The role of a bishop's wife in a student ward (or any ward, for that matter) is nebulous. In some of my student wards, they have played pivotal roles, and in others, I don't think I even met them.
I don't think there is one right way to be a bishop's wife. Every family and congregation has different needs, and I respect these women's inspiration for where to spend their limited time. That said, I'm intensely grateful for the role of the bishop's wife in the married student ward I attended as a newlywed.
Sister Gough was a woman that understood the lives of the women in her ward. This was a ward with dozens of babies, yet only seven kids in the nursery/primary organization. It was swimming with brand new mothers.
Sister Gough arranged two meetings during the regular three hour block to talk about postpartum depression. One happened during relief society, where many of the women were more comfortable talking about their experiences, and the other happened in a combined EQ/RS meeting because she recognized that this wasn't a “woman problem” - the mental health of a mother impacts the entire family, and a depressed mother needs the support of the entire family. She also recognized that it was important enough that a fireside or RS meeting wouldn't cut it – there were too many professional, academic, and childcare conflicts to reach the necessary audience.
It would be another three years until I became a mother, but at these meetings, my husband I recognized those little nudges that said we needed to pay attention to her words. And when I did experience postpartum anxiety after the birth of my first child, I was spared so much suffering and pain because I understood what was going on and how to ask for the help I needed.
Our ward needed her wisdom and insight. She could have stayed home. She could have just sat next to her husband and been friendly with anyone that talked to her. She could have said that it wasn't in the manual, she didn't have a calling, and it wasn't her place to influence the curriculum. But she saw a need and set out to solve it in the most effective way.
Throughout our church's history, our people have had needs that aren't being addressed by the existing systems (and a lot of programs that address them beautifully – I'm not trying to complain here). I honor the men and women with the inspiration and innovation to create programs to serve the people, rather than try to fit people into the programs. The church has grown better and more vital as a result.
I'm going to do things a little differently this year. Rather than following my usual biographic approach, I will simply discuss the ways these women have shaped the Mormon worship experience. For heaven's sake, I'm going to talk about Eliza R Snow – you'd be reading all day if I gave her the biographic treatment. Whether these women identified the need on their own, or were asked to address a need by priesthood leaders, they brought their unique insight and inspiration and created something that has blessed countless individuals. I am grateful for their service.
I'm posting on Mondays this year, with a few extras thrown in as time permits.