Sisters, one and all

Come, visit one ward's Relief Society meeting.

As you enter the room, you'll see there are women of various ages, backgrounds, strengths and life situations. At the front of the room on this Sunday, you'll see the ward Relief Society president, a single sister who retired several years ago from full-time employment but in no way is retired from serving. She is seated beside one counselor, a mother of two grown sons, while another counselor, a 24-year-old who grew up in the ward and married nearly two years ago, is conducting the meeting.

Among the gathering are sisters from varied geographic locations: Germany, France, Bulgaria, Korea, Chile, Brazil and England, as well as from many states across the U.S. and Canadian provinces; missing is a sister from Russia who has returned home to care for her elderly mother. Some sisters are new to Relief Society, having come a few years ago from Young Women; others are long-time members of the organization, having been affiliated with the organization for more than half a century.

The life work of these sisters is monumental. Some have the privilege of being stay-at-home mothers; many of the older sisters fit this category, having reared their children a generation or two ago. Many of the younger mothers are trying to stretch budgets so they can stay home with their children, while others find they must work outside their homes. They work in the fields of education, medicine, law, business, service industries and other endeavors. Many have university or college degrees or are in pursuit of them; some went only as far as high school.

Nearly half the women live alone, being either widowed, divorced or never married. From among the ranks of women in the meeting are a number who haven't been blessed with the role of motherhood.

Most of these Relief Society sisters have relatively few health concerns while others struggle with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, migraines, clinical depression, arthritis, diabetes and other afflictions.

Several sisters, while not in the category of being wealthy, are comfortable financially; their home mortgages are paid, they enjoy a steady income either through their own or their husbands' employment or retirement benefits and can afford luxuries such as occasional restaurant dinners and vacations out of town. On the other extreme are some who practically count pennies to keep current on payments for housing, utilities, food and other day-to-day expenses.

While some of these sisters enter the Relief Society room with a sigh of relief in anticipation of being free during the hour from tending young children and being able to leave behind the tumult of busy lives, others find respite from days filled with lonely and quiet hours.

No one has computed the number of hours these sisters spent serving others during the past week, month, year or decade. Follow them home and into their neighborhood and you'll get a glimpse of the good they do. They visit the sick and homebound, prepare meals for those who need nourishment, serve as chauffeurs to get others to places they need to be. They clean houses, help some with grooming and hygiene, and share the bounty of their gardens. In addition to serving as visiting teachers, they volunteer in their community, serve as mentors and helpers in neighborhood schools. All in addition to caring for their own homes and, if they have them, families; those who have jobs outside the home make extra efforts to eke out time to serve others.

While united as sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ and standing as one in purpose, no two of these women are alike. And because they are different, each woman in the room adds her own special touch to Relief Society, enriching the organization and its members.

From time to time, they need to be reminded of the important role they have in life, the contributions they make to the world and the Church. At the conference just concluded, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave such a reminder. In reviewing the account of the Creation as recorded in the book of Genesis, President Hinckley said, " . . . Eve became God's final creation, the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.

"Not withstanding the pre-eminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused. And yet some few of the greatest characters of scripture have been women of integrity, accomplishment and faith."

Further, President Hinckley noted that women — whether married or "those who do not have the opportunity of marriage" — make a tremendous contribution. "They serve the Church faithfully and ably," he said. "They teach in organizations. They stand as officers."

What strength and humility, harmony and variety are found in a Relief Society room.