“Welcome to Relief Society,” Ensign, Aug. 2004, 15
Sister Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society general president, and Sister Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president, readily agree they are a team. “We have both worked in Relief Society and in Young Women,” says Sister Parkin. “We’re united because we’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. We love young women and Relief Society sisters.”
Sister Parkin and Sister Tanner know the importance of working together to help young women successfully make the transition from the Young Women program into Relief Society.
To young women, they say, Relief Society is going to be a safe place for you, a place where you can increase your testimony of the Savior and feel His love. Though you may be leaving some friends behind, you are coming into the arms of others who love you. Your circle of friends is simply growing larger.
To Relief Society sisters, they say, step out of your comfort zone and reach out to young women. Sit by them and learn their names. Share your stories with each other. The moment you begin to share, you begin to become sisters.
To leaders, they say, work together and make a plan for each young woman that will bless her life and help her realize her divine potential.
In the decade of decision and change that marks the transition from youth to adulthood, mothers and fathers, Church leaders, and friends all play a role in helping young women progress. But parents have the primary responsibility. The process of making a transition should begin well before a young woman turns 18 and continue after she enters Relief Society.
“My mother loved the women in Relief Society as her sisters,” says Sister Parkin. “She did what was required of her with a happy heart. Her example was a blessing in my life. If every mother would bear her testimony of Relief Society to her daughter, it would change what happens to young women. A grandmother, friend, or sister who helps the young woman grow in the gospel changes that young woman and her future.
“A father also has a responsibility to encourage a daughter to bring the goodness of Relief Society into her life,” continues Sister Parkin. “One father said to his daughter, ‘I hope you make Relief Society a part of your life because it has blessed our home and helped make you the young woman you are.’”
The bishop or branch president, Relief Society leaders, and Young Women leaders have special roles to fill. A bishop’s interview is one of the most powerful tools available to help youth through this stage of life. Young Women leaders especially can help facilitate this interaction by visiting with the bishop, helping him to be aware of the young women who will be leaving their organization.
Sister Tanner encourages Young Women leaders to “chat with the parents and ask how you can help. Seek out the Relief Society leaders assigned to mentor the young women, and let them know of each young woman’s talents. Be positive in all you do.”
Leaders in both organizations can work together to plan activities that will build friendships. In one ward, the young women wanted to learn to sew, so they asked the sisters in Relief Society to help. At a Mutual activity night, each young woman was paired up with a Relief Society sister who helped her make a skirt. Later the pairs finished the skirts at home. Then the young women invited the Relief Society sisters to a fashion show where the girls modeled their colorful new skirts.
In another ward, Relief Society sisters sought out the young women as partners in scripture study. They read together and checked up on each other.
In the first instance, the young women reached out to the Relief Society sisters, and in the second, the Relief Society sisters reached out to the young women. In both instances, the friendships continued and blessed the lives of all.
“It’s ‘hearts knit together in unity and in love’ (Mosiah 18:21),” says Sister Parkin. “You’re never the same when you know someone’s heart. You no longer judge others, because you understand their motives and goodness.”
When asked to define sisterhood, Sister Parkin and Sister Tanner agree, “It’s covenant keeping.”
From baptism to temple sealing, we “make and keep sacred covenants,”1 says Sister Tanner. “Through covenants we are bound to our Father in Heaven. When we keep those covenants we treat others with love. That’s sisterhood.”
It’s this covenant keeping that makes Relief Society different from other women’s organizations. “I believe that womanhood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means active participation in Relief Society,” says Sister Parkin. Relief Society should be a place where women come together in an environment that nurtures faith.
Together young women and Relief Society sisters expand their circle of sisterhood as they reach out to each other and come unto Christ through covenant keeping. “During this defining time in a young woman’s life,” says Sister Parkin, “we as parents, leaders, bishops, and friends can be a powerful influence for good. Young women, in turn, can be positive examples in our lives. We become a team; we become one.”
Here are a few suggestions of what leaders can do:
Encourage mothers to help their daughters gain an understanding of the value of Relief Society.
Assign a Relief Society counselor the specific responsibility of working with young adult women until they successfully make the transition into Relief Society.
Provide new members of the Relief Society with meaningful callings, visiting teaching, and compassionate service assignments.
Have the young women and Relief Society sisters meet together occasionally in home, family, and personal enrichment meetings, with planning under the direction of both auxiliaries.
Emphasize provident living, homemaking, and personal application of gospel principles in Mutual activities. (See suggestions included with First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 2003.)
“We all need to know our beginnings,” says Sister Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society general president. “Relief Society was founded through a prophet and organized under the hand of God.”
Of Relief Society’s beginnings, Sister Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president, says, “Young women need role models. Noble Latter-day Saint women of the past provide that. It’s one of the reasons we talk about history.”
The first Relief Society meeting also serves as a role model for all of us. “When we look at who was there, we can see that there were no age barriers,” says Sister Parkin. “They were all sisters. Three of them were teenagers. The oldest was in her 50s. Eleven of them were married, two were widows, and six were unmarried. That is our beginning and our foundation.”
When we stop to think about it, we can see that ours is a powerful heritage. One young sister wrote of this realization in a letter to Sister Parkin and said that over the last few years she has learned why women talk about the history of Relief Society: “It’s because we’re a part of something great! Those early Latter-day Saint women took something and made it great. And I’m a part of all that. It’s in my blood.”