Changes to the Relief Society?

This morning I woke up thinking about the changes being made in Sunday School, and how because of the “themed” approach for both YW/YM and youth Sunday school, there is no longer a time dedicated to working book-by-book through the scriptures. If the adults follow that pattern, then they will lose that time too. Then both the second and third hours become conversation about themes, usually taken from recent conference talks. That’s been a great – fantastic – move for the YW lessons in the wards I’ve seen or heard about, but I’m still weary of the change for youth Sunday School. Having one hour primarily focused on scripture, and one hour primarily focused on topics/conference talks, seems like it was/would have been a great balance. And it would have communicated a lot of good to our youth, I think, to see how both the old and the new are important to their understanding of the gospel.

So if the adults follow suit and no longer have an hour focused primarily on the standard works, then what becomes of our three hour block? Sacrament Meeting, then two hours of themed conference talk discussion? That isn’t bad, of course, but it will probably come to feel redundant. Are we, or could we, be moving towards a 2-hour block?

In some ways that would be sad, but in other ways, quite productive and helpful. It would of course be helpful to moms and dads with little kids, who have a hard time making it through three hours of Church. 🙂 Nursing a newborn sometimes means having to leave classes twice during those three hours. So, a two hour block would be helpful for some families.

But, beyond that, I wonder if we might take advantage of a two hour block to accomplish or initiate some grand and good things.

For example, right now, the RS and Priesthood meetings aren’t really meetings of organizations, but a class that that particular age/gender attends. There is great good in being in groups like that and the sort of discussion that comes out of being together. But, there are a great many sisters and brothers who can’t attend those classes because of other callings. I haven’t been able to attend Relief Society regularly for years, and yet I love that organization and I miss the fellowship with women of all ages and experience and I miss feeling a part of an organization that was set up by Joseph Smith as a fundamental part of the Restoration. I am missing that. And I am missing it at the very times in my life when I would be blessed by older women with more experience being mothers, when I could use help with newborns, when I need something besides my everyday service in the home — which can make me focus on my own needs way too much — to give me perspective of the great work we are doing as women of Zion. I need and want to be a part of Relief Society, but I feel the great opportunity of being with the YW and I don’t want to lose that either.

There are RS activities, sure, but they also don’t have the feel of being a part of something fundamental. They are times to sit by a friend and eat, or get to know a new friend, and those are very good social opportunities. Sometimes that is mixed with messages about the great things we can do, but I don’t come away feeling like we have or will be doing anything great and important. So it is uplifting, but not really empowering in the way I think Relief Society could or should be.

So, here is my wild idea I am playing with.

What if we switch to a 2 hour block, and Relief Society meetings were held once a month on a Sunday evening. They were actually more like a meeting, with reporting in, counseling, planning, etc. They were an hour and a half long – 6:30 to 8:00, or 6:00 to 7:30. YW can babysit if needed. The meeting would be a place where we could report about the many acts of “relief” that are going on in the ward and in the community. Various women could be called to head up these acts of relief. A group dedicated to such-and-such need would have a leader, and they would report both on things accomplished, but on current needs within that area. For example, if the ward RS felt that there was a need in the community for volunteering at the local library, so that more children could come and feel welcome there (by lifting the burden of the paid staff, or by having more smiling faces, or by making it safer, or whatever), then that group could report on how their efforts are or are not helping their library. They could invite other sisters with the time and interest to join them at certain times. For another example, the ward RS might feel that there is a need to lift the burdens of mothers with very young children. The RS sisters counsel together as to what could be done. A decision is made that some of the women without children will visit their homes, but not on a regular schedule. It will be an act of service and surprise, usually contacting a mother on a Sunday to ask which day would be most helpful. One or more women could come together to supervise the children while the mother gets work done or rests. The lack of routine would keep the young mothers or the older women from the feelings of dependency, and allow the feelings of kindness and relief to be enjoyed more. For another example, the ward RS might feel that there needs to be a place to talk and get to know each other better. A sister is chosen to create a craft night once a month or more frequently that will provide a place for conversation. It is discussed whether or not this is a service craft or one they can take home. It is discussed whether the ward budget will pay or individuals pay. The matter is counseled on, then left to the RS presidency to further discuss and pray about at a later time that week. All of these groups report during each of the RS meetings.

