Relief Society celebrates birthday, much more March 17

Each spring, Latter-day Saint women across the globe commemorate the restoration of Relief Society by the Prophet Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842.

But Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, wants women to know that they are celebrating so much more than just a birthday for the organization.

“What are we celebrating?” she asked. “We are celebrating who we are and what our work is. We are celebrating those who have gone before. And we are celebrating our purpose.”

Sister Burton and her counselors, Sister Carole M. Stephens and Sister Linda S. Reeves, met this March with the Church News to talk about Relief Society and the organization’s history and relevance today.

Sister Burton said as Latter-day Saint women think about the history of Relief Society “we appropriately celebrate being taught by Joseph Smith in our early meetings. But I wonder how often we stop and celebrate the blessing of having the teachings of modern day prophets in our day. We have the opportunity to learn together their words in our meetings, just as our sisters in Nauvoo were taught by the Prophet Joseph, the living prophet in their day.”

Celebrate the restoration of Relief Society

Sister Stephens noted that Joseph Smith restored the Relief Society. We know little about a formal women’s organization at the time of the Savior. But “the restoration of an ancient pattern is so significant,” said Sister Reeves. “Women were vital participants in the Savior’s day.”

Sister Burton added: “It wasn’t just a group of sewing sisters. This was ‘something better,’ the Prophet Joseph said. Sister Stephens said Relief Society sisters today could learn much by studying the women in the scriptures. “Martha and Mary, Phoebe, Tabitha and Pricilla along with many other women named and unnamed were disciples of Jesus Christ and active participants in the Lord’s ministry.”

“You can see what they did and how they followed the Savior and ministered to Him and how He ministered to them,” said Sister Reeves.

“He forgave them, had compassion on them, taught them in their homes and on the seashores,” said Sister Burton.

Relief Society “is a temporal and a spiritual work,” said Sister Stephens. “That is what the women did in the Savior’s day and that is what we continue to do.”

Celebrate the purpose of Relief Society

The purpose of Relief Society, Sister Burton explained, is to “prepare women for the blessings of eternal life.”

That is accomplished as sisters increase faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes as they make and keep sacred covenants and offer relief to those in need working in unity with priesthood holders, she added.

Sister Burton said understanding the purpose of Relief Society will not only bless the lives of individual women, but will also help them bless the lives of others “in their homes and families and also in their communities.”

Celebrate “who we are”

“The First Presidency has told us who we are: beloved daughters of Heavenly Father and dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ, who are part of a great worldwide sisterhood,” said Sister Burton noting that there are almost 7 million Relief Society members in 185 different countries. “We are sisters,” she said.

“We are covenant women,” added Sister Reeves.

“The ordinances we receive and the associated covenants we keep set us apart from the world,” noted Sister Stephens.

It is not “just a nice organization,” said Sister Burton. “Think of it. We are beloved daughters of a loving Father in Heaven. We are dedicated disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are part of a great worldwide sisterhood. We are sisters.”

Celebrate ‘our vital part’ in the work

Sister Reeves said there has never been a time in history that women have faced more distractions than they do today.

“Many of the choices we make are not between good and bad, they are between good, better and best,” Sister Stephens said.

Sister Burton said women should celebrate “our vital part in the work.”

“This is our opportunity to be unified in the work — not just the temporal work, but the spiritual work,” said Sister Stephens.

She said women are looking to accomplish something big. “But the extraordinary thing is that we do small things behind closed doors — small and simple things that make an extraordinary difference.”

Sister Stephens said as women “act on a prompting to do a small and simple thing that small and simple thing may mean the world to someone else.”

Sister Reeves said Latter-day Saint women should petition the Lord about the needs of their sisters. Then they can express the love that He expresses, she said. “He is so anxious to bless our lives and we help Him with His work.”

Celebrate those who have gone before

Today, we not only celebrate the work of early Relief Society leaders, but the significant contributions of past Relief Society leaders, said Sister Burton, noting that her presidency and board members recently attended a luncheon with several past Relief Society general presidencies and board members.

“Their inspiring influence continues on,” she said. “Wow! What marvelous women.”

She said Church members also celebrate the teachings of former Relief Society leaders. “We have many of their words in Daughters in My Kingdom, side by side with modern day prophets,” she said. “We celebrate that.”

The Relief Society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls. — Joseph Smith (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 24.)

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 the homes and exchanges rags for robes. — President Spencer W. Kimball (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 117)

Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently. — Eliza R. Snow, Relief Society general president 1866-87 (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 1)

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