SALT LAKE CITY — When Julie B. Beck and her two counselors received their callings as the LDS Relief Society general presidency in 2007, they were faced with a "blank slate" — and the challenge of how to fill it.
Certainly, there was no end to the good that could be accomplished. This was, after all, the Relief Society, known since its founding in 1842 as an instrument to bring "relief" to suffering souls and betterment to what has grown to be a global membership.
But Sister Beck, who was released from her calling last year, and the women serving with her were given no specific "to-do list" of how to carry out that general mandate.
That was her recollection Thursday evening as she addressed an audience in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, the latest occasion in the annual Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by the LDS Church History Library.
In determining how to fill the blank slate, she drew inspiration from the word "alignment."
"It has come to my understanding that faith is really an alignment," she said, "an alignment of our role with our Heavenly Father's role, an alignment of our purpose with our Heavenly Father's purpose, an alignment of the things we prioritize and do with things that would be a priority to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ."
In considering that, she said, they realized they needed to be aligned with the apostles and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who, faithful members believe, are divinely called and govern the church by revelation from Christ.
"We knew we couldn't do everything," Sister Beck reflected. "We had to focus on the essentials, and we had to help the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in that."
Studying the experiences of past Relief Society presidencies, Sister Beck could see in each presidency the theme of alignment, she said.
But in a modern era "we needed to be able to articulate the purposes of Relief Society and with such clarity and such simplicity that it would transcend cultures, languages, opportunities, education, economies, and experiences and conditions and all those things that come with a worldwide church" she said.
They came up with three simple concepts: faith, family and providing relief.
Illustrating that, she told of an experience she had visiting a location in Pisco, Peru, that had been leveled by an earthquake.
"When that happened, the stake Relief Society president worked in harmony with the stake president. She went into action."
One of the few structures left standing in that area was an LDS chapel. There, she organized efforts to feed victims. Subsequently, she and her counselors helped people mend their lives by teaching skills showing them how to cook using the supplies the church had sent from Salt Lake City.
Reaching out to the greater community, she and members of the Relief Society made blankets for the babies in the city. They also helped needy people start home industries and thus regain their livelihood.
On her visit several months later, Sister Beck met the stake Relief Society president.
"She came up to me, put her head on my shoulder and cried and cried and cried," Sister Beck recounted. "Then she cried some more. She couldn't speak. And I felt strength going out of me into her.
"After about five minutes, she raised her head and squared her shoulders. I said, 'Sister, are you OK? Can I help you?' She said, 'I'm just fine! I just needed someplace to cry.'
"I recognized that she had this tremendous strength for months and months. My job was just to go and provide the shoulder. But she had known through revelation and through a few simple principles how to serve."