Fairfield Ward (Melbourne, Australia) Relief Society members gather around their quilt
With more than seven million members worldwide, the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the world's largest women's organisation. To commemorate the 175th anniversary of the founding of Relief Society, the Church is encouraging members to celebrate this milestone in their homes and local congregations around the world, and the 70,000 Relief Society members in Australia are doing so this week.
Organized in 1842 by Joseph Smith, the first Relief Society members were given the charge to “relieve the poor” and “save souls”. While the means of accomplishing this charge have greatly expanded, the mission remains the same.
Relief Society members meet for an hour each Sunday to participate in lessons covering such topics as developing Christian virtues, rearing successful, healthy, and happy children, strengthening marriages, and becoming spiritually and temporally self-reliant. They study from the scriptures and lesson manuals based on sermons and writings of past presidents of the church, as well as lessons they organise specifically for their group.
In addition to their Sunday meeting, Relief Society members get together once a month, usually in the evening, for recreation and socialising organised around activities such as exercise and healthy eating, a handicraft project, giving service in their communities, or a cultural or educational outing, such as the tour of the Public Record Office Victoria members of the Fairfield Ward Relief Society recently took.
Members also support each other through a one-on-one friendship program named Visiting Teaching. Each member serves with another woman as a visiting teacher for two-to-four women and also has her own visiting teachers. They typically make a short monthly visit to the women they are assigned to share an uplifting message, inquire if there are any needs they can help with, and often share a treat. Visiting teachers serve as a first-line source of help, support, and friendship for Relief Society members. Thus, each member has the opportunity to give service and also has a safety net she can call upon in time of need.
In April and October every year millions of Relief Society members and young women ages 8 to 18 gather in local meetinghouses for the general conference women's session, which is broadcast worldwide by satellite and internet from the Conference Centre in Salt Lake City. They hear messages from the general officers and leaders of the church, enjoy music performed by a choir organised of girls and women in the SLC area, and socialize before or after the meeting as they enjoy refreshments or a special dinner.
For Mormon women, Relief Society is one of the highlights of their busy lives.
Marian Matic of the Fairfield Ward in Melbourne expressed her feelings about Relief Society in these words:
“Through the Relief Society, I’ve met, made friends and worked with so many women I would never have known otherwise in the course of my professional or social life. Relief Society has given me the opportunity to encounter women of all ages and from such varied backgrounds and walks of life. While our common faith is a deep bond, our meetings, activities and projects enable us to appreciate each other’s unique talents and individual perspectives on life. That is so enriching!”
Mattie Malouf of the Redlands Bay Ward in Queensland put it this way: “What Relief Society means to me is that every woman is known and loved.”