Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happy (belated) Birthday, Relief Society!

I lost track of the date - pretend this post and yesterday's are switched.

In honor of the birthday of the Relief Society, I'm briefly highlighting the organization's founding instead of a specific woman.

In response to Sarah Granger Kimball's desire to form a ladies society, Joseph Smith invited the women to meet with him to discuss a greater plan that the Lord had for their society. At this first meeting, there were 20 women and 3 men present, and they met in the upper story of the red brick store. Joseph organized the society "after the pattern of the priesthood," and declared that the church had not been perfectly organized until the women had been organized. He expanded the goals of the original society. He gave the inspired prophetic counsel that the women should care for those that were in need, and assist in strengthening the morals of the community. Emma Smith was elected president, as a fulfilling of the revelation that would become D&C 25. Joseph also added that Emma was "to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of the community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings." Emma selected Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as counselors, Eliza R. Snow as secretary, and Elvira A. Cowles as treasurer.

There are many accounts out there that are much more exhaustive than this post. But I just want to say that I am incredibly grateful for the organization of the Relief Society. It blows my mind to consider the countless acts of service, large and small, that women have given as a part of this organization. In the short period of time I've been involved with the Relief Society, my testimony has been strengthened, my skills expanded, and my knowledge enhanced. I have served and received service from others, and experienced tremendous growth from both. I'm grateful for the many women and men who have made the organization what it is today.

Relief Society: Divine Organization of Women, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.
History of the Church, 4:604–5
Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Relief Society in Nauvoo, Barbara Winder


Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that Joseph Smith organized the RS "after the pattern of the priesthood." What do you think he meant by this?

It seems to me that the RS today runs subordinate to the priesthood rather than as an equal organization. I hope that one day the RS will regain some of the independence it has lost in the past few decades.

Erin said...

You know, I've been rolling this quote around in my mind since I read it, and I'm still trying to form my own definition.

I've read Boyd K. Packer discuss this quote in the context of devoting yourself to a greater cause - a subordinating of your will to bring forward the Lord's work. He also likened it to belonging to a priesthood quorum.

Ida Smith gives an interesting reading of this statement in a women's conference address. She discusses how Joseph Smith emphasized that the women were responsible for their own salvation, had direct access to the Holy Ghost, and were not meant to be passive followers - just as priesthood holders were.

I think this topic is so rich that I'm going to make it its own post, but I think you hit on something when you say that it lost some of its independence. I think that things have improved greatly in many areas - women regularly preach in sacrament meeting and general conference, they are playing greater roles in counsels, and I've been in wards where I've seen the EQ/HP and RS presidencies working together and counseling as true equals to serve the ward's needs. It gives me hope. But there are other areas where I think we have digressed, and culturally we have strayed from the original counsel Joseph Smith gave. I've also seen the counsel of women be suppressed or ignored far, far too many times, and it saddens me.

:) I'll come back to this quote.