The goal would be to focus on this: “Relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance—relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.” A focus ought to be made on “joy,” and many discussions should be had on what “joy” really is. What hinders joy? Not just lack of material things or lack of time. What usually hinders joy is lack of spiritual understanding. That, I know, ought to be what we Visiting Teachers bring into the homes of each sister, and perhaps that could be emphasized there. But look at his list: Poverty. Illness. Doubt. Ignorance. Those are important categories and each ought to be considered, along with whatever other categories are in the “all” that hinders the joy and the progress of woman. Let’s get going! 🙂

I like the idea of an actual meeting, where we coordinate our efforts of a ward RS group. I really, really do. I like thinking of a place separate from the Church meetings, which is where we want to and ought to be involved in callings with the youth or children, or even with the men in joint Sunday School meetings. We want to and ought to be involved with those. We ought to be teaching the other gender, and they us. We ought to be working with youth and children, and learning from those experiences. It’s also a time where we learn of needs and we can take that information back to our Relief Society meetings. In short, I think Relief Society ought to be a society where we work on relief! 🙂

Would there be lessons taught at these RS meetings? Yes, I would hope so. With a once-a-month set up, I would assume that through prayer the Spirit would be sought to determine what would best provide relief that month. Would understanding this principle bring comfort? Would teaching humility and relying on God turn hearts so that God can provide relief? A lesson chosen carefully from the past manuals, scripture, and so on would be I think an important part of that meeting. And a lesson done this way, after considerable discussion about the work we are and can be doing, would I hope empower us to go forward and do more great things.

This vision of an RS meeting sounds like it would have the sort of feel that the early meetings did, or at least how they sound to me. And that’s really, really exciting. I think we have lost the power of those early meetings by turning RS into primarily a class for women.

I think both the RS and the Priesthood have lost much power, or at least the power that could come from meeting together as those groups. That particular power has diminished, I think. I feel it, anyway. I also think they lose power when so many of their strong members are called to work in other organizations. That leaves the elders quorum quite small and without many of its stronger members there to uplift the others. It also leaves the RS with few younger moms, so that when new YW come in there are fewer women close to their age. It also leaves the young moms called to YW without the examples and support they need from experienced moms (I am speaking from personal experience here).

So, it’s all just an idea, but if we lose Sunday School scripture time to themed lesson time, why not change a little more and make this an opportunity for RS to really come out of obscurity a bit and get to work? A monthly time when we organize all the work that goes on throughout the month. If women want more time to study together, then let that be organized accordingly. Let’s set up groups to study conference talks, or the Daughters in my Kingdom history, or the scriptures. That provides relief in many ways — studying is not a separate work from the Relief Society. All that goes on now could go on then, but with even more frequency and availability. Potentially, at least, or less perhaps, depending on how that RS counsels together. Or so it seems. Elder Oaks reaffirmed what Joseph Smith said from the beginning – those with Priesthood keys have turned a key to the RS which unlocks to door to revelation for their own organization. Let’s take that seriously! I think gathering with as many people as possible — not just with those not called to other organizations — would allow RS to be a place of revelation as a group, which it isn’t currently. The RS Presidency could come with questions they want the group counsel about. They can finish some decisions later. They oversee a grand and great work among many sisters of the ward! In a meeting setting, I think they could more fully oversee what Sis Beck called “the organizer of the combined gifts of women.”

I really like it. And if we’re going to lose Sunday School as it is, why not get something amazing going as a result!

And I think this should apply to the Priesthood as well. Aren’t they supposed to counsel together too, to see what needs to be done within their sphere of influence? What about so many men who can’t attend Sunday classes, but should be attending quorum meetings according to the D&C? Haven’t we also stripped away some of the power of the priesthood by making our Sunday meetings primarily a class for a specific age/gender? What more could be done with the Priesthood by having a monthly meeting? Does the D&C call for more frequent meetings? I should check. If once a month was quorum meetings and once a month was RS meetings, couldn’t that work? That’s not too much time away from families, right? And families need to realize they are a part of this work — if one is really impinging on the other, I think we’ve lost sight of what we’re all doing … right?

The only downside could be that YM are in quorums, so they would be a part of the quorum meetings, but YW are not, and so wouldn’t have Sunday evening monthly meeting. What do we think about that? Should they also have meetings? A women’s night and a men’s night? Do we have a youth night? I don’t think so. I don’t think we would want to stagger things so that there were meetings every Sunday night. I think twice is plenty.  Hmmm, but what about mutual nights? Or Sunday classes, since on my “wild idea” the youth and primary still meet while the rest of the adults have Sunday School? There you go — right there, that’s when the youth should be having time to counsel, plan, and teach. And they already have mutual nights to do counseling, planning, teaching, and fellowshipping too. Bingo. It’s already there!

Monthly Sunday meetings for adult Priesthood. For Melchizedek priesthood, that would be a more proper way to say it. And monthly meetings for the Relief Society, the organizer of women working under the authorization of Priesthood keys. I love it.



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