Two years ago I was serving on my ward’s committee for Relief Society activities. March was fast approaching and we wanted a way to commemorate the Relief Society’s birthday. The usual ideas came to mind: a birthday party with games and cake, an ‘around the world’ theme with presentations about different nations, an old Nauvoo theme with a readers’ theater about the first Relief Society, and so on. Then someone had a great idea: instead of focusing on Relief Society’s beginnings, we would just turn back the clock 50 years. We planned a “Retro Relief Society” night that was fun and educational for everyone involved. We served a dinner of chicken casserole, molded jello salads, relish trays complete with radish rosettes and pimento cheese-stuffed celery logs, and a dessert made from graham crackers and Dream Whip. Sisters in the ward scoured their attics and basements for treasures like hand-embroidered aprons, blown glass grapes, and copies of the old Relief Society Magazine. We played a bingo game while learning about key words such as “bazaar”, “Relief Society dues”, “work meeting”, and “Mother Education”. Although some of our activities seem kind of tongue-in-cheek and as a way to poke a bit of fun at the way things used to be (like the recipes in the old magazines for things like tomato soup gelatin salad), the activity was actually one of the most unifying we have had in a long time. Our ward demographic is somewhat older and most of our sisters are life-long members; many sisters shared memories of their experiences with Relief Society as young mothers or of their memories from their childhood of their mothers’ involvement in activities such as day-long quilting bees and annual bazaars that were used to raise the funds to pay their Relief Society dues. We had a discussion about what things were beneficial and missed from the old way of doing things, and what aspects of Relief Society as we live it today are more fit for the times we live in.
This activity made me realize how much the world can change in just 50 years and how much the Church can change with it. I think while we are living within the sphere of our own lives it can be easy to miss the currents of history swirling around us. I’m not very old yet, but already Relief Society has changed during my lifetime and it will change again. As I realized with this activity, discussing our history and understanding how we got to where we are today is a valuable tool in gospel learning. Spunky, a blogger at The Exponent, recently shared her idea for celebrating the Relief Society on a ward level. In a post last month, she points out that we have an excellent opportunity this year because the anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society falls on a Sunday. Why not make that Sunday a special day to discuss the general history of Relief Society and the more personal history of it in your region, ward, or your own individual life? I have been trying to remember a particular sacrament meeting focused on Relief Society in my past and I think there has been one, but I’m not sure. It does remind me of a time when I was in Young Women and we decided to have our own sacrament meeting program, just like the Primary did. We practiced a song for each of the values and chose different young women to present short talks on each value in between the songs. As young women we loved sharing what we had been learning on Sundays with the rest of the ward and it was a unifying experience for everyone involved. So, go read Spunky’s post and think about what you would like to see your ward do to celebrate the Relief Society’s birthday this year. Just keep in mind that you can’t serve cheese-stuffed celery in sacrament meeting.
PS–For the month of March we are soliciting guest posts about Relief Society. Have you attended a meeting or activity that changed what you thought about Relief Society? Had an enlightening experience serving in a Relief Society calling or as a visiting teacher? Been a part of an activity or group that was different from what most in the Church might experience, or even from you had experienced in the past? Please read through our expectations and guidelines for guest posts and find out how to submit on the submissions page.