The modern woman wears a number of hats. As a consequence, each woman is different and unique in her own way. She may be a mother, an aunty, a grandmother. She could be a student, a worker, a full-time carer. She may love to read, play sports or fix a car. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recognised the diversity amongst its female members and created a women’s organisation, the Relief Society, to accommodate each of these wonderfully individual children of God.
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In 1842, Relief Society began with the purpose of strengthening women and their communities. In the early days of Relief Society, women would spend their time caring for the spiritual and physical needs of others. The motto, "Charity Never Faileth", was adopted and the women from Relief Society would gather round and help a new mother give birth, care for sick children and provide much needed moral support for those in need.
The early Relief Society worked to fund medical training for women, make and market homemade goods, make their own silk, store grain for relief, build hospitals, secure suffrage and establish adoption services and programs of loans and grants to women.
Since then, Relief Society has become a worldwide women’s organisation which provides much needed aid and support to those around them, spreading across countries and continents. The twenty women in one township in Nauvoo, Illinois, who first participated in sewing circles and helped birth children, could never have imagined the 6 million women in 170 countries who continue the legacy of charity which makes such a profound impact on the world today.
Today, Relief Society is composed of women 18 years and over divided into geographical groups consistent with the geography of each ward (parish) and stake (diocese) of the Church. Each group has a president and two counsellors who oversee and co-ordinate the service and fellowship effort. When a young woman from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turns 18 years old, she automatically becomes a member of Relief Society.
The modern-day mission of Relief Society includes increasing personal faith and righteousness, strengthening homes and families, and seeking out and helping those in need, whether members of the Church, of other faiths, or no faith at all.
Relief Society members are always prepared to help others, often at the drop of a hat. A perfect example of charity is that of Joy, a member of Relief Society in Brisbane. Joy discovered that a friend became ill and bed-ridden early in her pregnancy. For the remaining months of her confinement and a few months after the baby was born, Joy’s son would pick up ironing from the new mother. Joy would complete the ironing and deliver it back to the new mother, with a box of biscuits or large square of chocolate, which the family couldn’t afford at the time. That simple act of service has been long-remembered.
Joy said about that particular experience, “It was a pleasure. That’s what my life is about, giving service. I like to do it, but I like to do it in secret, I don’t like getting recognition for it,” hence the reason this article does not reveal her full name.
The woman who received the service said, “I’ve always remembered that wonderful example of pure charity. Just the length of time (7 to 8 months) that service was given was stunning. The example taught to me by those sisters who helped me during that time is something I try really hard to incorporate into my own life. Joy is indeed an example of true charity, it really is what her life is about.”
In Queensland, Relief Society began in West End in 1898 and has grown to 15,000 members throughout the state. There are currently 75 Relief Societies in Queensland. These numbers are consistent with the numbers in other Australian states. Queensland women have completed many projects meeting local needs, as well as those that are interstate and overseas.
Hygiene kits have been sent to third-world countries and also to disaster-stricken areas within Australia. Book bags have been sewn and sent to local primary schools, and groups have conducted book and toy drives to replenish lost books and toys when areas have been devastated by various weather events.
When a natural disaster strikes, the local Relief Society often gathers bed linen, food, toys, hygiene supplies and other goods and delivers them where they are needed.
Around Australia there have been great examples of service provided by local Relief Societies where the aid has gone to other countries, often third-world countries. In Adelaide, Perth and Canberra, women put together birthing kits, in Melbourne women sewed sanitary napkins, in Sydney supplies were gathered and distributed to women recovering from domestic violence.
Closer to home, the Relief Society does not wait for big disasters to serve their neighbour. Many dinners have been cooked and served to ill families, quilts have been given to infants, babysitting services have been provided, and also a listening ear has been lent to anyone who needs a little time just to talk and be supported.
As one of the world’s largest women’s organisations, Relief Society shows what women can achieve when they work together. Combining will-power, strength in numbers and care and empathy for our neighbours, Relief Society will continue to stretch forth their hand to give charity to those in need.
This article written by Sue Owen and Tahnee Bresil.