Zelophehad’s Daughters

Relief Society Goes Berserk

Posted by Eve

OK, I lied. It is not December 14th, and my papers have not been written. But I am nearing the end of what I have to admit is a fairly short tether with my stake Relief Society calling. In the midst of writing final papers and translations, I’ve found myself in a losing battle to scale down the mammoth stake Relief Society enrichment day planned for next spring. In the past it’s been an all-day extravaganza, two meals, workshop after workshop, crafts and motivational speakers jumping out of cakes (well, I may be exaggerating a wee bit about the cakes ;) ).

I really don’t mind putting a lot of work into an activity, as long as it has a point. But I simply don’t see how it meets women’s needs to organize hours of what–let’s face it–often amounts to so much fluff and an extravagent lunch for which they will all have to cook something. Really, is anyone going to suffer lasting spiritual malaise if we offer only two workshops and a potato bar? And in a stake as geographically large as ours, isn’t it a lot to ask women in distant branches to drive an hour each way for an all-day activity–activities which, tellingly, they generally have to be guilted into attending? I’ve read Marjorie Condor’s and Jana Reiss’s recent reflections on Relief Society, and Claudia Bushman’s on the lives of Mormon women with great interest. And I have to ask myself of the daunting Relief Society labor I’m currently facing, This is the organization modeled on the priesthood, the power of God on the earth, whose members at one time considered themselves a quorum, charged “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls”?

When it comes to trivial excess, we women have no one to blame but ourselves. Years ago when I was the education counselor in a ward Relief Society presidency, I watched the frenzy take hold. One week the teacher decorated the entire table with tastefully chosen, carefully arranged photographs and personal momentos relating to the lesson and distributed handouts. The next week, the teacher had to decorate, distribute handouts, and make treats. And the next teacher had to decorate, distribute handouts, and offer a choice of homemade treats.

When did we start to confuse consecrating our hearts with breaking our backs? And in a stake, and a world, in which women struggle with singleness, childlessness, marital problems, divorce, widowhood, debt, poverty, physical illness, mental illness, addictions, rebellious children, abusive parents, loneliness, sorrow, and sin, why, oh why, is our greatest concern making sure that the centerpieces match the tablecloths?

37 Responses to “Relief Society Goes Berserk”

  1. 1.

    “When did we start to confuse consecrating our hearts with breaking our backs?”

    These two ideas have been intertwined since Adam had to earn his food by the sweat of his brow. When it comes down to it, all we have is our labor.

  2. 2.

    That sums up how I have felt about Relief Society since I was in young womens. Only at BYU in my single and married wards did I feel more of the true meaning of RS. I think it related very closely to the importance of visiting teaching. It’s where I decided I’ll never miss a month, and I will always ask each sister what she struggles with. For me, it seems RS sisters either think visiting teaching is a joke, or they take it very seriously. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.
    Perhaps this is threadjacking, but to me it seems to answer the problems in this quote.

    women struggle with singleness, childlessness, marital problems, divorce, widowhood, debt, poverty, physical illness, mental illness, addictions, rebellious children, abusive parents, loneliness, sorrow, and sin,

    It also helps alleviate the burden of the RS president. I’m also impressed, Eve, with the idea that this is of our own doing, not a problem brought on by men.
    I would only add that perhaps women want to compensate for their lack of authority in other areas by adding the frills of tablecloths and toll paint.

  3. 3.

    This is a great post, Eve (even if you’re not done with your papers). I, too, find myself annoyed with the frills of RS.

    I think a large part of this annoyance stems from a particular experience in my singles ward in college. I was a RS teacher, and had been for a little while. Before that I had taught gospel doctrine, and I taught them in very similar ways — I generally just sat on a table at the front of the room (thus allowing me to see the entire class without having to stand for the whole time) and talked about scripture, doctrine, etc. Sometimes I made handouts for RS. Sometimes I brought treats (for both SS and RS). But the most important thing was the content.

