I just happened upon this article at LDS Living, written by a woman named Chrisy Ross who is not a member of our faith. I appreciated how she candidly explains what it has been like to live in a community surrounded by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”). (If it’s any consolation, Chrisy, I grew up in a Mormon community and moved away for several years, and it was still a bit of culture shock for me when we moved to an area that was heavily populated by Mormons!)
I was saddened to read what some Mormon women had told her, however, about Relief Society, which is the women’s organization in the Church…but is not limited to only women in the Church.
But apparently, that is not the message she got.
I was periodically invited to Relief Society activities. Once I understood what Relief Society meant—a sorority for nice, married, sober girls [just a note to anyone reading, and to Chrisy — it’s not just for marrieds, and even though I wouldn’t recommend bringing your favorite wine to share at the next potluck, you don’t have to be living or loving all of the elements of Mormonism to be welcome at our Sunday church meetings or weekday activities!] —I asked an LDS friend who lived outside “our” ward [congregation] boundaries if my attendance would send the wrong message. I was hungry for friendship but not interested in conversion. My friend told me if I ultimately was not interested in converting, the invitations would likely cease. “Relief Society activities are for LDS women, and I’m afraid if you don’t join the Church, they’ll probably stop including you.”
I worry that sometimes even those who are members of our faith may not feel they have a place in Relief Society. This should not be! It’s my plea that we open our hearts, minds, and eyes to consider how we can extend a hand of friendship to those both in and outside of our faith who are in need of friendship, fellowship, support, service, and love. Relief Society should be a community where every woman, regardless of where she is in her life, can feel she can enjoy friendship, ask for help in times of need, and find a kind smile and a listening ear.
Chrisy Ross, don’t you give up on those Mormon neighbors of yours. I hope that you have come to feel that you have a place in the Relief Society, no strings attached. (If not, shoot me an email and I’ll invite you to come to our activities!) Please forgive us if we Mormons are a little overbearing on the conversion side of things. We love our faith so much that sometimes we get a little overanxious to share it. I can’t fully apologize for that, because sharing is part of who we are, but I am sad when such a desire turns into exclusivity or radiates a sort of insularity. So I hope you can be patient with our shortcomings and continue to be clear about what you hope to get out of participation with the Relief Society. And again, I thank you for your honesty. I think your post is a good reminder that we need to do better to help people feel welcome in our meetings and activities.
So Mormon women (and friends who aren’t Mormon), let’s talk about what Mormon women can do to be better friends and neighbors, to be more welcoming, more kind, more loving, more accepting, more deliberate about reaching out. Let’s talk about how we can make Relief Society be more what it should be for all who want to participate, however they want to participate at this point in their lives.
Women and their families today live face to face with unrealized expectations; mental, physical, and spiritual illness; accidents; and death. Some sisters suffer loneliness and disappointment because they do not have families of their own, and others suffer from the consequences of poor choices made by family members. Some have experienced war or hunger or natural disasters, and others are learning about the strain of addictions, unemployment, or insufficient education and training. All of these difficulties have the potential to bleach the bones of faith and exhaust the strength of individuals and families. One of the Lord’s purposes in organizing the sisters into a discipleship was to provide relief that would lift them above “all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.” 16 In every ward and branch, there is a Relief Society with sisters who can seek and receive revelation and counsel with priesthood leaders to strengthen each other and work on solutions that are applicable in their own homes and communities. – Julie B. Beck