Many don’t understand the majesty of which the Relief Society organization was founded. Over the years, we have lost the significance of the Relief Society. We have forgotten that we were organized “under the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood.” That gives us a power unlike any other women’s organization in the world. What exactly does under the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood mean?
Under the Priesthood
When we were baptized, we each made a covenant with God to act in His name and gather His people. This, the first of our covenants, makes our lives holy. It makes each of us covenant keepers and participants in the priesthood of God. Yes, that’s right. We participate in the priesthood alongside the men in all subsequent covenants we make, which means the same blessings apply to both a man and a woman.
How does this tie into Relief Society? It is the responsibility of the Relief Society to teach the role of a woman as she uses the priesthood to bless her own life, her children’s lives (as a guide and teacher with her husband), and the lives she touches throughout her holy mortal life, to reach eternal life. Our sacred calling is to carry the Holy Ghost around with us as we serve in the kingdom of God. We have the Spirit with us because of the priesthood. This is real power that we are expected to use to gain our personal testimony, teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, represent Him as His handmaidens, and do His work here upon the earth.
After the Pattern of the Priesthood
Relief Society follows the same pattern as the priesthood with a presidency that presides over us. These presidencies have power and authority to organize, establish, receive inspiration, and govern within their sphere. We all benefit from this power to preside as we continue to work under the guidance, protection, and inspiration of our priesthood leaders. Because of our membership in this holy women’s organization, we can learn and practice what true womanhood is, according to the Lord’s intended purposes. President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
I am convinced there is no other organization anywhere to match the Relief Society of this Church. It has a membership of more than five million women across the earth. If they will be united and speak with one voice, their strength will be incalculable…It is so tremendously important that the women of the Church stand strong and immovable for that which is correct and proper under the plan of the Lord (Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing Strong and Immovable, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2004).
Women don’t like to be alone. We like to be part of a team. We have family teams that provide us with an arena to teach and bless. We also are part of a unified team of sisters. Mary Ellen Smoot, 13th General President of Relief Society, exclaimed:
One person can make a difference. Each one of you has unique gifts. Use your gifts to serve others. As we walk in His light, we become women of courage and conviction. We become women of vision, women of destiny, and women of eternal value. Join with us to build spiritual strength, to radiate truth to the world and to celebrate the family. We are a worldwide circle of sisters (Mary Ellen Smoot, Come, Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord, Oct. 1998 General Conference).
President Boyd K. Packer taught:
The Relief Society has very broad responsibilities. Attendance at the Sunday meeting is but a small part of your duty. Some of you have not understood this and have set aside much of what Relief Society has meant over the years—the sisterhood, the charitable and practical parts of it (Boyd K. Packer, The Circle of Sisters, Oct. 1980 General Conference).
Our Relief Society has already exhibited incredible power of organization and spirit as these women set out to organize the Salt Lake Valley. They taught cleanliness, so disease and death diminished in each household. They supplied medical training and opened up hospitals. During each World War, the sisters combined their efforts with the Red Cross, sending supplies overseas, as well as caring for the disabled when they returned home.
Early on, Brigham Young called the women to store wheat, knowing that one day people would come knocking at the door to ask for help in providing for the poor and suffering. The Relief Society performed their job well, and when the government came calling, the women were ready to sell their storage supply. That money paid for training and social welfare needs for hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention to kick-start the Church’s welfare program, which every country in the world has come to visit and apply for aid for their own people.
During the war years, President Louise Robison asked that every ward form their own singing mothers group, wearing the simple uniform of a dark skirt and white shirt. This uniform allowed sisters to mingle their small groups into larger groups unifying sisters to sing the songs of Zion over the airwaves to bolster the spirits of suffering souls. Sisters in Europe expressed how singing for others helped them personally get through the war, knowing they were not alone, but had the strength of their sisterhood.
If you haven’t done so recently, read through Daughters in My Kingdom. Teach our Young Women what Relief Society is really about. We are the handmaids of the Lord. He has called upon us time and time again, and He continues to call upon us today.