    After I had been teaching RS for a little while a new teacher was called (in addition to me). She brought tablecloths, pictures, centerpieces, etc. from home (we met at the institute building and didn’t have a RS closet full of these things — which I never thought odd at the time, but I now realize is decidedly strange). When she began teaching a lot of people praised her lessons. I didn’t mind — I actually enjoyed them myself. But when asked why they enjoyed her lessons, the most common answer was that they liked that she brought tablecloths and decorations! That frustrated me to no end. What kind of people were these that they thought the most important part of the lesson was the table decoration?!

    Anyway, that’s probably enough ranting. Needless to say, while I think visual aids can be nice and useful, the tablecloths and centerpieces in the RS rooms tend to just get on my nerves.

    As for your activity, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’ve actually managed to avoid ever having an enrichment calling (which is pretty amazing since I’ve had just about every other one that I could have, except YW — maybe they’re afraid I’ll corrupt the girls). I’m not always a fan of enrichment, and I don’t know that I’d want to go to an all day thing either.

    That being said, if you can’t convince them to shorten the activity, maybe you can influence some of the classes that are offered. Find a financial advisor who will talk come and talk about budgeting and ways of getting out of debt. Find a counselor who will come and talk about recognizing signs and symptoms of abuse or addiction. Get together a panel of mothers who have struggled with wayward children to talk about methods of dealing with it. Enrichment doesn’t have to be all about scrapbooking. (And I, for one, wish it wasn’t. The only enrichment activity I currently enjoy and participate in is playgroup. And while I appreciate it, it doesn’t really enrich me.)

  4. 4.

    I’ve never felt quite at home in Relief Society. I just don’t get it. I’d much rather hang out in Primary or Nursery. In my opinion, Relief Society needs to be less about 1950’s-ish “Society” and more about genuine “Relief” and service to the community.

    Good luck with your calling, Eve. :)

  5. 5.

    Agreed: More relief, less “society”
    What can we do to make this better? I admit to being a big time complainer (or whiner as my husband calls me). Most times I neglect to look for solutions to the problems I whine about.
    What does anyone do to help RS focus on its real mission and less on the frills?

  6. 6.

    You didn’t say what exactly your calling is, but in your situation I would probably say something like this:

    “I will not help you plan the second meal because I think this activity is ill-advised and I don’t feel that I can in good conscience be a part of it.”

    If this sounds like an outrageous thing to say, so be it. I have done this 3 times this year in relation to my Primary calling. In two cases, the things I objected to were changed. In another case, it went on without me. In no case did the world end.

  7. 7.

    I second Julie’s suggestion. It can be very awkward, however, to state things forcefully in such an environment. I remember reading a spoof of a Relief Society meeting where no one was brave enough to speak up and say what they really thought about a particular idea for Enrichment, because everyone was afraid of saying something (however innocuous) that might hurt someone’s feelings. Funny, and so true.

  8. 8.

    “isn’t it a lot to ask women in distant branches to drive an hour each way for an all-day activity”?

    Isn’t it even more to ask them to do the same drive for a short activity, one during which they are unlikely to renew old cross-unit friendships or make new ones?

    Just a thought, from someone in a similarly large stake….

  9. 9.

    Ola Senor (#1), I’m not sure that anyone is arguing against labor–rather, the pertinent question seems to be whether we’re spending our labor “for that which satisfieth not.”

    Eve, all I can say is that I don’t envy you this calling. I actually haven’t been to Enrichment in quite a long time. (But now I’m wondering, would I be persuaded to attend if I were told in advance that a motivational speaker would be jumping out of a cake? ;))

  10. 10.

    I want to say something substantive here, but I’m too busy basking in the feeling that I am not alone in my issues with Relief Society. Thank you for writing this post.

  11. 11.

    Some years ago my ward was engaged in what I thought was a “trivial excess,” a potluck dinner after ward conference. I thought it was an unnecessary hassle on a day when many of us had better things to do. My husband was in a position to have some say on such issues, to I petitioned him to get rid of it this year.

