“Relief Society Presidents Prove … The Second Mile Is Paved With Innovation, Part 1,” Ensign, June 1978, 30
On the door of Shirley A. Cazier’s refrigerator hangs a page torn from the family home evening manual which reads: “Give It a Trial, Go the Extra Mile.” She’s the Relief Society president in Chico California Stake and believes that “adapting Church programs to the particular needs of an area requires just that—going the extra mile.” Their stake presidency says: “We’d rather stop you than push you,” and they get second-mile results.
In 1976–77 they got serious about bringing the blessings of Relief Society to every sister. By the end of October each sister had received a verbal invitation to attend Relief Society. By November, ward presidents had identified the reasons for inactivity of each sister in the ward. Relief Society meetings were taped for the homebound and chronically ill. A visiting teaching convention and an eight-hour homemaking day for 800 members and nonmembers were major stake projects.
In addition, each ward conducted a visiting teacher workshop on how to adapt messages to individual needs, presented a sacrament meeting program about Relief Society, and worked on home teacher-visiting teacher cooperation. Young mothers who were visiting teachers received babysitting help every month so they could do their visiting teaching. Active sisters involved inactive sisters in compassionate service assignments and bought Relief Society lesson manuals for them.
And that was just the beginning in Chico.
1. Relief Society presidents have ten minutes for instruction at visiting teaching preparation meetings. After a few months, many presidents feel they have “run dry,” so the stake leaders asked all the presidents to pool ideas. A year’s course of very successful ten-minute talks emerged. It’s now in its third year.
2. A group of elderly single women in Chico enjoyed monthly firesides each month but wanted to meet oftener. Wednesday evenings became “their” night. Now in their third year of meetings, about twenty women have shared their testimonies and learned the importance of having a will, how to keep houseplants healthy, and how to cut meats economically.
3. About 175 women in the stake live alone—and some of them weren’t eating properly. The stake Relief Society asked them to share their favorite recipes-for-one. A recipe book, One for the Money, emerged with a missionary spinoff: One nonmember has given several copies to friends who live alone.
4. Young Adults leaving for Church schools depleted the ranks until no ward had a successful joint activity program. Ronald Louw, institute director at California State University—Chico, and stake high councilor for young adults, realized that many young people had no higher goals than steady jobs and a girlfriend or boyfriend, so a stake “Excellence Night” each Wednesday sparked into life. The first Wednesday is a video tape of a General Authority speaking at Brigham Young University, followed by a discussion. The second and fourth Wednesdays are discussion groups. The third Wednesday is an activity night, planned in turn by the eleven wards with the help of the Relief Society and elders quorum counselors on the ward committee for Single Adults. There are two rules: no one can serve punch and cookies; and no refreshment or activity can be repeated. The results are creative! A 1977 event on etiquette featured skits, role-playing, and a four-course dinner to practice what they’d learned.
5. One sister pointed out a need. The Relief Society’s concern about nutrition was offset by the monotonous reappearance of sugary cookies and cake for refreshments. So in the past three years leadership meetings have featured such refreshments as a tasting table ranging from casseroles to fudge, all made out of pinto beans, gluten steaks and cookies, whey treats, and fruit juice punches.
6. A time-saving service is the stake Relief Society newsletter. In addition to announcements, it includes a monthly message from a priesthood leader.
Second-milers all over the Church are providing the same kind of tailor-made service, the same creative imagination, the same prayerful concern for the women they serve. Local leaders are adapting the program in dozens of innovative ways to give women the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual support that keeps them coming back for more.
Once all the women of the Church became the Relief Society’s responsibility, not just those who were coming to Relief Society, stake and ward presidents like Shirley Cazier explored new ways of bringing women to Relief Society—or, when necessary, bringing Relief Society to them.
The First Ward in the Sacramento California South Stake has many elderly women. Under the direction of ward Relief Society president Betty Croff, tapes of the lessons went into twenty-seven of those homes in one month, “and how these sisters have loved it,” says stake Relief Society president Joyce Stubbs.
The Victoria West District, Australia Melbourne Mission, has members coming from forty to sixty miles for meetings—and occasionally takes meetings to those who can’t come that distance.
The Goteberg Sweden District Relief Society starts back a step further by encouraging each sister to get her driver’s license.
The Ogden Utah Stake took a deep breath and wiped out its traditional fall fair, then turned its “lookers” into “doers” by filling in with minicourses and summer workshops. It was worth the effort: “It has created leadership, upgraded ward homemaking days, and involved nonmembers and inactive sisters who are now just blooming with the contact,” says stake Relief Society president Laurel B. Spencer.
