As women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are reflecting on their role against the background of women’s rights activism, what, I ask myself, is my role in the LDS Church and how has my membership changed over the thirty seven years that I have been a member?
Looking back to the early women leaders and others in the Church…
They were grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, aunts all making time to add their talents to improving the lives of those they were assigned to watch over. Strong women, intelligent women, creative women, hardworking women filled with the Spirit. Their place in the LDS Church was one of leadership and discipleship. Whether they would minister or be ministered to, depended on their needs.
They bore children, nurtured them and taught them the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ; principles of honour, learning, honesty, industry, neighbourliness and charity. They taught their children how to pray, to read the scriptures and to worship the Lord.
I look around me at the sisters of my own ward in this modern time and I still see those same principles at work. I see all types of women from all walks of life who are joined in the sisterhood of Relief Society. It is a privilege to join hands with these women who give so much of their time and resources to teach and minister.
I remember moving overseas for a while and the feeling of being so cut off from our home, family and the familiar. I was so aware of the attention my accent drew and was loath to participate in Sunday School. I dreaded going to Relief Society and being the stranger there too. I crept into the back row and my heart ached as I longed for my home ward and the sisters I knew so well.
It wasn’t long before a member of the Relief Society Presidency spotted me and came over to introduce herself. She asked me a few questions about myself making me feel very welcome and asked for my contact details. Before long the meeting opened with the familiar songs of the Church with sisters singing confidently and in different parts so that I felt I was singing with a choir. The meeting progressed with the usual announcements and then we went into lesson time and I felt the presence of the Spirit as I listened to the teacher who had prepared the beautiful lesson. The sisters around me responded eagerly and I was caught up in their participation. Instead of a sea of strange faces, I got to see individual women expressing the feelings of their hearts and speaking about problems which we all face.
At that moment, I remembered that I was part of a worldwide sisterhood, that each woman in the room was a friend I was yet to meet.
I won’t say that everything just melted away and that I immediately moved on with my life. Being a little shy, I still felt a little awkward among so many strangers, and struggled to remember names. However, I had regular visits from my visiting teachers, the neighbours had welcomed us, and I was given a calling in the Primary auxiliary where I got to know the children in my class and by extension, their parents. I had become an integral member of the ward family and over time became involved in the various programs offered by the LDS Church.
As another Relief Society birthday approaches, we give thanks for this wonderful organization of women that enables us to be ‘at home’ anywhere, and say happy birthday, Relief Society and may you have many more!