Author Archives: Jan Tolman

About Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.

Welfare: At The Bishop’s Door

This is a General Conference Odyssey post.


This week we read the Welfare session of October 1976. I’m not sure why they stopped having these sessions because it seems to me we need to discuss welfare issues more than ever, before they arrive at the bishop’s door.


When we lived in downtown SLC, we were surrounded by welfare problems. Right after Sacrament meeting, lot’s of people would rush to get in line at the bishop’s door. It was so overwhelming, other programs of the church kind of fell by the wayside because if you need help taking care of yourself, you certainly can’t be thinking about much else.


Bishop Victor L. Brown listed the six basic elements of personal and family preparedness in order of importance, in his talk:


  1. Literacy and education
  2. Career development
  3. Financial and resource management
  4. Home production and storage
  5. Physical health
  6. Social-emotional strength


I guess that old adage–If you teach a man to fish–really holds true. An educated person is more likely to find a job. And once income is coming in, anyone can learn how to take care of necessities and save for later needs. When all of that is in place, you simply feel better about yourself and life.


Sis. Smith’s talk touches on a subject that happens to be one of my pet peeves. She suggests topics for Relief Society homemaking mini-classes that would benefit families in their welfare needs. Back in the day, women got together and learned skills that could be used in the home to protect, bless, and secure the family. Now, it seems all we do is have parties and promote/sell the latest fads while our families are falling apart.


She also mentions the importance of Relief Society sisters working with the priesthood brethren as they seek to bless their ward members. Often, the bishop won’t have a specific goal he would like the ward to focus on, or offer any direction to the Relief Society president. And often, the Relief Society president doesn’t listen to him anyway, because she wants to do what the sisters all want. In either case, homes, marriages, and families are being neglected until a crisis happens–at the bishop’s door.


Pres. Marion G. Romney was as direct as I’ve ever heard him. He said,

“As our modern societies follow the course which led to the fall of Rome and other civilizations which succumbed to the deceptive lure of the welfare state and socialism, I think it not inappropriate for me to emphasize again the Lord’s plan for the temporal salvation of His mortal children.”

All the wars our country has fought was to gain and keep our freedoms and liberties. But sadly, all of that is being ignored as we sit back and allow “the welfare state and socialism” to encroach. The Lord’s plan can take care of us, but there is something expected of us first.


Pres. Spencer W. Kimball’s talk was entitled “Loving One Another,” but you know what that talk was really about? Teaching others how to work. This is the message I get from reading it:

Welfare Square
Salt Lake City

Teaching others how to work is how we love one another best. There is nothing wild or crazy about that statement. For me, it really is about love.


He started his talk with these words:

“I know that we did not come here to be entertained, we came here to be instructed.”

He shared how he grew up on a ten-acre farm. When they first moved there, the entire ward came to help them prepare it for cultivation. While his father was the stake president, it was known that the former stake president had an orchard he could no longer take care of. Pres. Kimball (the father) gathered his children up and took care of the harvest. Welfare service is just that, service to others.


Caring for elderly parents was mentioned next. Because the parents have spent years working and saving, they often have something left. A story was shared that the children of one family came along and took that money leaving their mother, destitute and on federal aid, in a rest home without a visit from any one of them.


Another story told was of a father complaining about all the work he had to do on the farm growing up. “Then he concluded with this statement: ‘My boys are never going to have to do that.’ And we saw his boys grow up and you couldn’t get them to do anything.”


The lesson:

“Idleness is of the devil, and we are not kind to our children when we become affluent and take from them their labors, their opportunities to serve and to be trained and to do things for themselves and for other.”

What would he think of our obsession with electronics today? Or our Relief Society meeting activities? Or not magnifying our callings? Or our debt? Or anything that takes us away from the work of the Lord and the building of His kingdom and His people?


