Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the priesthood of God has been restored to the earth in its fulness. The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God by which He blesses, redeems, and exalts His children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man.”1
Heavenly Father’s worthy sons are ordained to priesthood offices and are assigned specific duties and responsibilities. They are authorized to act in His name to look after His children and to help them receive ordinances and make and honor covenants. All Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters are equally blessed as they draw upon the power of the priesthood.
In a general conference address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “While we sometimes refer to priesthood holders as ‘the priesthood,’ we must never forget that the priesthood is not owned by or embodied in those who hold it. It is held in a sacred trust to be used for the benefit of men, women, and children alike.”2 Elder Oaks then quoted Elder John A. Widtsoe, who also served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve: “Men have no greater claim than women upon the blessings that issue from the Priesthood and accompany its possession.”3
Many Latter-day Saint women have borne witness of the blessings of the priesthood in their lives. Sister Elaine L. Jack, the twelfth Relief Society general president, expressed the feelings of other sisters in Relief Society. “I have a firm testimony of the power of the priesthood in the lives of all Church members,” she said. “In the Doctrine and Covenants we are … told that the Melchizedek Priesthood holds ‘the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church’ (D&C 107:18). I know it is God’s power and authority on earth to bless our lives and help us bridge our earthly experiences to the eternities. When we receive the blessings of the priesthood, we are drawing on the power and grace of God.” Sister Jack continued:
“It is significant to me that the women were organized under the authority of the priesthood. We sustain the priesthood and are sustained by its power. The sisters of the Church … treasure our opportunity to be full partakers of the spiritual blessings of the priesthood.
“Each of us can be directed and blessed in our eternal progression by receiving these blessings. The ordinances, covenants, sealings, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are essential for exaltation. There are a host of individual priesthood blessings as well. Priesthood blessings give us direction; they lift our sights; they encourage and inspire us; they prompt our commitment. We can all be partakers of these spiritual blessings.”4
Sister Sheri L. Dew, who served as a counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, echoed these teachings: “Sisters, some will try to persuade you that because you are not ordained to the priesthood, you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge ‘armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fulness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can be received only by a man and woman together.”5
“When you attend the temple and perform the ordinances that pertain to the House of the Lord, certain blessings will come to you. … You will receive the key of the knowledge of God. (See D&C 84:19.) You will learn how you can be like Him. Even the power of godliness will be manifest to you. (See D&C 84:20.)”
Ezra Taft Benson
Ensign, Aug. 1985, 10
When Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the spring of 1842, its members were women who had already been blessed by some priesthood ordinances and covenants. They had been baptized for the remission of sins. They had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, giving them the right to the constant companionship of the Spirit and the ability to be guided by personal revelation. They had partaken of the sacrament in remembrance of Jesus Christ and their covenants. They had received gifts of the Spirit. Some had received patriarchal blessings, learning of their individual gifts and potential and of their membership in the house of Israel. The Lord had healed them, comforted them, and instructed them according to their needs, their faith, and His will.
Sister Elizabeth Ann Whitney, who attended the first Relief Society meeting, had learned about the restored gospel 12 years earlier, in 1830. “As soon as I heard the Gospel as the Elders preached it,” she later said, “I knew it to be the voice of the Good Shepherd.” She “was baptized immediately,” and her husband, Newel K. Whitney, was baptized a few days later.6 Recalling this experience, she told of the blessings she received through the priesthood ordinances of baptism and confirmation:
“If there are any principles which have given me strength, and by which I have learned to live more truly a life of usefulness, it seems to me I could wish to impart this joy and strength to others; to tell them what the Gospel has been and is to me, ever since I embraced it and learned to live by its laws. A fresh revelation of the Spirit day by day, an unveiling of mysteries which before were dark, deep, unexplained and incomprehensible; a most implicit faith in a divine power, in infinite truth emanating from God the Father.”7
On April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke at a meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Part of his discourse was based on the Apostle Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 12–13 about the gifts of the Spirit. Joseph Smith emphasized that “these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils etc. should follow all that believe.”8
Because Latter-day Saint women have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, they can seek and be blessed by spiritual gifts such as “the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.”9 Throughout the history of the Church, Latter-day Saint women have received gifts of the Spirit and used them to bless their families and others.
Amanda Barnes Smith was present on April 28, 1842, when Joseph Smith taught Relief Society sisters about gifts of the Spirit. She knew the truth of his teachings, for she had been blessed with the gift of revelation about four years earlier at a time when she needed the Lord’s help to save her son.
