With a spirit of charity, Sarah M. Kimball and her seamstress, Margaret Cook, combined their efforts to make clothing for the men working on the Nauvoo Temple in the spring of 1842.
The seamstress didn't have the finances to purchase the material but she desired to share her sewing skills, and Sister Kimball offered to furnish material. This was the beginning of the Relief Society organization, whose motto is "Charity Never Faileth."Now almost 150 years later, Relief Society leaders are encouraging sisters throughout the world to build on the foundation of service established by these early sisters and make their own contribution – whether it be materials, time or skills – in service to others.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Ill., on March 17, 1842, the Relief Society general presidency is asking sisters to celebrate the sesquicentennial through service projects with the Relief Society motto, "Charity Never Faileth," as the theme of the celebration.
"We've given compassionate service regularly in the past years," said Relief Society Gen. Pres. Elaine L. Jack. "Now we can reach out more than ever before and be a greater influence for good as we plan projects that will lead us to a new way of thinking and serving others in our community.
"We want the sisters to look to the roots of Relief Society, but also look to the future and recognize that there is still much that we can do as we reach out to the community. By feeling the spirit of service, this celebration can launch them into service that is greater than before."
According to the celebration guidelines, at the heart of each local celebration should be a "Celebrate through Service Project" that involves all sisters in meaningful service and allows them to develop and exercise charity, enjoy a unified sisterhood, and plan and carry out one or more local service projects that will bless people living in their community.
"The great benefit is going to come when everyone in the unit is involved in determining the best project," Pres. Jack explained. "If they are all involved in the project to discuss, research, make decisions together and then prayerfully consider what is good for the community, there will be strong bonding for sisters involved as well as great benefits for the community.
"Each sister can contribute to the project in her own way, using her own skills and time. One may only have time to do the planning while another may have time for physical involvement in the project."
Carol Lee Hawkins, Relief Society general board member and co-chairman of the sesquicentennial activities, added: "We are hoping to develop an atmosphere of sisterhood and trust within our society and we thought that could best be achieved on the smallest, most intimate, level. There is nothing in these guidelines that cannot be done on the smallest unit level of the Church.
"All of our sisters will feel the blessings of the Spirit when they are involved. The more people that can be involved, the richer the experience will be. And out of that will come a sisterhood that will strengthen our Sunday lessons, visiting teaching, our homemaking meetings, every aspect of our Relief Society."
Carol Clark, Relief Society general board member, added: "This is not just a one-year event, one service project or production. And it is not something you just check off. This should create a spirit, an attitude of service to last a lifetime."
Carol B. Thomas, Relief Society general board member and chairman for the sesquicentennial celebration, remarked: "Those early day sisters were just like you and me. They were so anxious to feel of the spirit. They had focused their eternal sights on the temple. In this sesquicentennial year in celebration, we must learn from them.
"It is the process of the celebration that is important. Women coming together, seeking the spirit of the Lord, addressing the needs of the sisters in their local units and building the kingdom. In the early days of the Church, the sisters lived by that spirit. If each local unit plans its celebration with that spirit, what a glorious year it will be."
A presentation of "A Society of Sisters," featuring the Relief Society history and life stories of local sisters, is also part of the sesquicentennial activities. The presentation should be given in every ward or branch as close to March 17 as possible.
"The Relief Society began in Nauvoo, but each sister completes the story as she shares her life and testimony with others in this presentation," Sister Hawkins said.
Pres. Jack added: "We are asking local wards and branches to look to the founding of the Relief Society in their own area, so they can acknowledge those roots and build on them."
An international satellite broadcast celebrating a worldwide sisterhood will be broadcast March 14 from the Tabernacle and sent via satellite to five continents of the world.
In addition to regular transmission to meetinghouses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, Haiti, the West Indies and the Dominican Republic, the telecast will be carried via satellite to Mexico City, Mexico; Frankfurt, Germany; Johannesburg, South Africa; Seoul, Korea; and Sydney, Australia. Those areas are represented by five international Relief Society leaders who will be featured in the telecast speaking in their own languages about the mission of the Relief Society.
Each local unit should prepare a historical record of its own local Relief Society as well, including a record of the presentation, "A Society of Sisters," and its service project as part of the 150th anniversary.
The Relief Society organization will also focus on literacy during the 1992 celebration, Pres. Jack explained.
"We believe that every woman should have the opportunity to read and write so she can learn the gospel, teach her family and improve her circumstances. We want the sisters to be aware how they can help in basic literacy. There is a need not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries as well."
Guidelines on the literacy project will be sent to local leaders next year after field testing on literacy and education are completed, she added.
"We hope as we enter this new century of Relief Society that our focus leads us to a better understanding of `Charity Never Faileth,' " said Chieko N. Okazaki, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. "We need to look toward what charity really means, and it comes down to serving others.
"When we get it in our spirit and have a desire to serve others, the ball will really start rolling. If children and youth see these things happening, think of what generation of adults they will grow up to be," she continued.
"When you serve others, it isn't difficult to live the commandments. All other things will fall in place when we give of ourselves.
"When women gather together, if their minds become service-oriented, they will speak of those things all the time and it will be part of their being. If they get to that point, these projects will come naturally. Like all else, the first time is difficult, and then you come to a point where you master it and it becomes a way of life."
Aileen H. Clyde, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, added: "Our message and focus are planned to enlarge the vision of Relief Society sisters worldwide. We want them to recognize their own divine strength and potential as daughters of God."
Pres. Jack concluded: "Think of the miracles that can happen worldwide through this celebration of service. One of the greatest benefits from this is the unity we will feel throughout the world. Our sisters will feel involved in something that is greater than themselves and it is going to be a worldwide, worthwhile cause.
"The good that is accomplished in Relief Society is the sum total accomplished by each member. The organization is great because we have great women in it."