Training Priestesshood

By: Bonnie
July 25, 2012

Mary and Martha working out women's roles in the Church

A friend of mine serves in a Stake Relief Society Presidency and recently shared with me her concerns about an upcoming leadership training. One suggestion is a lavish, pampering evening in one of the nicer homes in the stake to nourish the souls of the women who nourish other women’s souls. It’s a suggestion borne of a desire to do kind things for one another, but we both felt that it rather misses the point of Relief Society.

It started a conversation about this organization for 6 million women, designed to engage the souls of half of the church’s membership, now or at some point in their over-18 future. Ward Relief Societies are one-half of the welfare arm of the Church, watching over the spiritual and temporal needs of families the world over. Their work is clear: to increase faith, to strengthen families, and to provide relief. They are the “troops on the ground.”

Startlingly unclear, however, was the function of the Stake Relief Society. Auxiliary to the Stake Presidency, the CHOI specifies that SRSPs “ensure that ward Relief Society presidents understand welfare principles and that they understand their role to help bishops in welfare matters” through the medium of “one or two stake Relief Society meetings each year for all Relief Society sisters in the stake.”

That seems a rather significant job to do in one or two meetings a year, and there is little direction for how they are to do that. As we discussed the work to be accomplished at this stage of the gospel’s growth, we agreed that there is not a parallel structure to the priesthood that provides training for women to adequately perform this leadership function. We were speechless as we considered a Stake President calling a meeting, one of only two they would have in the year, of all the bishoprics in the Stake to meet for a swanky dinner in an upscale home so that they could be pampered. But this is the culture of women’s activities: well-decorated and well-fed, lots of dessert (with a persistent side of encouragement for the chronically overwhelmed) and not much substance.

Either women already understand everything they need to know about leadership and they simply need the encouragement of occasional forays into upscale living to do their job, or we diminish women and teach that leadership is too hard for them and they need instead swanky activities. I don’t think this is the message the general leadership are trying to convey.

For instance, some years ago when Julie Beck was serving on the Young Women general board and I was a ward YWP, she came to our Midwestern stake to provide training. She described a fabulous activity focused on the value color white (for Faith) in which the gym was done up in beautiful white organza and white flowers, the lights were amazing, and the sister in charge had even specially ordered white M&Ms. While the decor was going up, Sis. Beck noticed a dejected girl sitting in the overflow and went to talk to her. She had basement level self-esteem and felt alone and angry, her head bowed over herself resolutely. Sis. Beck spent the rest of the time talking with her until the activity was ready to begin, only to find out that this sad girl was the daughter of the woman in charge of the evening on Faith! She stood and powerfully spoke to us: “We are not here to put on white activities! We are here to build faith in Young Women!”

On the flip side, we have to realize that we have become accustomed as women to stylish activities (and this unfortunately starts in the YW program). This creates chronic stress for leaders forced to meet the expectations of women (I heard someone say recently that “if we don’t entertain, they won’t attend” and I was appalled that it would be said and appalled that it could be true) and chronic back-pedaling when it’s time to roll up our sleeves. My friend said that when she meets with wards she often gets a deer-in-the-headlights look from ward RS leaders who are bracing for something else the Stake wants them to do, when what she most wants to do is provide any support they wish. While some women embrace and even cry out for more opportunities to serve and lead, others are perpetually on near burnout. When Sis. Beck said something about African children walking to church across dusty roads in white, pressed clothing with their hair neatly combed, the backlash was vicious. There was to be no raising the bar. A woman who wanted to improve the nutrition in her home was pelted with pushback from her sisters to the tune of “let them eat fish sticks!” Clearly, a great many women have no interest in more opportunities to serve.

On the one hand, the women of the church are desperately needed to step forward and bear the burdens of leadership, and yet we are hampered by the dual problems of diminishing one another by staging frivolous activities and an incredibly loose structure of leadership training (especially at the Stake level – who trains them?) Assuming that the intent of the general leadership is that we focus on substance rather than style (and that’s the message that Pres. Beck certainly made abundantly clear“It is time to get out of the entertainment business and into the business of salvation”), what are your thoughts on training women to lead with power?

  • How should Stake Relief Society trainings help wards to adequately meet the mission of Relief Society?
  • If women are to grow in leadership ability, much as men do through priesthood service, how do we improve the necessary mentoring provided by Stake leaders?
  • Bishoprics meet monthly with Stake leaders, and ward RS presidencies serve in tandem with bishoprics. Ward council is the intended medium for collaboration. What role does the Stake RS Presidency play in this relationship?
  • What changes in Relief Society culture would improve our pastoral care and refine our mission?

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47 Responses to Training Priestesshood

  1. Howard on July 25, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    I’m involved in a lot of philanthropic activities and “if we don’t entertain, they won’t attend” IS the norm. As you know I live frugally as led by the Spirit but I don’t object to this because it encourages people to participate who other wise wouldn’t, they have fun doing it and I respect the significant contributions that come from these groups. It also leads to some humorous situations like delivering meals on wheels in a Bentley for fun!

