A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Thursday, November 10, 2011

3 Things I Didn't Share in My Relief Society Lesson

In case you didn't already know this about me, I'm a history nerd.  I love reading and learning about different time periods in history!  Which is one of several reasons why I loved teaching a Relief Society Lesson about Relief Society history, specifically about Daughters in My Kingdom, a new book put out by the church about the history and purposes of Relief Society.  For those of you who don't know, Relief Society is the woman's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Every woman in the church, 18 and older, automatically becomes a member of Relief Society, which seeks to teach the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was organized in 1842 and has since been involved in many great endeavors of service (and a few endeavors of politics, like women's suffrage).

On balance, I like the book, even though it is "history lite" in that it's not a rigorous examination of Relief Society history, it is more of a broad overview.  There are a lot of great and inspiring quotes in the book that built my testimony about this great organization.  I also started reading Women of Covenant, a more thorough book covering the history of Relief Society in a lot more detail.  However, I didn't get to share EVERYTHING I learned, as the lesson was short.  So I decided to talk about three things that I didn't talk about in my lesson, for various reasons.

The Gift of Healing
Although not included in Daughters in My Kingdom, sisters in the church have a history of exercising spiritual gifts such as the gift of healing.  At times this was done by the laying on of hands, such as the case of Persis Young, who laid her hands on Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, suffering an infection after childbirth in Winter Quarters, after the Mormons' difficult trek from Nauvoo, Illinois.  Sister Whitney said of Sister Young: "She had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me, and I would be healed...she laid her hands upon my head with my mother.  She rebuked my weakness, and every disease that had been, or was then, afflicting me, and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessings upon me. ...From that morning I went about to work as though nothing had been the matter.  Thus did the Lord remember one of his unworthy handmaidens and fulfill the promise that had been given by the gift of the Holy Ghost."  (Women of Covenant, pages 67-68)

And in 1914, the First Presidency wrote a letter stating that “Any good sister, full of faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer” could administer to the sick.  Sisters “have the same right to administer to sick children as adults, and may anoint and lay hands upon them in faith."  And, as late as the 1920s and 1930s, reports circulated of women anointing and blessing other women in preparation for childbirth (See Women of Covenant, pages 220-221).

To me these stories are very empowering, but I think we don't talk about them because we are afraid that these blessings will be confused with the Priesthood, which also administers to the sick by the laying on of hands.  But I think we are smart enough to realize the difference while still celebrating the power of a prayer of faith by faith-filled women of the Church.  I wonder if any of this still goes on in the church, but just isn't talked about in public?

I didn't talk about this subject because I didn't want to.  To say the least, I am very ambivalent in my attitude about polygamy.  It's an uncomfortable subject for a lot of reasons, and I didn't want to get into it.  In fact, I was surprised that Sister Tanner, who wrote Daughters in My Kingdom, put in a few paragraphs about this period in church history.  I have polygamous ancestors (so I guess it's thanks to them that I'm even writing these words), but I still think this is a very difficult period in history and I have so many unanswered questions about it that I didn't even have the courage to bring it up.

Yep, bet you weren't expecting this subject.  I liked this quirky little story from Women of Covenant, from a time when Relief Society was trying to standardize its accounting books.  One Relief Society received a contribution of two ducks from a poor member in the early 1900's.  This was in a time when the Relief Society received contributions in goods from its members and every member was expected to contribute something.  The ducks ended up running away or getting killed, and the local Relief Society president felt terrible about it.  The stake president wrote: "Now she feels that this woman and the books should have credit but she doesn't feel that she could dig up with $3 or whatever it is to pay for the ducks.  Hard to fix this on the books, both for the credit of the ducks and then the money received in the disposal of them" (Women of Covenant, pg. 196).

It seems silly but I liked this story - so often in the drive for standardization we lose sight of individuals.  Sometimes I feel like all I have to offer is a metaphorical "pair of ducks" - I am poor in spirit and don't have the offerings others have the ability to give.  But what's important is that we recognize the value of each individual's contributions.  It's part of why I love Relief Society: women coming together to worship God, each woman bringing her fears, faith, and personality - in short, bringing herself.  As we come together in a worldwide sisterhood, we learn from each other and grow together in love.  We struggle, but we have each other to lean on.  We learn of our enormous potential as Daughters of God.  I'll close with my favorite quote from Daughters in My Kingdom expressing that potential.  It's from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the church:

“It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, pg. 133)

Derr, Jill Mulvay., Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. Women of Covenant: the Story of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992. 

Tanner, Susan W.  Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.  Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011.


  1. Sounds like you've got a great followup lesson for next week already prepared!

    As for women participating in blessings nowadays, it's different but I do have a friend (who is of the female persuasion) whose roommate was getting a blessing at BYU and the guy who came to give it was, as she described him, ultra-orthodox Mormon. However, he asked my friend if she wanted to participate in the blessing (i.e., lay her hands on the head as well while he gave the blessing)! (see this article for a similar occurrence in 1979 where Camilla Kimball was invited by Bruce R. McConkie to participate in a blessing on her husband recovering from brain surgery.) My friend was excited to do so, but didn't end up doing so because the roommate felt a bit weird about it. Being conservative is a good thing if it's a good tradition, eh? :)

  2. Yes, I meant to include the Camilla Kimball story! There's also a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley about women and healing, not sure if it was in Women of Covenant or someone else, I'll try to look it up.