Is it just me, or did anybody else only quit calling it “Homemaking” a few months ago? And what is the second counselor in Relief Society called now? The Sister Formerly Known as the Home Family and Personal Enrichment Counselor? And did I hear correctly? The Enrichment Leader is now the "Organizer?"
Still, all snark aside, Saturday night’s general Relief Society meeting was wonderful. It made me glad that I waited to post on the following comment from Caitlin:
“I have a question for you in regards to Relief Society and Young Women. We have both been Enrichment Leaders and 1st Councilor in YW, so I know you will understand where I am coming from. I think sometimes the RS sisters get a little frustrated with the YW leader attendance, or lack thereof, to Enrichment meetings. Those who haven't served with the youth often don't realize how often we are gone from our families. At minimum I am gone one night a week and it just goes up from there. Do you attend any of the group meetings, or do you just go quarterly? Also- do you have a hard time justifying to yourself or to your family, being gone an "extra" night during the week to attend a RS meeting? Just curious.”
There were a few insights I gained on Saturday night, and I had a bit of a paradigm shift about my role as a Relief Society member now that I am in the Young Women’s organization. Let me start by putting some of my experiences in context:
For the majority of the time that we lived in
Very occasionally, I would be called by some very well-meaning sister on the food committee to bring a specific thing to Enrichment. This always presented a frustrating dilemma for me. I believed that saying “no” to such a request was contrary to me sustaining that person in their calling. Yet, at the same time, my own calling was so demanding! Also, because of my tutoring, I very rarely attended homemaking; or if I did, I went as the sisters were cleaning up and found some of the stragglers to chat with.
I was never sure if the food committee really wanted my food, or if they were using the request as a ploy to make me attend as they were blissfully ignorant of my reason for staying away. In the request, I always heard an accusation. So I would begrudgingly say “yes,” and bring my food to the church or a committee member earlier in the day, and still not attend. The following week when it was time to do an activity or to teach a lesson, I’d always feel a great urge to call somebody on the food committee and ask them to come and do a part of a my lesson or teach the girls to sew or wait at the church with them when their parents are an hour late coming to pick them up, or just listen to them gripe for thirty minutes.
I know, I know, the pioneers buried their babies walking across the plains in blistering heat and freezing cold and I’m grumbling about throwing together a cake mix AND THEN HAVING TO DRIVE IT FIVE MINUTES TO THE CHURCH TO DROP IT OFF.
It is just that the cake seems so irrelevant. How does such an act, particularly one I don’t want to do, build my faith?
Fast-forward to my three years working with the Enrichment Committee where we hustled like crazy to get the sisters to attend. We made a comprehensive effort to be sure all the sisters knew about our quarterly meetings—fliers in monthly newsletters with a name on the front of each, personal announcements in both Young Women’s and Primary, separate sign-up sheets in each auxiliary where there were women, weekly reminders for the upcoming week’s activities on a ¼ page handout nearly every week, personal phone calls before each quarterly enrichment—the women in our ward knew when each activity was and that they were needed, loved and welcome.
Our attendance ticked up slightly. Even after all that work, not to mention the work on the activity itself. I was very frustrated. In the last few months as Enrichment Leader I realized that I had to stop making the attendance thing about me. You know: Do they not like me? I worked so hard and now nobody will come! What could they have going that is possibly more important that this thing I spent so much time one? What is wrong with their husbands that they won’t watch the kids one night a month . . . .etc. etc.
Once again I find the shoe on the other foot, but this time I’ve come to a few conclusions, and Saturday night’s meeting really helped me with this.
The current design of the Home, Family and Personal Enrichment program was (and is) an effort to better suit the needs of the sisters. The quarterly meetings should benefit a broader base of sisters; the midweek and (usually) monthly activities should target more specific needs that benefit smaller groups. The key is understanding the needs of the sisters. (Sister Beck’s comments from a few years back on the sister’s needs are worth close scrutiny. I would leave the link here, but I'm having trouble finding the exact talk I'm looking for.)
There have been unintended downsides to this program—if a ward isn’t very careful, the midweek activities turn into cliques that are very hard for new members to integrate themselves into. If an activity is advertised in RS on Sunday, many of the women attach a certain set of expectations to it, which may or may not be reasonable. In my current ward it also meant that much creativity was dropped from Enrichment planning in exchange for the four activities seen as traditional: a March birthday party with a big meal; a mid-summer garden party with a big meal; a “Souper” Saturday wherein you sign up for pricey crafts or more stamped cards to make for yourself or give away as Christmas presents; the fourth quarterly activity is a Christmas party with, wait for it, a big buffet-style meal and a program. What about humanitarian activities? We can’t do that! Nobody will come.