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  2. Course Correction on July 25, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Maybe the lack of direction to Stake RS presidencies on leadership training is to allow them the opportunity to speak to the RS members of their stake and find out what they feel is needed. Grass roots involvement rather than top-down direction.

    Possibly some ward RS presidents need permission to disagree with bishops who plan extravant programs and assign the RS responsibilities for which they have no time.

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  3. Natsy on July 25, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    When I was in the single’s ward RS presidency the stake RS presidency put on monthly trainings at 7am on a Sunday morning. Every RS presidency in the stake was invited. There was usual a light breakfast after. (nothing big, just fruit and muffins from Costco or something similar) It was heinously early but these were some of the best meetings. They provided direction on how to better meet the needs of girls in our wards. We went to them because we actually enjoyed them and they were useful. It also helped us get to know the Stake RS presidency and they became a solid foundation we could rely on. It also helped us connect with the Relief Societies in other wards.

    There is a huge pressure to “put on a show” for activities. Also, we knew that basically nobody would come to anything unless food was involved. Our church is so full of meetings, usually the last things people want to do is attend more.

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  4. Nate on July 25, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    This seems to be a problem with all the auxiliaries, as well as the Stake Priesthood.

    I think it would be a tremendous help if Stake leaders actually got involved in a serious way with the wards to which they are assigned, attending not only relief society meetings in those wards, but as many of the ward presidency meetings as they can, and keeping their feet to the fire. Even going out on visits and getting to know the individual ward sisters and whatever their problems are. (Well, maybe the women don’t need that as much as the men. I just wish the High Councilors actually kept the Elder’s Quorum’s feet to the fire by attending their meetings.)

    All the real work of the church happens at the ward level. Stake is a total waste, unless it gets down to the ward level too. Stake meetings don’t do much good in my opinion, unless the stake leaders actually get involved in the nitty gritty details at the ward level, to see if their council is being followed, and how they might help it further.

    It’s more work for them of course, but it’s better than just having a wasted stake calling that contributes to the glut of useless meetings.

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  5. Liz C on July 25, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I’ve attended very few stake-produced functions; honestly, even with twelve wards in our stake, all within about 5 square miles, the “stake” seems very remote and inaccessible; I couldn’t tell you who the stake leaders are for various auxiliaries. In the past, I’ve gone to stake music workshops (awesome!) and a few stake service projects (also awesome!) but mostly, it seems there’s an anemic luncheon before the women’s broadcast each year, and that’s it. I’d love to see stake leaders passing along service opportunities and resources, helping organize and inspire multi-ward activities that have real substance, etc. Even something as simple as praying about it, and choosing a service focus for the year or quarter would be keen!

    At a ward level, I crave more meaningful, purposeful “society”. I can visit and eat cookies just as easily while doing something service-minded. Our last several ward RS meetings were food and visiting. That’s great for some, and I recognize that it meets a big need for many (and the garden party was attended by some ladies who never come out, so it was definitely an inspired activity!), but I also want MEAT. I want to sing with the Singing Mothers of the 60s. I want fewer nice centerpieces and handouts, and more service. I want leadership to stop placating and babying the YW, and treat it as a training ground for adult RS service. I want a lot of things. :)

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  6. Bonnie on July 25, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Thanks for your responses. I agree that the guidelines should remain skeletal so that individual adaptations are possible, and I’m a huge fan of limiting required meetings.

    In addition, although bishops receive monthly training and coordination, other priesthood leaders are usually meeting only biannually for group training. Other than for bishoprics and stake presidencies, there is really little more provided in training for priesthood than RS. Ideally, the training received by bishoprics and stake presidencies is passed on in PEC and ward council, allowing a fraction of the people to attend who need the information because those who do are tasked with sharing it. It’s a very good plan.

    I wonder, however, how we change culture. I was hopeful that people would read DIMK and say, “Hey, 100 years ago RS was rocking the welfare program, handling things. Why are we doing craft activities now?” I think there’s a lot of trickle-down and we’ve certainly received a lot of counsel to move beyond “white activities” but it’s slow.

    Can we speed it up?

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  7. Kaylie on July 25, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    I can only speak for myself here. I know there are many sisters who love home- and family-related activities and who are also very good at them. But I’m tired of those kinds of activities. The underlying message seems to be, “Of course you’re interested in homemaking and parenting (and not much else). You’re female.” Plus I feel that as a SAHP, I spend most of my time at home, so when I go somewhere else, I don’t want to talk MORE about home. I need my escape. :)
    One of the best activities I ever went to was one where they had five different speakers for us to choose from and two different workshop times. That way, we could attend the workshop that fit best with our lives.
    Maybe it’s just because I’m extra interested in social issues, but I would LOVE activities that center around how we can serve others and make a difference in the world. I also think it would be so amazing if we had more Relief Society activities that were interfaith service projects. Partnerships could go a long way towards getting to know others not of our faith, dispelling myths about our religion, and also building networks that could create powerful changes as we work together. Helping others is what true religion is all about, is it not?

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  8. Paul on July 25, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Bonnie, I agree with you and your friend — the lavish dinner seems out of place.