The Ogden Utah North Stake took an equally deep breath when it looked at one second session with only seven sisters coming from three wards. It challenged the ward presidencies to organize their own second session and staff it with their own teachers. In the first month, one ward had nineteen women out, another had eleven, and another had seven—a clear gain of twenty, according to President LaRue W. Stott.
In the Idaho Falls Idaho East Stake, one ward, already holding morning and evening Relief Society, now has a Sunday session for older working sisters who prefer to come while their husbands are in priesthood meeting.
Rene S. Welch of the Charleston South Carolina Stake Relief Society received a call from a ward Relief Society president, Letty A. Lewis, in tears because so many sisters were inactive. They organized a night Relief Society for the working women in one neighborhood and heard fifteen women express gratitude that their Father in heaven loved them enough to make Relief Society available to them.
Zella Siggard had been inactive for years, first because her husband’s health was failing and then because she became blind. “Lots of people asked me to come to Church. But Marjorie Reeve didn’t just ask—she took me.” Sister Siggard hasn’t missed since. As a visiting teacher, she memorizes the message from the records and studies for the class lessons as well. She is one of fourteen women that Sister Reeve, president of the Salt Lake Monument Park Third Ward Relief Society, and her counselor, Knell Skidmore, take on a monthly outing to the temple for two sessions and then to lunch. Sister Reeve says, “Preparing a beautiful luncheon and having everything go perfectly is one kind of thrill. But even more thrilling is seeing someone blossom in the Church.”
One of these women is her secretary, inactive for years because she was unmarried and felt that the Church had no place for her. Sister Reeve took an instant liking to her when she sang at a Relief Society meeting and, acting on the bishop’s instructions, talked to her about the position of secretary and its responsibilities. “It’s as though my mother were sitting there talking to me,” said the woman; and after the bishop extended the formal call and set the woman apart, Sister Reeve says, “She put her arms around me and we both just cried. She said, ‘Maybe there’s a place for me after all.’” Sister Reeve added mischievously, “Now she’s shocked when someone misses a meeting.”
That personal touch makes a difference. In the Paradise Valley First Ward Relief Society in Arizona, Elma Davis’s visiting teachers remained faithful through a complete decade of her total inactivity, reported Sylvia L. Heywood, president of the Phoenix East Stake Relief Society. “Then Sister Davis suffered a heart attack. The care and concern of those visiting teachers during her recuperation built a miracle on the foundation they had already laid. She and her husband have not missed a meeting since and are now preparing to go to the temple.”
“Reactivation” is a tender term to the 500 women who attended the Los Angeles California Chatsworth Stake Relief Society convention for visiting teachers. Women who had been reactivated by their visiting teachers paid moving tribute to that life-changing love and concern. Patricia Sappenfield, divorced soon after her baptism, felt abandoned during her time of need—“so I didn’t want to have a thing to do with the Church.” But she wanted her three children to be brought up as Latter-day Saints so she kept her name on the rolls.
That’s what brought Charla McIntire into her life. “She’d just stop by to say hello, or to talk for a few minutes on the street. She became a very close friend—and every Monday night she’d call and invite me to Relief Society the next morning. I’d always find an excuse. After months of this, she didn’t call one Monday. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ‘she’s not going to bother me anymore.’ The next morning, here she was with curiers in her hair announcing, ‘I’m taking you to Relief Society. Go get dressed while I fix my hair.’ I was so stunned that I couldn’t find an excuse. That broke the ice, and after that it was no effort at all for me to go.”
Sister Sappenfield is now a special session homemaking leader. Says President Dolores Kennedy, “We’ve never had anything for visiting teachers that has been so touching to them about their responsibility as that one success story.” Wards started turning in 100 percent reports of visits after that.
One husband in the Mesa Arizona West Stake dutifully passed on the bishop’s suggestion that each wife should be in Relief Society—then discovered that it would take more than a suggestion. So together the entire family cleaned the house the night before, helped prepare food for the next day, helped each other get ready for school that morning while dad fixed breakfast, and did last-minute cleaning. His wife has been able to come ever since with that kind of support.
The Bennion Utah Fifth Ward holds a successful Relief Society session in the evening. Since there are so many preschool children the bishop felt it would be a wonderful opportunity for fathers to spend some concentrated time with their children.
