Hundreds of women across Australia celebrated the milestone by participating in various service projects in their local communities.
They joined more than six million women in Church congregations worldwide in honouring the establishment of the Relief Society.
Relief Society began on 17th March 1842 in Nauvoo, USA. Today, its work continues in building faith, strengthening home and family, and providing relief. This is reflected in its motto, “Charity Never Faileth”.
Latter-day Saint women join its ranks beginning at the age of 18, mingling with women in all stages of life.
Amongst the Australian service projects, members in Adelaide and Perth observed the anniversary by assembling and then donating 1200 birthing kits to new mothers in developing countries.
The 171st Anniversary called for “a meaningful service project,” said Jan Addis, Adelaide’s Firle Ward Relief Society President. “A really important part of the work of Relief Society is to provide relief and give compassionate service, not just as we celebrate this milestone but right throughout the year.”
“Often the needs we meet and the help we give are focused within our own community, but for our anniversary project we looked at broader humanitarian concerns,” she said.
“We felt that the 200 birthing kits that we created would benefit women who are in great need of supplies and education. The women in our ward (congregation) were very interested and happy to be involved.”
While the Adelaide birthing kit project was conducted on a ward level, nearly 100 members of the Relief Society of the Perth Southern River Stake gathered in Thornlie to pack 1,000 birthing kits as part of their service project.
The Relief Society members in both cities were supporting the work of the Birthing Kit Foundation (Australia), an organisation dedicated to improving conditions for women in developing countries who give birth at home, often on dirt floors.
The foundation provided the strict hygiene guidelines for assembling the birthing packs as it does for all community groups wanting to support its aim of reducing childbirth-related deaths.
An estimated 385,000 women die annually in childbirth, many from infections acquired during labour.
The kits contain a plastic sheet, soap, gloves, sterile scalpel blade, cord and gauze squares, and are principally designed for home birthing in remote and rural areas where the maternal death rates are much higher.
“As well as providing the kits, the foundation trains local women in the recipient areas to assist in safe childbirth delivery which has an enormous impact,” said Adelaide’s Jan Addis.
“We found it really uplifting knowing that an initiative like this is literally life-saving; we felt connected with women across the globe.”
“It was also good to remember that among Relief Society’s six-million-strong membership throughout the world, many similar service projects took place in conjunction with the anniversary.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the governing council of Twelve Apostles has said, “Latter-day Saint women, strong in faith and testimony, have truly been given the errand of angels. Every sister in this Church who has made covenants with the Lord has a divine mandate to help save souls, to lead the women of the world, to strengthen the homes of Zion and to build the kingdom of God” (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 25).
Relief Society is one of the oldest and largest women’s organisations in the world.