    My wife serves in a stake RS presidency. They visit wards & branches in our stake two or three times a month and meet with RS leaders for training with each visit. (They spend more time in weaker units than in stronger ones.) They also do a couple of training meetings each year, drawing (until recently) on Sister Beck’s trainings provided to them via the church’s website. Their work is intensely spiritual.

    They also counsel as a presidency with the stake president nearly every month (and I assume the SRSP meets with him separately). I know my wife is in regular contact with her conterparts in the ward between all their meetings / vistis, as well.

    They make a conscious effort to be there to support and teach, but not to direct, since ward RS presidencies are presided over by the bishop, not the stake. But they also provide a valuable conduit of communication to the stake president if RS presidents are not getting what they need from the wards (and the SP has specifically asked for that input).

    It’s been fascinating for me to watch them work.

    BTW, they organize two meals a year for the stake — one in connection with the General Women’s broadcast, and one in connection with their annual stake women’s conference. Neither is lavish, but since they are the Relief Society, it’s more than plastic white table coverings… :-)

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  9. ji on July 25, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    The solutions need to come from the bottom. My stake is scattered among the islands of the sea, and we NEVER see the stake Relief Society president because of travel (21 hours on a ferry from the stake center to here). So our stake Relief Society presidency NEVER travels to any of the wards or branches in the stake. A model that fits a Utah stake won’t work here.

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  10. Henry on July 25, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    I sincerely enjoy your comments. You have a unique perspective on almost everything.

    Women are very service oriented so kudos to them.

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  11. Bonnie on July 25, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    ji – this is a huge international issue. How does your stake handle leadership training?

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  12. Bonnie on July 25, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Here is another comment from a source who didn’t wish to discuss publicly:

    Well hallelujah! It’s after midnight here in Australia but I don’t see much sleep on my horizon. May I forward your link to women outside this FB group? This is an issue I, and many women I know have been concerned about for a long time. What you are describing is what I have always referred to as the froth on the milkshake. It’s fun, it doesn’t last and it has no substance. The real nutrition is underneath – in the milk. But the focus, the advertising if you will, is on the froth. I have served in over a dozen Relief Society Presidencies, been acting President twice, presented at 2 of the largest women’s conferences we’ve had in my area. I continue to be engaged in connecting with women around me. They talk to me they open up, they share. Individually they want the substance, however the mood of the group, the attention of the collective group is on the froth. Wanting or going after the milk risks more obligation, more responsibility more demands, less sleep. More pressure. Did the ‘white’ presentation sister consider a plain clean tablecloth and a daisy in a vase? Where did the expectation to create, perform etc that she apparently felt, come from. I’m going to think on this more. Thank you for writing and sharing.

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  13. Bonnie on July 25, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    Another anonymous commenter:

    I’m often envious of my mom’s stake. She’s in the Stake RS and the amount of work they do and the amount of leading and nurturing and inspiring they do is incredible. I’ve never been in a stake where the stake RS presidency is so leadership and faith oriented.

    That said, nothing makes me feel inadequate more than relief society. I think the focus is too much on the inconsequential and not enough on the important and inclusive.

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  14. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    And another forwarded comment:

    I heartily agree that there really needs to be a shift in the Stake LEADERSHIP for RS.

    The 2 ACTIVITIES a year should bring ward sisters together in a stake social setting – a time to get to know the sisters beyond the ward boundaries
    As a first time RS Pres, I found the initial handover was about programs & responsibilities relating to physical things but no help or directions on how I achieve and handle the non administrative side of caring for the sisters and their spiritual welfare. I also felt unsupported in the education on how be a successful spiritual support to the sisters, how to deal with situations out with mu experience and comfort. The Stake RS never stepped into a mentoring role that is often needed – yes some things can be dealt with through the bishop but often one needed a women’s insight and perspective.

    I feel that LEADERSHIP MEETINGS need to be at least every second if not every month (not just the 2 a year)- and these meetings should be a time with the purpose directed specifically to teaching leadership (not administrative) skills to the ward RS presidencies. And there really needs to be a clear delineation between RS ‘social activities’ where we put on the spread and pamper ourselves physically and an educational meeting = leadership = where there is no real justification to serve anything (other than possibly a drink and a biscuit).

    If this regular education and mentoring support was put into place – maybe we would have a spiritual leader as well as one who can provide the physical support to the sisters.

    We really do need to raise the bar in how we educate, support and care for the RS leadership, as without them stepping up, they cannot raise the bar for all the RS sisters as a whole = and lets face it, we are falling far short of what Christ would have us be & do.

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  15. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    And another forwarded comment:

    Hmmmmmm….an interesting read. I absolutely agree that ‘pampering’ is not training and I HATE those evenings as an activity even. What do we LEARN from it? How does it STRENGTHEN us and bring us closer to Christ?? Drives me insane.

    I do think that women are different to men and that a Stake presidency is still a must. Women and their emotional well being affects their spiritual well being and there is NO WAY a man can help that.

