The ultimate hope of an updated Relief Society purposes statement is to help sisters connect themselves to the work of Relief Society, which is a crucial part of the work of the Lord, said Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president.
Sister Burton announced on her Facebook page the revision of the purposes statement on March 9.
The Church News met with Sister Burton and her counselors — Sister Carole M. Stephens and Sister Linda S. Reeves — to discuss the changes and how it relates to the work of Relief Society and the women of the Church.
Sister Burton explained that in many ways the update captures the theme of their presidency’s service since being called in March 2012.
Early on, almost from their first meeting together, the three discussed what they should focus on to continue to move the Lord’s work forward, said Sister Reeves.
“We fasted and we prayed. We went to the temple,” added Sister Burton.
After some discussion, “we realized there were three things that kept bubbling to the surface — the Savior’s Atonement, covenants and unity,” said Sister Stephens.
Sister Burton explained that they were inspired by the purposes outlined by their predecessors and eventually realized that the original purposes statement told the “what” and the words that kept informing their discussions — the Atonement of Jesus Christ, covenants and unity — helped tell the “how.”
The purposes of Relief Society, as previously defined, were to “increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.”
The new version states that Relief Society’s purposes are to “increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement; strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants; and work in unity to help those in need.”
The original version discussed “strengthening home and family.” “But how do you do that?” Sister Reeves asked. “Through ordinances and covenants.”
In addition to expanding the wording of the purposes, the updated version includes the introductory statement: “Relief Society helps prepare women for the blessings of eternal life.”
This was the most “critical piece,” explained Sister Burton. “It’s the umbrella that shows that His work is our work,” she said and quoted Moses 1:39. “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
“It’s one work and one purpose,” added Sister Stephens. “It’s accomplished through His power and His priesthood. It’s the work of salvation.”
That truth was solidified in Sister Burton’s mind and heart by an experience soon after she was called, she said.
A dear friend’s daughter, who had been less-active for nine years, moved into a new stake. Her mother encouraged her to take advantage of a fresh start and go back to church. Eventually, the young woman got up the courage to attend sacrament meeting where she saw a poster advertising a weekday Relief Society meeting of “pampering.” She took a photo and sent it to her mother with the message: “I can go anywhere and get a manicure or pedicure. I thought Relief Society was supposed to be different.”
“I don’t think that experience was for her as much as it was for me,” Sister Burton commented. It has informed every training she has ever conducted as general president of the Relief Society, she said, because Relief Society should bedifferent.
“Relief Society is more than a party. We’re not here to imitate the world. We’re here to help prepare our sisters to return to our eternal home with our Heavenly Father. Our purpose is what sets us apart.”
If a Relief Society gets 50 people to a meeting and it’s fun and entertaining, is that as important as strengthening one person who is in need of temporal or spiritual help? Sister Burton asked.
“Are we thinking about our purpose as we consider Sunday lesson preparation and additional meeting ideas? How does our purpose influence the way we watch over the sisters we have been assigned to visit teach? Does understanding our purpose change the way we address the needs of our sisters?” Sister Burton asked. If women can connect what they’re doing in Relief Society to the purposes of Relief Society, it might change how they do things.
For example, if women consider their purpose as they go visiting teaching, they might ask, “Is this really going to strengthen their family? Is it really helping someone in need? How am I going to strengthen their family or them individually? How can we get them closer to making the next covenant or keeping the covenants they’ve already made?”
If sisters can keep their purpose in mind, “we’re going to make a big difference in people’s lives,” Sister Burton said.
And as sisters come to know who they are and embrace their purpose and work as covenant daughters of God, they will be changed in the process, said Sister Stephens.
The updated Relief Society purpose poster and bookmark are now available online and through Church distribution centers. The changes will also be reflected in upcoming editions of Daughters in My Kingdom.