In late October 1838, Amanda and her husband, Warren, with their children and other members of the Church, were on the way to Far West, Missouri. They stopped at a mill to make some repairs on their wagon. While they were there, a mob attacked Latter-day Saints who were working at the mill, killing 17 men and boys and wounding 15. Amanda, who had hidden during the attack, returned to find Warren and their son Sardius among the dead. Another son, Alma, was severely wounded. His hip had been blown off by a gun blast. Amanda later told of the personal revelation she received so her son could be healed:
“I [was] there, all that long, dreadful night, with my dead and my wounded, and none but God as our physician and help.
“Oh my Heavenly Father, I cried, what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh Heavenly Father direct me what to do!
“And then I was directed as by a voice speaking to me.”
Amanda was directed to make a lye, or washing solution, from the ashes of their fire to clean the wound. Then she was directed to make a poultice out of cloth and slippery elm to fill the wound. The next day she found some balsam and poured it into the wound to soothe Alma’s pain.
“‘Alma, my child,’ I said, ‘you believe that the Lord made your hip?’
“‘Well, the Lord can make something there in the place of your hip, don’t you believe he can, Alma?’
“‘Do you think that the Lord can, mother?’ inquired the child, in his simplicity.
“‘Yes, my son,’ I replied, ‘he has shown it all to me in a vision.’
“Then I laid him comfortably on his face, and said: ‘Now you lay like that, and don’t move, and the Lord will make you another hip.’
“So Alma laid on his face for five weeks, until he was entirely recovered—a flexible gristle having grown in place of the missing joint and socket, … a marvel to physicians.
“On the day that he walked again I was out of the house fetching a bucket of water, when I heard screams from the children. Running back, in affright, I entered, and there was Alma on the floor, dancing around, and the children screaming in astonishment and joy.”10
Through the spiritual gift of revelation, the Lord taught Sister Smith how to care for her son. She, like Elizabeth Ann Whitney and countless others, received “joy and strength” and “fresh revelation of the Spirit”11 because of her faithfulness.
“The only place on earth where we can receive the fulness of the blessings of the priesthood is in the holy temple. That is the only place where, through holy ordinances, we can receive that which will qualify us for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.”
Harold B. Lee
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 117
One of the Lord’s purposes in organizing the Relief Society was to prepare His daughters for the greater blessings of the priesthood found in the ordinances and covenants of the temple. The early sisters in Nauvoo anticipated the completion of the temple with great excitement, for they knew, as the Prophet Joseph Smith promised Mercy Fielding Thompson, that the endowment would bring them “out of darkness into marvelous light.”12
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed the following to Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio: “I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high.”13 He promised to give faithful Saints a “multiplicity of blessings,”14 and He declared that the temple would be “a place of thanksgiving for all saints, and … a place of instruction for all those who are called to the work of the ministry in all their several callings and offices; that they may be perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth.”15
In Nauvoo, the Lord again commanded the Saints to build a temple, saying that He would restore the “fulness of the priesthood” and “reveal [His] ordinances” there.16
Relief Society sisters helped each other prepare for these ordinances and their attendant covenants. They contributed to the building of the temple, learned from the Prophet and from each other in Relief Society meetings, charitably served one another, and sought to live with greater sanctity.
As the temple neared completion, 36 women were called to serve as temple ordinance workers. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, one of those first ordinance workers, recalled: “I gave myself, my time and attention to that mission. I worked in the Temple every day without cessation until it was closed.”17
In the ordinances of the higher priesthood that the Saints received in the Nauvoo Temple, “the power of godliness [was] manifest.”18 As the Saints kept their covenants, this power strengthened and sustained them through their trials in the days and years ahead (see chapter 3).
In the Church today, faithful women and men all over the world continue to serve in the temple and find strength in the blessings that can be received only through temple ordinances. As President Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth President of the Church, stated, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.”19
Relief Society helps sisters strengthen homes and families, thus helping to accomplish one of the fundamental purposes of the priesthood. “Priesthood authority has been restored,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “so that families can be sealed eternally.”20 Elder Richard G. Scott, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, taught: “The family and the home are the foundation of the righteous life. The priesthood is the power and the priesthood line is the means provided by the Lord to support the family.”21 Relief Society assists in this work by helping women and their families live the gospel in such a way that they can receive promised blessings of the priesthood.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “The ultimate and highest expression of womanhood and manhood is in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. Only this relationship culminates in exaltation. As the Apostle Paul taught, ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’”22 Ancient scripture confirms this in the accounts of covenant marriages between Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel. The sealing ordinance binds husband and wife to each other, to their children, and to their Father in Heaven. “Thus,” continued Elder Oaks, “the common objective … in our priesthood quorums and … in our Relief Societies is to bring men and women together in the sacred marriage and family relationships that lead toward eternal life, ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God.’”23
When a husband and wife are blessed with the opportunity to be parents, they share a solemn responsibility to help their children understand and receive priesthood ordinances and covenants.24 Our first parents, Adam and Eve, set an example of an interdependent and unified relationship when they taught their children. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“It was not Adam alone, who was involved in these things. …
“Eve was an active participant. She heard all that Adam said. She spoke of ‘our transgression,’ of ‘the joy of our redemption,’ of the ‘seed’ they should have together, and of the ‘eternal life’ which could not come to either of them alone, but which is always reserved for a man and a woman together.
