Relief Society Conference Emphasizes Spirit of Compassion


“The Spirit that has been at this conference, in my opinion, is the Lord’s approbation of our work,” declared Sister Belle Spafford, Relief Society general president, at the close of the Relief Society general session of General Conference.

Relief Society’s “work” includes an exciting array of new programs with special optional lessons to meet the needs of single women; instruction in health care through proper nutrition with warnings against nutritional fads; and helps in how to stretch the family income, with emphasis on clothing construction in the Homemaking Department.

An important new directive is the responsibility assigned to the Relief Society concerning single women of the Church, 18 and over. Sister Spafford, calling the program “Prophecy Fulfilled,” cited President Joseph F. Smith’s prediction that “… the young women, the intelligent women, women of faith, of courage and of purity [would] be associated with the Relief Societies.” President Harold B. Lee received “this same prophetic vision relating to the young women of the Church; accompanying this there came to him the responsibility to take action leading to the fulfillment of the prophecy,” said Sister Spafford.

The current assignment of the Relief Society is to have the names of all women members 18 and over on its attendance rolls. One Relief Society counselor in each ward will be named adviser to the single women.

President Harold B. Lee, a guest in the closing session, bore his testimony to the sisters that “you are guided and led by three of the noblest women that walk the earth—Sister Spafford and her counselors. I bespeak for your loyalty, your faith. We know the loyalty that Sister Spafford always manifests.”

He further added his testimony to the previous speakers. “Knowing these sisters as I do and knowing Brother Faust and Brother Packer who have already spoken, and without reading what they said, I endorse also what they have said. I dare take that chance.”

Elder James E. Faust, assistant to the Council of the Twelve, focused on the Relief Society’s accountability for single women in a very personal way as he described his daughter Lisa.

“She is eighteen and single. I love her so much that when I talk about her I become misty-eyed. … There are now tens of thousands of new faces like Lisa’s for whom you should have concern.” He explained that Lisa thinks of the Relief Society as “her mother’s and grandmother’s organization. … In terms of age and interest Lisa has little in common with them.”

To close the gap, Elder Faust counseled Relief Society presidents to work through and with the Young Adult ward representative, whom Lisa will identify with as a peer. “If you can relate to her without being too directive and authoritarian, I expect that she will be turned on by your wonderful organization and be involved for the rest of her life.”

The leaders, declared Elder Faust, “desire to be affirmative in the involvement of the singles and challenge them to move out of the basement of their lives.”

Mary Frances Watson, one of the young single women whom the Relief Society now serves, told the General Conference audience that “I stand before you today as a very satisfied customer.” One of her first memories of the Relief Society, she said, was the frosted animal cookies she received in the nursery when she attended with her mother. And they still give her a real sense of happiness and security.

She praised Relief Society for introducing her to Moby Dick and for enhancing her home with “beautiful gold leafing, the dried flowers, and needlework … most of my clothing, … even much of the food we eat” due to the skills her mother developed in Relief Society.

Sister Spafford further reported on the Relief Society’s achievements over the past fiscal year in welfare services, a role that will be expanded during the coming year. Relief Society sisters made 495,000 visits to the sick and homebound, an increase of 33,300. Bedside nursing care amounted to 44,600 eight-hour days, an increase of 8,000 working days.

Assistance rendered at times of death in 23,500 cases represents an increase of approximately 9,500. Other types of compassionate service increased 171,000 hours for a total of 1,313,000. Under the direction of the bishops, Relief Society presidents made a total of 102,000 visits, an increase of 5,200. Other contacts numbered 61,000. A total of 75,000 Relief Society members, more than 11,000 over last year’s number, contributed 565,000 hours to welfare projects, an increase of 2,300.

Also in the general session, Marianne C. Sharp, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, taught that loving service is the most effective means of spiritual preparation. The kind of spiritual preparation necessary was brought home to her by a mother who reported that her daughter had become alarmed at their home storage plans and confessed, “Mother, I don’t think I want to live in the times that are coming. I’m afraid.” The mother told Sister Sharp that she “had not been emphasizing the proper things. The joy in looking forward to the second coming of the Savior had been swallowed up in dread and foreboding of events leading up to his coming.”

Sister Louise W. Madsen, second counselor, posed the question, “What seek ye?” (John 1:39) to the sisters, and told them the scriptural way to earn wisdom, peace, truth, and great fulfillment.

