Ensign: What is the present state of Relief Society in the Church today?
Sister Smith: Well, I’d have to say that Relief Society is undergoing explosive growth—and with that growth are coming some highly significant developments for the sisters of the Church. There are now 1,129,135 sisters in this great Relief Society sisterhood. One hundred thirty-five years ago, eighteen sisters were organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith into the Relief Society; 100 years later, there were slightly more than 100,000 members. This means that in the last thirty-five years we have added over one million members! I call that explosive! But the thrilling thing about all this is the kind of influence Relief Society is having upon women and their families—upon women as individuals as they learn and study and achieve, and upon families as they are influenced by the remarkable training and teachings of the program.
Sister Miltenberger: A short time ago I looked at the 1942 (Dec. 31, 1942) Relief Society annual reports and noted that of the 107,282 women then in Relief Society, 97,999 of them were in the United States—and all other countries combined were represented with 9,283 sisters. In 1970 the Relief Society began reporting through the Church Correlated Reporting System. In that year there were about 370,000 sisters in the Relief Society—of which 58,000 were from lands other than the United States. Since then, our numbers have increased dramatically, since the First Presidency determined that all sisters over eighteen years of age should automatically be enrolled in Relief Society. Also impressive were the numbers of sisters who were joining the Church in It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia, thereby becoming members of the Relief Society.
This growth is laden with important implications. For example, I have an idea from the 1942 statistics that back then the Relief Society program primarily focused on the needs of sisters in the United States, where most of its membership was. But now—my goodness! There are thousands of Latter-day Saint women located in countries throughout the world. More than ever before, it is apparent why record-keeping is such an important administrative matter. The general presidency and general board need to be able to plan programs that are appropriate for all the cultures represented in the Relief Society and see to it that suitable materials are distributed throughout the world; they must know the quantity of materials needed for each cultural and language group; and they need to accommodate materials to different cultures and customs. Without records it would be difficult to do this knowledgeably. It’s a different situation today than it was just seven years ago—not to mention thirty-five years ago! I feel it would be hard for any Relief Society presidency (ward or stake) to operate administratively unless they had the data and the facts concerning their Relief Society unit.
We hope that stake and ward Relief Society secretaries and their presidencies realize how vital it is that their records are submitted accurately, completely, and on time, because the data that the administrators of the Church use to adjust and create programs basically goes back to one person—the record-keeper. If she doesn’t see the vision of her work, or if she feels that it is insignificant, then there is a major break in the chain of accurate and timely information.
Sister Smith: I am so glad Sister Miltenberger is stressing this point. Not only are up-to-date records absolutely vital for us to be able to operate on the general level, but they are equally critical to the stake and ward Relief Society presidencies. How can we know with whom we are working unless we know who our sisters are? We must know their needs, strengths, talents, and skills. This is one reason why I am grateful for our 1.35 million membership—it gives us a great reservoir of talents and abilities on which to call in responding to the needs of the children of our Father in heaven. In that sense, we have great strength in numbers.
Records—both at the general and at the local levels—are one of the critical links in the decision-making chain. The proper kinds of decisions that presidencies need to be making weekly cannot be made without a continual high performance of record-keeping. From our study of the reports and statistics provided by visiting teachers and leaders, we come to understand what should be done. For example, how else will the ward presidency know how many girls are turning eighteen years of age, what their attendance has been, how many are inactive, who needs encouragement, and what kinds of programs will most likely reach them?
A close working relationship should exist between presidencies and their secretaries. This is one reason we are so anxious that Relief Society secretaries receive the required training from priesthood ward and stake clerks throughout the Church who are charged to train all secretaries in proper record-keeping procedures. Indications are that many of these training sessions are not being held. I would plead with the stake presidents and bishops to see that the clerks train Relief Society secretaries. We need their instruction and help!
Sister Miltenberger: I think there has been a tendency for presidencies and secretaries to think of record-keeping only in terms of preserving history. I hope it is clear that records are far, far more than historical documents. They are tools to be used innovatively to help solve the current problems of the sisters in the local units. There are still some presidencies and secretaries who think the only purpose of records is archival. Well, Relief Society records are no longer sent to the Church archives, a fact that will shock the person who thinks that they have been preparing the records for history. One of the major purposes of records is to provide accurate and timely decision-making information for administrators at all levels. I have heard Sister Smith say many times that she doesn’t know how any presidency can perform their duties without a close and productive relationship with their secretaries and record-keepers. If this discussion does nothing else, I hope it implants a level of understanding that will set a new plateau of performance.
