Auxiliary Changes Designed to Unify Sisters Worldwide
Contributed By By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor
In an effort to increase the feeling of sisterhood among Latter-day Saint women of all ages across the world, the general presidents of the women’s organizations have announced changes that will impact Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary.
Reflecting the Church’s international growth, women who live outside of Utah and outside the United States have been called to serve on the newly formed Young Women general board.
In addition, auxiliary training—previously held in conjunction with April’s general conference at Church headquarters for those who could attend—will now be delivered to sisters worldwide through an integrated, global, web-based training effort that will be provided in key languages.
These changes were announced weeks before girls ages eight and older, young women, and women in the Church will gather for the Church’s semiannual general women’s meeting—which will replace the general Relief Society and Young Women meetings that have been held annually for decades.
“We all know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is worldwide,” said Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president. “That reason alone provides opportunities for advancement and progression. All of these things—the general women’s meeting, the training that will come online, and also international boards for Young Women—are pointing in that direction, to meet the changing needs of women.”
The Church News met on February 3 with Sister Wixom; Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president; and Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, to talk about the upcoming meeting and the changes that will help their organizations reach out to a growing international Church membership.
Their hope is to bring the women of the Church together with international boards, integrated global training, and the general women’s meeting to celebrate womanhood and covenant keeping.
The “emphasis is the covenant path that we are all on together,” said Sister Oscarson.
Sister Burton said collectively the changes will have a big impact.
“We know that revelation is scattered and we receive a piece here and a piece there and they all form a beautiful picture as we take each piece as it comes. It is something to celebrate.”
Sister Oscarson said that when she and her presidency were called last spring and asked to consider a Young Women general board, they felt like the time was right to include sisters from across the globe. As part of the board, four women from the Wastach Front will serve side by side, by the use of technology, with women from Africa, Peru, Japan, Brazil, and New York City.
“This is a global Church,” Sister Oscarson said. “As we develop programs for the young women of the Church and think about the needs of the young women of the Church, it, in my mind, becomes essential that we incorporate the voices of sisters from outside the United States and outside of this area to understand those needs.”
Sister Oscarson said she hopes the international board will send the message to women across the world that the Lord is aware of them. “It is a unifying thing. It helps make the Church smaller. It helps address the needs throughout the world. I think the message it sends to everyone is important.”
Sister Burton said the Relief Society and Primary leaders will be watching and learning from the Young Women international board. Leaders haven’t determined yet if they will call international members to the Relief Society and Primary boards. “Because this is a Spirit-driven work we will follow the Spirit and see where it takes us,” she said.
Sister Wixom said the three women’s auxiliary presidencies meet together weekly. “That gives us the opportunity to learn how this is working,” she said.
Sister Oscarson said she doesn’t yet know all the details of how the new board is going to interact. “We are paving new ground. We feel like we are being led by the Spirit as we go.”
The new board members were called by teleconference and told the majority of their work will be done the same way. “The time is right for this,” she said.
Integrated Global Training
Sister Wixom said new online training will make it possible for women all over the world to receive the same message at the same time.
Another change, added Sister Burton, is the timing of the training. The annual training emphasis and materials will be developed after April general conference for posting on approximately June 1.
Developing training after April general conference will allow the organizations’ leaders to reflect the prophetic priorities and counsel of the General Authorities in their messages.
“This will connect us worldwide,” she said. “We will all be speaking with the same voice.”
Sister Oscarson said the training will consist of online video segments and other materials and will respond to the growing needs of the worldwide Church. “Hopefully, it will reflect the input we receive from our board members, especially those from international areas,” she said. “We need to help the women of the Church realize how essential they are to this work. We are all needed. We have special gifts and talents that no one else can offer.”
General Women’s Meeting
The First Presidency of the Church announced November 1 that beginning in April the semiannual general women’s meeting will replace the general Relief Society and general Young Women meetings.
Sister Burton said the Relief Society general presidency has talked about where the idea came from to make the change. “We couldn’t pinpoint where this idea came from, because it has come from so many different sources, and the timing and the pieces that have come together have been remarkable,” she said.
Sister Wixom said leaders wanted to be inclusive and invite Primary girls ages 8-12, in addition to young women and women. “As we counseled together we came to the conclusion that it begins for girls when they turn 8 years old and they take upon themselves the baptismal covenant,” she said.
Sister Burton said she is excited for the meeting because “there is power in gathering. … We elevate each other in a way when we are together that is absolutely remarkable.”
Sister Wixom said even the Primary children will be able to bring something to the gathering as they have an important role to play in the work of salvation.
“These girls are capable of giving and also of receiving revelation that will come from participating in this event.”
Something that makes the meeting valuable, said Sister Oscarson, is for women and girls, ages 8 and older, to be able to see how important they are for each other. She wants to “help them see that we are all in this work of salvation together, that we are not divided into organizations that keep us separate. We need one another.”
“Each season of life is so important,” added Sister Burton. “We need to see all the seasons together so that we can strengthen one another and glean from our unique perspectives along that covenant path.”
Sister Wixom said the new general meeting sends the same message as integrated global training and international boards: “It is unity. It is seamless in spirit and purpose. We are together.”