I found this session to be extremely direct, yet loving (in spite of perhaps some guilty feelings), in its pure desire to help us fit our own desires with the Lord’s, which ultimately always comes back to blessing us ten-fold.


We Thank Thee, O God, For Good Teachers

General Conference Odyssey post for Oct. 1976, Sunday afternoon.


This session of conference has more than one talk on the role of teachers. We thank thee, O God, for good teachers who are willing to teach the true gospel of Jesus Christ by what they say, what they do, and what they themselves believe.


Elder Featherstone mentioned a talk given by Spencer W. Kimball, back in 1966. It was entitled “What I Hope You Will Teach My Grandchildren.” (CES Addresses to Religious Educators, July 11, 1966.) It is not available online.


In fact, I figured BYU must have it, so I journeyed innocently down to the library not realizing the many hurdles I would have to experience just to get what turned out to be a mere glimpse of the talk.


Going down there on a Saturday is not the best of ideas because there is no librarian available. The talk was in Special Collections and I needed a librarian’s signature to allow me to make a copy of the talk. Of course, by the time I got down there, it was ten minutes to 6:00 pm, which left me 10 minutes to glance at their copy. I quickly jotted down some notes. There was certainly no time to ponder and soak in his message.


There were other hurdles that seemed quite unnecessary. I had a passing thought that somehow Satan was barring my way. It was exasperating and frustrating and a complete waste of time and effort. Almost.


I persevered because I was determined to share the truth our prophet prophesied of so long ago. It made me wonder what other golden nugget speeches have been given by our leaders that are now buried and forgotten in some library.


Much of what I read in Pres. Kimball’s talk is not knew. We are well aware of our responsibilities to teach our children truth. Yet, it’s his eloquence and style of saying important things in a special way that comes across as strong, fearless, faithful and ever loving.


He mentioned preparing our missionaries well. In fact, he said if missionaries are well prepared for their missions–with strong testimonies of the gospel–any marriage problems they later encounter will “largely be solved.” That is an idea worth pondering more deeply.


He also said, “Teach them all the graces which will take them to Godhood.” Our world will snuff any advances toward Godhood in a heartbeat, yet this sentence urges me forward, changing my attitude enough to keep teaching.


Another quote I captured: “We may be bucking a strong tide, but we must teach our children that sin is sin.” This is the so-called dilemma of our day, but shouldn’t be.

Something happened this week that has made me very thoughtful on this topic of teaching. My mother has almost religiously read Time magazine week after week, year after year. For the past year or so, while settling into a care facility, she hasn’t kept up with her reading, so just the other day she showed me an issue where the cover story was about gender. The article explains how boys want to be girls and girls want to be boys. She was appalled and said I have to go home and teach my grandchildren, warning them of this danger. She thought this was a new thing we were dealing with.


It made me realize that in the space of 1-2 years our world has quickly kowtowed to this “new” phenomenon and acceptance. We, who understand God’s plan must fear Him more than the mockers, and teach our children that the traditional family unit is eternal in nature.

And this is the essence of what Pres. Kimball was talking about, as well as many of the speakers of this particular session. Absolute truth must speak louder than acceptance of sin.


Going back to Pres. Kimball’s talk, he spent some time with Paul’s words, in Ephesians. It may be worth your while to read Chapter 6 if you haven’t recently.


Many artists have depicted Lehi’s dream. Who knew that those walking toward The Tree were actually dressed in full armour, grasping the iron rod with both hands while walking against a hurricane blast of wind, uphill?


It is a good teacher who inspires our youth to put on each vital part of that armor. It is a teacher who ignites our testimonies. It is a teacher who induces us to begin–and continue–that arduous climb to The Tree.


