Sister J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, recently visited a Sunday Relief Society meeting in which the lesson discussion was on making and keeping covenants.
One sister vulnerably expressed that it is difficult for her to attend church because her children don’t want to be there. She asked for counsel from her fellow sisters.
An older sister, who said she has some children who are no longer active in the Church, offered genuine understanding and faithful perspective. Another sister, whose husband is not active, shared her challenging experience but also the joy she felt that her husband had attended sacrament meeting with her that day.
“They were counseling together during this time of gospel instruction and discussion, and it was beautiful,” Sister Dennis observed. As they counseled together, the sisters learned from each other and from the Spirit.
Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson said, “Relief Society should be a safe place where sisters can share their experiences, counsel together, contribute to meaningful gospel instruction, and where they feel the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior.”
Relief Society isn’t only Sunday instruction, said Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
“Heavenly Father meant so much more for His daughters in this space,” Sister Yee said. “We are meant to counsel together and to receive the revelation that is scattered among each of us to help one another. There is a reason we’re all in that same geographical space. He knew the problems we would face, and He knows the spiritual and temporal resources that are within our own Relief Societies.”
Enhancing Sunday Relief Society meetings
General Handbook section 220.127.116.11. identifies four purposes for Sunday Relief Society meetings: to strengthen faith, build unity, strengthen families and homes, and make plans to help accomplish the work of salvation and exaltation.
“The meeting begins with a presidency member conducting any business,” the handbook states. “For example, the sisters may counsel together about aspects of accomplishing the work of salvation and exaltation. Sufficient time should then be given to meaningful gospel instruction and discussion.
“Relief Society meetings focus on topics in one or more talks from the most recent general conference. The Relief Society presidency prayerfully selects messages to discuss based on sisters’ needs. Hymns may be sung to enhance a lesson. Meetings should end with a prayer.”
Counseling together about the work of salvation and exaltation
Beginning the meeting by counseling together can be “a natural lead-in” to the gospel instruction and discussion portion of the meeting, President Johnson explained.
As the Relief Society presidency prayerfully considers subjects to counsel about with their sisters, they might ask, “What needs do our sisters have?”
“With confidence, we rely upon Relief Society presidencies to connect with heaven, to know what is needful for the sisters in their stewardship. We trust our Relief Society presidencies will be inspired. We know the Lord trusts them. This is a ‘higher and holier’ way,” President Johnson said.
During this counseling time, the presidency member who is conducting has an opportunity to model what is hoped for in the remainder of the meeting: meaningful gospel instruction with a focus on the Savior.
What does counseling together about the work of salvation and exaltation look like?
Section 1.2 of the General Handbook explains how to participate in the work of salvation and exaltation: “As we come unto Christ and help others do the same, we participate in God’s work of salvation and exaltation. This work is guided by the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbors.”
The work of salvation and exaltation includes living the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for those in need, inviting all to receive the gospel and uniting families for eternity.
Sister Dennis said: “There are so many topics we can counsel about. Seek the Lord’s guidance on what is most needful for the sisters. Some topics may need more than one Sunday counseling time; let the Spirit guide. Always connect the Savior to whatever topic is being discussed, even when it seems to be a topic more temporal in nature. These spaces of counseling together can build strength in the sisters, unity in sisterhood, and greater faith in the Savior.”
For example, the sisters may counsel together about how to engage their children and grandchildren in a discussion of the new “For the Strength of Youth” guide.
Perhaps they may counsel about what they are doing to take charge of their own testimonies of Jesus Christ as President Russell M. Nelson has pleaded for all to do.
If a natural disaster occurs in the area, a Relief Society could counsel about needs among the sisters and the community.
“When the Relief Society meeting begins with sisters counseling together, in a spirit of love, they will be more receptive to the Spirit during the gospel instruction and meaningful participation and counseling will continue,” President Johnson said.
“Our Relief Society presidencies are going to learn what is on the minds of their sisters if this is happening,” she added.
Leading this counseling time “will take practice,” Sister Yee said. “Don’t be discouraged if it didn’t go the way you expect at times.
“We’re in this together,” she reassured. “We’re learning and doing this together.”