Ensign: On another subject—isn’t the Relief Society monument to women scheduled for Nauvoo, Illinois, the major sculptural monument to women anywhere in the world?
Sister Smith: So far as we know, it is. There are other monuments to individual women: we have some in Salt Lake City to women of the pioneer period; there were monuments in the past to Venus, to Diana, and other Greek and Roman goddesses; there are also a few individual statues throughout Europe. There is one in Washington, D.C., to Mary Bethune, a great black educator. She was a forceful, wonderful woman, who came up out of hard times.
But I know of nothing like the Nauvoo garden of sculptures dedicated to women of the past, present, and future. We try to identify some of the significant dimensions in a woman’s life through thirteen life-size statues that will be placed in the city where the Relief Society was founded. We think the monument is unique. We are so pleased that President Spencer W. Kimball asked the brethren in the priesthood and welfare session of last October conference to encourage their wives to make a contribution toward this monument and to support it themselves. It is the first project we have had that has included sisters in such an extensive, worldwide effort. The monument, we feel, will be a strong missionary tool. But we are most happy with the response of the sisters themselves, some of whom have written songs, poems, essays, pageants, dramas, or presentations about the themes of the monument. There are many persons donating to it—men and women who wish to remember their mothers, wives or daughters, sisters or female progenitors. We will place the names of all contributors in a bound volume to be on permanent display in Nauvoo. I believe that this monument is going to be a lasting symbol of the Latter-day Saint concept of Mormon womanhood. We are very excited about it. We should note that until its dedication in 1978, one or more of the sculptures will be on display here at the general Relief Society headquarters.
World Relief Society Geographical Memberships by Area—1942
Ensign: Of all the important concerns on your mind having to do with Relief Society, which would you identify as weighing most heavily at this time?
Sister Smith: I hope we’ll talk about many of our concerns in this interview—but nothing weighs more heavily than the subject of visiting teaching. If only we could reorient our many sisters throughout the Church relative to visiting teaching!
Sister Smith: A bishop called me the other day and said that some of his sisters did not want to be visiting teachers’ because we are requiring them to go back until they actually see the person assigned. He asked me if it was important that women did visiting teaching. I said, “What do you think?” and he said, “I think it’s as important that a woman do visiting teaching as it is that a man home teaches.” I couldn’t agree with him more. He wanted to reinforce in his own ward this idea that visiting teaching is a companion program to home teaching. These programs are the Lord’s way of making sure that each person has the individual care that he or she needs. The Church is growing so fast. The Lord has to have some method of letting each sister, each person, know that she or he is important.
We’re trying very hard to teach the sisters that the Relief Society assignment is to help save souls and bless people’s lives. Even one good visit a month may not be doing what is necessary. I heard recently of a young girl in California with four children, who had been divorced three times and felt as though she was a complete failure. She wouldn’t accept an assignment in the Church because she felt she had no worth. Then a visiting teacher visited her and thereafter called her every morning on the telephone. Basically, all she said morning after morning was “Good morning, Pat. I want you to know that I love you; and from my prayers I know the Lord loves you. Have a good day.” Through activities that grew out of that setting, Pat found she could love herself, and then found that she could teach her children to love her and to love themselves. She accepted a call from the Lord to serve, and she is now teaching and blessing others—all through a visiting teacher who had the vision of her call.
Sister Boyer: You can see why we say that quality visiting teaching may not consist of just going around the district once a month; and it most certainly is not just ringing the doorbell and putting a note under the door.
Sister Cannon: Relief Society visiting teachers are really the compassionate service arm of the Relief Society, acting through the Relief Society president. You can see why we feel that every sister should be a visiting teacher. She might visit one person, two, or three—but no more than five, we hope. Even a sister who cannot very easily get out or travel distances can go with another sister who has access to transportation.
We are most anxious that visiting teaching be more effective. Unlike priesthood home teachers, we give visiting teachers messages to take out; but we can see that many of our sisters need to know how to use these messages and adapt them.
