One hundred sixty-one years ago, on a hill overlooking the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, the Latter-day Saints laid the cornerstone for a house of the Lord. And just a year later, the Lord, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, established the Relief Society for women—an act necessary, the Prophet said, to complete the organization of the Church. That society of sisters was instrumental in the construction and completion of this glorious, miraculous temple. Our spiritual legacy as covenant-making daughters of God in this divinely inspired association began here in the City Beautiful. The Nauvoo temple is a tangible symbol of what we have accomplished, what we can accomplish, and what our Heavenly Father holds in store for His faithful daughters.
That first Relief Society meeting was attended by just 20 women. Some were in their late teens, some were new converts, some were raising children, and some were single. It was much like Relief Society today! And the organization grew quickly, enfolding women of all walks into its ranks; every sister was needed—just as each is needed now. Great struggles confronted those sisters: the death of children, the lack of food, rejection by family, persecution, lack of faith. But because of covenants made with the Lord, they listened to each other, they nurtured each other, they mentored each other. They shared food and clothing and feelings. As young Nancy Tracy was reminded in a blessing: “You know the voice of the good shepherd … and when He came to gather His sheep, you recognized His message and received it with joy and gladness.”1 These sisters’ commitment and conversion translated into actions of charity, compassion, and a unified sisterhood.
Our early Relief Society sisters were very much like us! There were times when the young or the old, immigrants or new converts, felt alone, excluded, unequal to the challenges before them. But full of faith, these sisters stepped forward, united in doing their part to build the Lord’s house. Individually, they gave of their gifts, donating scarce fabric, stitching clothes, feeding laborers, contributing family heirlooms, providing lodging, nursing the sick and the elderly, even sewing the veil of the temple. Their pennies, which could have bought food or clothing, instead purchased nails for temple construction and glass for its windows. Said one sister of her sacrifice: “I started in good faith to go to the Temple office to bestow my offering. Suddenly a temptation came over me … that [this] money would relieve my present necessities. Then I resisted. Said I, ‘If I have no more than a crust of bread each day for a week, I will pay this money into the treasury.’”2 Our early Relief Society sisters saw it a privilege to “cast in [their] mites to assist the brethren in building the Lord’s House.”3 They willingly said, “Lord, here am I; send me!”
From the beginning, Relief Society’s purposes have been to save souls, to seek out the poor and needy, to offer comfort to the downtrodden, to strengthen one another. As those early sisters worked to help build the temple and then received their own endowments, they found peace and courage necessary for the difficult journey ahead. Today that is true of us as well. In Nauvoo the Lord needed every sister—regardless of age, education, income, language, experience—to assist in building His kingdom.
Today it is no different! We are all needed in Relief Society. Our living prophet has asked us to step up and fulfill our soul-saving responsibilities. Indeed, we have solemnly covenanted to do so. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s original charge to “relieve the poor,” “to save souls,”4 applies to us. We too must put an arm around another’s shoulder, lighten a load, share our testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ. I love what one of the early sisters, Zina Young, observed about our Relief Society sisterhood: “It is a blessing to meet together. … The Spirit of God is here, and when we speak to one another, it is like oil going from vessel to vessel.”5
Sisters, this is where our legacy of faith began. When we see this restored house of the Lord, we must remember that Jesus Christ has commissioned us, in these latter days, to assist in building His kingdom. We must look to Him, honor His priesthood, and live our covenants. Regardless of our circumstances and wherever we live, we can—and we must—step forward as daughters of God and steadfastly proclaim, “Lord, here am I; send me.”