Saturday, March 28, 2015

Emma Smith's Contributions

The full biographical treatment on Emma Smith is clearly out of the reach of this blog post, but I'm going to briefly talk about three major ways that Emma Smith impacted contemporary worship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: the Word of Wisdom, the hymnal, and the Relief Society.

The Word of Wisdom is one of Mormonism's most easily identified characteristics, and Emma Smith set it in motion. I know people like to quibble about the temperance movement's impact on the revelation, but however you slice it, Emma got the ball rolling on the revelation. Many of us know the story. At the School of the Prophets, the room was crowded with individuals wanting to hear the instruction from Joseph Smith and Orson Hyde, and they would thoroughly enjoy their pipes and chew their tobacco while they talked. It bothered Emma; the room was always filthy from their spit. Her reasoning varies on the account. Some accounts simply state that she thought it was a poor environment for Joseph's translation to occur. Most say that she didn't want to clean the mess – Brigham Young recounted that, “She could not make the floor look decent.” I assume there is truth in both. Whatever her reasoning, she dryly quipped to Joseph, “It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.” Doctrine and Covenants section 89 came as a result.

The next is her contribution to the first LDS hymnal. In 1830, in what would later become D&C 25, she was counseled to make a selection of sacred hymns. In that revelations, God declared, “my Soul delighteth in the song of the heart, yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” It was interesting to me as I flipped through her selections to see how in line they are with these promises. The songs she picked are songs of boundless praise, and songs of absolute confidence in God's goodness and blessings. They also happen to be the bold, powerful kind of hymn that I'm a total sucker for (just ask anyone that has ever sung in one of my ward choirs): songs like “How Firm a Foundation,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “Now Let us Rejoice,” “I Know that my Redeemer Lives,” and “The Spirit of God.”

She and William W Phelps both contributed to the end product. For that first edition, it was only words – members just picked whatever commonly known melody had an appropriate meter and had at it. There were ninety hymns, divided into the following sections: Sacred Hymns, Morning Hymns, Evening Hymns, Farewell Hymns, On Baptism, On Sacrament, On Marriage, and Miscellaneous.

Finally, Emma Smith served as the first general president of the Relief Society. She insisted on the name “Nauvoo Relief Society” when the men tried to change it to “Nauvoo Benevolent Society.” She taught with power and encouraged countless good works. In 1843, Emma organized a Necessity Committee that was to “ascertain the condition of the families visited, and to accept contributions for charitable purposes.” These “visiting teachers” were the forerunners of our contemporary visiting teaching program.

Emma's story is ugly and complicated, and I don't like that this post turned out to be a very sanitized version of it. However, since my focus this month is on showing ways that Mormon women have shaped our contemporary worship experience, and I've already surpassed my self-imposed word limit, I'm sticking to this scope, and I'll take on her full story another time. That said, I am grateful for the profound blessings that have come into my life as a result of the doctrines, songs, and programs Emma Smith brought into the church.

General Board of the Relief Society. A Centenary of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, 1942

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sarah Granger Kimball

In honor of the anniversary of the Relief Society's organization, I'm reposting this from 2013. It was originally given as a talk at a ward Relief Society activity.

171 years ago, a woman named Sarah Granger Kimball wanted to do all she could to help build the Nauvoo Temple. She started by persuading her affluent and not-yet-Mormon husband to make a much-needed financial donation towards building the Nauvoo temple. As they gazed starry-eyed at their newborn son, she asked her husband if the baby was worth a thousand dollars. He agreed. She replied that it was great news, because the boy was half hers, and she wanted to pay tithing on him. Resourceful girl, right? He went for it, and after bantering with Joseph Smith about if that meant the boy would be church property, he made a hefty donation.   

Sarah could have put up her feet and said she'd done her part to build the temple, but she didn't stop there. Sarah and a friend decided that they should sew shirts for the temple workers. She realized other women would want to help, so she had a meeting about organizing a Ladies' Society in Nauvoo. She asked the eloquent Eliza R Snow to write a constitution, and they presented it to Joseph Smith. Joseph told them that they were the best he had ever seen, their offering was accepted of the Lord, but “he [had] something better for them than a written Constitution.” He invited them to a meeting the next week. At that meeting, he organized the Relief Society, an organization about which he proclaimed “the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.”

I want to draw attention to a few elements of this story.

First, Sarah Granger Kimball was proactive. She didn't sit around waiting for people higher in the hierarchy to give her something to do. She felt inspired to do good, and she brought her ideas to the priesthood so they could work together. Think about that: a crucial step to the church being “perfectly organized” and progressing came because a woman acted on personal revelation that came from a desire to do good, and then worked in connection with the priesthood.

