Striving Together: A Conversation with the Relief Society General Presidency


Relief Society General Presidency

Members of the Relief Society General Presidency gather in President Barbara W. Winder’s office: (front) Sister Winder; (back, left to right) Joy F. Evans, first counselor; Joanne B. Doxey, second counselor; Joan Spencer, secretary-treasurer.

Ensign: Sister Winder, since your calling in April 1984, the Relief Society Building has become the home of three auxiliaries—the Relief Society, the Young Women, and the Primary. What does this move symbolize?

Sister Barbara W. Winder, president: For me, it symbolizes our unity of purpose. We are truly associates together in the same great cause. Of course, the gospel has always unified us. The general auxiliary presidencies meet together once a week, with the common desire to strengthen each child, young woman, woman, and family.

E: Do you also see this increased unity on ward and stake levels?

Sister Winder: The spirit of unity and cooperation has caught hold. We see the auxiliaries cooperating and working together to strengthen individuals and families, yet aware of their unique responsibilities and differences.

Sister Joanne B. Doxey, second counselor: Let me give you an example. Having worked in the Primary for many years before my present calling, I can see advantages in assigning a Primary teacher to be a visiting teacher in a home where there are inactive children. As she visits in the home each month, she could establish a rapport that could strengthen the entire family—the children as well as the mother.

E: How can cooperation between Young Women and Relief Society leaders ease the transition for girls reaching Relief Society age?

Sister Joy F. Evans, first counselor: Ward and stake leaders need to work together to make that transition a meaningful one for the girls, not just a haphazard entry into their mothers’ organization. This is something we need to think about well before the girls become sixteen or seventeen. We ought to plant the seeds early in our girls’ lives. As we talk to them about what the future holds for them, we ought to be talking about Relief Society.

Sister Winder: Exactly—it should be similar to the way we prepare our young sons for their missions. Occasionally, too, the Laurels might be invited to join their mothers at homemaking meeting. An outstanding young adult might come to a Young Women class to talk about Relief Society.

Sister Doxey: Then, when they do enter Relief Society, we must have something wonderful and vital to offer them. Immediate involvement is important. For example, Relief Society leaders could assign these young women to be visiting teachers.

E: Speaking of visiting teaching, what perspectives would you like to share with the women of the Church?

Sister Winder: It is vital that each sister have visiting teachers—to convey a sense that she is needed, that someone loves and thinks about her. But equally important is the way the visiting teacher is able to grow in charity. By assigning our women to do visiting teaching, we give them the opportunity to develop the pure love of Christ, which can be the greatest blessing of their lives.

Sister Evans: I think of a ward Relief Society president I met in Ireland. She has neither car nor telephone, so she faithfully takes her bicycle out visiting teaching. And she is thrilled with her task.

E: Our membership certainly encompasses women in the widest variety of circumstances. In your observation, what unifies us all?

Sister Evans: Our commitment to the gospel. I have seen great, dedicated women in every place I’ve traveled—women glad to serve where they are called, wanting to know more about the gospel.

Sister Winder: In the small communities I visited in northern Maine, I found women who are pulling together—almost for survival—in that extreme climate. Then, in the more populated areas, I saw women dealing with different problems—“busyness” and the demands of an urban life. Still, there was a common thread of dedication and commitment, regardless of physical environment.

E: In the early days of Relief Society, the service women gave to each other was literally life-saving. In a day of greater ease for many of us, how can we extend ourselves?

Sister Winder: I’m not sure that this is a day of great ease. Social and emotional stresses, as well as increasing economic stress, make this a day when life-saving measures are needed also.

Sister Doxey: I was recently in Mississippi, where sisters travel across the state to be together and where visiting teaching takes the entire day. They need that sisterhood in a very real way.

Sister Winder: A friend of mine in Salt Lake City is suffering from a debilitating disease. She rides in a wheelchair and drives a car especially equipped so that she can do her visiting teaching. She will pick up her companion, then drive to the home of a sister. The sister will come out of her house and sit while my friend does her visiting teaching. She is such a bright and loving spirit that neighbors will often come and visit around the car.

Sister Evans: Sacrifices like these invite the Spirit in great abundance. Of course, we need not be isolated or deprived in order to make the sacrifices that bring the Spirit. I know some women who are in very comfortable situations who really do give their all.

