Strengthening the home and family is the main purpose of Relief Society, the organization for women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of the largest and oldest women’s service organizations in the world. This great organization celebrated its 173d birthday this week.
Since strengthening the home and family is a sacred responsibility of every man, woman, and child in the home, the entire family is responsible to help the mother and all daughters eighteen years and older to be active in Relief Society. Mothers are often referred to as the “heart of the home” because the mother’s words and behaviors are reflected back to her by the other family members; her words and actions will continue to improve through attendance at Relief Society meetings. Fathers are often referred to as the “head of the family” because he is in the unique position of being the God-directed leader of his family; he should exercise his leadership in supporting his wife in Relief Society duties, responsibilities, and activities because he knows Relief Society will help her to become an even better wife and mother.
This week I join women all around the world in celebrating the birthday of the Relief Society. This wonderful organization was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842. The purpose of the organization is the same today as it was in 1842: to provide “relief from poverty, from selfishness, sorrow, apathy, ignorance, immorality, worldliness, mediocrity, fear, personal limitation, and loneliness” as well as to save souls.
Sister Linda K. Burton, ReliefSociety general president, reminded women that we celebrate more than just a birthday of our organization. “We are celebrating who we are and what our work is. We are celebrating those who have gone before. And we are celebrating our purpose.” Sister Burton explained that when we think about the history of Relief Society, “we appropriately celebrate being taught by Joseph Smith in our early meetings. But I wonder how often we stop and celebrate the blessing of having the teachings of modern-day prophets in our day. We have the opportunity to learn together their words in our meetings, just as our sisters in Nauvoo were taught by the Prophet Joseph, the living prophet in their day.”
Today there are 5.5 million women in 170 countries who are members of the Relief Society. We are individual women with our own duties and challenges as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, but we are united in our desire to give service where it is needed.
“As disciples [of Jesus Christ], Latter-day Saint women are encouraged to cultivate a personal faith in and relationship with God, to study scriptures and doctrine, to teach the gospel in their homes and congregations and to participate faithfully in all the saving ordinances of the gospel. All Church members have long been encouraged to seek education in all its forms; it is a divine commandment as well as a path to service and a more meaningful life.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley issued the following challenge about strengthening families to the women of the Church: “It is in the home that we learn the values by which we guide our lives. That home may be ever so simple. It may be in a poor neighborhood, but with a good father and a good mother, it can become a place of wondrous upbringing…. If anyone can change the dismal situation into which we are sliding, it is you. Rise up, O women of Zion, rise to the great challenge which faces you” (“Walking in the Light of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 99).
As sisters of Relief Society we seek to follow the prophet’s counsel to learn more about the gospel of Jesus Christ, to apply the principles of it in our own lives and homes, and to teach it to others. The Relief Society programs give sisters many opportunities to learn and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sisters meet together nearly every Sunday of the year. The first Sunday lesson of each month includes gospel instruction, usually from a member of the ward Relief Society presidency. The second and third Sunday lessons come from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, which give us a “framework for family instruction and unity.” The fourth Sunday lesson is entitled “Teachings for Our Time” and usually come from the most recent General Conference addresses.
Relief Society sisters meet together each month on an evening other than Sunday to learn homemaking skills, to share talents and family traditions, and to strengthen each other. Every Relief Society activity is designed to strengthen the sisters who in turn can strengthen their homes and families. We know that strong women can strengthen their entire families who will in turn strengthen their communities and nations.