    Well, he came back from the ward council meeting, and it was an eye opener. It turns out that the biggest fans of this dinner were the many women in our ward who were married to non-members. Their husbands won’t come with them to any church activities, so they didn’t feel comfortable going to ward parties that were held on weekends, etc. But this dinner only added 30 minutes to a block of time that the wife was usually away, anyway. And it allowed these sisters to fellowship with the saints in a way that was usually not available to them.

    It was a humbling experience for me. I certainly believe in focussing on what is really important, and questioning when we think stuff could be done more effectively. But I also think that the diversity of sisters’ needs is not always obvious to any one of us.

    And my experience is similar to #8, attendance seems better if the drive seems worth it to folks.

  12. 12.

    Hats off to those of you who have callings related to Enrichment and Compassionate Service! There are times when you do far more than you know.

  13. 13.

    I spend much time loving the sisterhood I feel on this and other boards. If I could dedicate a day to hanging out with you guys and having lunch, just once a year, and talking about both important things and fluff, I would do it in a heartbeat. I need this sisterhood.

    You may think that the topics are fluff or unimportant, but maybe it’s not the topics that are important, it’s the sisterhood and friendship and the knowledge that you’re not alone.

    (I’m not a fan of enrichment, but it sure is fun to have an evening with my friend!)

    Also, some women get much satisfaction from organizing and decorating, and maybe the frilly tablecloths are part of their happiness. It’s when you feel like you’re a looser if you don’t that it goes awry. It’s like when you make a special dinner and you go out of your way to make sure the plates are warmed and decorated beautifully with all the right colors. If it’s for your pleasure, great. If it’s to impress the guests, it’s sad.

    Chris

  14. 14.

    Chris, I get that a lot of women really benefit from the Relief Society, and I’m glad. I just wish we did more actual relief work as well, and maybe spent our organizational energies on such work. I think that sometimes that our love of our sisters is used as a substitute for our love of and service to all God’s children, rather than as a supportive framework for that wider love and service.

  15. 15.

    Thanks for all the observations, suggestions, and kind words.

    To clarify my situation: I’m the enrichment counselor in the stake RS presidency. (This is a calling for which I am spectacularly unqualified–as I have said elsewhere, it is doubtful I could enrich my way out of a paper bag.) Part of the difficulty with the activity lies in the fact that it’s not entirely clear who is ultimately responsible for it–the person we’re trying to get called to head it up (two have already refused, no surprise there), I, or the stake RS president herself. Another part of the difficulty lies in the very large generation and culture gap between the rest of the stake RS presidency and me. I would guess that they are all at least twenty years my senior, and they’ve worked together for years. I’m a newcomer, and I think it’s difficult not for them to see me as too young and inexperienced to have anything very substantial to contribute. (From comments some have made, I gather they imagined me sweeping in and galvananize things with lots of cute young sparkly ideas. Unfortunately for us all, they could not have picked a worse person to dispense sparkles).

    I love Vada’s suggestions–in fact, they are almost exactly the suggestion I made to the stake RS president, and they were quickly shot down. My next approach is going to be to contact every ward RS president and ask her to list the top three or four problems the women in her ward face and to construct workshop topics based on their responses. I don’t see how the rest of the presidency can really argue with that. (As Naismith says, it’s very difficult to know the diversity of needs out there. So I’m trying to do all I can to find out about them.)

    Julie’s suggestion is one I keep in my back pocket in such situations. I do think there’s a time when it’s necessary to simply refuse to participate in something, but as a general rule I try to save my acts of civil disobedience for what I see as the most dire situations. (For example, I once refused to teach a woman on my mission because it was clear the APs had pressured her mother into baptism to meet an end-of-the-year number goal, and her mother was anything but firm in her testimony. I didn’t want to be part of compounding the damage to make numbers.) I do hope we’re not to that point yet–and I really hope we don’t get to that point. ECS makes a vital observations about the difficulty of direct communication among Mormon women (except behind each other’s backs, or online, where we Mormon women evidently have no problem stating our perspectives in the most forceful possible terms. I do not exempt myself from this criticism.) One difficulty the cultural norm of niceness creates is that clear, direct communication can easily be perceived as aggressive, even when it’s not meant to be. I find it a complicated balancing act to make my perspective clear while simultaneously defusing the hostility direct communication is sometimes taken to convey.

