The young woman hesitates at the doorway. She has been thinking about this moment for several weeks. She knows that coming to this meeting is the right choice, although it is a bit frightening. After a deep breath, she enters, finds a chair, and sits down.
She recognizes many in the room, yet she feels among strangers. Absentmindedly, she fingers the fabric of her once-wonderful peach, teal, and black blouse that suddenly seems too neon-bright. She takes another deep breath, tries to relax, and waits to see what happens. Relief Society begins.
This young sister has just arrived at a milestone in her Church experience—the transition from the Young Women organization to Relief Society.
Let’s tell her quickly that some of her experiences in Relief Society will not seem so different from those she had in Young Women. The eighteen-year-old will learn that women in their twenties are now part of her peer group, and she’ll find that those “older ladies” will be transformed into interesting people as her perspective changes.
This newest member of Relief Society will quickly become friends with 45-year-old Carolyn Thompson as they go visiting teaching together. They’ll pray together, share common concerns, and laugh together.
And then there’s Margaret Arnold. This grandmother is lively and fun, and she knits gorgeous sweaters. Florence Bowman (yes, another grandmother!), with an out-of-this-world singing voice, smiles and encourages as she leads the sisters in song.
Relief Society’s newest member soon learns that membership means more than a name on the roll. It means sisterhood. She is surrounded and sustained by new friends who represent a dazzling mix of talent and ability that each seems willing to share. In turn, her new friends will recognize that she has talents, and they will look to her as a source for further enrichment of their lives. What a compliment—and what a challenge!
Let’s not have the neophyte in Relief Society think that she needs to be silent and uncreative until she gains some seniority. Relief Society doesn’t encourage sitting on the sidelines. Young or old, single or married—the opportunity for growth is there for all.
Pat Owen, Relief Society president in her Fairfield, California, ward, has certainly found that to be true. Although she is single, Pat has never felt inadequate in a group made up largely of young marrieds, mothers, and grandmothers. She believes that Relief Society is of great practical value in women’s lives. For instance, Pat says, visiting teaching can help women learn to communicate with others. When compassion and caring enter in, the communication can become heart-to-heart and unforgettable. This skill can help sisters to operate more comfortably in all aspects of their lives.
Recently, Pat attended a seminar on how to be a successful woman executive. The woman who conducted the meetings gave an excellent and impressive presentation. “But do you know what?” Pat comments. “Every single quality, skill, and experience she presented to us had already been taught in Relief Society in one form or another. Truth is truth. Don’t we have a wonderful organization?”
Today’s young sisters are enticed by well-presented, brightly packaged goods in this world of materialism. But they needn’t be blinded by the glitter. They need to know that the real shine comes from within—and we should encourage them to let it out. Let’s help them step confidently into our organization, into their organization. With priesthood approval, ward Relief Society officers and teachers may want to try some of the following ideas to help ease the transition of eighteen-year-old women from the Young Women program into Relief Society.
Drum Up Enthusiasm
1. Discuss with the Young Women presidency the possibility of inviting Laurels to an occasional homemaking meeting or youth-oriented miniclass. One ward had a gingerbread-house-building event in December. An edible village came into being under the busy hands of young and old.
In another ward, the newest Relief Society members were asked to present a review of some of their past Personal Progress achievements. They shared ideas such as how to set up a scripture-reading program and how to inject new cultural experiences into their lives. They were then introduced to the Pursuit of Excellence program.
2. Hold a stake or ward welcome. Invite all sisters to come and honor those who are attending Relief Society for the first time.
Relief Society leaders could give brief overviews of curriculum and activities as well as their personal testimonies about what it means to be part of an enjoyable worldwide sisterhood. A videotape or slide presentation could give glimpses of the past year in your local Relief Society. Show Jean Brown making a point in a lesson on helping others. Follow that with a glimpse of Shauna Samuelson and Becky Thornton laughing together as they commiserate about the adventures and misadventures of motherhood. Hazel Willmore helped Bonnie Searcy make a quilt for Bonnie’s first grandchild—share that teaching example. June Widdison discussing the menu for the Relief Society birthday dinner with Norma Garner would be another look. Let the message for all be, “Expect a lifetime of good times ahead. Our sisterhood is special.”
