“A Conversation about Relief Society Curriculum Adjustments,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 75–76
The Relief Society recently announced many adjustments to their curriculum, beginning in January 1987. (See adjacent story.) The Ensign spoke with Barbara Winder, Relief Society general president, about the changes. Part of that conversation follows.
Q: How did the curriculum changes come about?
A: It has been gradual. In meeting the needs of a worldwide Church, we have felt the need for greater simplicity, flexibility, and adaptability in the Relief Society curriculum. We have also felt, as we have observed and read studies of Relief Societies around the world, that women have a great need and desire for spiritual instruction. That has been the impetus behind doubling the number of Spiritual Living lessons in the new manual.
Q: So the changes represent not only a simplification, but a greater spiritual emphasis than before?
A: Definitely. We are living in a time of great temptation and moral laxity. We are hoping that the increased spirituality in the new curriculum will provide an anchor for women against the evil current in the world today.
When we give up something, we need something better to replace it. That’s how we feel about the changes; we are giving up some things, but they have been replaced by something better and stronger—increased emphasis on gospel study and its implementation in our lives. We are excited about the changes and see them as a positive step in helping women to strengthen and perfect themselves and their families.
Q: Has the focus on Mother Education been softened?
A: No. In fact, changing that category to Home and Family Education has broadened and strengthened it. We feel the lessons will now apply to more sisters in varying circumstances. However, we are encouraging those who are interested in a more specific focus on parenting and child development to meet together in midweek meetings. These optional interest groups may meet, with the approval of the priesthood leaders, one or more times monthly. (See Relief Society Handbook, p. 4.) They should look to Church resources for their enrichment—such as previous Relief Society manuals, the newly printed Parent’s Guide (PBIC0507), and Church magazines. Other parenting resources are now being prepared for future publication.
The midweek meetings have also been used in some areas as a way for sisters who are working in the Primary or Young Women to study the lessons they have missed and also enjoy the sisterhood of meeting together. These optional groups can meet as often as desired to study any area of common interest.
Q: Why were Cultural Refinement lessons eliminated from the curriculum?
A: The Cultural Refinement category did not adequately meet the needs of sisters worldwide. The lessons were difficult to translate, and many aspects, such as the literature and poetry, weren’t applicable to other cultures. Also, with the consolidated meeting schedule, we felt a more spiritual emphasis was needed for Sunday meetings.
But midweek meetings can give groups of sisters the opportunity to adapt the subjects of past Cultural Refinement lessons to local heritage and culture. This is one area where we feel the new curriculum gives greater flexibility to local programs.
Q: We notice that several lessons are talks given by General Authorities. Is there a particular reason for that shift in format?
A: Yes. We have used addresses before and feel they are a wonderful way of emphasizing the words of the prophets and encouraging sisters to study this modern scripture in depth.
Q: Why are the visiting teaching messages no longer included in the Relief Society manual?
A: Beginning next January, these messages will be printed in the Ensign and sixteen of the Church’s international magazines. This will allow us to more easily get timely messages from Church leaders to the sisters. It will also make the messages more accessible to visiting teachers worldwide. Relief Society leaders should make sure all visiting teachers have access to the messages, which may be copied from the magazines if necessary.
Q: How much leeway does the new program give local leaders?
A: Local leaders have always had some leeway, but they now can more easily adapt the program to their specific needs. A calendar is printed in the manual with a suggested lesson, but conference schedules may necessitate adjustments. Also, the number of teachers called can be between one and five, depending on the size of the ward or branch and the number of sisters available to serve. A branch with only a handful of sisters should not feel that they have to have five teachers to have a fully staffed Relief Society, when in fact they may only need one teacher.
Q: What place does compassionate service have in the new program?
A: Combining the Social Relations and Compassionate Service categories has given greater emphasis to compassionate service. Compassionate service is the heart of Relief Society. We can’t stress enough its importance in the gospel or in our lives.
Q: How will the new curriculum affect sisters in various parts of the world?
A: The Church is growing so fast that we have branches and wards in all stages of development and members in very different circumstances, cultures, and age and education levels. Although we have many different challenges, we have many more that are similar. A strong Relief Society curriculum can help strengthen sisters in each of the four areas of the mission of Relief Society: to build individual faith, to strengthen families, to give compassionate service, and to sustain the priesthood. The 1987 Home Management lessons also focus on personal and family preparedness, which is important for all Church members.
We are also hoping that the new manual, with its smaller size, will be more convenient for the sisters to use with their scriptures as a personal study guide. An index in the back of the manual, which will be cumulative in future manuals, will help sisters find items for study, family home evenings, lessons, and talks.
Q: So the curriculum adjustments are in response to the changing roles and needs of women?
A: Yes. The times in which we live are changing so rapidly, with the pressures and expectations on women increasing, that we feel Relief Society must help women meet these challenges. The 1987 manual, Learn of Me, is beckoning sisters to find the Savior, through whom they can find this inner strength and increased spirituality.