    How should Stake Relief Society trainings help wards to adequately meet the mission of Relief Society?
    I think trainings need to be more about LISTENING.
    If women are to grow in leadership ability, much as men do through priesthood service, how do we improve the necessary mentoring provided by Stake leaders?
    Men don’t have the worry about what to feed the family at night. Will Bobby eat his vegetables finally? Taking Susy bra shopping and also preparing her for periods can wear a woman down. Men don’t have those concerns playing on their mind when they are called upon to serve someone else. Their concern about providing for the family is also carried by the women. The leadership ‘ability’ of the men to serve can not be a mirror for the women. I think the role of the Stk RS presidency should mainly be that of a counselor/therapist. LISTEN and by listening they learn what is needed.
    Bishoprics meet monthly with Stake leaders, and ward RS presidencies serve in tandem with bishoprics. Ward council is the intended medium for collaboration. What role does the Stake RS Presidency play in this relationship?
    The Stk RS visit wards and watch what goes on then reports back to the stake leaders at stake council. I think this is important as well.

    What changes in Relief Society culture would improve our pastoral care and refine our mission?
    Get rid of the VT message!!!!! I think a theme along with a scripture reference is all that is needed. Have it ALWAYS focus on the Savior. These messages ABOUT VT are a crock and messages about strengthen marriages annoy me. IF the VT has done her ‘job’ then the person she visits will begin to share about her marriage and difficulties with children/finances etc which would allow the VT to take it from there. Stop having VT conferences!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I think the Stake could take charge of training the teachers….come to think of it when I was in the stake I did that so carry on stake. :)

    Years ago I went to a super Saturday of sorts. It wasn’t for the entire stake. It was for a few sisters from each ward to go to some classes that they could in turn go back to their wards and teach at a homemaking night. I took a class on what colour best suits you….warm/cool etc and I can’t remember the others. It think an event like that each year with classes on appropriate things to have for activity nights would be good. I’m sick of crafts.

    That’s my 5 cents worth. :)

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  16. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM

    And from another group:

    I thumbs up’d Paul’s comment because it describes a lot of what I did in a Stake YW’s presidency. One thing I’d add is that the stake presidency usually has a focus, and the stake aux. presidencies can do a lot to further those stake goals. The SP often has info on a ward that the leaders might not be forthcoming about and aux. presidencies can address those issues in a tactful way We focused on being a support and a friend to the wards, not a leader who’s watching to see how they’re screwing up. Tons of encouragement, but not the patronizing kind. Real feedback about what they are doing that is good, even if they don’t get results (like having service projects but few people attending).

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  17. Michelle on July 26, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    Wanna know one idea?

    Cut the RS budget. Which would only infuriate those who think budget is the measure of worth in the Church. ;)

    On a more serious note (even though I’m not completely joking), I think one answer really is in the local leaders being leaders. Sister Beck talked so much about getting on your knees to get revelation I imagine she felt like a broken record. We’ve been told how to do this, but old traditions die hard. And it can only happen when local people decide to both lead and receive with faith and power.

    I also revisited Pres. Packer’s talk about authority vs. power and I was struck by another thought. Maybe another way we need to ramp it up is to ‘get’ what power looks like in how we live in our families, which was a key part of his message. We don’t fully unleash the power in the Church if we don’t unleash God’s power in our homes. If we don’t come from our homes armed with faith and power, we’ll not be likely to act with power in the Church structure. I think it is wise to remember the proper place of the Church — as a scaffolding to the family, not the other way around.

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  18. Michelle on July 26, 2012 at 1:01 AM

    p.s. I personally don’t think that this is a good use of the concept of priestesshood. I think what being priests and priestesses means goes far beyond our simple roles in the Church structure, and I feel a bit uncomfy reducing priestesshood to RS training meetings. Just sayin.’ But I guess part of what you are trying to do is help raise our sites a bit? I get that, but I think you also risk minimizing what priestesshood could (and I think will) entail in an eternal scheme of things by equating it too closely with RS. I don’t think quorum meetings really capture what priesthood is, either. I think this is actually part of the problem we have. Church activity is sometimes misunderstood as the gospel (a la Elder Hallstrom). The gospel meaning behind priesthood is much deeper and broader and more powerful than a few Church meetings a year. So I think another thing we could do is ponder and go to the temple more to consider what it means to tap more into God’s power through Christ’s Atonement.

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  19. Hedgehog on July 26, 2012 at 1:38 AM

    Being a stake leader of an auxiliary can be a minefield. A family member recently served briefly as stake Sunday school president. Did his best to meet with, nurture, and encourage at the ward level. He had Bishops being twitchy and defensive because he phoned to ask who their ward Sunday school president was (how else was he to find out?), and other Bishops complaining to stake because they felt he was interfering (he wasn’t, he was just trying to get to know, and keep in regular contact with the ward Sunday school presidents), so he had a number of phone calls from the stake presidency about that too. In that kind of environment, who’d want to be getting down to ward level too often!

    That said, I hate the froth of RS activities. Give me substance over froth any time. In fact, if it’s froth, I don’t go. Dinky handouts after lessons I can do without, just so much clutter that I really don’t need, yet it breaks my heart to throw them out when someone has put so much effort into something… And what’s with all the refreshments? A glass of water at the end is all I need.

    To me it seems like RS has lost its direction at the same time it lost its independence…

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  20. MIke S on July 26, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    I think this problem is a natural result of the Church’s current organization. When people talk about how RS “used” to be, with more vibrancy and activities, it was a different time. It was truly a program run by women for women with a separate budget, raised by and controlled by women. On a local level, there were guiding principles, but women on all levels had a great deal of autonomy.

