When we know how to help, even the smallest signs of support and love can make a big impact in our wards and branches.
Former Relief Society general president Jean B. Bingham taught, “Relief Society is not just a social group—Relief Society is an organized way to meet needs. … I wish that every person understood the power of Relief Society. When we work together, we have the potential and the power to really make changes in the world, heart by heart even, when we help each other.”
Learning how to support our Relief Society presidents is one of the ways we can unleash the power of this divine institution—and help make real change in the world. I talked to eight past and current Relief Society presidents to get their take on what ward members can do (and perhaps not do) to help their president fulfill her responsibilities and meet the needs of your ward and community. The sisters I spoke to come from a variety of locations and ward situations. Their insights have also caused me to consider my own experience as a Relief Society president of a young single adult ward and as a counselor in a young single adult stake Relief Society presidency.
So what have I learned? How can we help our Relief Society presidents and unleash the power of Relief Society? Well, we can start from the moment the sister is called to serve.
Start from the Beginning
Excitement, anticipation, fear, nervousness—all of those emotions and many more can fill a woman’s heart in the days and weeks after being called as Relief Society president.
We as ward members, family, and friends can use our words to help push her thoughts toward confidence and calmness. For example, we can offer our testimony that her call comes from the Lord.
McKenzie was called to serve as Relief Society president of her family ward in St. Louis, Missouri, when she had three young children. McKenzie says, “The previous Relief Society president told me she knew I would be president from when I first moved in. I had only been in the ward for eight months and still felt very new. Her words filled me with peace and confidence.”
Andrea had a similar experience when she was called to serve as president in her ward in Utah.
“When I was called, I had a handful of sisters in my ward come up to me over a few weeks’ time and tell me why they thought I was called. It actually really helped me feel more confident and supported in my new role, even though I had a lot to learn. … It helped me feel like the bishop didn't just pull my name out of a hat, but that maybe this really is where Heavenly Father wants me to serve right now.”
When my own bishop called me to serve as president in our young single adult ward in Salt Lake City, he very carefully made a point to tell me that he had felt strongly from the Spirit I was to be in this calling at this time. Hearing that from my bishop was a needed reminder when I was feeling nervous about this new opportunity.
In addition, Relief Society presidents can seek their own inspiration that they are in the right calling. Julie was president of a family ward in Utah and found that praying about two questions helped her feel more confident in her calling. The first question was “Why me?” and the second question was “Why now?”
“Learning why He needed me in that particular position at that particular time was really an amazing thing. And gave me a sort of ‘permission’ to do exactly what He’d asked,” she says.
We can also help Relief Society presidents feel excited about what the calling will bring into their lives. Of course, there will be challenges, but helping them feel excited about the opportunity will be encouraging now and motivating on difficult days.
Ramona from Utah says, “When I first was called as a Relief Society President [of my family ward], I was talking with my grandmother. She too had once served as a Relief Society President. She was so excited for me! She says, ‘You will love this calling! It might seem overwhelming now, but you will come to love the sisters so much! When you are released, you will be so sad, because you will love them so much.’
“She helped me feel excited for the call and the importance of loving the sisters. She was so right! I cried the day I was released, not because I was being released, but because I loved the sisters and would miss that special relationship with them.”
Finally, it is important that when new presidents are called, we let them follow the revelation they’ve been given and not compare them to previous leadership.
Ramona also says, “I didn’t have this personally happen to me, but I know of others that have: [People] compare the things you feel guided to do to others who may have done it differently. We are all called by the Lord. We all bring different gifts, abilities, and talents with us. We are all seeking personal revelation and moving forward, leading in the way we feel inspired to do. However, that may be different than others do it—that is the way it should be. We need to sustain those who are called by our words and actions. We all are volunteers and have things to learn as well. We need to allow others to go through the process of learning, growing, inspiration, and revelation.”
► You may also like: 6 ways to support your bishop—and his family
Remember They Are People Too
Several of the sisters I spoke to mentioned it can be helpful for ward members to keep in mind that despite their calling, Relief Society presidents are still ward members with needs and like anyone else.
Emily G. served as president of her student young single adult ward Relief Society in Logan, Utah. She says, “One of the biggest misconceptions is that Relief Society presidents are in some way spiritually superior or ‘Molly Mormons,’ for lack of a better term. Here is my take on what being called to be a Relief Society president really means: This calling is incredibly unique. It is a lot of work, and it holds so much reward. The best reward is for the sister in the calling. The spiritual growth that comes from being in this calling (when taken seriously) is intense and life-changing. … Nothing will help your testimony of the charity of Jesus Christ grow like being in a service calling like Relief Society president. It is a calling that serves the holder as much as the congregation.”
Rebecca, who is a Relief Society president in a family stake in Menlo Park, California, also expressed how much the calling has blessed her own faith. She further noted that remembering each president is doing her best can create a more loving environment: “Relief Society Presidents, like all leaders in the Church, did not ask for their callings. … Nobody puts their name in the hat for selection. … People like to complain about bishops or other leaders, and I feel uncomfortable when I hear these things. The gripes are real and probably justified. Everyone is human and prone to mistakes, missteps, and just plain getting things wrong. Yet it’s helpful to remember that those in leadership callings are doing the best they can and are trying. … I am excited to be able to consecrate myself and my life to Jesus Christ. If I really love Him, I will feed his lambs, one by one.”