    JrL and Naismith raise an issue I hadn’t considered–that women in outlying areas might actually prefer a longer activity that seems more worth their time. I lived on the margins of a large stake for six years, and personally, I always wanted these things to be short and to the point so that my entire day wasn’t swallowed (and so that I could work in a run to Barnes & Noble before going home ;) ). But I can see how others might feel different.

    However, I don’t think a shorter activity need necessarily curtail opportunities to develop friendship. I think a shorter formal portion (fewer workshops) and a longer informal portion, in which people can linger over lunch and talk, would do more to facilitate relationships than a heavily scheduled day might. On the other hand, I know some people make friends by doing things together rather than by talking in what can feel like an artificial setting, and hands-on workshops of some kind might be helpful toward that end.

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with organizing and decorating, in spite of my own ineptitude in such pursuits. My concern is that they’ve taken on inordinate importance in this activity in particular and in Relief Society more generally. When we talk more about napkins than we do about addressing the real and very difficult problems women face and about service, about aiding the poor and saving souls, in Joseph Smith’s terms, then something has gone badly awry.

    As Jessawhy and Serenity Valley said so well, we need less “society” and more “relief.” I wholeheartedly agree with Chris that part of the value of such activities is emotional and social support. But I also think that such support is far, far better fostered by a climate in which real problems people actually face are addressed honestly, practically, and compassionately. When people have an opportunity to get practical information that will help them and to exchange suggestions with others, that builds support much more effectively than fluffy rah-rah motivational speakers–who, in my experience, tend to create an environment hostile to honest discussion of issues by sending the message that if ony we all have enough faith and ingest enough pop psychology, we can slap a happy smile on our faces at all times. The difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and denial is sometimes dangerously blurred.

    In some ways my deepest concern about Relief Society is the strain of excessively self-congratulatory, almost downright self-indulgent rhetoric that I hear. (I’m not speaking of the lives of individual women here, most of whom, I know, are doing their utmost to their children’s and family’s needs, often at great personal sacrifice. I’m speaking of the rhetoric I hear over the pulpit and in Relief Society meetings themselves.) I know many women are weighed down by excessive guilt and sorrow, and I’m glad to see official discourse shift away from messages that sometimes pile on unrealistic expectations. But in our ongoing effort to assure ourselves (and in the church’s ongoing effort to assure us) that we women are wonderful! We are great! We are SO much more spiritual than men!–we’ve become too self-regarding. And spiritual divine nature twinkies don’t solve problems or lift burdens or help us repent; after a while we’re sick of sugar and crave something more substantial. As Jessawhy suggests, I think part of the problem is women’s lack of meaningful authority in the church, which just fosters this kind of anxious, incessant reassurance of Our Infinite Worth. I think we sometimes have too many parties to pamper ourselves; we don’t roll up our sleeves and engage in the work of Christianity often enough.

    If you’re still with me, congratulations!

  16. 16.

    Wow, what a good summary of this thread!
    I’d like to see you give that talk in General Conference. I, for one, would stand and applaud. : )
    It is so good to hear someone else who is so uncomfortable by the “let’s pat these women on the back” babble. What is the point? Either we believe it and dive into bouts of self-indulgent pride, or we doubt it and wonder if these empty congratulations are the exchange for real authority.
    I’m considering homeschooling my children and in my research, I’ve come upon the myth of self-esteem. Apparently (I got this from a peice on NPR a while ago, and if you know more about it, feel free to correct me) for years in the education system people have been trying to protect children’s self-esteem, hoping that good self-esteem will lead to good choices (acceptable social behavior) and high test scores. What they found out was that self-esteem didn’t matter. It was self-efficacy, the “I am capable” feeling that was really tied to these positive behaviors.
    Anyway, I think that relates to what we’re hearing from the church. We don’t need a boost in self-esteem, we need to DO good things, and be aware of our REAL power as women in the church. Being more spiritual than men really depends on the man or woman: it’s so subjective.
    Eve, I really like this line:

    The difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and denial is sometimes dangerously blurred.