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve, addressing the sisters on the importance of Relief Society, told a moving story about a young mother who, when her bishop asked where she would like to serve, requested a teaching position in the Sunday School or MIA.

“The following Sunday night she was sustained as second counselor in the presidency of the Relief Society!” said Elder Packer. “She protested and used the word, ‘shocked!’ And I quote, ‘That organization is for my mother, not for me!’ Then she went on to explain to the bishop: ‘I don’t have the right experience.’ And she was bold enough to add, ‘And I have no desire to learn.’

“Well, the bishop prevailed, as bishops will, and she answered the call.

“They were holding Relief Society in the basement of the chapel because of the construction and the remodeling. It was in the furnace room. While the furnace was on it was terrible, and when it was off it was intolerable! Her children caught cold.

“So, on at least two occasions she went to the bishop and asked to be released. On both occasions the bishop said he would think about it.”

Then a serious auto accident left her with a severe facial laceration which became infected. However, her doctor warned that they would probably be unable to handle it surgically because it was too close to the nerve in her face. Just as the doctor was leaving, the bishop stopped by wondering if there was trouble in the home.

“The woman, in her agony, … began to weep in pain and concern. And when he said, as bishops will do, ‘Is there anything we can do for you?’, through her pain and tears she said, maybe with a touch of bitterness, ‘Yes, Bishop! Now will you release me from Relief Society?’”

“And the answer came back: ‘Sister Spafford, I still don’t get the feeling that you should be released from Relief Society.’

Closing the general session, Sister Spafford said, “I have learned the greatness of the priesthood of God. I have learned the inspiration that guides the brethren who preside over us. I have learned that there is nothing more important for me to do as a woman than to be obedient to the counsel which they give. Many, many times as the years have passed, I have thanked the Lord for the inspiration that guided a ward bishop … when he said to me more than once, ‘I do not feel impressed to release you.’”

In a baker’s dozen of department meetings, plus the colorful Homemaking Fair of craft ideas, the Relief Society sisters received further instructions on new programs.

In the Presidencies’ Department, Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown explained the relationship of the welfare program and the Relief Society, and praised Sister Spafford “and the two women who stand by her side—they’re all indispensable.” Kirma S. Larsen of Tempe Stake attributed the high degree of success that they had with their unpaid nursery program to the positive attitude they had toward involvement (“Who is better qualified to give these children the loving care they need than their mothers?”) and the support they have from priesthood leadership.

In the Family Health Department workshop Dr. James O. Mason, Commissioner of Church Health Services, stated: “The health goal of the Church is to assist each member to reach his or her optimal health potential. This is not to say that the Church should provide health care for its members; it means that the Church will help each member learn to meet his own and his family’s health needs by obeying principles that foster optimal health and by using community health resources.”

He focused on the Church’s priorities: “The Church is not building hospitals and clinics throughout the world. They are not the most important health resource; the home is where good health begins.”

The sisters saw vivid diet skits with “Anna Apathy” as one extreme, inundating her family with potato chips, soda pop, and doughnuts, but very little nourishing food. Zola Zealous, on the other extreme, lavished her food budget on health foods, including protein powder and an extensive array of vitamins.

Speakers stressed caution in attributing great health powers to any particular foods. Dr. John Hill, chairman of BYU’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, relieved anxieties about the use of additives, pesticides, and fertilizers by stressing: “The correct attitude to develop toward these three causes of concern is that they are neither all good nor all bad. Their use and acceptance require accurate information followed by rational and intelligent action.” He defended pesticides by pointing out that food crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 50,000 species of fungi, 15,000 species of nematodes, and 10,000 species of pest insects. Pesticides save between 75 and 90 percent of certain crops from loss to these pests.

The Mother Education leaders focused on the listening-learning process in teaching children, through a series of revelatory vignettes. One mother rhymed: “I need no mirror on the wall to tell me I must change my ways. My daughter playing with her doll reflects each manner, tone, and phrase.” A panel discussed preventative assets for parents in child rearing. One of the most important, as brought out by Sister Amelia McConkie and Sister Connie Rector, was the importance of setting clearly understood and consistently enforced guidelines. Sister Rector told of tailing her two-year-old in an Easter egg hunt near a creek without hovering. When he headed for the creek, she gave him the “stop” signal. He turned, and using her own words, asked, “Is this dangerous?”