Charity never faileth. Except when it does.
Don’t get me wrong: the ward I live in now is full of amazing people who do behind-the-scenes service all the time that has nothing to do with a calling. But I think the collective service we can offer as RS sisters is unifying and is a positive way for our church to make a mark on our community. Particularly in communities where the Church is unknown and/or unpopular.
Before I tangent too far from the original subject, here is the first thing that struck me so hard from Saturday night’s meeting: Sister Beck emphasized again and again the need for the RS presidencies to be prayerful about the needs of the sisters and then act accordingly. And yet, do I know what my OWN needs are in regards to this grand organization? In regards to my life? I get so practiced at going through the motions of daily living that I forget to stop and evaluate WHY exactly I am doing some of the things I am doing. What things are truly bringing me closer to Christ? And how do I define that for myself? As I approach my involvement with Relief Society activities from now on, that will be my first question—does this activity fill a need for me?
Two different talks, expressed this same basic concept, “You need Relief Society/Church and the RS/Church needs you!” Understanding my own needs will help me to define when a Relief Society meeting falls into that first category. For example, a woman I know stopped attending our RS book group about a year ago as it wasn't fulfilling her needs. She found too many of the book picks offensive and the discussion was not as uplifting as she had hoped--as perhaps it should have been. However, some dramatic changes in her life have caused her to think that she needs book group again—both as an evening out and as an “excuse to read.” (Yes, yes, apparently some people need excuses to read!) Same activity; different season. So, no Caitlin, if I truly believe it is an activity that I need, I never feel guilty for attending.
I think it is the “Church-needing-you-activities” that we have to be more careful about staying away from, regardless of our other callings or how enjoyable we think it will be. Jenny presented a beautiful post a few months back about a service opportunity her ward had taken at a local “shop” which provided gently-used clothing to the homeless. The turn-out from her ward was pitiful compared to the safe-dinners-at-the-meetinghouse type activities, but the lessons learned were invaluable and eternal. I think each person has to decide if a particular activity or task falls into this essential, second category; but if we are staying home from activities that give opportunity to perform meaningful service for someone truly in need, then we better make sure that what we put ahead of such service it is pretty darn important.
And no, I’m not sure that the Church needs me to bring canned peaches in orange Jell-O to an activity, so please don’t ask.
So, my first conclusion is that it is my responsibility to prayerfully figure out my needs; secondly that I should find time to attend activities that truly bring me closer to Christ and activities that give me meaningful service opportunities. Now for the last powerful thing I took away from Saturday’s meeting.
Before President Eyring’s talk, I hadn’t realized that it was the Relief Society that was the driving force behind the creation of the Young Women’s organization. And I had an epiphany. I think nearly every talk mentioned in some fashion that Relief Society was organized after the manner of the priesthood; even Joseph Smith acknowledged the incompleteness of the Church until the women were “thus organized.” Brother Joseph originally wanted the RS to be selective, allowing only members of a certain worthiness to participate—sounds a lot like the priesthood doesn’t it? Now, let’s look a little closer at the brother-organization of the Priesthood—Aaronic and Melchezidek—the preparatory and the higher law. Isn’t it possible that Young Women’s and Relief Society can also be seen as sister organizations? The lower in preparation for the higher? Young Women’s as a tutorial for a lifetime of service as a woman in the Church?
Now, taking this further, just as my husband always holds the priesthood regardless of his other callings, I need to hold the spirit of Relief Society in my heart, regardless of my other callings. Plantboy's callings are often priesthood callings. Can’t I also view my YW calling as a RS calling? I may not be able to attend Relief Society meetings (Sunday or otherwise) very often, but it doesn’t meant that I’m not fulfilling the mission of Relief Society in every particular by magnifying my calling to serve their daughters—to train the next generation of sisters. What did Sister Thompson say? For all of her cherished goals that didn’t come true, the most important one did—to stay true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. THAT is the best gift we can give our young people. And valiant young people are the very best thing we can give to the Church.
This realization also helped me view my Young Women in a new light on Sunday. In just a few short years, these lovely “girls” will no longer be just the kids I teach. They will be my sisters in the Relief Society—they will be moms with young babies in need of connection to older generations, they will be young single adults navigating their place in the Church, they will be making decisions and having trials that will require a vast support-system of sister-love.
At the end of Elder Eyring’s excellent talk on the history of Relief Society, he explained that this legacy cannot just be told in words, but that it must be passed heart to heart. I have no daughters to give this gift too. So, for now, loving my Young Women wholeheartedly and committing my Church-time to them is the very best service I can give the Relief Society.