3. To discover talents and interests of these fledgling Relief Society members, invite the Laurels to display their talents and handiwork at a ward or stake Relief Society talent night.
We onlookers can find all kinds of opportunities to let new Relief Society sisters know we are looking forward to being their friends:
“Salli, we need that beautiful voice of yours in the Relief Society choir.”
“Marie, your piece from Shakespeare was done just like a pro. I still stumble over words when I conduct meetings!”
“Angela, can you teach us how to cross-stitch? Then tell us how you work it into your busy schedule!”
Let the girls know we need and want them to bring themselves, their skills, and their delightful personalities to Relief Society.
4. Put the young sisters to work as soon as possible. Involvement is the key for a smooth transition. Ask them to be visiting teachers. And don’t overlook the possibility of calling a nineteen-year-old as a teacher or substitute. She will likely approach the assignment with a freshness and humility that will bring forth earnest, sparkling, creative presentations. Melanie, twenty-one, began her lesson on priorities and use of time by showing a box filled with items such as the scriptures, perfume, a television schedule, and a pizza. “How do you use your time?” she began.
5. Inform young sisters about Relief Societies for single sisters that may be available—in student wards on college campuses, in singles wards, or in regular ward Relief Society for Young Single Adults.
Try One-on-One Reaching Out
Not all the reaching out and gentle nudging can or should be done in Relief Society. Remember that Paul noted, “I have planted, Apollos watered.” (1 Cor. 3:6.) Each of us has opportunities to help others through life’s transitions.
All of our bright messages of love and welcome to our new sisters add up to a refined force of goodness that is amazingly more than the sum of all the parts. Random kind words and actions fuse together to become the catalyst that can move anyone to new heights of self-confidence and achievement.
Opportunities abound for keeping up with and steadying youth as they move on to new experiences. One way is to scan the newspaper and keep your ears open for good news about them. Then you’ll know that Nikki Jensen is an outstanding track star, Tristi Roberts has top grades, and Lora Thompson gave an excellent talk at seminary graduation. This can be a springboard to get to know these soon-to-be Relief Society members.
Written communications also pack great weight. Ann Meyers, a counselor in our ward Relief Society presidency, sent my daughter Holly a copy of a newspaper article about a local play in which Holly had a major role. With the article she included a note: “Dearest Holly: We’re very proud of your accomplishments in drama. Congratulations on being selected to be in this production! Thought you might like an extra copy of this write-up.”
Young Women leaders can have a great influence on young sisters. One Relief Society president commented, “Our most enthusiastic young members are those whose Young Women leaders expressed their love of Relief Society to them.”
Susan’s Beehive leader expressed her love for the Young Women in her ward at a fast and testimony meeting. In addition to thanking Heavenly Father for her calling, she bore her testimony of visiting teaching and told of her love for her companion. Susan remembered the faith of her teacher and, years later, was eager to be a visiting teacher.
Our at-home comments about Relief Society have a tremendous impact on our teenagers, too. My husband has had an ongoing interest in all Relief Society doings and has often initiated conversations about Relief Society. As my daughters see their father’s enthusiasm, they realize that Relief Society is an inspired organization, part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for his daughters. They look forward to participating in it and being a part of its worldwide sisterhood.
Have Confidence in Young Sisters
Our young women are the hope of Israel, the future leaders and teachers of Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society, and future wives, mothers, neighbors, and friends of God’s children here on earth. Many of them will represent the Church as missionaries, and all will serve others through example and good deeds. Most important, though, they are our sisters, and we need to care for them and enjoy the fresh vitality they bring to our association.
We can rely upon the promptings of the Spirit to help them during the transition from Young Women to Relief Society. At the same time, we can have confidence in them. Let us not forget that the Lord will help them make the transition. As each one zeros in on eternal goals, she’ll get glimpses of the panoramic best that Relief Society sisterhood offers.
Victor Hugo describes perfectly the joy that can accompany the earnest seeker-of-good when she leaves one phase of development and moves on:
(Time for Poetry, 3d ed., comp. May Hill Abuthnot and Shelton L. Root, Jr., Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1968, p. 212.)