One of the satisfying aspects of what is taking place in visiting teaching deals with our Young Adult special sessions. Some wards have established an entire visiting teaching program among these girls by having them visit in their own group. Where there are enough girls to do this, there are some very heart-warming results.
Sister Miltenberger: Every person has needs, regardless of his or her social status, neighborhood, position in the Church, or position in life. And we all have need for these personal “caring” relationships. I cherish the visits my visiting teachers make to me. I need their visits. It’s the type of contact I don’t have in my normal workday. I have particularly understood its great impact and value since I became a widow some years ago.
Sister Cannon: Some time back, we had the opportunity while we were hosts for the Church to have a very high-ranking woman in the government of Madagascar visit our home. She was in our home when my visiting teachers came. Frankly, I was a little worried how she would view their visit and message. I was afraid she might be annoyed at the interruption. But at the end of her stay with us, when we asked her what had impressed her the most about her tour of the city and her introduction to the Church, she said, “I’d like to know more about that system you have where women visit each other. I’d like to take it to the women in my country.”
Sister Smith: Can anyone imagine what happens when over one million women study a message each month so that they can give the appropriate elements to fit the present needs of another sister? Look at the chance for personal growth! for answered prayers! for the Spirit to work with individuals! Look at the skills that are being developed—the sensitivity, the awareness. The new Relief Society Visiting Teaching Report Book is filled with suggestions. I hope the sisters will particularly ponder the one that indicates how they can fellowship new members. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way of making a new sister feel like she is accepted in the Church than for two sisters to take her under their wing, so to speak, and let her feel a part of the ward. How could any sister ever feel a stranger at a Church meeting if her visiting teachers were there to greet her warmly? We also encourage that a newly baptized sister immediately be given an assignment as a visiting teacher so she can become an active participant in this Relief Society benevolent service.
Another glimpse of the program’s potential was given me when I learned of a ward with more than seventy sisters over seventy years of age. Each was given a visiting teaching assignment. Those who couldn’t leave their homes were asked to make a telephone call or write a letter. One sister with cancer was writing letters to four sisters who were homebound and lonely. The strength received by those four women, and by the sister writing the letters, was absolutely amazing. She said it came because she had to do something for someone else. How we wish we could help each of our one-million-plus sisters to see the opportunity that is theirs when they wholeheartedly accept this Christlike opportunity to care for and love and befriend another sister.
World Relief Society Geographical Memberships by Area—1975
Ensign: You mentioned Young Adult special sessions. What has been the response of Young Adult sisters to the Relief Society program?
Sister Boyer: I don’t know when I’ve ever been part of something that everyone knew was so right and is proving to be so right as our Young Adult special sessions! So many exciting things are being done. I haven’t been to a Relief Society meeting in any land or area where one or more Young Adult girls did not stand up and express how grateful she was for the Relief Society program. I see them excited and frightened by the call to leadership and service. But the associations they are having with each other, and the experiences they are having as they study the scriptures, and their record of compassionate service are wonderful.
I met a group recently that had decided they did not want to just read the scriptures; they wanted to gain a personal, close relationship with their Heavenly Father. They reported their experiences, and it was thrilling! They told about a blind girl who wanted to read the scriptures but couldn’t, so the other sisters decided they would take turns reading a section to her or recording it for her so that she could play it at her leisure. Another young sister who is a new convert in our area said she didn’t understand the Church until she had an opportunity of working in it with other girls in a Young Adult special session of Relief Society. It is so gratifying to be associated with younger sisters who are concerned about the needs of others.
Sister Smith: We recognize the great skills and special spirits that our younger sisters have. And we are thrilled for them to have the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with sisters older than themselves, from whom they learn leadership skills and methodologies.
While on this subject, I would like to comment on a matter that is raised frequently by Young Adult sisters, and that is food storage. They ask if they are supposed to have a year’s supply, especially while in college. We try to teach them the basics just as we would any adult, and then we suggest they apply it to their own needs. We’re really not encouraging them to get into an extensive food storage program while in school, but we do think they should learn provident living: how to plan, budget, and save for tomorrow. They can learn to have more than one or two weeks of supplies on hand. They can learn sound purchasing habits. We want to teach them basic skills. And there is much that can be done to make this learning valuable and enjoyable. I learned of one group of Young Adult sisters who taught the young men of corresponding ages how to bake; and in return the young men taught the girls how to repair electrical appliances and fixtures. I have heard of sessions where both young men and young women were enjoyably involved in such activities as making a quilt for a needy person. There is much verve and spirit and interesting activity in these tremendous Young Adult Relief Society sessions.
