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?