    Yes. It is.
    I’m wondering if there is any middle ground between being 100% behind anything that any living prophet has ever spoken, and rationalizing myself out of the church.
    WARNING:(this may be a topic for another thread)
    How do you find the middle ground? How do you stay active without feeling like you’ve given your brain up to the Borg? Is there a middle ground? (In the scriptures it really seems black and white, maybe Satan tricks us into thinking there are shades of grey).
    Sorry for that aside: Eve, really great thread.
    I love the sisterhood here: I agree that we should have lunch every year. (where does everyone live? I’m in AZ, you’re all welcome to my house for some enchiladas.)

  17. 17.

    Jessawhy, thanks for your kind remarks–and for your excellent question about finding a middle ground. As you say, it deserves its own thread. Coming right up….

    And you’ve reminded me of what I should have said to Chris–yes, both of you are absolutely right, it would be wonderful to gather once a year. If there are Arizona inhabitants around who would be interested in making contact with Jessawhy, if they could let someone around here know (Lynnette, our fine blogmaster, for example), we could facilitate an exchange of email addresses.

    Hooray for enchiladas! You’re making me wish I lived closer.

  18. 18.

    I guess I am feeling really “out of it” again. In my ward, we worry about burning the sisters out because of all the service we do. We cook monthly dinner for a local cancer treatment center. If folks aren’t interested in an enrichment activity, they can help make little quilts for the newborn intensive care unit at the local teaching hospital. When we do hurricane relief, sisters are welcome as well as brethren. All that is to folks outside our ward.

    In fact, our summer enrichment meeting was pretty much 100% service; we had heard about a military ward up in Alaska where many of the dads were off to Iraq and 10 families were expecting new babies, so we spent the meeting making baby layette stuff for them.

    Within the ward, we have many elderly who need rides to medical appointments or just grocery shopping, so many people in nursing homes, so many new babies (where child care for older kids and meals is needed), so many single mothers, folks in the hospital, and so on.

    So I dunno, maybe y’all are right and we should be doing more still….but I really like the new enrichment meetings because it gives a chance for us to grow and be nurtured, which makes for a balance from the service.

    One of our small group enrichment activities is a book club, which has been wonderful. I have a non-member friend that comes and enjoys it very much and has complimented us with the intellectual level of the group and is very impressed with what she knows of Relief Society (she had tried other book clubs in town and been frustrated). The other night we discussed NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry, which is a kids’ book that takes less than an hour to read, but is incredibly rich in themes and lessons. We all enjoyed it, and nobody even flinched when I compared the Nazi occupation of Denmark with my brother’s letters from Iraq.

  19. 19.

    Naismith, good point. Local circumstances vary enormously, and it does sound as if you’re engaged in a great deal of service. I’ve been in other situations in which burnout was a real problem–particularly when I lived in a small branch and there just weren’t enough people to go around to fill necessary callings.

    It bothers me, though, that the two stake activities we provide each year are both essentially parties. In my judgment, one is probably fine. The other, I think, should be something else. And some of our Relief Society rhetoric bothers me. I don’t find effusive praise much of an improvement on guilt trips. I want to be talked to like an adult.

    FWIW, I do think the new version of Enrichment is an improvement, in that it allows people to meet around activities they choose and, hopefuly, enjoy. I think book clubs are great. (And I loved both Number the Stars and The Giver.)

  20. 20.

    Jessawhy, I’m in Arizona too. Eve, Lynnette, Kiskilili, et al. visit me every so often. (They’re good enough to do the travel since my wife and I have the kids, so travel is a bigger pain for us.) Unfortunately, you just missed Lynnette, who was visiting for Thanksgiving, but if you email her or one of the rest of us, we can let you know when the next Arizona visit is coming if you would like to get together.