Elder Featherstone quotes from Pres. Kimball’s talk with these words filled with this prophet’s special combination of love and warning:


“What do I wish you to teach my grandchildren and all others? Above all, I hope you will teach them faith in the living God and in his Only Begotten Son–not a superficial, intellectual kind of acceptance, but a deep spiritual inner feeling of dependence and closeness; … I hope that you will teach righteousness, pure and undefiled. I hope that if any of God’s children are out in spiritual darkness, you will come to them with a lamp and light their way; if they are out in the cold of spiritual bleakness with its frigidity penetrating their bones, you will come to them holding their hands a little way, you will walk miles and miles with them lifting them, strengthening them, encouraging them and inspiring them.”


While this world preaches loudly about love and tolerance, these are only half of the equation. Obedience and perseverance are the other half. A teacher teaches the law and lovingly encourages all to obey the law.


We thank Thee, O God, for a prophet who sees beyond this world. We thank Thee, O God, for wise parents and teachers who teach truth and testify with love. We thank Thee, O God, for Thy Son, who waits patiently, yet anxiously, for our arrival into eternal life.


Additional posts:

To be home again  Marilyn Nielson

Latter-Day Saints Pay Attention to General Conference Warnings

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday morning session of October 1976 conference.


I debated whether to put a colon after Latter-day Saints, or not. I opted for no colon.


Our family looks forward to General Conference twice a year. When the kids were small we played Bingo, prepared and delivered reports on General Authorities, and ate special meals that were reserved for General Conference weekend only.


With small children, it was hard to hear all of conference, but we made a point of reading them in the Ensign the following month. As the kids grew older, the following Monday we would talk about what was said and let our children lead the discussions (they were short).


Conference was exciting because we were going to hear from our favorite speakers. Everyone, including the very littlest, was taught to recognize the prophet. As the years go by, discussions focus more and more on what the prophet is telling us, because we know that what he says must be taken seriously. Not that his words have changed, but our hearts have.


As we all know, we have fifteen prophets. The senior member is our president and leader, and the one we revere as THE prophet, but his counselors and the twelve apostles speak with equal authority and our ears must be open to all they say.


Did our prophets know what we would face 40, 100, 170 years down the road? Yes, I believe they saw as Seers. And tried to warn us. But our listening skills have needed improvement.


Today, we understand that one of Satan’s greatest targets is getting us to break the law of chastity. He’s tried everything and succeeded in many different ways. I have read so many talks (so far while doing this General Conference Odyssey) warning us about morality. They knew! What we were in for! In the future of today!


President N. Eldon Tanner talked about the purpose of conference: that it is to give warning to the Saints. We all understand that committed Latter-day Saints pay attention to General Conference warnings.


I read a funny little post earlier this week that kind of made me laugh at its painful irony. It can be read here. The same idea was spoken forty-one years ago by our then prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, as quoted by Pres. Tanner.


“That the Church’s stand on morality may be understood, we declare firmly and unalterably it is not an outworn garment, faded, old-fashioned, and threadbare. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his covenants and doctrines are unchanging: Old values are upheld by the Church, not because they are old, but rather because through the ages they have proved right.”


Some people actually think the church will change their stance on LGBT rights. They don’t understand that the central doctrine of our church is birthing the children of God and teaching them eternal, unchanging principles of the gospel. It isn’t for God to conform, it is for us to give up our will to His perfect way.

As Latter-day Saints, we can listen to conference and follow through with these four guidelines Pres. Tanner quoted from a talk Thomas S. Monson had given before: Listen, Learn, Labor, and Love. The future prophet, Thomas S. Monson said,


“Soon this historic series of conference sessions will come to a close. The throngs will leave, the lights will dim, the strains from the organ will fade and disappear; but you and I, we will never again be the same. We have heard a prophet’s voice, even that of President Spencer W. Kimball. We have worshipped together in love. We have felt our Heavenly Father’s divine approval. Hopefully, each has decided: I will listen; I will learn; I will labor; I will love. To assist us in our determined course the ever-present help of the Lord is assured.”