Second, she invited others to join her, recognized their talents, and allowed them to serve in meaningful ways. She could have tried to hoard the glory for her service brainchild, but she didn't. She recognized Eliza R Snow's literary gifts and considerable clout in Nauvoo culture, and brought her on board. When Joseph called Emma Smith as president, and she was not called as a counselor, Sarah didn't huff off. She remained thoroughly involved in the Relief Society throughout her life, serving as a Relief Society President in Salt Lake City for over forty years, where she would continue to create innovative ways to serve that would spread throughout the church. She kept giving.

Third, she started by recognizing needs in her community. She didn't set out to feed starving populations in Asia (although the Relief Society has certainly done that in notable ways throughout its history). She saw a need, saw something tangible she could do to fill that need, and she did it.

More than a sewing society came from her efforts. Little by little, woman by woman, new forms of service came about: providing food for the temple workers; boarding temple workers; caring for the sick. As time progressed, something monumental and far-reaching came out of this pattern of seeing a need and filling a need.

Throughout the history of the Relief Society, countless forms of service have been given. The Relief Society has cared for the hungry and sick. It instituted a grain storage program so successful that it not only met local needs, but fed thousands of victims of earthquakes, famines, and wars. It built hospitals, and educated women to be doctors, nurses, and midwives. It partnered with prominent organizations like the Red Cross, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the International Council of Women in bringing about positive change in the world. It has educated women in everything from self-reliance to Shakespeare. It has done remarkable good
And it all started with a woman who felt a desire to do good, took the initiative to propose a solution, and surrounded herself with the best people possible.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Emmeline Wells - Welfare Edition

OK, OK, I know I was a bit obsessive in talking about Emmeline Wells when I started this blog in 2008. I love that woman. That said, this year I am talking about women that developed our contemporary church programs, and how could I not talk about the woman who organized the longest-running arm of the Church Welfare Program?

Of course, back then it wasn't called the Church Welfare Program. When it began in 1876, it was the Relief Society wheat project, and it stayed as the Relief Society wheat project until it was incorporated into the church welfare program in 1978.
Technically, the Church Welfare Program was implemented church wide in 1935 by Harold B Lee and inaugurated in 1936 by David O McKay. However, I am still counting Emmeline Wells a founder of the Church Welfare Program because the programs she implemented had already been doing much of the Church Welfare Program's work for decades.
Brigham Young had been agitating for a wheat storage program for years. The problem? He couldn't get a fire under the men to do it. Consequently, in 1876, he asked Emmeline Wells to organize the grain storage programs. And let me tell you, Emmeline Wells was a woman who got things done.

At the beginning, the women had complete autonomy over the wheat program. Relief Society sisters began by gleaning from existing wheat fields, then used that money to buy their own fields. They controlled their own fields. They built their own granaries. They decided when to sell their wheat. They decided how to use the money. As time went on, the program's autonomy dwindled, but in its early history, it was fully the Relief Society's project.
The Relief Society used their wheat and their money from its sales to bless the world. Their wheat fed survivors of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and their donation to the US Government to assist in the war-time efforts was so gratefully received by President Woodrow Wilson that he arranged a personal visit to Wells to thank her for the society's donation. After Wells' death, the Relief Society used wheat money to finance maternity hospitals.
Emmeline Wells also beat the Church Welfare program to the punch in its employment training and efforts to encourage members to live welfare principles. In 1919, under her leadership, the Relief Society Social Services Department worked with wards and stakes to help women find employment and provided six week training programs in family welfare.
Although she died before its organization, what do you think about when you think about the Church Welfare Program? The iconic grain silo on Welfare Square? Emmeline Wells started the church's grain storage program. Sending aid to countries impacted by natural disasters, or other forms of distress? Emmeline Wells was already doing that. Educating members about welfare principles and helping members find employment opportunities? Emmeline Wells did it earlier. Church Family Services program? Emmeline Wells was doing part of that, too – the Relief Society Social Services Department also did adoption placement. Wells had already demonstrated the power of a centralized force of faithful members that want to do good.
Wells was a woman of remarkable talent and drive, and I'm grateful for the programs she implemented.
LDS Women of God: Relief Society Wheat Project
Emmeline B. Wells: A Fine Soul Who Served, by Carol Cornwall Madsen.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Emily H Higgs

In the Young Woman's Journal, Emily H. Higgs began her summary of the first LDS Girls Camp experience with the following lines: “It is quite generally recognized that conditions surrounding our girls have greatly changed within the last few years.”