    Contrast that to today’s RS. The budget was subsumed by the general church. The manuals are written by a correlation committee. Local leaders are expected to implement various programs. And it is all done under the auspices of the “priesthood” (ie. men).

    When my wife was our ward’s enrichment leader (back when there was an activity each month), she would spend a great deal of time trying to come up with an activity that was engaging, helped people, and was cheap. But the bishop micromanaged everything and would change little details all the way up to entire nights. And this goes on in the whole church.

    In Primary, each yearly theme, monthly theme and weekly “suggested idea” is given. Sure, there is a bit of latitude, but leaders have largely been reduced to “implementors” of various programs. It is natural that this reduces initiative and leads to blandness.

    So, we’re left with fancy dinners and white gyms.

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  21. DeeAnn on July 26, 2012 at 3:26 AM

    I like your suggestions Bonnie. I think Sister Beck was a great example of a leader and gave us invaluable guidance on how we should lead in RS. Less fluff, more substance. It’s hard to implement that on a ward level when it means changing time-honored traditions. (Believe me, I know from personal experience) There is a fine balance and you have to be careful when making such changes to be considerate of other points of view, while still implementing the changes you feel inspired to make.

    @Nate – please, no more meetings! And I think the stake leaders should NOT get more involved in the wards. They are there to support the ward leaders, not take over their callings. :-)
    @Mike – Wow, I’ve never experienced a bishop micromanaging like that. Would drive me nuts! Hopefully that’s not the norm (I’ve been RS president under 3 bishops, and none have even done more than suggest a topic after I begged for input from them.)

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  22. Michelle on July 26, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    I forgot one other Sister Beck comment that has stuck with me (there are many, many more, but this one seems very relevant to this discussion).

    I’ll look for the actual quote, but she talked about how if we work and serve together, then the social element takes care of itself as we do that. In essence, the message was stop using RS as a social event — we should fulfill our responsibility to serve and then the relationships will be built as we do.

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  23. Anselma on July 26, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    As someone who generally doesn’t attend RS activities (church is too far from campus), I’m not sure what I would need. When I used to teach RS, I would have loved a lesson or two in how to teach, how to go beyond the manual instead of just reading aloud for an hour and hoping someone had something to say. Home Ec activities and dinners aren’t a big draw, but I would love it (LOVE IT) if someone would hold an activity where we just talked about ways we can get a bit more of it together, “it” being a sense of self, a sense of purpose and enthusiasm.

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  24. Liz C on July 26, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Michelle, I’ve found the same to be true. Blogged about it a bit here:

    I do think we’d have more society if we engaged in more relief. There’s a pulling together; we love both those whom we serve, and those with whom we serve. I’d far rather have budget money go to purchasing basic supplies for local, regional, national, and international humanitarian needs of all kinds (seed collection/donation for low-income gardening, mentoring in such,operating RS garden rows at home and in community gardens for donation to local soup kitchens, family and single shelter items, newborn items for crisis pregnancy/shelter centers, open parenting classes with gospel foundations, serving households in the neighborhoods… just off the top of my head, I could think of at least 50 worthwhile service aspects, easily!) and our gathering society time split about 25% encouraging/motivating, and 75% serving together (where the encouraging/support really happen!). We work, we learn, we love!

    Our area does need Home Ec stuff; I get questions about things I consider fairly basic from people older and younger than me, and that’s kind of sad, though I’m happy to share anything I know. Having a firm grasp on “how the heck to make it work at home” is part of strengthening families, but so is a workshop on using a scripture journal to capture and record personal revelation, and why living by revelation, inspiration, and confirmation is the only way to go as a daughter of God. I get really excited about this stuff. :)

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  25. Karen on July 26, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    (Mostly responding to the original post here:) I wonder if leadership trainings would be helpful, or not? How do we help someone “get it”? Catch a vision? If we had stake leaders everywhere who got it, then I think maybe they could pass it on. But if they don’t… then what? My husband has been to plenty of Stake priesthood trainings, and while they aren’t lavish, they aren’t always exactly always full of insight and vision either! The problem seems to be individual — if individuals were catching the right vision, then when they got called into callings they could guide the organization (rather than trying to train them to catch the vision after they’re already called and already have presuppositions they’re bringing into the calling). And how do we help individuals to catch a better vision? To really be converted? To be consecrated? One person at a time? One class at a time? I think Sis. Beck and others have been working to make this happen, as you’ve pointed out. And maybe we could read her work that way – she has been trying to reach and change individuals? (Think of giving each individual RS member the RS history, not just training leaders about it? Regardless of how effective it was, think of the gesture – to reach individuals, not just leaders?) And I think her talks etc. must help some change, and certainly it strengthens those who are already wanting to catch a better vision of things. But obviously there is more work we have to do. How do we accomplish something like this?? A big question…

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  26. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Thanks for everyone’s comments.