“She and Adam both prayed; they both blessed the name of the Lord; they both taught their children; they both received revelation; and the Lord commanded both of them to worship and serve him in the name of Jesus Christ forever.”25
Latter-day prophets and apostles have encouraged husbands and wives to follow this pattern in their homes: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”26
Latter-day Saints all over the world follow this counsel in simple but powerful ways. Husbands and wives gather their children to pray and read the scriptures. In many homes, parents establish a special place—perhaps a simple shelf—where they keep scriptures and other Church resources. They teach the gospel through their words and their examples. They help their children prepare to receive the blessings of the temple, serve full-time missions, establish homes of their own, and continue serving in the Church. Like Adam and Eve, they share the responsibilities to teach, to pray, to serve, and to worship the Lord.
In some cases, a husband or wife may feel alone in these responsibilities because their spouse has not made covenants or has strayed from covenants that have been made. Even in these situations, faithful family members need not feel alone. They are blessed and strengthened through the priesthood ordinances they have received and the covenants they keep. They can also call upon the support of extended family members and other Latter-day Saints.
Many Latter-day Saints have never been married. Others are single because of the death of a spouse, abandonment, or divorce. Like all members of the Church, these members will be blessed as they remain faithful to their covenants and do all they can to strive for the ideal of living in an eternal family. They can enjoy the blessings, strength, and influence of the priesthood in their lives and homes through the ordinances they have received and the covenants they keep.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks told of the faithfulness of his mother, who was widowed at a young age. Having been sealed to her husband in the temple, she did not consider herself single; nevertheless, she had to rear her three children alone. Elder Oaks recalled:
“My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But Mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. …
“When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family. At the same time, she was always totally respectful of the priesthood authority of our bishop and other Church leaders. She presided over her family, but they presided over the Church. …
“The faithful widowed mother who raised us had no confusion about the eternal nature of the family. She always honored the position of our deceased father. She made him a presence in our home. She spoke of the eternal duration of their temple marriage. She often reminded us of what our father would like us to do so we could realize the Savior’s promise that we could be a family forever.”27
Another man told of his mother presiding in the home: “Just as I was preparing to serve a full-time mission, my father left our family and the Church. Under these circumstances, it was difficult for me to leave home for two years, but I went. And while I served the Lord in a faraway land, I learned of my mother’s strength at home. She needed and appreciated the special attention she received from men who held the priesthood—her father and brothers, her home teachers, other men in the ward. However, her greatest strength came from the Lord Himself. She did not have to wait for a visit in order to have the blessings of the priesthood in her home, and when visitors left, those blessings did not leave with them. Because she was faithful to the covenants she had made in the waters of baptism and in the temple, she always had the blessings of the priesthood in her life. The Lord gave her inspiration and strength beyond her own capacity, and she raised children who now keep the same covenants that have sustained her.”28
These women understood that they received added strength and help through the covenants they had made and kept.
All those who serve in an official capacity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do so under the direction and authority of those who hold priesthood keys, such as bishops and stake presidents. In Relief Society, this pattern was established in the first Relief Society meeting. As instructed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder John Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles laid his hands on the heads of Sister Emma Smith and her counselors, Sisters Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, one by one. He blessed them to be guided in their service. Ever since, sisters who have served in Relief Society callings, in all other Church callings, and as visiting teachers have served under the authority of those who hold priesthood keys.
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
“The Relief Society works under the direction of the Melchizedek Priesthood, for ‘all other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.’ It was organized ‘after the pattern of the priesthood.’ …
“The Brethren know they belong to a quorum of the priesthood. Too many sisters, however, think that Relief Society is merely a class to attend. The same sense of belonging to the Relief Society rather than just attending a class must be fostered in the heart of every woman.”29
Priesthood quorums organize men in a brotherhood to give service, to learn and carry out their duties, and to study the doctrines of the gospel. Relief Society accomplishes these same purposes for the women of the Church. All women in the Church belong to Relief Society, even if they have other responsibilities that make it difficult for them to attend all Relief Society meetings. They continue to be watched over and taught through the sisterhood of Relief Society.
“I pray that [a] spirit of oneness may spread throughout all the Church, that it may be characteristic of Presidencies of Stakes and High Councils, Bishoprics, [Home Teachers], and particularly of the quorums and auxiliaries of the Church, that they may all be one, to quote the Savior, as he and his Father are one.”