  21. 21.

    I’m not clear from the About Us page, but is this a family site? (There may have been other clues, but I’m just not too sharp that way, I never figure out the killer in murder/mystery novels)
    It looks like there are a bunch of sisters and Ziff, is that right?
    I am glad to hear you’re in AZ. It’s really nice this time of year. I just went around to a bunch of garage sales this morning (Christmas presents for the whole family!) and thought about my husband’s poor family in Michigan and Indiana. They don’t get to go to garage sales in December. : )
    Anyway, it would be nice to meet some of you in person. I have had more trouble finding articulate, liberal members here in AZ than I did in Utah, where they seemed to be on every corner. That, and my favorite pediatrician, are the reasons I miss UT.
    (sorry about the threadjack!)

  22. 22.

    Jessawhy,
    Sorry it’s unclear. Many of us–Eve, Lynnette, Kiskilili, Elbereth, Melyngoch, Amalthea, and I–are siblings. (The Bouncer is our collective unconscious.) Seraphine, Vada, and Katya are friends who agreed to be associated with us in spite of our, um, peculiarities.

    And I completely agree. Arizona is a joy this time of year. I love being able to take the kids to the park on Thanksgiving, for example.

    And if I may be so presumptuous as to speak for Eve, I don’t think she minds if a thread gets jacked here an there. After all, wasn’t it you, Eve, who said something once like “All true conversation is tangent”?

  23. 23.

    Yep, Ziff, I do believe those words were mine. I love tangents. (Vada taught me that I should call them “tangents,” which sound, well, tangentially related to the matter at hand, rather than “threadjacks.” ;) ).

    All of our family conversations tend to be very tangential, so no worries, Jessawhy.

  24. 24.

    I am teaching RS tomorrow on unity and have been thinking alot about what creates unity. One post mentioned that we don’t have “authentic voices” in RS, we don’t share our struggles because we need to put on our happy faces at church to fit in with the rest of the happy faces.
    How can we mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort if those needs are carefully kept hidden? I love the “good new minutes” in RS because I feel like I get to know the sisters better, hearning of their joys. But how can we share bad news? I wouldn’t want RS to turn into a session for complaining, especially about others in our lives. So how can we open up to each other so we can better see in each other’s hearts?
    Sally

  25. 25.

    Very interesting comment. In my ward there seems to be a divide between sisters who serve and those who ask for service. Obviously there is some overlap between the two, but in general, sisters tend to fall into one camp or the other. The ones who always serve never seem to ask for it, even when they need it. I think unity between these groups is difficult especially because asking for help can be an issue of pride.
    Personally, I probably don’t ask for help enough. We’ve had a few medical procedures in our family and I haven’t told anyone in the ward (my VTs are MIA). It’s not that I didn’t want to, because I could have used the emotional support, but I was afraid they would see it as asking for dinners, babysitting, etc. which isn’t really what I needed.
    One girl in the ward absouletly refused meals after she had a baby and the bishopric joked that the compassionat service leader was going to go inactive as a result. On the other hand, a girl my friend visit teaches asked for 4 weeks of dinners to be brought in after she had her baby. (she requested this 2 weeks in advance. why she didn’t prepare and freeze some meals herself is beyond me)
    Anyway, I think there are extremes on this issue, for sure and it can prevent unity in a Relief Society.
    (is this a tangent or still on topic? I’m trying to figure it out : )

  26. 26.

    I’m a Ward Relief Society President, making an agenda for presidency meeting and trying to have a private moment of brainstorming about practical and purposeful enrichment activities. So, I googled “Relief Society Enrichment Activities” and your blog was the very first thing that came up. I’ve enjoyed every word – thanks for a relaxing, joyful ride with you and your group of friends.

