My first day as a Relief Society sister was my first Sunday after moving away to college. Where earlier that week I had been excited and hopeful, after five days away, I was now lonely and sad. The opening hymn of Relief Society was one I’d never heard before (and have since heard oh so many times!)—“As Sisters in Zion.” At the time, the sweetness and simplicity of the melody and the words answered the fervent prayers I’d offered up during the previous few days.
Since then, Relief Society for me has been mainly about the Sunday meetings, rather than the weekly meetings. But after studying the history of the Relief Society, I wish that weren’t the case in my life. The early Relief Society offered its participants unique chances to feel the Spirit, yes, but also to serve others, to speak publicly, to write and publish, to fundraise and lead their own organization, and to learn and share practical and secular knowledge.
Next Tuesday morning I am meeting with the coordinator in our Relief Society to plan weekday Relief Society meetings. As the second counselor in the presidency, I am supposed to bring to the meeting an understanding of the specific needs of the women in my ward. This task has been weighing on me. Understanding the needs of 100+ women? It’s a good thing I believe in personal revelation.
My approach to this task is also complicated by my dissertation research, in which I conducted a two year ethnographic study of a group of 120-150 LDS women who write on a private discussion board. In some respects, these women’s discussion board met needs for them that Relief Society couldn’t, just because of the different nature of the two organizations. But in other respects, their discussion board met needs for them that their Relief Societies should have done better at meeting, in my opinion.
The women in my dissertation needed the informal, daily social outlet of their board. They needed the advice and knowledge they gained from other women. And they needed to contribute their own knowledge to others. Yes, they needed to learn from others, but they also needed to know that their experiences, most abundantly gained through stay-at-home-mothering, had given them valuable knowledge of their own. As the authors of Women’s Ways of Knowing write about the women in their research, “Our interviews have convinced us that every woman, regardless of age, social class, ethnicity, and academic achievement, needs to know that she is capable of intelligent thought, and she needs to know it right away. . . . [The women we interviewed] needed to know that they already knew something (although by no means everything), that there was something good inside them” (193, 195).
I want to steer clear of generalizing about the needs of all women. I feel like we tend to do that a little too much in the church and harm can come of it. But I do want to hear about your individual experiences and individual needs met or not met by Relief Society.
In particular, tell me about your experiences with non-Sunday Relief Society. What needs do you have as an individual that weekday Relief Society meetings can meet?
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