The past and the present seemed to merge on March 17 when near the portraits of current and former Relief Society leaders President Gordon B. Hinckley joined Relief Society General President Bonnie D. Parkin in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the historic Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City.
Commemorating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the dedication of the building and celebrating the completion of a months-long renovation project, President Hinckley and Sister Parkin used silver scissors to cut a gold ribbon hanging in a doorway between the Presidents' Room and the Reception Room on the ground floor of the white stone and marble building. Prior to cutting the ribbon, those gathered viewed a video, "Noble Women, Righteous Lives," which depicted a worldwide Relief Society.
"God bless the women of the Relief Society," the Church president told a small gathering on the 164th birthday of the founding of Relief Society. "May they go forward in strength and power, in virtue and capacity and move forward the work of the Lord across the entire earth."
Accompanying President Hinckley at the ceremony were his counselors in the First Presidency, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust. Also present were several members of the Quorum of the Twelve, other Church leaders, and current and former auxiliary leaders.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests wandered through the ground floor of the building, which was originally dedicated Oct. 3, 1956, and closed in June 2005 for renovations. Spread on a table in the Reception Room were large, black books in which were the names of all the women of the Church who donated their $5 to the construction of the building more than a half century ago. Many of those names are familiar Marjorie P. Hinckley, Ruth W. Faust and Hildur B. Johnson (mother of Sister Frances Monson).
The historic building, once again open to guided public tours, now includes new carpets, draperies, furniture covers and an upgraded electrical system and audiovisual equipment. The brass window frames have also been cleaned and polished to a near glow. In addition, the Resource Room for local auxiliary leaders has been renovated.
A new painting in the historic building markedly ties Relief Society to its origins. "Come Let Us Rejoice," by Walter Rane, was recently commissioned by the Museum of Church History and Art and depicts the organization of the Relief Society on March 17, 1842. The most striking aspect of the new painting, unveiled during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, are the expressions of the women as the Prophet Joseph, his face shown in profile, announces the founding of what would become perhaps one of the oldest and largest women's organizations in the world.
Speaking of that event, President Hinckley, in his brief remarks, quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith, " 'If you live up to your privileges, even the angels cannot restrain from being your associates.' That is the ideal, I think, that ought to permeate all of the activities of the Relief Society," President Hinckley added.
Then, referring to the thousands of women who donated during the fund-raising campaign of 1947-1948, President Hinckley said, "I was pleased to see that my wife paid her $5," bringing laughter from those listening. "That represented, as we calculated it, $50 in today's money. Five dollars would buy a lot of groceries in those days and to think that over a hundred thousand women contributed $5 was a most significant and wonderful thing, in my judgment.
"Can you imagine what this Church would be without Relief Society?" President Hinckley asked. "I marvel at what happens as I see this great organization portrayed across the world, women of many nationalities, women whose features are different, whose skins are dark and light. . . . They are all women of one faith and one conviction and a great love for the Lord. It is a thing of wonder and a thing to be marveled at, that from the 20 women who met with the Prophet in 1842, there would be an organization today of 5 million of them. It's almost impossible to believe."
In her remarks, Sister Parkin acknowledged the teamwork between her and Young Women General President Susan W. Tanner and Primary General President Cheryl C. Lant in the renovation project. Continuing, her voice at times halting with emotion, Sister Parkin said, "This building is filled with the spirit of those who have gone before."
Then, she spoke of her grandmother, Agnes Kunz Dansie, who "raised chickens. She wrote a column for the Midvale Sentinel. . . . With the money she received from selling her eggs and the money from her column, she contributed $5 for every one of her daughters, her daughters-in-law and her granddaughters."
She quoted from the original dedicatory prayer offered by then-Church President David O. McKay, during which he referred to the Relief Society and the "loyal, faithful, beautiful women who compose its membership."
"Today, our 5.2 million sisters worldwide are equally loyal, faithful and beautiful, and I express my gratitude to those who have gone before, for the legacy they have left, for the tender blessings that are ours as women, as Relief Society sisters."
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