Percentage Increase in Membership 1942–1975
Ensign: Records indicate that there is a sizable number of single parents in the Church. What counsel do you give relative to their needs, since most of the single parent mothers also have custody of their children?
Sister Smith: Unfortunately, our societies today are growing away from the extended family—parents, grandparents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins all nearby and able to help. Thus, we need to grow into the extended family of the Lord. That’s so important. We all simply need to learn what it means to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Each of us needs to become part of the process of giving.
We are most anxious that our stake and ward Relief Society presidencies identify those who may need special support, such as single parents. Here again you can see the critical need for fine visiting teaching experiences. There is much that we hope would be done. We also see the need for the priesthood to send wise home teachers to such homes, to provide an understanding of the priesthood and adult male companionship for the children where appropriate.
Sister Miltenberger: All of us need to be involved. I think it was Alma in the Book of Mormon who taught that true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ requires that at baptism we take upon us the burdens of others. (See Mosiah 18:8–11.) I can see many strong families that could give some help to a struggling father or mother rearing children alone. I can see an experienced mother being able to relieve a young mother or assist her in a number of other ways. There are good stable single people who could give “model identity” to children of a single parent. Relief Society presidents can help the mother who is rearing her children alone by providing good mother education classes and homemaking miniclasses on such subjects as how to manage her financial affairs better. I have a strong feeling that an enormous opportunity and need exist that we sisters throughout the Church must respond to. Now is the time to learn the meaning of our motto, “Charity never faileth.”
Ensign: Isn’t it true that there is also a great need for service among many of our elderly?
Sister Smith: The need and the solution are equally heart-rending, equally heart-filling. We have seen, however, that not all cultures in the world have the same kind of need that exists among many Americans. For example, in Samoa an older person does not have to worry about someone taking care of him. It is viewed as a great honor to assist the elderly; they are greatly revered. In our industrial societies, we do have other challenges facing us.
Here at Relief Society headquarters, we teach that the elderly should become involved in the programs of the Church. These programs should teach us to become self-motivated so that by the time one becomes elderly, he or she has learned to be compassionate to others in similar conditions. The rest of us who are not yet elderly are learning the rudimentary lessons of compassionate service to others. We think many of our lessons have parts that can be slanted toward the needs of elderly sisters and thus provide opportunities for them to make important contributions. I have already mentioned the kind of creativity that one ward found when the leaders seriously tried to be concerned about the seventy single sisters over seventy living within the ward confines. Opportunities for happiness and fulfillment need to be provided to the elderly!
Ensign: Would some elderly sisters enjoy serving in the Relief Society nursery?
Sister Smith: Oh, by all means. We are not sure that the concept of the nursery has been fully understood by all of the stake and ward Relief Society presidencies. We have a strong feeling that the nursery can be a wonderful experience for mothers in learning how to organize their time and equipment and in helping them understand the importance of spending quality time with their children. But it is also true that many times the mother needs to be in a class where her own spiritual batteries can be recharged. Many elderly sisters would be pleased with an opportunity to give affection and love to children. Older sisters have so many skills in working with children that we think both the children and younger mothers can benefit from this experience. That kind of exchange can take place if we have a fine nursery program in our Relief Societies.
Ensign: Are there still choruses for the sisters, as there used to be?
Sister Cannon: Somehow, there has developed a feeling that Relief Societies are no longer to have choirs, choruses, or singing groups. Nothing could be further from our desires, We suggested that the formal name be changed from “Singing Mothers” to “Relief Society choir” to include all the sisters of today’s Relief Society. And we do hope that Relief Society presidents and Relief Society music directors will see the good that can come from having Relief Society musical groups. They needn’t be year-round groups: they can be short-term groups for a Christmas program, a special lesson, or a special occasion in the ward.
