Society general board. She has been a stake Relief Society president and worked in many ward Relief Society assignments. She has also served as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
The Jacks lived in New York, Boston and in Sitka, Alaska, before moving to Utah. Pres. Jack enjoys spending time with family and friends.