“Even When You’re Older, Charity Never Fails,” Liahona, Mar. 2023.
Even When You’re Older, Charity Never Fails
Called to be in a Relief Society presidency in their later years, these women bring experience and understanding to their service.
“We just might be the oldest Relief Society presidency in the Church,” says Sharon Alexander. She just turned 89. And her counselors Marlene Peterson and Dorothy Arnold are 90 and 91, respectively.
“So, our average age is 90,” Dorothy says, laughing.
This Relief Society presidency serves in a branch at an independent-living facility in Ogden, Utah, USA. The facility is home to many senior members of the Church, and the presidency can often be seen leaning on their walkers as they go from door to door, greeting people and checking to make sure everyone is all right.
At one time, people from local wards provided such ministering visits. Then the stake president felt prompted to encourage the branch presidency to ask the Lord which residents could serve and in what callings.
Too Blessed to Say No
“When the branch president extended the calling to me to be the Relief Society president,” Sharon says, “I thought, I have received too many blessings to say no.” She, in turn, received inspiration about who her counselors should be. “Marlene came to mind first,” she says. “We had worked together on a stake level, preparing names for temple work. I knew her husband had passed away not long ago, and even though she was struggling with that, I knew she was faithful.”
Then, after a sacrament meeting, Sharon looked around the room, seeking inspiration. “I saw Dorothy. She smiled at me, and I knew she was the other counselor. The Lord guided me to both of them, and He didn’t make a mistake on either one.”
Like a Big Family
Sharon also says that she can see the advantage of having people from the facility serve others in the facility. “We’re closer to the situation,” she says. “We understand that we’re sometimes inept, sometimes we forget so much, and sometimes we just don’t feel well. And we know how to laugh about the problems we face together.”
“The people who live here are already kind of like a big family,” Marlene says. “We eat our meals together, so we see each other three times a day. Then sometimes we’re together at activities too. So I think the stake president was inspired when he felt there were people here who could serve each other.”
“We know what’s happening from day to day. We know if someone needs help or if someone gets sick,” Dorothy says.
In addition to ministering and helping others to minister, the members of the presidency organize Relief Society teaching. They suggest residents who might be called to teach, and they adjust assignments and schedules according to teachers’ individual needs.
Remember, the Lord Loves You
“But our main job is to remind other residents that the Lord loves them,” Marlene says. “And as we do that, we feel His love too.”
“We all have struggles,” Sharon says. “I’ve got problems now I didn’t have five months ago. But when I get feeling sorry for myself, I think, ‘Hey, this is nothing compared to what the Savior went through.’ We are here to progress and grow. And even in old age, if you let your experiences teach you, you can keep learning forever.”
Because they have each lost loved ones, the presidency members have also learned a lot about compassion. They know how to succor those who stand in need of comfort. For example, in one year Marlene lost four family members and a best friend.
“Because we’ve been through tough things,” she says, “we can help others get through tough things too. If you’re struggling with something, lose yourself in service to others. That’s what this calling has helped me to do.”
The members of the presidency bring a wealth of experience and understanding to their callings. They have lived and worked in many places—California, Ohio, Wyoming, and Utah. They have served in the temple, in ward and stake callings, in Primary, Young Women, and humanitarian service. But Dorothy had never held a calling in Relief Society, until now.
“What is the motto of the Relief Society?” she says. “‘Charity Never Faileth.’ That’s true when you’re young, but it’s equally true when you’re older. As a presidency, we’re learning that every day.”
“I think we work really well together,” Sharon says, with a wink, “for a presidency that averages 90 years old.”