    You know, it’s been interesting here in my neighborhood because we started a neighborhood book group about a year before the olden days of enrichment got dismantled into the new small groups, and although our book group is 100% LDS (I live in South Jordan which is pretty much 100% LDS), no one wants to have Relief Society hijack the book club and make it part of enrichment. I wish we could – everyone loves book group, and lots of sisters who weren’t charter members of the group have a self-imposed feeling that it’s a club and they’re not invited – even though we’ve announced it casually a few times in R.S. on Sunday to let people know it’s going on in the neighborhood and to contact so-and-so if they’d like to come.

    I’ve also been in a Stake Relief Society presidency where we built a to-scale lighthouse that dominated the cultural hall and although it was uncalled for, no one will ever forget it – we were NUTS!

    Thanks again to all of you for sharing your thoughts, which were intelligent, delightful and made my morning!

    Barbara

  27. 27.

    Barbara, thanks for stopping by and for your observations and experiences (wow–built-to-scale LIGHTHOUSE? OK, I’m feeling better about the burdens of my calling already….). And I find it fascinating that no one wants to make the book club “official.” I wonder if people feel that they won’t be as free to read what they want or to say what they want if it’s an official Relief Society activity? But that’s just speculation on my part.

    I am desperate for good enrichment activities, and I’d welcome any and all suggestions you or anyone else would care to make.

  28. 28.

    Eve- I think you hit the nail on the head. An official book club started in our ward and several of the books on the list were vetoed for the (very reasonable) fear that it could be interpreted as a church endorsement of those books or certain themes in the books. Many of the sisters were rather disappointed to see books they wanted to discuss taken off the list and I think the book club was unsuccessful because of it.

  29. 29.

    I think we struggle with Enrichment meetings because they fall under the quote by Pres. Packer (?) “It has to be a really good meeting to be better than no meeting at all.” (summarized)
    Anyway, it’s hard to meet the needs of so many sisters with varying interests.
    My personal favorite (and you won’t believe this) was an Enrichment on food storage. A really experienced woman taught us how to plan meals (not just ingredients) for food storage (she included dessert as well, so that was a plus).
    One I didn’t like was for the RS birthday when different sisters acted as Emmeline Wells, Emma Smith, etc. It was wierd and cheesy.
    I have also liked the sharing table where people bring clothes or other stuff they want to give away, and you can take or leave anything you want.
    I don’t envy your calling, but you can call Sandrine and ask for help! (we had a great Christmas with them, btw)
    good luck :)

  30. 30.

    Thanks for your suggestions, Jessawhy. I’ll look for Sandrine and your brother in church tomorrow…glad to hear you enjoyed a good holiday together.

  31. 31.

    Hello, are there any resources here about ‘women to women oppression’,. How women oppress each other. I am wondering how to handle personal criticism and labeling from sisters within the relief society. Do men oppress each other?

  32. 32.

    Mckenzi, good questions. There’s got to be some scholarly discussion of women oppressing each other out there, but the topic is pretty far from anything I study, and the only books I’ve even heard of are the recently popular analyses of female bullying such as Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. I haven’t read either, so I can’t personally recommend them, but they seem to have instigated a discussion of female aggression (for example, I suspect they’re in the background of the Lindsey Lohan movie Mean Girls).

    As to your question about handling personal criticism and labeling in Relief Society, I’m afraid I don’t have much advice. Personally I’ve never been much of a fan of RS, and I was even less a fan of YW, for a variety of reasons I myself don’t fully understand; YW/RS simply feels like an alien culture to me. I’ve escaped RS more than once by volunteering to work in the nursery. The bishop is usually delighted to have someone who actually wants to, and I can avoid the more unpleasant strictures of decorum and lie on the floor and play with toddlers who are insufficiently acculturated to criticize or backstab. Children are exhausting, for sure, but they can also be a blessed relief from stultifying normalites.

  33. 33.

    mckenzi

    I’ve read Queen Bees and Wannabes and I highly recommend it. It is focused more on female culture in junior high and high school but, frankly, it applies equally well to adult women who haven’t yet grown out of some of their teenaged mentalities of how to treat people.