Then, Pres. Tanner mentioned a talk Boyd K. Packer gave. The original talk isn’t found online, unfortunately. Elder Packer recalled the story of the Teton Dam (near Rexburg, Idaho) and its subsequent destruction. Where over 5000 lives were affected and could have been killed, instead, they had listened to the warnings given, helped their neighbors, and escaped with their lives. The meaning of his words was not lost. “There are chapter after chapter of miracles. The whole episode stands as a mighty miracle. And the whole disaster looms itself as a warning.”


Pres. Tanner’s conclusion is a warning to us:


“And so, my brothers and sisters and friends, the main purpose of … general conferences, the main purpose of this conference, is to sound the voice of warning. You who hear and are warned must warn your neighbors. If we fail to heed the warnings given, or fail to warn our neighbors, we all may be lost.”


I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the tone has changed in our General Conferences. Our leaders are speaking with more directness. We are seeing more tears over their concern for us. Their pleadings are no longer suggestions. Possibly, the clock now reads 11:59 and the hour is but a moment away for us to greet our Savior.


Will we be God’s miracles, having listened and acted upon all the General Conference warnings, and be left standing on that great day?

8 Gifts of Truth That Polarize Evil

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Priesthood session of October 1976.


President Marion G. Romney’s talk was titled: “Your Gift from God,” where he described to us what Peter taught in the New Testament. It inspired me to read 1-2 Peter for myself. Sure enough, I found eight gifts from God. These gifts of truth will polarize evil and shower blessings from heaven.

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Human Saviors

General Conference Odyssey post for the Saturday afternoon session of October 1976.


St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria

For the past three weeks, I have been in Europe where life is quite different from America. For starters, Europeans don’t understand why Americans like so much ice and air conditioning. Nevertheless, they politely accept our barbaric ways.


Europeans are either extremely religious (it varies between personal devotion and traditional behavior) or not religious at all. Either belief makes missionary work very difficult. But, Mormons have not come to play, they have come to save. The saints who are there are strong, the missionaries are fierce, and visitors come and go, shining their light at a steady flow. All are human saviors.


My thoughts have run deep as I ponder what it’s like to live my religion in a place so full of monuments, idols, gold, and ritual. As I read the talks in this session, my thoughts easily tied into the impressions I observed these past three weeks.

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What Is Self-Reliance, and How Do We Embrace It?

This is a General Conference Odyssey post.

(April 1976 Welfare Session.)


Back in the old days, they had a welfare session of conference where they taught principles of self-reliance. We no longer have a “ full session” like this, but we still talk A LOT about self-reliance. Instead of food storage, garden growing, and homemaking skills, today our leaders remind us to stay out of debt, get a good education, and upgrade computer and work skills.

We live in a different world, but it isn’t all that different.

The Church is coming out with an updated program on self-reliance. But reading Sis. Barbara B. Smith’s talk reminded me of the evolution of Relief Society meetings where self-reliance has always been the main focus.

First, they were called Work Days because the sisters would get together regularly to work toward a common goal. In the early days, in the Salt Lake Valley, the sisters literally worked together to make items to be sold in their consignment shops. They also learned how to buy, sell, and trade on the Stock Market (because of the wheat they were growing and managing).

Later, the name changed to Homemaking as mothers were looking at ways to make their homes better places. They canned food items together, rolled bandages to be sent off to war, and took classes on nursing, well-baby care, social services, and gospel study.

Later still, these meetings were called Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment meetings, shortened to Enrichment Night. As the world changed, it became more desirable to add intellectual enrichment to a woman’s life. Over the years, however, the objective was always to provide security to a woman for herself, her family, and her home.

All of these meetings had one purpose: to bless and strengthen families.

Sister Smith (former Relief Society General President) spoke at this Welfare meeting and listed these four considerations:

  1. Are we as Relief Society officers motivating and actually training the sisters in the necessary skills of family preparedness, and then helping them to put these into practice?
  2. Are we counseling among ourselves and with our priesthood leaders so that adequate and realistic plans for home storage and production are being developed and carried out?
  3. Do our homemaking mini class plans respond to the various needs of the women in our ward?
  4. Are we helping the sisters know how to estimate needs and replenish their home production and storage program?

