On March 17, 1842, 20 women gathered and heard the Prophet Joseph Smith announce the official establishment of the Relief Society organization. Nearly 170 years later, more than 6 million sisters around the world still strengthen each other and build the kingdom of God.
It is appropriate to celebrate "the glorious heritage of Relief Society, which has ties back to the ancient Church during the time of Jesus Christ," Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president told the Church News. "This year marks 170 years since Relief Society was established in this dispensation. The sisters were given authority to preside over the unique work that would help build the kingdom of God and would make a significant contribution to the Lord's work of salvation. The purposes of Relief Society have remained constant through all time."
Those purposes — to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those who are in need — still guide the organization today, said Sister Beck.
"We truly are a society of women — a great worldwide sisterhood — who know how to provide relief as our Savior defined it," she said. "We have always been loved and trusted by the Lord and His leaders. We testify that the Lord speaks directly to His daughters who seek for and qualify for personal revelation."
To commemorate the anniversary this year, the Relief Society has invited sisters in the Church — under the direction of their priesthood leaders — to plan activities that will engage them in the work of Relief Society.
"This year we have created an online resource for sisters and leaders to help them commemorate the Relief Society anniversary," Sister Beck said. "You will find it on ReliefSociety.lds.org. This is a beautiful resource, and we encourage all sisters to visit it."
Sister Beck also encouraged sisters to visit the landing page on lds.org for Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.
"It will help sisters learn from that new and wonderful gift which was presented to all sisters in the Church by the First Presidency," she said.
In connection with the celebration information, LDS women can find a newly designed Relief Society poster and bookmark featuring changes to the Relief Society seal.
"The seal has been adjusted and simplified to make it more useful and recognizable in a global Church," Sister Beck said. "It places the name of Relief Society in prominence, which clearly identifies Relief Society as part of the Church. It has been refined in 18 languages and more are being prepared.
"We hope it becomes recognizable worldwide as women share testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. We also pray that women will continue to strengthen each other's homes and families, as they use the suggestions that help us commemorate Relief Society by seeking out opportunities to help those in need."
Ideas on lds.org are suggestions to help sisters receive their own revelation to engage them in the actual work of Relief Society as an individual and as a group, Sister Beck said.
"This 170th anniversary gives us a wonderful opportunity for every Relief Society sister to fulfill the Relief Society purpose," she said.
Some activity suggestions from the website include:
Organize and encourage sisters to participate in a temple or family history work experience.
In the Church Handbook it reads, "In temples, Church members receive ordinances and make sacred covenants that are essential for exaltation. ... Members are encouraged ... to receive their own temple ordinances and help immediate family members receive theirs."Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Latter-day Saint women, strong in faith and testimony, have truly been given the 'errand of angels.' Every sister in this Church who has made covenants with the Lord has a divine mandate to help save souls, to lead the women of the world, to strengthen the homes of Zion and to build the kingdom of God" (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 25).
Encourage sisters to bring someone back into activity or share the gospel with someone.
"Those who return to activity often do so when they see that something is missing from their lives. As a result, they realize that they need to make changes in the way they live. At such times, they need the love and friendship of caring, active Church members who accept them as they are and show genuine personal interest in them" (Handbook 2, 5.3).
One of the most important roles sisters have is to strengthen testimonies of others around them, and share the gospel with those who do not have it.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught: "There are many sisters who are living in rags — spiritual rags. They are entitled to gorgeous robes, spiritual robes. ... It is your privilege to go into homes and exchange robes for rags. ... You are going to save souls, and who can tell but that many of the fine active people in the Church today are active because you were in their homes and gave them a new outlook, a new vision. You pulled back the curtain. You extended their horizons ... You see, you are not only saving these sisters, but perhaps also their husbands and their homes" (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 117).
Encourage each sister to read and study Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.
The introduction to Daughters in My Kingdom the First Presidency encourages women to study the book and allow its truths and examples to influence their lives.
Later it reads, "As sisters learn from the history of the Relief Society, they may discover examples, expressions, and principles that are especially meaningful to them. Inspired by these discoveries and by the teachings of ancient and latter-day prophets, they can seek, receive and act on personal revelation. They can receive guidance as they strive to become the people the Lord wants them to become and do the things He would have them do" (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. xiii).
Invite sisters to share personal testimony.
Each month one Sunday is set aside as fast and testimony meeting for individuals to stand and bear heartfelt testimonies and share faith-promoting experiences. Sisters are also able to share their testimony during the first Sunday lesson in Relief Society.
"As sisters articulate their beliefs by word and deed, they can strengthen each other's faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They can help each other prepare to receive all the blessings available in Heavenly Father's plan of happiness" (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 51).
Invite each ward/branch to submit their Relief Society history.
These histories would created by members of a ward or branch, and would then be collected by the ward or branch clerk for historical purposes. These are intended for use in the local unit only.
Encourage the creation of original music, poetry, literature, drama, or dance to commemorate the anniversary.
One of the purposes of Church activities, as described in the Church Handbook, is to celebrate special occasions and commemorate Church or local historical events.
"One way to encourage participation is to have members use their gifts, skills and talents in the activity" it reads. "Cultural arts activities provide opportunities for members to develop their talents and interests. They could include ... performances in dance, music and drama. They could also include the celebration of local or general Church history."
Organize Relief Society service in the community.
"Church members are encouraged to give personal compassionate service to those in need. They should be 'anxiously engaged in a good cause,' serving without being asked or assigned (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).
"Some opportunities to care for those in need come through Church callings. Other opportunities are present in members' homes, neighborhoods and communities. Members can also help the poor and needy of all faiths throughout the world by contributing to the Church's humanitarian efforts" (Handbook 2, 6.1.2).
Women of Relief Society can embrace the charge given by the prophet Joseph Smith to "relieve the poor" and "save souls" as they live the Relief Society motto, "Charity never faileth."
Improve the ministry of visiting teaching.
Visiting teaching gives women the opportunity to watch over, strengthen and teach one another. It is through visiting teaching that women are able to come to know and love each sister, help strengthen faith and give service. Through seeking personal inspiration, visiting teachers are able to know how to respond to the spiritual and temporal needs of each sister they are assigned to visit.
Eliza R. Snow, the second Relief Society general president taught: "I consider the office of a teacher a high and holy office ... A teacher ... should surely have so much of the Spirit of the Lord, as she enters a house to know what spirit she meets in there. ... Plead before God and the Holy Ghost to get [the Spirit] so that you will be able to meet that spirit that prevails in that house... and you may feel to talk words of peace and comfort, and if you find a sister feeling cold, take her to your heart as you would a child to your bosom and warm [her] up (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 123).
To read more, please visit ReliefSociety.lds.org.