This is truly a remarkable gathering of sisters. Never before have so many women in the world sat down together to pray, sing, and speak to each other the feelings of our hearts—to share in the ways the Lord has blessed us as women and as members of His Church.
“Lift up your hearts and rejoice” (see D&C 25:13), the Lord tells us, and we do rejoice. Relief Society is 150 years old. But today, we feel new and vibrant. We are full of expectations for our sisters everywhere, from the Philippines to Japan, England to New Zealand, and Paris to St. Petersburg. Our individual lives, our circumstances, and our challenges are as diverse as the countries and cultures we come from. Yet our commitment is the same. Today, we can all rejoice in being women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are united in devotion to our Father in Heaven and in our desire to touch the lives of others. We serve as partners with our brethren in building the kingdom of God. We are women who have become a mighty force for good in a world that needs our understanding and our spirituality.
One hundred and fifty years ago, sisters in Nauvoo, Illinois, the city called Beautiful, felt a need to be organized. They desired, as we do now, to be a force for good. For them, it was to help build the Nauvoo Temple and to extend a hand filled with help—needles to make shirts, spoons to stir food, pens to write poetry, cloths to soothe a feverish child. Our roots are in that small community that thrives even today as a historic restoration. And there is much we share with our sisters of early Nauvoo.
On the banks of the Mississippi River was a place where the Saints drained the swamp land, built a substantial city, and wanted to stay. Here, amid well-tended homes and fertile acres, was a pattern for Zion, a place where the people could be of one heart. Like the Nephite people so many years earlier, they wanted to “come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, … willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” (Mosiah 18:8.)
It was in this spirit that Relief Society was born when a handful of women gathered in Joseph Smith’s red brick store to unite their strength. First president, Emma Smith, told the women, “We are going to do something extraordinary—when a boat is struck on the rapids, with a multitude … on board, we shall consider that a loud call for relief—we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.” (Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 Mar. 1842; italics added.)
They got them—involving themselves in everything from delivering breech babies to helping the destitute converts who steamed into Nauvoo. They were resolute, often sharing their hearts and hands in lonely moments when nothing else would lift the pain. They gathered goods and funds and distributed to those in need. Many worked in the fields and built their own homes. They cared for the sick, prayed for divine inspiration, and received and exercised power from on high.
Those Saints responded to the needs of their day. I am certain that their strength came from their ability to step forward with a resounding “Here am I, send me.” (Abr. 3:27.) Then they were off on the Lord’s errand.
One of the youngest women in attendance at the first meeting of sisters was Bathsheba Smith, who served many years later as the fourth general president of the Relief Society. She had been well trained in those Nauvoo years and was known later for concluding her home visits—both social and compassionate—with the words, “Peace be unto thee, peace to this house.” (Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1910, p. 18.)
There are many Bathsheba Smiths in this world, many pioneering women who speak peace and give life to the Relief Society motto, “Charity Never Faileth.” In times past, more than one generation gleaned wheat in aprons and stored it in their own granaries, putting it to good use when the need came.
And it did. Other sisters promoted health and nursing, establishing a hospital. Today, old and new blend as dedicated women bring sisterly support and love, keeping their appointed visits on horseback and on foot, by bus and by automobile. Over the decades and across continents, women have learned to value their faith and religion above comfort and personal priorities.
Our sisters are steadfast, always abounding in good works. (See 1 Cor. 15:58.) They understand that the commandment is to develop an attitude as well as to undertake an action. “Be steadfast” (D&C 31:9)—immovable in righteousness, humble, caring, clever, kind, generous, thoughtful, dignified, gentle, diligent, direct. Women have such depth and such ability!
And such faith. Despite trials, worldly confusion, and caustic voices, we can trust in the Lord and go forward with happy hearts, knowing that with every challenge or problem, there’s the strength to go on. Why? Because we know His promises are real, that He does know us by name and has a plan for each of us. He will help us learn what it is and give us joy in doing it.
The experiences of women in Nauvoo and in every Relief Society throughout the Church prove that women individually can be a great force. Alma described the value of our contribution, stating, “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6.) Women’s lives are full of small and simple things—discussions about how the day was, visits to schools, laughter at a homemade joke, work in its many forms, playing with children, trips to the doctor, tending the garden, cooking meals, teaching a lesson in church, helping a neighbor, serving a community group, sharing a lesson learned with a sister. Small and simple things that define relationships and build testimonies. Small and simple things that grow strong men and women.
When we first organized as a sisterhood in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “This is the beginning of better days.” (History of the Church, 6:607.) There has been an abundance of better days because of the contributions of women just like you. In homes large and small, rural and urban, Latter-day Saint women make a difference. In every type of family, women comfort hearts and renew dedication. We share wisdom and knowledge. We encourage and teach our family members.
As sisters in Zion, we have added to the strength of each other. We see our sisterhood expressed in Sunday meetings and in homemaking meetings. Which of us has not felt a hand reach across to take ours just at the right moment? A sister has written a note or called to check on us just when our world was falling apart. As sisters we know, we understand, we feel for each other.
Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, told the sisters of Relief Society in 1842, “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together.” (Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 24 Mar. 1842.) Notice she talks of each of us eventually uniting in our Father’s house. But for now, we are here and we have work to do.
A year ago, in preparation for this great event, we asked members all around the world to send us pictures of women living the gospel in their daily lives. The response was dramatic! Folders came from all over the world. Some pictures were individually wrapped in tissues; some were priceless historical photographs; some sisters sent whole pages of scrapbooks. Some photographs were professionally done and some taken just with the family camera. Many included notes written in the native languages. No matter the country, the responses were similar to this message from Japan: “Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this whole sisterhood. We love all of you.” Or this note from Africa: “You have lit a candle of joy in our minds.”
We are part of a grand whole. We need each other to make our sisterhood complete. When we reach out to clasp the hands of our sisters, we reach to every continent, for we are of every nation. We are bonded as we try to understand what the Lord has to say to us, what He will make of us. We speak in different tongues, yet we are a family who can still be of one heart. We work, play, give birth, nurture, dream dreams; we cry, pray, laugh, sometimes clap for joy, and find that mortality teaches us our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Lord has told us, “Be glad, for I am in your midst.” (D&C 29:5.) He is with all of us, and His spirit draws us closer as we link arms together in our gospel sisterhood.
As sisters in Zion, we still have pressing calls. We have calls to teach the gospel, to lift our families, to bless our neighbors, to aid our friends, to live by example, to share our understanding with others, and to bring souls unto Christ by the way we live and the way we love one another.
Yes, as sisters in Zion, we are going to do something extraordinary.