“What is there in Relief Society for my 18-year-old daughter?” Ensign, Aug. 1977, 39–40
Janath R. Cannon, first counselor, Relief Society General Presidency I remember the buzz in the Relief Society Building in 1973 when the First Presidency announced that young women eighteen years of age and older would be members of Relief Society. We were thrilled—we knew Relief Society needed these young women with their energy, enthusiasm, and creativity—but we were also apprehensive. Would they want Relief Society as much? We knew the image the Relief Society had in some people’s minds—an organization for mothers and grandmothers. Would they feel that they didn’t have anything in common with women of all ages? Would they feel that the older, more experienced women didn’t want their contribution? Would the regular Relief Society curriculum appeal to them?
None of these questions were new, of course, and we already had a good idea about some of the answers. Relief Society had been held for years among young adults on college campuses, and its success there was one of the reasons for extending it to all young women. But to some extent, the needs of young women are different, and a series of optional lessons was developed to meet some of those special needs. From reports coming back, though, most of the optional lessons seem to be used during the summer after the regular eight-month curriculum has ended. Many young adult Relief Societies use all of the regular curriculum—and even report great enthusiasm for the Mother Education lessons. However, we want more flexibility, not less, in Relief Society, so even more optional lessons are now planned.
Most eighteen-year-old sisters have no qualms about participating in Relief Society because they know so many who do participate in it and love it. College freshmen I’ve talked to at BYU, for instance, have older sisters and friends who are already deeply involved in Relief Society. For these coeds, participation is part of growing up, an essential part of their spiritual development at college.
There are special joys that come as part of belonging to Relief Society. One of these joys is in belonging to a sisterhood that reaches around the world. Today there are about 10,000 Relief Societies in over 66 countries. A woman who takes a teaching job in Tasmania or follows her husband to a military assignment in Crete will find Relief Society sisters there to put welcoming arms around her. Women of all ages, educational levels, and circumstances share their testimonies, concerns, and creativity in Relief Society—it’s the most representative women’s organization anywhere.
Another joy is the lifelong education a woman receives in Relief Society, studying doctrines of the gospel, homemaking skills, social relations, principles of mothering, and the culture of sisters in other countries. In miniclasses, she can learn the traditional arts of quilting and breadmaking along with the currently emphasized skills of balancing a budget, growing a garden, taping oral histories, and decorating an apartment. Relief Society choirs and programs draw on her performance ability; a physical fitness emphasis challenges her to be a careful steward over her own body, while poetry and song contests focus on her creative abilities.
Another joy is compassionate service. As I talk to eighteen- and nineteen-year-old sisters, they continually express appreciation for the opportunity to be “engaged in a good cause.” By assignment of the Relief Society president, they visit the homebound, help new mothers, provide transportation, and, most important, listening ears, helping hands, and caring hearts. As visiting teachers, they have a continuing responsibility for the spiritual and physical well-being of the sisters assigned to them.
Most young women have been immersed in service and learning in the Young Women’s organization, developing their leadership ability and their spiritual commitment. Relief Society is just another step, a place where they continue to learn. My own eighteen-year-old daughter came home from a “welcome to Relief Society” party with the start of a beautiful pillow cover on a lap-sized quilting frame, a brochure introducing the Relief Society program, and a bubbly enthusiasm that I, as a mother, was delighted to see.
President Joseph F. Smith said, “We want the young women, the women of faith, of courage and of purity … to take hold of this work with vigor, with intelligence and unitedly, for the building up of Zion and the instruction of women in their duties—domestic duties, public duties, and every duty that may devolve upon them.” (Conference Report, April 1907.)
Relief Society welcomes these young women with open arms. They are a force for good whose capacities surpass their own imaginings. Our prophet has seen the vision of their involvement, and we in the general presidency see that vision unfolding in their lives. They are claiming the blessings that the Lord offers them through this great organization.