We want the sisters to have aesthetic and enriching experiences with the arts as part of their Relief Society experience. This is one of the reasons we encourage them to sing folk music in the cultural refinement lessons. These songs may be practiced and enjoyed by singing along with the tape that is provided, if the sisters wish, or with live accompaniment. In addition to this musical activity we also have hymn practice with the Social Relations lessons.
So we are very committed to music, and we want the Relief Society presidencies throughout the Church to see that the sound of music—the sound of Relief Society music—is given the chance to perform its miracle in lifting up the spirits, helping to reactivate, and blessing the sisters.
Ensign: On another topic—what is your present counsel concerning recreation?
Sister Boyer: We are very conscious of the need to encourage physical fitness among the sisters. Because of that, we published a booklet, A Sensible Course in Physical Fitness that takes up such topics as optimum weight, relaxation techniques, and so forth. But we are also aware that for many persons, doing something different represents recreation. We can see such things as going to the symphony or out to dinner as a form of recreation.
In terms of physical games and activity, we want to stress that we encourage personal physical fitness among Relief Society sisters and their families and do not promote league play among competitive teams. We are against the pressure that is applied to get sisters involved for the sake of the team. We have heard of such things as a mother being asked to leave her home when her child was sick because if she didn’t there wouldn’t be enough players on the team; we have also heard of animosity building between wards in heated competition. If a ward or stake Relief Society wants to choose up sides for softball or basketball by random selection or encourage a friendly match in such activities as tennis or swimming where there is optional, individual participation, we would find that acceptable. But our intent is to get away from the pressure placed on people to join a team. We are equally distressed at the kind of aggressive values that some of our long-term competitions have fostered.
Ensign: Would you call two wards that played together consistently a league?
Sister Smith: Yes, because we see clearly how situations could develop where people would be pressured to come and play, where feelings would develop, and where improper values could flourish. However, we can encourage such things as mother-and-daughter recreation and activity days. We can see Relief Society miniclasses in physical fitness where sisters are encouraged to engage in a personal fitness program three to five times a week for ten to fifteen minutes in order to pick up their heart beat. We know of groups of sisters who walk or jog daily, picking up others to join them as they go around the blocks. We know of many fine ward athletic and recreation directors who have caught the vision of their assignment to provide optional family and individual activities that will lead people to associate warmly with one another—for some a prelude into deeper involvement in the Church. We know of many Relief Societies with recreation directors who have caught the vision of applying these ideas and guidelines.
To sum it all up, we wholeheartedly encourage a personal fitness program among the sisters and the teaching of such a program, and the offering of appropriate athletic and recreational experiences. Incidentally, with all that the prophet of the Lord has counseled us to be doing, many sisters would certainly find raising a garden and beautifying their environment a recreational experience.
Relief Society Membership by Country
Ensign: Are there any new developments or emphases in the area of homemaking?
Sister Boyer: For many years, it was thought that all Relief Society sisters did on homemaking day was make little gadgets for the home. That was proper in its time, of course, and those same skills still make a home out of a house. But we have been encouraged to stress the basics. That is why we are so gratified with the present miniclasses in provident living and the responses that we are receiving concerning them. We have a new booklet entitled Homemaking that may be ordered from the Church Distribution Center. The booklet covers many topics that we have not handled for some time, such as meal planning, wise buying, storage, fabrics, beautifying homes, gardening, quilting, and other subjects of interest to the homemaker. We are convinced that the variety of homemaking lessons now available will greatly bless the sisters and families of the Church.
Sister Smith: While we’re talking about our emphasis on variety and flexibility we should take this occasion to announce our new program of September seminars. Each September, beginning with this year, Relief Societies in the western hemisphere will hold a four-week seminar on some topic that the sisters of the Church should be more informed about. This year, for example, the topic of concentrated study will be genealogy, in correlation with the current emphasis being placed by the Church on this great work. Incidentally, during the same period of time the brethren of the priesthood will also be studying the subject so that our efforts can be united. It should be noted that Relief Society will begin a month earlier in 1977 than the usual October opening.
World Wide Relief Society Membership Growth Statistics
Ensign: Are there other new elements in your format of flexibility?
Sister Smith: Yes. Beginning in the summer of 1979, we will provide the option of year-round Relief Society for all wards that desire it. Suggested lessons will be written in the manual, but the local units will not be required to offer them.