The Social Relations department focused on the theme of compassionate service. Dr. Dean Jarman, associate director of the LDS Institute at the University of Utah, set the tone of the meeting by defining the kind of sharing that compassionate service involves particularly the necessity of the spirit of charity. He emphasized two things: we should seek the Spirit to fill our hearts with pure love for God and man through repentance, prayer, and obedience; and we should manifest and expand that love by sharing our time, talents, and substance to those in need. The sisters saw a dramatic contrast between pioneer women, who had little to share but their desire to help and their great love, and the materially blessed but sometimes spiritually narrow modern woman. Other speakers stressed change, self-image, community awareness, the uses of adversity, and the resources available in meetinghouse libraries for social relations lessons.

The Visiting Teaching program emphasized the unique situation of being able to share gospel messages within the home.

Former Bishop E. LaMar Buckner focused on the power of commitment in visiting teaching. Message teachers must reach a spiritual “point of no return,” becoming teachers, becoming spiritual, becoming “women of God.” Emphasizing confidentiality, he said that visiting teachers may be the eyes and ears of the bishop, but they are not his mouthpiece. Their “most important call is to save souls and build stronger homes … through sisterhood in action.”

He also urged commitment to getting and relying on the Holy Spirit, and providing dedicated service.

Model lesson presentations at the stake, ward, and home levels were offered, and small-group interaction sessions focused on other important principles: “Listening to the sisters can provide contact with the grassroots of the Church,” said workshop director John P. Reeves. Sisters from eight different countries bore their testimonies about the power of visiting teaching.

The Music Department’s horizons have been expanded. For the first time, songs other than hymns will be practiced, and national folk songs will enrich the cultural refinement lessons. Sister Ellen Barnes, Relief Society Chorus conductor, identified the greatest need of directors as enthusiasm. It may be communicated in love for the sisters and the music, and knowledge of the music.

The Cultural Refinement Department, themed “World-wide Sisterhood,” attempted to understand other countries through pictures, art, music, and story. In addition to the support from the Music Department, the Homemaking Department is also reinforcing the Cultural Refinement lessons by teaching sisters how to prepare foods from each of the countries studied.

In the Homemaking Department, sisters had demonstrations on the sewing mini-class, a concept important enough that Sister Louise W. Madsen, second counselor to Sister Spafford, presented the same information simultaneously to the presidents. “The chief achievement to be realized in every ward and branch in the Church is that every woman be taught to sew,” she said.

The mini-class gives a group of four to ten women individualized instruction for three or four months. Even a beginner can, in four sessions, complete two articles of clothing like a shirt and a dress. These classes are especially attractive for nonmembers and inactive sisters, the group leader stressed.

The response was enthusiastic, not only to sewing mini-classes, but in areas such as painting, cake decorating, first aid, home repairs, hair styling, flower drying and arranging, creative stitchery, cooking, needlepoint, money management, and Christmas decorations.

The Lamanite Department saw presentations and demonstrations on how to adapt the regular lessons to fit the culture, habits, and ways of the Lamanite sisters. One ward found that its Lamanite sisters did not understand the English lessons completely, so they were taped in Navajo. A lesson on genealogy featured three Books of Remembrance made and kept by Lamanite members and a Treasures of Truth kept by a young Lamanite girl. The lesson on “Woman, a Mother” used visual aids with a localized flavor: a bear with cubs, a wolf with puppies, a doe with a fawn.

For the first time, the Spanish-speaking sisters met in their own department for the entire session. Sisters from Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and local Spanish branches participated in skits, lectures, and question-answer periods on the lessons. Eduardo Balderas, Church translator, gave several examples of how teachers could use the Liahona magazine in their lesson presentation.

Regional Representative Harold Brown, who served as president of the first Spanish-speaking stake in the world and who had also been a Relief Society president, talked about the different levels of progression a branch goes through from establishment to maturity, with samples of the problems accompanying each level.

[photos] 1. Sisters gather for Relief Society general session. 2. An absorbed note-taker. 3. President Belle Spafford confers with her counselors.

[photos] 4. Painstaking rug-weaving. 5. Sewing receives new emphasis. 6. For Spanish-speakers only. 7. Creative choruses highlight sessions.

[photos] 8. Spanish dolls and piñatas. 9–10. Sisters assemble for instruction.