This list can easily be applied to today. Listen to our most recent directive listed in Handbook 2:

“To supplement the instruction in Sunday meetings, Relief Society sisters may participate in additional meetings. These may include service, classes, projects, conferences, and workshops. In these meetings, sisters learn and accomplish the charitable and practical responsibilities of the Relief Society. They learn and practice skills that will help them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen their families and make their homes centers of spiritual strength, and help those in need. They learn and apply principles of provident living and spiritual and temporal self-reliance. They also increase in sisterhood and unity as they teach one another and serve together.”

The handbook even offers a list of the very most important things we should be focusing on in order to take care of our families.

Marriage and Family


Self-reliance and provident living

Compassionate service

Temple and family history

Sharing the gospel

All of these can be categorized as topics having to do with the welfare of the family. The handbook additionally invites Relief Society presidencies to decide how often to hold any or all of these activity meetings. In other words, meetings aren’t just monthly anymore. They can be weekly, bi-weekly, on-going, etc. And many different classes can be going on during any given week; all according to the needs and interests of the sisters in the ward.

Church programs come and go, but Relief Society has always been in the business of strengthening families and saving souls. I wonder how much stronger our families would be if we organized classes that got us talking more openly about our struggles with self-reliance. Really working to overcome the pressures of the world is what true self-reliance is. Sadly, the world is enslaved by monetary and other debt more than ever before.  Sis. Smith warned,

“We have been told that the gaining of this independence will come to Church members only in proportion to their obedience to the word of the Lord in this matter. Obedience brings security and self-sufficiency. It breeds confidence and a peaceful attitude.”

Spencer W. Kimball said in the same session:

“There are many people in the Church today who have failed to do, and continue to argue against doing, the things that are requested and suggested by this great organization [the Church].”

Nothing has changed between his day and ours. He continues:

“And so my feeling is today that we emphasize these two scriptures:“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” And the other: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? … We talk about it, we listen to it, but sometimes we do not do the things which the Lord says. So we would do well to listen to what we have been told and to follow it explicitly.”

What are we waiting for?

Additional General Conference Odyssey posts:

Zion, when we have built it  Marilyn Nielson

Family Preparedness G

Jesus Christ Is The Cure

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Tuesday afternoon session of April 1976 General Conference.

The battle rages on as we fight against worldly evil. Yes, the world fights dirty, and we must always be on our guard, but even more important than defending truth is knowing Jesus Christ, for He is the cure.

The Savior asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:13-16).

As we fight the adversary and the evil doings of this world, we cannot forget the reason why we fight. It is to proclaim the Son of God, even Jesus Christ.

Back in the 70’s, clearly our prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, knew what we would face forty years later. As I read these conference talks, I am amazed at how applicable they are for our day.  

Pres. Kimball’s concluding address in the spring of 1976 included these words:

“We, the members of the Church, proclaim our liberty and our renewal of our faith and our assurance that we do have control in our own families and can rear our children to love truth and to be happy in the deathless dignity of man, governed by the eternal and moral laws of God.”

What a rallying cry!

He goes on to warn us that “the enemies of faith know no God but force.” Indeed, at every turn, those who choose morality are bombarded with others who steal liberty, demand compromise and cry false judgment.

But don’t despair! Continue holding onto your families with your Family Home Evenings, scripture reading, and prayers. Teach the true doctrine our Heavenly Father has given us. And stay true to that truth.

In his talk, Pres. Kimball reminds us what the full cycle of human life is. The natural order is

“… childhood, adolescence, youth, parenthood, middle age and the age of grandchildren. … Only by birth can any of these come into being. Only by the natural cycle of life can the great progressive joys of mankind be reached. … Any social system which prevents the individual from pursuing the normal cycle of life … defeats the divine order of the universe and lays the basis of all sorts of social problems.”