    #18 Michelle – my intent was not to diminish priestesshood but to have more conversations about it. Just as priesthood can be discussed when we’re talking about deacons who are just beginning to understand what it means to be a priest (in the large context, not the administrative context), I think we can talk about priestesshood all along its own continuum as well. After all, one is pianist when one begins the journey playing the piano as much as when one plays at Carnegie. Training priestesshood occurs all along that continuum just as training priesthood does.

    #24 Liz – I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY! Fellowship follows service and I think we diminish everything we do when we say we want to have an activity for the sake of fellowship alone. Just as #23 Anselma notes the sense of purpose gives meaning (and Michelle also notes), I think all of our activities can and should provide meaning.

    #21 DeeAnn – I’d love to hear your ideas on HOW we can begin altering time-honored traditions without offending those who derive a sense of continuity from them. I agree that that’s important.

    #20 Mike – I hear what you’re saying. I think one of the great powers of DIMK is the power of primary sources – putting in the hands of modern women the history that shows them things weren’t always “this way.” It’s perspective expanding. While I see distinct benefits to correlation (there is a serious downside to having two independent organizations tasked with the same thing), I think we could do better at making sure RS leaders “get the memo” from the priesthood leaders who are attending the meetings in their stead.

    #19 Hedgehog – Oh, I hear you. I had the same experience some years ago serving in a SRSP that my friend is having now and that you describe. We have some strange ideas about leadership collaboration in the church on these local levels.

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  27. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Karen – fabulous point. I agree that DIMK was a bottom-up change effort and it gives me goosebumps. So much unsaid and powerful in that move. And I agree that meetings aren’t always powerful. It’s one of the big reasons I am not a fan of setting up a parallel organization to the priesthood – all the meetings that come with that and all the layers of administration that brings. One of the reasons for the OP was that I believe in bottom-up change. We don’t have to wait to have a program implemented when we have a vision articulated. Pres. Beck did that quite well. If we act on it locally, we’ll see a sea-change.

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  28. Natsy on July 26, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Thanks Henry! :)

    When I was an RS pres (singles ward) the Stake RS presidency was great. Our monthly leadership trainings focused on leadership. I emailed them all the time for advice and got to be really good friends with them. What I did feel bad about was that all the girls in RS didn’t have a chance to get to know them because they were so amazing!

    Those leadership trainings were different, though, than just general RS activities. Our stake leadership told us to plan activities with one girl in mind. We were too focus on one individual who needed help in whatever and plan the activity around her. This was very helpful and worked well.

    As far as “froth” goes, in a singles ward, it was sometimes the “froth” that was needed. Our biggest goal was making church feel like a safe place where the girls had friends, so a lot of our activities focused on social things. One girl, that felt lonely, really liked hiking, so we planned a hiking activity and had her help. Another girl liked crocheting, so we had a crochet acitivty where we made scarfs and hats that we donated to a local agency. I don’t know if this is what you mean by frothy activities, but they worked well for us.

    As a general RS member: I work all day long and attend a numerous meetings. I go to 3 hours of meetings on Sunday and more if I have a calling. Seriously, the last thing I want to do is attend an activity where I sit and listen to someone else. I want to socialize. In fact, I will never go to an activity that involves a “lecture,” but that’s just me and I know others do like this type of thing. I think it’s important to have a variety of activities. Some of us just want froth because that is all are tired brains can handle at the moment. :)

    Loved this thread! Lots of good ideas and insights.

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  29. Liz C on July 26, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Natsy, I’d not call that stuff “froth”–there were meaningful purposes along with those activities (having fun in the outdoors while exploring a new activity has the potential to change someone’s life for the better; learning a new skill and putting it to use in service is immediately beneficial, too.)

    There’s nothing wrong with purely social stuff now and then, but when it’s a steady diet, and nothing more nutritious? Gets old.

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  30. Rigel Hawthorne on July 26, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    “only to find out that this sad girl was the daughter of the woman in charge of the evening on Faith”

    Jacqueline Kennedy is quoted as saying, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

    I tend to guard time with my children fairly zeolously when it comes to opportunities to go to more meetings and extra activities, as I’m sure many people do. I started parenting at an above average age and recognize that this is my one chance to get it right.

    I just passed up an opportunity to serve on a stake pioneer day work project because the timing placed it at the same weekend as the rural county fair. This is a big community even here. My wife and kids look forward to this every year. It is a chance for my wife (and myself too) to pass along traditions of canning, drying, baking, artwork, needlework and so many of those things that traditional relief society/young women’s programs, and scouts would be doing. This gives them a chance to enter their creations in a community event where their peers–mostly non-Mormon–can see their hard work and their recognition.

    So with a large community event with those opportunities, one might ask why there would the biggest stake work project of the year on the same weekend (when entries must be turned in). A lot of volunteer support is needed for the fair to take place and with a rival church activity the same weekend, a choice has to be made.

    Well, I’m sure the fair is not for everyone, but it is for us, so I passed on the work project to divide and conquer the children’s needs for the day so my wife could devote some more close attention to helping with projects getting finished.

    Sometimes we have more meetings to learn about service, when there are opportunities in the community to serve that are missed that could have taken place during the meetings.

