Relief Society is not just a class sisters attend on Sunday. It’s not just an additional meeting. “It’s not a program.” Relief Society is something so much more! Relief Society “ is the gospel — the gospel in action in the lives of our remarkable women” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland “ ‘Charity Never Faileth’: A Discussion on Relief Society,” Ensign, March 2011, p. 28).
It is our desire, as the Relief Society general presidency, to raise the sights of all women and men to a greater vision of the purpose of Relief Society during this year’s 175th anniversary of its organization.
Among the many aspects of Relief Society that elevate it beyond a simple gathering of women, there are three we hope you will consider as you remember this anniversary: our history, our work, and our future.
To start to raise our sights, let’s look back 175 years — and even earlier. Before the Prophet Joseph Smith organized Relief Society on March 17, 1842, he explained that the sisters would be organized “after the pattern of the priesthood.” He also taught, “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , p. 451).
Eliza R. Snow, the second Relief Society general president, later recorded: “Although the name [Relief Society] may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently” (in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society, 2011, p. 7).
“While little is known about a formal organization of women in the New Testament, evidence suggests that women were vital participants” in the work (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 3). One such example comes from the Apostle Paul, who wrote: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church ... that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (Romans 16:1–2).
Many scriptures, along with historical records, describe the devotion of women as they actively participated in the Lord’s work. The Prophet Joseph defined our work when he taught, “The [Relief] Society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls” (in Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 24).
In our day, the First Presidency has affirmed our divine identity as “beloved daughters of Heavenly Father and dedicated disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ” and has testified, “The Lord has restored the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith and ... Relief Society is an important part of that restoration” (in Daughters in My Kingdom, ix).
As we remember the restoration of Relief Society 175 years ago, we invite Latter-day Saint women everywhere to prayerfully consider how they can fulfill Relief Society’s purpose to help prepare women for the blessings of eternal life by individually increasing faith in Heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ and His Atonement; expanding their influence to strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants; and working in unity to help those in need — spiritually and temporally — in their homes, neighborhoods, congregations, communities and nations.
As you respond to this invitation, you will be doing the work of salvation, for covenant-keeping daughters of God “labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:56).
We also invite Relief Society leaders to consider ways to use Sunday Relief Society meetings and the valuable time we have in our additional meetings to plan, learn, and serve together in such a way that encourages all sisters to take their place in the work of Relief Society.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared: “Every sister in the Church is of critical importance — not only to our Heavenly Father but also to the building of the kingdom of God as well. There is a great work to do” (“Happiness, Your Heritage,” Ensign, November 2008, p. 120).
Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for His daughters, and His daughters were organized to act “according to those sympathies which God has planted in your [hearts]” (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 16).
As you contemplate how best to do the work of Relief Society, you might consider planning lessons and additional meetings using chapters 5 and 6 of Handbook 2 and the words of living prophets, connecting and acquainting sisters with the work of salvation. By reviewing chapters 5 and 6, you’ll be reminded that the work of salvation includes covenant-keeping work such as the following:
• Sharing the gospel
• Retaining converts
• Activating members
• Participating in temple and family history work
• Teaching the gospel
• Caring for the poor and needy
According to our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, “now is the time” to join together to participate in the work (“Welcome to Conference,” Ensign, November 2013, p. 4).
Sisters, “it is our turn — our turn to serve and write a chapter on the pages of Relief Society history.” We can be part of “something extraordinary” (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 181) as we prayerfully seek to increase our faith, strengthen homes and families, and work in unity to help those in need.
The work of daughters of God — the purpose of Relief Society — is to help prepare women for the blessings of eternal life. “My work,” our Father said, “and my glory [is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Our work — our purpose — is to help Him accomplish His work. That’s extraordinary!
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