    There’s also a book I by Cheryl Dellasega called Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees. I haven’t read it, but it seems like it might address what you’re interested in.

  34. 34.

    This helps. Thank you! These references lead me to a motherload of resources.

  35. 35.

    I am a newly called education counselor in RS and I was looking for resources for my new calling. Your blog was the first hit I came across, and I have thoroughly enjoyed your discussion.
    I had some thoughts about how to handle those who criticize and find fault. When I was younger, I was easily offended, but age and experience tend to generate thick skin. It took a lot of reflection and soul searching to realize that very often the reason I was offended was my own reaction to anothers’ comments. I learned to understand that not everything was about me, and that sometimes people do and say things for reasons I will never understand. I always have the choice of being hurt or being happy anyway.

  36. 36.

    i have just been called as the ward enrichment leader and I have always hated going to relief society because I think it is so boring. After reading what you guys all said in the blogs. I found it interesting to see how many of us want to see more to enrichment then decorating photo albums. My first thing when I was called to the position was we have got to have fun. We need to get the ladies off the chairs in enrichment and up doing things. I promised them that cutting glueing, sewing buttons and bringing sewing machines were out and would be brought back later but we are in the year 2008 and lets get out there and enjoy the world today. Since I have been in we are now getting more then 20 sisters to our crazy activities. So presidents of relief society drop the sewing have fun. We are, and its getting the sisters there.

    I have had so many ladies say how much fun they are having and how close the sisters are feeling. This thursday we are going to lunch and why are we doing that only because we can. So remember you don’t have to plan things months in advance to spare of the moment things and have fun. Sizzlers was planned just before relief society and put out in email and a few phone calles. The sisters in relief society dont live in the dark ages so remember that when planning activities for them.

  37. 37.

    Well, I got through about half of the above and decided to add my two cents’ worth.
    I LOVE RELIEF SOCIETY!!! I LIVE ENRICHMENT!!! I LOVE MY SISTERS!!!
    A convert at 19, I found RS very daunting as there was no one my age there, BUT…over the years I have been mentored along by some genuinely loving and caring older sisters – these women became my substitute mother. I’ve been a member now for 43 years and have held almost every position possible in our ward. I ‘m glad I learned in the three years I investigated the church before baptism that:
    #1. 1 Nephi 3:7…I will go and DO the things the Lord hath commanded for I know …come on, EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW THAT ONE – it makes all service possible.
    #2. NEVER REFUSE A CALLING…speaks for itself!
    #3. ALWAYS sustain your leaders.
    Our most recent Church News editorial on Roots of Commitment was inspiring.
    Remember your Primary teachings: (I remember them because that’s where I served first as a member)
    * CTR – What would Jesus want me to do?
    * Follow the Prophets’ lives and examples.
    REPENT when you need to – it makes a real difference in your ability to hear and heed the Holy Ghost.
    I once attended a Playgroup Workshop where I came away thinking “What a waste of time” but found that the tiny amount of input I’d made, had a marked effect of the other participants. Just remember, you never know where and when your example will boost someone else.
    In our stake, sisters drive up to 2+ hours to attend Stake meetings/activities that last only 2 hours followed by a light luncheon. Our stake RS pres is always first there and last to leave.
    I’m Ward Enrichment leaders (3rd time lucky of you count the old Homemaking leader calling – same thing). To get our ward sisters to attend anything, you have to give them anassignment – so all our meetings are well planned, but there are always last minute hitch-ups – like our meeting in 2 days – a last minute change – changing one 20 min workshop from “Career Development” into “One Year’s Supply”. We’re pretty much all “Minute Men” (women) here – rural community, currently harvesting our gardens’ bounty, etc., so…
    Anyway, the Sisters who were doing the Career workshop will do it in 3 months time.
    We’ve got to be flexible. Enough said – and real off the track. Keep going, sisters. You can speak openly in a nice acceptable way. Been there, done that. Just be humble and loving. Fervent prayers creates miracles too.

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