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  31. Natsy on July 26, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Liz C. – I don’t think they are froth either, it just seemed like a lot of posters were calling for more lecture-like activities and I disagree that those are always the ways to go. That is what church is (supposed to be) for.

    That being said, I do not like craft activities either. That probably started in YW. I got so tired of the boys going off to learn archery while we got stuck painting more blocks and tying more quilts. I don’t like making cutesy pillows and decorating scrapbooks. But some people do and that’s fine.

    I agree with you that the same steady diet of anything gets old. It’s nice to have a mix. I also found, that regardless of the activity, if girls had friends in the ward, they were more willing to attend because they liked being with their friends.

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  32. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    Forwarded comment:

    Interesting article. It is definitely thought-provoking. As one who is only a peripheral participant in RS (yes, spending nearly one’s entire adult life in YW makes you pretty peripheral to RS), I have always struggled with it. I am craft impaired, so many of the activities have no appeal for me. I try to go to be supportive of the women in our ward, but for me it is a reminder of my not-fitting-in youth. I can’t say how much time is devoted in stake trainings to teach our women to lead and inspire–I have only served briefly in a presidency, but never received ANY training on how I should fulfill my calling.

    I loved the story about the “white” activity because I have seen it far too many times. It is all too true.

    I do think the focus needs to be more on teaching our women to be leaders and nurturers in their families (immediate & extended), in the gospel and in the community. How to do that, I am not yet sure because I honestly don’t know how it works now.

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  33. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Forwarded comment:

    Good article, Bonnie. I share many of the same feelings — and have for years. I’m happy to see the younger generation beginning to wake-up a bit. When I served as the stake education counselor, I usually met a brick wall when trying to encourage ward teachers to do away with handouts, and fluffy type lessons — and simply teach doctrine.

    When I served as a ward ‘homemaking’ counselor (many times) I was met with nothing but resistance when I attempted to encourage ‘homemaking’ night to be something that had a spiritual purpose.

    Sadly, many women feel that RS is their relief time, away from the important things of life. So, the pampering attitude persists as a way of getting women to attend RS functions.

    However, I seriously feel that this tone begins as far back as the primary years, where we begin what I call ‘treat training’ our members. It peaks in all our youth programs. And currently DH is serving, weekly, in the temple and indeed as a supervisor he was instructed that when it is his turn to conduct the evening devotional for other workers, he is to bring treats. Needless to say I do not enable this activity. He’s totally on his own. ;)

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  34. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Forwarded comment (with 2 “likes”):

    I want Relief Society activities to be my relief/escape – but I’d prefer them to be a spiritual harbor rather than a physical one. I typically need spiritual recharging.

    I too struggle to feel as if I fit in. I am the primary breadwinner in our home, so I have to focus some time on my career. I struggled with infertility so my peers have pre-teens and I have a toddler and a preschooler. I don’t do crafts. I don’t care about Twighlight or mommy blogs and there are no extended family Sunday dinners. Culturally, I feel a million miles away from other Mormon women with small kids.

    Totally stereotyping, but if RS focused more on doctrine and service and less on culture, I’d likely have to spend less time trying to feel a part of it and more time growing.

    And now they’re going to find out and take me from my beloved Sunday School calling to serve in RS. ;)

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  35. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Forwarded comment (with 2 “likes”):

    We have a ‘Relief Society Meeting’ coming up. The announcement indicates it will be a night of socializing sewing and supper. At a private home. I could be wrong but this reeks of no planning and no insight. I am ‘on assignment’ to promote the reading of Daughters of My Kingdom book. I had suggested that each activity been linked to the book. I look forward to hearing or seeing what the link is.

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  36. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Forwarded comment:

    I’ve been thinking about all this a lot. And discussing it with other woman. It seems to me that years ago we had 2 things that made a big difference: one was a monthly board meeting that sometimes was attended by the Stake RS president who talked to us about what mattered. The other was that the Stake RS President was a woman that ‘ministered’ unto us. We could turn to her, and did so. I recall training for Ward RS Presidencies by local LDS Social Services personal. I recall as a Counselor standing in for the President at a training in communication. I was paired with the Stake RS President who through the activity became embarrassed to find that she could neither relay information/instructions accurately. And that I could. In the following weeks as our ward hit a major crisis she would contact me to get accurate updates. So never mind my part in this my question is WHO was training/sustaining her? Now I only know who my Stake leaders are because 2 are in my ward. They have never spoken to me. They do not move amongst us in a way that invites one to confide in them. Indeed one now has a husband in the Bishopric so now there is a concern re pillow talk. I see them walk to class together alone. They sit out the front. They never smile. Perhaps they are heavily burdened, struggling without support training and ministering?

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  37. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Forwarded comment:

    I would suspect that many more are burdened trying to do the best with the resources given.

    The general relief society dies offer trainings and insights now via the web. I hear of them through my mom with her stake RS calling. They attend every one (virtually) and then share the info with their presidencies. They also have a great relationship with the stake president. But I think that is more the exception than the norm.

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  38. Michelle on July 26, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    ” Just as priesthood can be discussed when we’re talking about deacons who are just beginning to understand what it means to be a priest (in the large context, not the administrative context), I think we can talk about priestesshood all along its own continuum as well.”