A couple of Relief Societies report taking steps to make reactivation unnecessary. The Katy Ward of the Houston Texas Stake visits each new sister with a loaf of bread, a jar of jam, and a warm invitation for her to come to Relief Society with them. The Manhattan First Ward assigns its Laurels to share a visit with the visiting teachers on occasion and invites them to the special sessions of Relief Society. “They’re excited about what they’ll be graduating into,” says Alma Bonner, New York New York Stake Relief Society president.
Some of the second-mile effort is lavished on older sisters. The Murray Utah West Stake Relief Society started a monthly dance with dance instruction, simple but festive decorations, tapes of easy-to-move-to music, and refreshments. Stake Relief Society president Donna C. Slusher reports the entire ward is invited, and even people who don’t dance come for the sociability. “It’s bringing husbands and wives closer together too—and some of them are closer to the Church than they’ve been for years.”
Every Wednesday at 10:00 A.M. is a bright spot for some of the elderly sisters in the retirement center in the Taylorsville Thirtieth Ward in the Salt Lake Valley. Two “especially caring sisters” were called to be session leaders for them, according to Helen Warnick, stake Relief Society president, and the Relief Society teachers adapt their regular lessons for presentation there. “The teachers can call on anyone in the stake,” says Sister Warnick, “but they’ve felt such a choice spirit there that they feel blessed to participate.”
For the sisters there, it’s a blessing too. Initially reluctant to participate in the lessons and pray, they are more willing to give of themselves every week. Some even skip group outings so they won’t miss Relief Society.
The Manchester England Stake, concerned about its single women, brought 150 of them together for a “Pursuit of Excellence” evening. After an address by a counselor in the stake presidency, hostesses conducted groups of about thirty sisters through each of the six areas: spiritual (some suggestions were missionary work and keeping a journal), intellectual (they had a scripture chase and learned to say “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” in German), character (with role-plays on living Church standards), service (sharing handicraft talents), and physical (including exercises to music—even for the handicapped sisters present).
The Bellevue Washington Stake is in its fourth year of actively including divorced women in Relief Society. Education counselors are encouraged to become resources for good materials about such topics as explaining divorce to children. Ward presidents train visiting teachers to adapt lessons.
Stake President Nelson Snow holds periodic training sessions for bishops where divorce attorneys report the current laws on child support, divorce procedure, and legal rights for all parties, including the children. Professional counselors discuss how to help someone through the stages of divorce: (1) initial frustration and occasionally hope; (2) despair, bitterness, anger; (3) guilt and doubt; and (4) gradual reconstruction. Bishops were also trained to help in financial planning.
Stake Relief Society president Marilyn Robison Rands reports that one ward has set up an “Auto Club” where single women can arrange for mechanical help day or night through home teachers—names are included in the list of resource people the bishop keeps. Similar groups provide plumbing and carpentry help. The Relief Society also offers basic minicourses in home and car repair.
The Casper Wyoming Stake gave a practical twist to its Young Adult Relief Society homemaking day by stressing good financial habits. After sharing budget ideas, the girls were sent out to get an assigned part of the lunch for the best bargain they could. (They were reimbursed for what they spent—as long as they didn’t exceed the predetermined limit.)
Another group of sisters with special needs are those in the United States to whom English is a barrier. In the Huntington Park California Stake, many wards have become bilingual to include their Spanish-speaking members; bilingual teachers present lessons at a separate leadership meeting, and Anglo sisters teach English classes for Spanish sisters. “All of us are gaining a greater empathy and understanding for these new Church members,” says President Elsa Lindsay.
The McAllen Texas Stake has called a stake Spanish-speaking leader to coordinate instructions for the Spanish-speaking sisters within its boundaries. Each class at stake leadership meetings includes an interpreter.
Several stakes in Great Britain are placing special effort on helping families with food storage. One is the Leeds England Stake that held an evening program to discuss where to find forty-gallon water containers and how to use storage items. Some distinctively British dishes were frummety (a wheat dish mentioned in Thomas Hardy’s novels) and “banger mix” (ham and sausage-flavored soya beans). Another is the Glasgow Scotland Stake where storage nights are being held in all the wards and branches and are supplemented by a stake collection of recipes, survival hints, and preparedness information in book form.
Standard parts of the Relief Society program also have been creatively adapted to meet the needs of local sisters.
One second-mile effort to meet the nursery challenge is in the Waipahu Hawaii Stake where one ward’s nursery averages fifty children per week and rises as high as ninety. The children are greeted, given name tags, and divided into “toddlers” and “older” as they come in. They then rotate through three half-hour periods—an art activity, a lesson, and a play activity. Even though space is limited, it works—and second-mile nursery workers are encouraged to attend night Relief Society for the lessons and companionship.