Sister Joan Spencer, secretary-treasurer: I think of a well-to-do woman in Arizona. A girl she knew had to spend the money she had saved for a mission to help her seriously ill mother. All her mission money went to pay the hospital bills. This wonderful woman and her husband paid for that girl’s mission. They both realized that because they have been so blessed, they have an obligation and a great opportunity to share with others.

E: We seem to see some defensiveness on the part of some women who are on different paths—married versus single; those working outside the home versus those not. What common ground do women of the Church share?

Sister Winder: I have been impressed by the attitudes of women in the early days of the Church. They banded together—some with great means, some with little means—to help one another. Together, they faced their problems. Our faith in the principles of the gospel unites us. And if we are united, we will have the strength to stand.

Sister Doxey: Each woman is a daughter of God. We need to ask ourselves: “Are we keeping the commandments? Are we growing in charity?” A woman’s status or circumstance is less important than these basic questions, which we all share.

E: Geography and differences in cultures create great diversity among us. How much flexibility do local leaders have in adapting the basic curriculum to meet their needs?

Sister Doxey: We always encourage leaders to adopt a lesson before they adapt it. We realize, of course, that lessons will need to be adapted to the needs of sisters in various cultures.

Sister Evans: There might be a particular need in a ward—a tragedy of some kind, or perhaps someone going to the temple for the first time—which would require some supplemental material. Perhaps a conference talk or an article from the Ensign could be useful at times like these. Most lessons allow room for this kind of thing.

E: How are the lessons in the Relief Society course of study being received throughout the Church?

Sister Evans: We have been surprised at how uniformly positive the reactions of the sisters have been. They seem to like the lessons very much. Their reactions seem to vary most with the ability of the teacher. It is important to be ever aware of the need to perfect our teaching skills by strengthening our in-service programs.

Sister Doxey: Our whole curriculum is designed to develop a deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Every lesson should be focused on the principles of the gospel, which are guides to help us develop this faith. And this can happen in any lesson—Compassionate Service, Social Relations, Cultural Refinement, Mother Education, and Homemaking, as well as Spiritual Living.

Sister Winder: We would hope that every woman understands her right and privilege of agency, with its attendant accountability. Of course, we need knowledge to make decisions intelligently. As we learn to obey and to live lives consistent with our beliefs, we gain integrity, which prevents much of the distress we feel. We find purpose in life and are happiest when we are committed to the gospel.

E: Our sisterhood now includes women in countries where great need is the rule rather than the exception. What are our responsibilities to them?

Sister Winder: We do have great concern for those in areas of the world which lack some of the blessings others enjoy. We know that our tithes and offerings do have a tangible effect in the lives of those in need—which is a great comfort.

Sister Doxey: In the mountains of Guatemala, the priesthood leaders have taught the people better ways of growing corn—how to fallow the land and make the soil better. The people are learning how to care for themselves better, how to make sure their children are properly nourished. I see such efforts as a priesthood-directed opportunity, one to which the Relief Society can lend full support.

Sister Winder: I think, too, of the great work of temple building. And through our tithes and offerings, we can support the missionary work of the Church. We need to know that we are actually doing something to bless the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.

E: What you are describing is an orderly kind of giving, under priesthood direction.

Sister Doxey: Yes. The system is in place. We have the tools. All we need to do is use these tools the Lord has provided. Under priesthood direction, we can bless the lives of others. As women, we have a concern for others that extends beyond ourselves to the entire mission of the Church. We are concerned with missionary work and with genealogical and temple work.

Sister Evans: When I was in New Zealand and Tahiti, I heard the women saying, “We’re teaching one another to be worthy to go to the temple.” What a wonderful thing!

Sister Winder: Our aim is to encourage each woman to grow strong in her understanding of the gospel, to strive together with her sisters and with the priesthood. The word strive is such a working word. Striving is not easy, but it brings genuine rewards—commitment, sisterhood, and the joy of the gospel.

[photos] Photography by Eldon Linschoten

[photos] The Relief Society general presidency (clockwise from left) Sister Barbara W. Winder, president; Sister Joanne B. Doxey, second counselor; Sister Joan Spencer, secretary-treasurer; and Sister Joy F. Evans, first counselor