    I guess I see the risk is that we could get ahead of ourselves. Where does the power the RS needs come from? The priesthood, God’s power. I just think the concept of priestesshood (the future role) can easily be misunderstood or misrepresented as being a separate thing, a separate authority, even, from priesthood (the authority).

    I personally think we need to understand priesthood authority and power (accessible because of Christ’s Atonement) better and how its power flows to men AND women before we’re ready to understand and talk about priest/priestess roles. In fact, I think understanding that is key to getting RS more to what it needs to be. If we are to someday be priestesses, we have to understand priesthood the power/authority first and how to harness its power in our given roles and responsibilities.

    I think I get what you are driving at, but I personally think there is great risk for misunderstanding and misapplying the concept in ways that will diminish women’s power and influence, not enhance it.

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  39. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    I agree, Michelle. If priesthood is the power to act in God the Father’s name, we can’t know much about priestesshood (the power to act in God the Mother’s name) until we know more about her. You are absolutely right that it’s a guessing game. Would that that were not so.

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  40. Michelle on July 26, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    Alas, your comment and speculation about what priestesshood is is an example of why I’m uncomfortable with the title of the post. I don’t agree with your speculation/definition, but even if I did, it’s moving into territory that we simply don’t have enough information about. Speculation risks creation of folklore and misunderstandings.

    That said, I think we have a lot to work with and work on in accessing priesthood power more in all we do, so in terms of the basic premise of your post and hoping that RS can be more focused, I am in agreement.

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  41. Brenna Woodbury Williams on July 26, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    I faced the issue of planning our ward’s Christmas activity, where it has been a tradition that there was a nice dinner and the sisters could gather to talk. That was it. No program, no service project, and no real mention of Christ or Christmas. I was seriously uncomfortable with it.

    I knew I wasn’t going to break the dinner tradition, but I did ask to be able to do a spiritual program afterwards. I got permission, but it was not supposed to be long, and it wasn’t something they wanted to burden other sisters with by asking them to contribute in any way…so I was on my own. And honestly, it was a really good experience for me. I prayed a lot to know what to do, and how to do it. And people left there saying it was the best Christmas activity they’d been to; both in terms of the food and the extra program afterwards.

    I think, what I’ve learned is that there are people who want the “meat” but don’t know where to find it, and people who want to try meat, but don’t know what it tastes like and are scared. So, maybe we can’t turn the formal dinner party into a “come in your grubby clothes and help us harvest wheat,” but perhaps we can slowly introduce ways in which we can incorporate meat into the current relief society diet through seeking revelation about how to introduce them into the current diet. And when people taste it, they will enjoy it and want more, and when it happens often, they won’t be surprised by it anymore, will come to expect it, and tolerate more and more of it.

    As for food being a must at activities, I go with the philosophy that the more people I ask to do something to help, the more people will come. So, if that means we have 25 plates of cookies brought by 25 people, 5 of whom may not have come if they didn’t have a responsibility, I don’t mind incorporating that into my activity. :)

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  42. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 9:47 PM

    Michelle, I appreciate and understand the discomfort. Since we are called as priestesses, I assume that God would like to tell us about what that means rather than leave us in the dark. Would you share your definition? It’s a subject of great interest to me and I enjoy learning.

    Brenna, what a beautiful example of the slow and gentle movement that we can make to bring the spirit to our traditional gatherings! That must have been a lot of work. What a blessing that you were willing.

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  43. Bonnie on July 26, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    The Church’s infographic detailing lay leadership at the local level can be found here:

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  44. Michelle on July 28, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Brenna, that sounds like something similar that happened years ago in a ward I had just moved into. They’d always done the Santa-and-food thing. The year we scrapped that tradition and followed the Spirit to plan something very different was something I’ll always remember. New members were involved in significant ways, an investigator was significantly impacted by his attendance. I felt God was involved and bless the members’ and leaders’ hearts, they supported it even though it was different.

    I think that sometimes it can take courage to challenge old ways of doing things and try something new…not to entertain or just to socialize, but to nurture and invite the Spirit — and mostly, to seek and follow the Spirit through the council system as to what the current needs of the ward/stake are.

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  45. Michelle on July 28, 2012 at 12:08 AM

    (and of course I mean trying new things within the realm of handbook guidelines, etc. It’s just too easy to do things just because they’ve always been done without necessarily thinking about the ‘why’ of doing them, the purpose, the needs, the stewardships, etc.)

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  46. Karen on July 28, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Michelle: This reminds me of what Sister Beck said at the Worldwide Leadership Training in 2008:

    “Years ago there was a little rule I made for myself that I think is pretty applicable to everyone. A good reason to have a ward activity or a stake activity is because we need it and it will strengthen our families and individuals. A bad reason to have an activity is because it’s a tradition or there’s a certain holiday we have to celebrate. When we talk about gospel patterns, we know the needs. Let’s plan the activities around those needs, and if something was a wonderful activity last year, it doesn’t mean we need to build it into a tradition.” :)

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  47. annegb on August 5, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    I do not want to be a priestess. I do not want to be a leader. I want a massage and a pedicure and some nice baked brie with fake champagne.

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