The Casper Wyoming Stake starts out the year with a lot of emphasis on its nursery program. Education counselors and new nursery leaders get orientation, information, and motivation in an August seminar. A stake-wide goal is to make nursery so pleasant for the children that they will encourage their mothers to attend. One ward went so far as to send the children an invitation to come to Relief Society and bring their mothers along.
Nearly everyone feels guilty to one degree or another about not getting more exercise—but not the women of the Omaha Nebraska Second Ward. They’ve taken up jumping rope, with sisters from their early twenties to their late fifties participating. “We get maximum physical benefit in minimum time,” says instructor Jean Sunderlage, who was on a jump rope team in high school. Some of the sisters also have their husbands, children, and neighbors joining the driveway jump sessions between weekly meetings.
The Granger 18th Ward in the Salt Lake Valley gathers fifteen or twenty women for half-hour sessions twice a week to supplement at-home exercising. The session ends with jogging around the room, increasing the time each session by one minute. Each woman takes a turn babysitting.
The Casper Wyoming Stake Relief Society held a recreation minicourse for its day sessions, followed by instruction in an evening session. Participants flashed through instruction in tennis, Ping-Pong, volleyball, croquet, and dancing—then clamored for more.
One of the most basic needs women have is for the companionship of other women—and sometimes it takes special effort to meet those needs.
Geographically, Beloit Wisconsin Stake is long and skinny. Even stake conferences are held in double sessions, one in the north, the other in the south. Consequently, “there seemed to be no way to develop unity and sisterhood among the women of the stake.” Georgia Lauper Gates, Relief Society president of the three-year-old stake, decided to try a stake seminar.
They chose the theme, “The Pursuit of Excellence,” featuring as keynote speaker Sister Janath Cannon of the Relief Society general presidency, and offering twelve workshops, from which the sisters could select three to attend. Over 300 advance reservations poured in and more registered at the door. Since the stake numbers just under 1,000 sisters, Sister Gates’s workers—who had planned for 250 at most—were delighted. The five most popular workshops turned out to be on contemporary Latter-day Saint women, exploring the scriptures, tips on gracious entertaining, cooking with wheat, and lifelong education.
Each of the stake’s twelve units brought items from its homemaking days to display during the luncheon. And responses to a questionnaire on the workshop were unanimous in asking for another such seminar—with longer class periods. The stake leaders were happy to comply in April 1978, adding a new feature: a panel discussion on civic involvement, volunteer work, and involvement in community schools.
In March and April, Alaskans sometimes find themselves suffering the effects of “cabin fever” from the confinement of the long and bitter winter. Last year the Anchorage Alaska Stake Relief Society struck back with a “Let’s Be Beautiful” day designed to let each sister luxuriate in the rare experience of, for a short time, “thinking only of herself.”
The priesthood brethren cooperated enthusiastically. Word came down through channels that husbands should plan to spend April 13 taking care of the children. Older men whose children had left home were in charge of preparing the luncheon; Young Adult men served it under the direction of a professional waiter. Five hundred sisters showed up for the sessions on grooming, make-up, figure control, dressing for problem figures, wardrobe coordination, and poise; and many asked that it become an annual event.
Dorothy Hurley of the Newport Beach California Stake recognized a need and decided to focus on raising the sisters’ self-esteem. A fall program taught by two sisters in the stake who are professional fashion consultants brought women flocking to learn how to cope with figure problems, clothing selection, and how to go from “grubby” to “presentable” in two minutes flat. They also learned presentable and appropriate attire to wear to church. The stake offered the wards four seminars on clothing, make-up, home management, and courtesies in the home; every ward opted for all four. The series concluded with an all-day seminar.
They did other things, too. They honored their stake presidency with an exquisite dinner, the gala event of the year, with food, service, decor, and music of the highest quality. Nearly 400 places were available, and all tickets were sold three weeks before the event. An impressed stake presidency asked the stake Relief Society if they would make this an annual anniversary dinner.
One ward has fellowshipping “in-home” luncheons with the hostess inviting eight or ten women, including many who rarely attend Relief Society. One woman initially refused to be hostess because “I don’t have a very nice home,” but finally agreed. After the luncheon, she elatedly called the Relief Society president to report its success—and the boost to her self-esteem.
And stake leaders stress, “Don’t fall behind your husband. If you can’t take a class, read the newspaper. And run—don’t walk—to the library often.”
(To be continued.)