When Sister Julie B. Beck and her two counselors received their callings as the LDS Relief Society general presidency in 2007, they were faced with a "blank slate" — and the challenge of how to fill it.
"We were the Relief Society presidency of the Church and wanted to go about doing good, but which good should we focus on?" was the question that faced them, as they were given no specific to-do list of what to accomplish. That was the recollection of Sister Beck on March 14 as she addressed an audience in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City for the monthly Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by the Church History Library.
Sister Beck, who was released nearly a year ago, said that as they prayerfully studied and pondered the matter they drew inspiration from the word "alignment."
"It has come to my understanding that faith is really an alignment," she said, "an alignment of our role with our Heavenly Father's role, an alignment of our purpose with our Heavenly Father's purpose, an alignment of the things we prioritize and do with things that would be a priority to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ."
In considering that, she said, they realized they needed to be aligned with the apostles and prophets of the Church.
"We knew we couldn't do everything," Sister Beck reflected. "We had to focus on the essentials, and we had to help the First Presidency in their work."
Studying the experiences of past Relief Society presidencies, Sister Beck could see in each presidency's ministry the theme of alignment, she said.
But in a modern era "we needed to be able to articulate the purposes of Relief Society and with such clarity and such simplicity that it would transcend cultures, languages, opportunities, education, economies, and experiences and conditions and all those things that come with a worldwide Church" she said.
Participating in a revision of the Church Handbook, they came up with three simple concepts pertaining to the objectives of Relief Society: faith, family and providing relief.
Illustrating that, she told of an experience she had visiting an area in Pisco, Peru, that had been leveled by an earthquake.
"When that happened, the stake Relief Society president worked in harmony with the stake president. She went into action."
One of the few structures left standing in that area was an LDS meetinghouse. There, she organized efforts to feed victims. Subsequently, she and her counselors helped people mend their lives by teaching skills and by showing them how to cook using the supplies sent from Church headquarters.
Reaching out to the greater community, the stake Relief Society president and members of the Relief Society made blankets for the babies in the city. They also helped needy people start home industries and thus regain their livelihoods.
On her visit several months later, Sister Beck met the stake Relief Society president.
"She came up to me, put her head on my shoulder and cried and cried and cried," Sister Beck recounted. "Then she cried some more. She couldn't speak. And I felt strength going out of me into her.
"After about five minutes, she raised her head and squared her shoulders. I said, 'Sister, are you OK? Can I help you?' She said, 'I'm just fine! I just needed someplace to cry.'
"I recognized that she had this tremendous strength for months and months. My job was just to go and provide the shoulder. But she had known through revelation and through a few simple principles how to serve."
Sister Beck said the day came when the presidency were assigned by their adviser in the Quorum of the Twelve to direct the preparation of a history of Relief Society. With the service of Susan Tanner as principal writer, the task was accomplished in 23 weeks. Sister Beck called it "an unprecedented miracle" that provided "a global alignment" among Latter-day Saint women.
"By having this history now, Daughters in My Kingdom, we have what it looks like, feels like and tastes like to be Latter-day Saint women all around the globe," she said. "This is an alignment of faith behind the original purposes of our Heavenly Father for His daughters. It is an alignment behind the Lord Jesus Christ's work in the world today."
That sense of alignment is illustrated in an experience Sister Beck said she had last year, when the First Presidency assigned her to go to the United Nations and meet with the head of UN Women, a department that consolidates all efforts at the UN regarding women and children.
"As we sat down, I could tell she had great feeling about her new office and the good she thought she could do," Sister Beck recounted.
Sister Beck said that when invited to tell about her own leadership role, she replied, "I work for a small organization of 6 million women, and we're in 175 countries. We have at least 33,000 grass-roots groups, each of them led by a president and some people who assist her."
The figures amazed the UN leader.
"I said, 'We're a faith-based group, so we work to increase their faith in their God and faith in themselves. We work to strengthen families and homes.' Can you see how those simple words transcend cultures and experience?"
In the conversation, Sister Beck continued: "Wherever we need to, we seek out those who are in need and we provide relief." Asked how that is accomplished, she replied that simple guidelines are given. She was alluding to the Church Handbook.
"Those guidelines are sent out, she continued. "They all have them, they know how to organize, and mostly I just travel around and tell them they are doing a great job."
Sister Beck remarked, "I've learned that Relief Society is organized discipleship. It builds people."