Ensign: What information will be studied during the summer months?
Sister Smith: We will be studying the problems that face women in the social relations area, and also the role of the priesthood as it relates to women.
Ensign: What are the reasons behind such a move?
Sister Smith: After the pioneers arrived in the West, most of the communities were farming communities. When school was out, women all pitched in to raise and harvest the crops. It was a time of canning and much activity, and thus Relief Society was not held. Now, such farming activity is not part of most of our lives; and others around the world have different schedules. Research clearly shows that many new converts often just begin to attend and feel a part of Relief Society when they enter into a four-month vacation period that can be disruptive to the new member’s progress. We haven’t been meeting everyone’s needs. We now have a much wider spectrum of concerns in a worldwide Church than there were in the early days.
Ensign: On a different subject, what is the state of your plans to use the Relief Society building as a resource center?
Sister Smith: We have had about 75,000 people come into the building since last April when we announced that the building would provide a training opportunity for the women of the Church.
Sister Boyer: We’ve had many fine comments about the quality of information on display. I recall a prominent journalist saying that he knew of nothing like it anywhere and that it would cost a woman hundreds of dollars to learn elsewhere what she could learn through the teachings that are being featured here.
Sister Cannon: There are displays on all aspects of the Relief Society program—from leadership training to lesson information. For example, we are quite excited about some visiting teaching workshops that will soon be featured. We will show how to adapt the same visiting teaching message to a mother with small children, to a career woman who works and has no children, or to an elderly sister who lives alone. Another very useful aspect of the resource center is that successful ideas tried in individual stakes throughout the Church can be forwarded to us. The ideas can then be tested, and perhaps refined or broadened, and be shared with the rest of the Church in regional meetings.
Sister Smith: We are presently preparing a group of little portable devices that are a combination of television and carousel slides. A tape inside is synchronized to the slides. Through this device we’ll teach homemaking skills, welfare skills, leadership, visiting teaching—all the necessary skills of our Relief Society leaders and sisters. Anyone who comes into the building may request information on a particular phase of Relief Society work and by simply placing slides and a cassette tape into a machine and pushing a button can receive help. After proper research, stakes and wards in distant areas may consider purchasing these materials for the local sisters. We think it might open a whole new era in communication to and from the field.
Ensign: Do you have any advice about the training of Relief Society teachers?
Sister Cannon: We would like to give a big smile of encouragement to the stakes that are implementing the inservice lessons in their leadership meetings. I’ve heard some sisters say, “This is the kind of teaching help we really need.” The Church’s Basic Teacher Development Course instructs one in the basics of teaching, and we encourage all our teachers to take this course. But after that, the teacher needs help with the actual lesson she will be giving. That is what we do in our present Relief Society inservice program. As she conducts the leadership department, each stake board member takes the inservice concept she has been taught in stake board meeting and shows how it is applied in the actual lesson the ward teacher is preparing or in the activities a ward leader is planning. This is a more sophisticated and useful approach than just giving a lesson about teaching and expecting the hearer to adapt it. The old program of general in-service lessons in the wards has been discontinued and the stake Relief Society counselor in charge of education should see that a far more productive type of inservice training is being given in leadership meetings.
Sister Smith: While we’re discussing training, I should encourage all the sisters to eagerly participate in this year’s reading course program, which is, of course, the first half of the Book of Mormon. The joy and inspiration and sense of rightness in one’s life that can come to a sister from reading the scriptures are well worth the time put into the reading. Some sisters find it easier to read at night, others in the morning. One sister said that it was easiest for her to read and meditate about the scriptures at noon time, after her young children were fed and put to bed for naps. We have heard many testimonies of the value of our sisters increasing their knowledge of the gospel plan. We simply must do this. It is basic. How else do we expect to grow and learn!
Sister Cannon: I’d like to commend the Ensign for its superb September issues on the scriptures. I can’t think of a more fascinating beginning to the new scriptural year than the in-depth introduction your September issues consistently give. Supporting articles in the New Era and the Friend are also most helpful.