David O. McKay
In Conference Report, Apr. 1937, 121–22; referring to John 17:21
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, men and women are to strengthen and fortify one another and work together in unity. The Lord said, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”30
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “All must act in concert or nothing can be done.”31 And he set an example by working in concert with others. Sister Eliza R. Snow remembered and cherished this example all her life. She shared it with local Church leaders when the Relief Society was reestablished in Utah. She taught that bishops were to “have the same relation” with ward Relief Societies as Joseph Smith did with the Relief Society in Nauvoo. She also taught that “each society … could not exist without [the bishop’s] counsel.”32
When Sister Bathsheba W. Smith served as the fourth Relief Society general president, she remembered Joseph Smith’s teachings and example. She instructed Relief Society sisters to work in harmony with priesthood leaders. She said: “We humbly desire to magnify the callings given to us of the Lord, and in order to do so acceptably, we shall need the faith and support of the First Presidency of the Church, the Apostles, presidents of Stakes and Bishops, whom we ever feel to uphold, and with whom we desire to work in harmony.”33
This pattern has endured through the decades. President Henry B. Eyring, a counselor in the First Presidency, said, “A wonderful part of the heritage of Relief Society is evident in the way the priesthood has always shown respect to and received it from the Relief Society in turn.”34
When Sister Barbara W. Winder began her service as the eleventh Relief Society general president, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was then serving as a counselor in the First Presidency, asked her to unite the sisters who served in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary under the priesthood. Sister Winder realized that unity is “not simply a matter of the sisters working together, but that we are partners with the priesthood brethren. We are companions in the work.”35
Sister Winder said that shortly after she was called to serve as Relief Society general president, Elder Dallin H. Oaks asked to meet with her. He had been asked to prepare a statement for the Church on an important issue, and he felt that he must have input from the female leaders of the Church. He showed respect and gratitude for Sister Winder’s knowledge, opinions, and inspiration by asking for and using her help.
Sister Winder later taught that men and women in the Church need each other’s help in the work. “I learned that when you are invited to a meeting,” she explained, “you are not invited to come and complain about all your problems, but you are invited to come with solutions. Then together you can talk about ideas to see what will work. The priesthood brethren expect and need the perspective of the women of the Church. We need to be prepared and assist them.”36
This unity of purpose is evident in the council meetings of the Church. As the men and women on these councils listen to one another, seek the guidance of the Spirit, and work in unity, they receive inspiration to know how to meet the needs of individuals and families. The Lord has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them.”37
President Thomas S. Monson, the sixteenth President of the Church, shared an example of what can happen when Relief Society sisters and priesthood brethren work together in the Lord’s service:
“On August 24, [1992,] Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast south of Miami. Wind gusts exceeded two hundred miles per hour. … Eighty-seven thousand homes were destroyed, leaving 150,000 homeless. …
“Local priesthood and Relief Society leaders organized rapidly to assess injuries and damage and to assist in the cleanup effort. Three large waves of member volunteers, numbering over five thousand, labored shoulder to shoulder with disaster-stricken residents, helping to repair three thousand homes, a Jewish synagogue, a Pentecostal church, and two schools.”38
Latter-day prophets have spoken of the blessings that come to the Church and to families when faithful priesthood brethren and faithful Relief Society sisters work together.
President Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth President of the Church, said, “There is a power in this organization [of Relief Society] that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God—nor will it until both the sisters and the priesthood catch the vision of Relief Society.”39
President Joseph Fielding Smith summarized the relationship between the Relief Society and priesthood quorums:
“They [the sisters] have their own meetings, such as the Relief Society, in which they have been given power and authority to do a great many things. …
“The Lord through his wisdom has called upon our sisters to be aids to the Priesthood. Because of their sympathy, tenderness of heart, and kindness, the Lord looks upon them and gives unto them the duties and responsibilities of being ministers to the needy and to the afflicted. He has pointed out the path which they should follow, and he has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the directions of the bishops of the wards and in harmony with the bishops of the wards, looking after the interest of our people both spiritually and temporally.”40
When President Gordon B. Hinckley was serving as the fifteenth President of the Church, he shared the following with Relief Society sisters:
“Let me say to you sisters that you do not hold a second place in our Father’s plan for the eternal happiness and well-being of His children. You are an absolutely essential part of that plan.
“Without you the plan could not function. Without you the entire program would be frustrated. …
“Each of you is a daughter of God, endowed with a divine birthright. You need no defense of that position. …
“… There is strength and great capacity in the women of this Church. There is leadership and direction, a certain spirit of independence, and yet great satisfaction in being a part of this, the Lord’s kingdom, and of working hand in hand with the priesthood to move it forward.”41