Questions and Answers

Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

How can priesthood and Relief Society leaders most effectively work together?

Sherrie Johnson, stake Relief Society president, West Bountiful Utah Stake.

The priesthood and Relief Society leaders I have talked to about this subject emphasize that two things are important to successful teamwork: an attitude of cooperation and genuine communication.

How can we develop a good attitude of cooperation? One wise stake president counseled priesthood and Relief Society leaders to determine their actions by asking, “What would the Savior do?” rather than “What has been done before?” With this idea in mind, ward leaders examined their “policies” in working together. Several ward “traditions” came under examination—the first, when the ward budget was presented for approval to the men in priesthood meeting, but not to the women in Relief Society.

“Would the Savior do that?” priesthood leaders wondered. They decided that he wouldn’t, and then they consulted the General Handbook of Instructions, which indicates that proposed budgets should be discussed with all ward members in a special meeting. That tradition was changed, and the sisters in the ward are much more supportive of ward activities now that they are included in the planning.

Similarly, as Relief Society leaders questioned how they were handling things, they began to realize that they were often planning and introducing ideas without consulting priesthood leaders. This time the sisters wondered, “Would the Savior do that?” No, they decided—and then determined to review with priesthood leaders what projects the Relief Society was planning before they went ahead with them.

The second thing that can increase effectiveness in working together is genuine communication. In our stake, the stake president, one of his counselors, the high councilor assigned to the Relief Society, and the stake Relief Society presidency hold a monthly meeting. In this meeting, the stake president informs the Relief Society presidency of the stake goals, new policies, and themes currently being stressed. He asks our opinion about decisions that will affect stake members. We, in turn, share our goals, information, feelings, and problems with him. In many instances, these meetings have proved to be worth much more than the hour we spend in them!

In one meeting, our stake president described a concern he had and a theme the stake planned to use to try to deal with the concern. High council speakers would address the topic, and it would be taught in other ways during the quarter. Later that week, as we met to plan our Relief Society stake leadership meeting, we were able to build upon what the stake president had discussed with us so that we could strengthen the stake’s efforts in that area.

On another occasion we stressed reading the Book of Mormon with the ward Relief Society presidencies and then shared the feedback we received with the stake president. He, in turn, was able to build upon the foundation we had built. Much good comes just from exchanging ideas and plans so that both priesthood and Relief Society leaders know what is happening and can support each other.

We recently had an experience that pointed out the importance of communication. Our stake was given an emergency welfare assignment to can food, and the high councilor responsible for welfare received the assignment on Sunday—but not in time to announce it in our Sunday meetings. Only the bishops were notified of the assignment. When I attended a meeting of ward Relief Society presidents on Tuesday, I was faced with such comments as: “Why can’t they give us more than three days’ notice? Surely they’ve known about it for six weeks.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” I said, but not knowing whether it was or not put me in an awkward position. I felt discontent among the sisters at that meeting. Later, when I had the facts, I learned that most of what the sisters had said was incorrect and could have been immediately corrected if I had only known more about the situation.

Of course, there will always be emergencies in which we have to make the best of things, but when there is time to do so, it is important for priesthood leaders to inform Relief Society leaders of activities and assignments well in advance. Thus informed, Relief Society sisters can help promote goodwill and enthusiasm in a ward or stake. Just as important, Relief Society leaders should be trustworthy in dealing with confidential information and be positive in supporting priesthood leaders. Gossip and negative speaking detract from the Spirit’s influence and should be avoided.

Priesthood leaders also need to involve Relief Society leaders in planning and implementing regular activities—not just when there are stake or ward dinners or refreshments to plan. Likewise, Relief Society leaders should plan Relief Society activities to build sisters spiritually and socially. Sisters need to see other women teaching the gospel, developing their knowledge of the scriptures, and being involved in other ways in the spiritual development of the ward and stake.

Another way priesthood and Relief Society leaders can effectively work together as a team is when auxiliary leaders are invited to speak at meetings along with high council speakers. Similarly, Relief Society leaders can work effectively with their priesthood leaders when they are invited to speak in bishops’ training, high council training, or other priesthood leadership meetings when a female viewpoint can help priesthood holders better understand the sisters they serve. Such viewpoints broaden perspectives to help make leaders’ decisions more effective.

As priesthood and Relief Society leaders give counsel, share information, and coordinate efforts, feelings of fellowship and teamwork grow and develop. Much good is accomplished, and frustrations decrease. The greatest good that can come from priesthood and Relief Society leaders effectively working together is a testimony to all who witness it that “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11).

[photo] Photography by Steve Bunderson