Sister Smith: The correlated lessons, where the priesthood and the Relief Society read the same scriptures, are symbolic of our proper companion role both the brethren and the sisters learning their duty. I am very concerned that the members of the Church learn and understand the proper companion role of the priesthood and Relief Society. President N. Eldon Tanner said a few months ago in an important All-Church Coordinating Council meeting that the Relief Society is a companion to the priesthood just as a wife is to a husband. We asked one of our advisers on the Council of the Twelve what that meant, and he said he could best answer by illustrating with an experience. Some time ago his wife went to the nursery and bought a lot of plants for their yard. Not knowing of this, he had done the same thing. He said, “Now what were we to do?” Were they to use the plants his wife bought and make him unhappy, or use the plants he bought and make his wife unhappy? Or should they plant all of them and have a garden that was overplanted? He likened this to activities in the Church: until we learn to talk and counsel together as priesthood and Relief Society, the Church will never make the growth and progress that it should.
From my experience of visiting units around the Church, it is clear to me that too often men are assuming that they know what the needs of women are, and too often women are assuming that they know what the needs of the men are. And because they are not planning together, where appropriate, the work of the Lord is being hampered. In frankness, I think it would be a wise stake president or bishop who talks with his Relief Society president and encourages her to evaluate the needs of the sisters of the stake or ward and formulate proposals to fill those needs. I encourage stake and ward Relief Society presidents to discuss this procedure with their priesthood leaders.
Ensign: If you could visit with each Relief Society sister throughout the Church for a few minutes, what would you tell her in 1977?
Sister Smith: I would tell her that the Lord loves her and that he will not be satisfied until she has developed her talents fully and uses them to build his kingdom here upon the earth. I would tell her that there are great resources available for her, and that she can call upon these resources to bless her life. We sisters of the Relief Society are like millionaires—why not use the vast resources of the Lord for our strength and knowledge and intelligence and happiness! I am continually humbled and motivated when I recall that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that “knowledge and intelligence [would] flow down” upon the sisters of the Relief Society from that time forth. (The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 607.) We should be writing the script for eternal living as Latter-day Saints and not allowing unbelievers to direct our lives with philosophies of the world. We must be wise enough to come to understand the needs of the sisters, learn their problems, and then use the programs for their benefit.
This is what I would review with each sister. If, however, she should be a mother, I would treat several other things. I would remind her of recent statistics which, although they are from the United States, reflect a worldwide reality. There are about three million mentally retarded American children, about three-quarters of whom are handicapped primarily from inadequate nutrition and medical care for the mother during pregnancy, or from inadequate support or stimulation during the formative years. I would tell her about the 200,000 infants who die yearly from abuse, many at the hands of caretakers. But this number is only one-twentieth of a larger number who are psychologically injured by parents or caretakers behaving in hostility.
There is another complicated problem that concerns us. The number of women working outside the home has nearly doubled in the past fifteen years. In 1975 about 46 percent of all women over sixteen years of age were in the work force of the United States.
Of course, we know that some sisters really need to work in order to have food and other necessities of life. Some wish to supplement a meager family income; others must support husbands who for various valid reasons cannot support themselves and their families. Some women work to support children; others have no pressing family responsibilities at home and wish to contribute in a larger sphere to a profession or a worthy community effort. Relief Society has recognized the needs of these women to some extent by providing special sessions at convenient times for them.
I would, nonetheless, call the attention of working women to some serious problems for children and youth which also show a substantial statistical increase. Serious law offenses committed by juveniles during that same period have increased by 200 percent, a rate which parallels closely the increases in working women. Increases in juvenile crime are three times as high as increases in crimes committed by adults during the same period.
Thus, if my Relief Society sister was a working mother of children still at home—while I certainly couldn’t tell her whether she should work or not—I would ask her to prayerfully assess the gains against the undeniable impact upon her children, upon her family relationships, and upon herself.
It is very difficult for us even to feel that we can say what someone else ought to do. Those battles must be fought in the rocky reaches of our own souls. We know what pressures there are in our own families; and we also know that, when we choose marriage and motherhood, we have accepted a responsibility with never-ending ramifications. I believe there will be a day of real accountability as to our parental stewardship.
There are many questions others can ask us, or that I might ask a person to consider; but the most important questions should be the ones that we ask ourselves. I pray that all sisters will indeed find Relief Society a resource to them in finding answers to their most important and pressing questions—and a source of joy and fulfillment as they participate in this worldwide sisterhood of the Church.