It was 1912, and the Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association (a forerunner of the current Young Women and Young Single Adult organizations) were now full of working urban women. Leaders worried about the psychological impact of the monotony of factory and office jobs on these young women, and the confines and temptations of city life. They felt that spending time in nature offered spiritual and psychological healing, but recognized that most girls couldn't afford time at a summer resort. They also recognized that the book reports and handicrafts the MIA was offering the girls during the interim of its regular meetings were not interesting the girls.

Higgs declared, “Joy, rest, recreation and companionship under beautiful conditions is the rightful heritage of every girl whether rich or poor.” Although Higgs made it clear she thought these young women were spending too much money on worldly things (retrenchment ideology was alive and well during this period), it didn't stop her from trying to minister to them in their real conditions and needs.

With the help of other local leaders, Emily Higgs organized Liberty Glen Camp, the first LDS Girls Camp. Along the way, the needs of the girls were kept front and center. They did not simply feminize the Boy Scout programs the YMMIA had recently introduced – they created something new. They also emphasized keeping costs low so as many girls as possible could participate.

Camp was not a rigorous survival experience – it was a summer house. The girls shared cooking and cleaning duties, and were given lots of free time to pursue however they wished. They could fish, hike, wade and swim. Classes were offered about flowers, insects, birds, and plants. Once a week, they had a “Mother's Day” where families and ward authorities were invited, and hayrack rides, bonfires, concerts, and open air dances were part of the entertainment. The emphasis was on rejuvenating the working woman's soul.

:) And for those of you that have felt that your young women aren't roughing it enough, you should know that they had a large sleeping house with wire netting, cots, electric lights, telephone, and even a piano – their goal was modern convenience with the “luxuries” of an outdoor life.
The program was wildly successful and quickly expanded throughout the church, shifting along the way to meet the needs of the current generations.

I'm grateful for Higg's inspiration. When you read her writing, it is clear that she is somewhat baffled and disapproving of this new urban life, but rather than calling these women's needs self-inflicted and ignoring them, she focused her energies on reaching out and blessing them. I am grateful for the blessings I've experienced attending girls camp as both a youth and a leader.

Emily H. Higgs, May W. Cannon, Sadie G. Pack, “Liberty Glen Camp.” The Young Woman's Journal, Volume 24, page 31-34. Published 1913.
Richard Ian Kimball, Sports in Zion: Mormon Recreation 1890-1940. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Liberty Glen: The First Young Women Camp,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Aurelia Read Spencer Rogers

At the end of this month, I will have spent five consecutive years serving in various primary callings, and I couldn't be more pleased about it. I love the primary. I love focusing on the core of the gospel. I love seeing the gospel from a different perspective as I see it through the kids' eyes. I love how you never quite know what it going to come out of a kid's mouth. But most of all, I love the impact great teachers have had on my own children. I have Aurelia Read Spencer Rogers to thank for that.

Aurelia Read Spencer Rogers was not impressed with the boys in her Farmington, Utah community. Words like “hoodlum” and “carelessness in the extreme, not only in regard to religion, but also to morality” were thrown around. She couldn't get it out of her mind. While praying, she states, “A fire seemed to burn within me …. The query then arose in my mind could there not be an organization for little boys wherein they could be taught everything good, and how to behave.”

Why not indeed? She met with the unstoppable Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells, and told them about her concerns and proposed solution. Snow brought it to John Taylor, who approved the proposal, who then explained the plan to the Farmington bishop, who then asked Rogers to preside over the organization. Although the original focus had been on the hoodlum boys, Rogers quickly expanded her vision of the program to include girls as well.

The organization began in the Farmington Ward, and began to expand into other wards and stakes in the church. And for any of you that have struggled to keep the primary kids' interest, don't worry – Rogers talks about having some of the same problems. In 1880, Louie B. Felt became the general primary president (with Rogers' full endorsement). Rogers served for nine years as the Farmington Ward Primary president, and upon her release, and went on to serve as the Davis Stake primary president and worked diligently in the woman suffrage movement.

I admire Rogers' proactiveness. She could have shaken her head and said “boys will be boys.” She could have just circled the wagons around her own kids. She could have been annoyed with her bishop for approaching the problem entirely the wrong way. (She stated that the bishop's original solution to the hoodlum youth problem was to “[throw] the responsibility upon the sisters to look after their daughters,” and she wrote that “I felt then if he had called the Brethren together also, to advise together with them it would have been better”). No, she pondered, prayed, and then did something about the inspiration she received.

Over one million children in the current primary organization, and thousands before them, have been blessed by her proactive spirit.

Benson, RoseAnn. “For the Best Good of the Children,” in Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume Two, 1821-1845, eds. Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman.
Rogers, Aurelia. Life Sketches of Orson Spencer and Others, and History of the Primary Work.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015 Theme: Influence

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.