No matter what the time period or what challenges women face, Relief Society remains a constant force for good, deeply rooted in charity, according to the Relief Society general presidency.
"Just as charity was the founding principle of Relief Society 150 years ago, it continues to guide Relief Society today," said Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president. "We interpret it as love and showing love through service not only in our own families, but also in the community."In an interview with the Church News, members of the Relief Society general presidency shared their feelings about Relief Society and what its mission is today, 150 years after the organization was founded in Nauvoo, Ill., on March 17, 1842.
Only a handful of sisters participated in the Relief Society in Nauvoo, but it was their spirit of giving and sharing that gave impetus to a worldwide sisterhood that has grown to 3.1 million members, the presidency noted.
"We have learned from the past this common bond of charity - of meeting together to do something for someone else," remarked Chieko N. Okazaki, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
"The first Relief Society was composed of what we have in a ward today - married, single, educated, uneducated, rich and poor. They had varied circumstances but they all had a common bond of sisterhood. It is our hope that we can look at all people and accept them for who they are. Then maybe we would be more charitable in what we see, hear and do."
Pres. Jack continued: "Women come to the Relief Society for spiritual nourishment and sisterhood and they get that by exhibiting and exercising charity. The aspects that permit us to do these things are not new, but are timely and will serve today and in the future."
With charity at the foundation of Relief Society, the purposes and goals of the organization are accomplished through four aspects - welfare, visiting teaching, education and homemaking, according to the presidency. Each aspect plays an important role in the sisters' development of good will. (See pages 4-7 for separate stories on each topic.)
The Relief Society motto, "Charity Never Faileth" (1 Cor. 13:8), was adopted in 1913 and came as a result of work, service and love, said Aileen H. Clyde, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
As the Relief Society general presidency and board began planning this year's sesquicentennial commemoration, they looked at various themes to adopt for the celebration and realized they already had a perfect theme in the Relief Society motto.
"We know charity is eternal and timeless," Sister Clyde said. "It has no boundaries and it is timely today. We hope as we celebrate the sesquicentennial throughout the year that it might help us find ways to reach out into our community appropriately and do it indefinitely."
Sister Okazaki added: "Charity is eternal because it is what Christ brought with Him. What could be more wonderful and eternal in nature? We gain this spirit of giving as we develop faith and knowledge in the Savior."
Charity is the small things people do for others, Sister Okazaki remarked. "It is just the simple courtesies of life. We talk about simplifying and reducing. The things we do for others don't have to be huge projects. They can be simple daily occurrences of helping when we see a need."
Pres. Jack continued: "Charity is an attitude, a way of life. It gets to be a habit, not just a project. It doesn't have to be any big thing. When we are doing a little, we are helping a lot."
One way to gauge a person's good will is to see if that person has the ability to serve people no matter what their circumstances, Sister Clyde added.
Carol L. Clark, administrative assistant to the general presidency and a member of the Relief Society general board, agreed: "Charity is when you extend a hand to someone even if you know they will not reach back. It's that willingness to reach out despite what is returned. Sometimes it is holding your tongue when gossip is burning.
"Charity is a pervasive quality that is defined in the scriptures and I think it is one of the hallmarks of this presidency. They are trying to help women gain a broader sense of serving others."
Sister Clyde remarked, "We are talking about spontaneous acts as we see them."
When women develop this type of giving in their homes for their children, their spouses and themselves, then they can reach out in charity to others in the community, Sister Okazaki reflected. "The Lord said to serve one another and then we will serve Him, but He only expects us to do what we can do. We want to make sure there is relief in Relief Society."
When Relief Society sisters are busy raising or taking care of their families, they have little time for other service outside the home, Pres. Jack acknowledged. "Sometimes the home is where total service needs to be given. It is just as critical and a woman's most important service. We don't look at it as charitable service because we do it every day, but it is a significant contribution to humanity by keeping a family together."
Sister Clark said: "We can develop rich family relationships whether or not we are married or have children. We should look past what we don't have and cultivate the things we do have such as being a loving daughter, sister or aunt.
"Charity connects you to people as it weaves in and out of your life. You take care of them and they take care of you. We miss out on wonderful relationships without those links of charity."
By turning back to their roots of charity, Relief Society sisters can also help solve social issues as they serve in their families and communities, Pres. Jack remarked.
"So many sisters are directly addressing the social ills of today such as the homeless, unwed mothers and illiteracy. We need to be part of the solution. Our way of addressing those needs is to reach out in love and understanding.
"When we reach out personally with love and charity, the world will be changed a little at a time. Everyone doing what they can and doing it lovingly can make a difference."