It is my understanding that all of us chose to come down to earth to prove our worthiness and desire to Come Unto Jesus Christ. We must have known there would be some sacrifice involved because we knew we would be given weakness to overcome. “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble” (Ether 12:27).

Our weakness is a catalyst for humility and sacrifice. And these two qualities ironically are our greatest tools. This is how we call upon the Lord to fight our battles who will ultimately come off victor. And make no mistake, every one of us has been blessed with weakness so that we can use these tools.

Being humble and sacrificing our will to Jesus Christ are not only the antidote to every weakness we hold dear, they are also the antidote for wickedness. For those who stubbornly hold onto their weakness and wickedness, He waits lovingly and patiently. For those who struggle to let go of both, He lovingly encourages. All of us can be sensitive, loving, patient, and encouraging because we are all stubborn and we all struggle. But ultimately, through Jesus Christ, we can release our weakness and become free.

Unfortunately, humility and sacrifice are seen by the world as weakness. The world would tell you to hide your weakness or flaunt your weakness into acceptable behavior. It will never tell you to sacrifice your weakness to the Lord so He can make you a better person.

It is our weakness (or dependency) when given to the Lord that allows the Lord to win our battles for us. So we have no cause to fear when we give ourselves to Him in our weakness.

“…for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Pres. Kimball stood at the pulpit and declared:

“There are a half a hundred special witnesses in this room this day. There are tens of thousands of [men and women] under the sound of my voice, all of whom would, in one great chorus, answer that question–’Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”

I add my own voice to that chorus.

Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ is the cure for the ills of the world. And because of Him, I will be made whole.

Other General Conference Odyssey posts:

The key to a unified church is a unified soul Marilyn Nielson

Truth: Do We Shame, Squirm, or Stand?

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the April 1976 Tuesday morning session. (That’s right, Tuesday morning!)


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the true definition of truth. Is there only one truth or can anyone make up their own truth?


The definition we find in the scriptures is when the apostle John quotes Jesus, who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and later Jesus states, “The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me” (D&C 93:26). We also learn that “truth was not created or made” (D&C 93:29), which means it cannot be changed or modified; it is absolute.


The people of our day are doing their darndest to change truth, and I don’t believe it’s possible, yet this is the great dilemma of our day.


So, here’s my question: Do we shame, squirm, or stand for truth?

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Modesty: Our Decisions Determine Our Destiny

Will the controversy of modesty ever end? Not likely. However, those of us who have chosen wisely will simply continue holding up the torch beckoning others to join. We have come to know that “our decisions determine our destiny” (Thomas S. Monson, “Believe, Obey, and Endure,” May 2012). “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places.”

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Families: Relationships Beyond This World

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday afternoon session of April 1976 conference.

Families are the most important unit and they are under attack by the person who is the loneliest creature ever to be born. He hates the idea of families because he will never have one of his own. Having no family will be his hell without end.

Two of our great apostles have stated:

“The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matters–Everywhere In the World,” Apr. 2015).

“Families are not just meant to make things run more smoothly here on earth and to be cast off when we get to heaven. Rather, they are the order of heaven. They are an echo of a celestial pattern and an emulation of God’s eternal family” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “In Praise of Those Who Save,” Apr. 2016).

As much as all families have some kind of problem or another, because families are all far from perfect, deep down we still recognize the joy that comes from this celestially bound grouping of people who have learned to love one another. The good news is that not only do we live in variously shaped nuclei, every single one of us is actually strung together by related DNA from one end of the world to the other. The entire world is one big family and we are all a part of it.

Take, for example, William Grant Bangerter’s talk, “Relationships.” Speaking of relationships, first, he is the father of Julie B. Beck. Second, he introduces his talk with this laugh:

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