Additional coverage of the Relief Society meeting:
Speaking of the great legacy early Latter-day Saint women have passed to women today, President Henry B. Eyring asked Relief Society members worldwide to remember that charity never faileth.
"I testify that charity is the pure love of Christ," said President Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. "As we serve others with Him we feel His joy."
Thousands of women gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City for the Church's General Relief Society meeting Sept. 26. The meeting was translated and broadcast, via the Church's satellite system, to meetinghouses across the globe. In addition to President Eyring, the general Relief Society presidency — Sister Julie B. Beck, Sister Silvia H. Allred and Sister Barbara Thompson — also addressed the worldwide congregation.
During the meeting, President Eyring spoke on the enduring legacy of Relief Society, an organization that was founded in 1842.
"I will speak to you tonight of the great legacy those who went before you in the Relief Society have passed to you," said President Eyring. "The part of the foundation they laid for you which seems to me most important and persistent is that charity is at the heart of the society and was to come into the heart, to be part of the very nature, of every member."
He said charity meant to early Latter-day Saint women far more than a feeling of benevolence. "Charity is born of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is an effect of His Atonement working in the hearts of the members. There are many benevolent groups of women who do great good. There are many who have overpowering feelings of sympathy for the unfortunate, the sick and the needy. But this organization is unique and has been from its start."
The foundation of the organization – "charity never faileth" — is at the center of the work, he said. "It served them at the beginning; it served them in the great period that followed; it serves them now in a new time; and it will serve the Relief Society in all the periods ahead."
President Eyring said the Relief Society is composed of women whose feelings of charity spring from hearts "changed by qualifying for and by keeping covenants offered only in the Lord's true church."
"Their feelings of charity come from Him through His atonement. Their acts of charity are guided by His example and come out of gratitude for His infinite gift of mercy and by the Holy Spirit, which He sends to accompany His servants on their missions of mercy. Because of that, they have done and are able to do uncommon things for others and to find joy even when their own unmet needs are great."
President Eyring said the history of Relief Society is filled with accounts of such remarkable selfless service.
Early Latter-day saint women "came from a great diversity of circumstances. All faced the universal trials and heartaches of life. Their determination born of faith to serve the Lord and others seemed to take them not around the storms of mortal life but into them.
"Some were young and some old. They were from many lands and peoples as you are today. But they were of one heart, one mind, and with one intention. They were determined to help the Lord build His Zion."
President Eyring said the love of God dwelt in the hearts of early members of the Relief Society.
Then, he said, because of hard circumstances, for nearly four decades, Relief Society ceased to function as a Churchwide organization. After that period, Brigham Young called Eliza R. Snow to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies.
"The record of Relief Society shows that when the leaders approached the sisters across the Church to begin again formal Relief Society work they found that charity in their hearts was undiminished. They had continued to reach out in mercy to those in need. For those who stayed faithful to their covenants, the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ, had endured. It was still theirs."
In the years that followed, the Relief Society grew in numbers and in power to serve those in need, said President Eyring. The women created a small hospital and supported women in going to the east to get medical training to staff it. They began the worldwide Church social services programs. They created a grain storage system. They organized the Primary and Young Women organizations. And the Relief Society was at the heart of the beginning of the Church's power to give humanitarian aid across the world.
President Eyring said it is clear from the record that the Lord was in the work with the women of the first period of Relief Society. "He prospered it and they felt joy and light."
President Eyring said it must have been hard for Relief Society sisters when the Lord led them to another season. The hospital system, for example, was handed to others as the women had faith that the Lord saw a greater need for their service elsewhere.
"A precious part of your Relief Society heritage is that same faith in the hearts of the leaders and the members of the Relief Society. The Lord had known where their great talents would be needed in the next season and where they would find an even greater joy than in the wonderful enterprises they had begun and built."
For a new season, the Lord provided a way to provide succor and comfort across the Church. This would come as two sisters would accept their assignment to visit another as a call from the Lord, he said.
"The members of the Relief Society have always been trusted by local priesthood shepherds. Every bishop and every branch president has a Relief Society president to depend upon. She has visiting teachers who know the trials and the needs of every sister. She can, through them, know the hearts of individuals and families. She can meet needs and help the bishop in his call to nurture individuals and families.
"A wonderful part of the heritage of Relief Society is evident in the way the priesthood has always shown respect and received it from the Relief Society in turn. I have seen it as you have."
President Eyring then asked the worldwide congregation to pass "this marvelous and sacred legacy of Relief Society" on to those who will follow them.
"It will take small and simple things. Just remember that it is passed from heart to heart. Charity, the pure love of Christ, is part of the mighty change of heart which the Lord promises to His faithful disciples."
Ultimately, he said, Relief Society members pass their heritage along as they help others receive the gift of charity in their hearts. "They will then be able to pass it to others."