Deseret served in a young single adult ward at Brigham Young University. She also found purpose in focusing on the covenants she made to serve.
“Relief Society is a religious organization, not a social club,” she says. “It’s not the Relief Society president’s job to be entertaining or have cute decorations or make things fun all the time or to deal with drama. Her focus is service and bringing people to Christ.”
Ways Counselors Can Help
Generally, each Relief Society president has two counselors called to serve with her—and their impact can be huge. Even simple actions can go a long way.
Ramona says, “My first counselor asked me every time she saw me, a least once, what more she could do to help me, and then she would follow through quickly and do whatever I asked of her.”
In my own experiences as a president, a counselor’s frequent expression that she was available to help was very comforting. The thought of repeatedly asking for help was uncomfortable for me because I don’t want to feel as though I was asking for too much. So when my counselors consistently verbally offered their help, it helped me relax, feel supported, and ask for the help I needed.
Offering this kind of support may not come naturally to everyone, but growth can come with time and experience. Ramona shared that she had a counselor who didn’t seem happy about her call to serve in Relief Society. This sister hadn’t previously participated in activities and for a time appeared to not be pleased when Ramona asked her to be over activities.
“She went through the motions of fulfilling her calling at first,” Ramona says. “But as we continued to serve for the next three years, a miracle took place: She caught the vision of Relief Society and what it meant in the Lord’s eyes. She served and loved the sisters! She cried when she was released from Relief Society.”
The sisters I spoke to also mentioned other ways their counselors have been helpful, including being familiar the handbook and coming prepared to presidency meetings. Julie added that she appreciates candid conversations with her counselors.
“[I appreciate it] when they don’t pander to me or humor me but offer honest feedback,” she says. “I trust they are also meant to be in their position because of what they can offer at this particular time, so I really want to know how something is or isn’t sitting with them.”
Working with the Bishop
In addition to counselors, Relief Society presidents are instructed to work closely with the bishop and members of the ward council. The quality of these relationships can go a long way. Ramona put it this way: “We all have a part to play in the work of the Lord; however, when we use that given power to work together, miracles happen. The mantle of women and Relief Society is very important and needed—the Lord has revealed that to the leadership of the Church. It is important to remember that when serving in leadership as women, we have an important role to play. The Lord needs our input and gifts in His work.”
Here are some insights on how bishops and Relief Society leaders can work together.
Deseret says, “I always really appreciated when my bishop would trust me, ask for my opinions, and value my ideas on things and trust my revelation and ideas on how I was doing things. The best is when the Relief Society president and the bishop feel like a team rather than a boss and their employee.”
McKenzie, as mentioned earlier, had three young children during her time serving as president. Of working with the bishop she says, “Every time I speak with the bishop he asks about my family. He truly wants to make sure my family comes first and is taken care of. When he prays in a meeting, he prays for my family and shares his appreciation for the sacrifice we make to serve. I appreciate that so much because being a Relief Society president with three young kids is a challenge. I know that the bishop is aware and appreciative of our service, and that means a lot.”
While Emily G. served in a young single adult ward, she found her bishop’s counsel very helpful.
“When you have a Relief Society that is made up of so many unique individuals with different problems, fears, and strengths, it can be a little discouraging to think about how to unify them towards Christ,” she says. “I have been blessed with bishops who have given insightful counsel and encouragement. One of the best pieces of advice I have received from a bishop on the matter was ‘Don't try to reach every sister every time. Find who in your steward needs you right now, and get to them right now.’”
How Each Member Can Help
You don’t need to be in leadership to have a meaningful impact on your ward by supporting your Relief Society president. Each of us, in little ways, can do our part. For example, it may be as simple as not asking how long a president has been serving.
“It seems like we are always keeping track of how long others serve,” Ramona says. “Especially after a certain amount of time, I was constantly asked how much longer I had. I don’t think there were ill feelings behind it or wishing I would be released or anything like that, but we need to just support those called until the Lord sees fit to release them. It is the Lord’s timing, not ours.”
Emily G. appreciated it when the sisters in her ward showed interest in getting to know her personally.
“I loved it when sisters in my ward were as excited to get to know me as I was to get to know them. As a Relief Society president, you want to get to know all the sisters in your stewardship, and it can be incredibly discouraging when sisters don’t care about getting to know you. Now, I am not saying you need to be best friends with your president, but showing a smile and kindness to her goes a long way.”
Another way sisters in the ward can help is by gaining a personal testimony of and commitment to the ministering program.
“Ministering has become a top priority for me and my presidency,” Andrea says. “Through hardships of my own, I know the power that a good minister can have in our lives. And I also know how dearly I have missed having one that truly saw me and understood me. Too many people are leaving the Church, people who feel unseen, unheard, and unfulfilled. They are spiritually starving, and while we are in charge of our own testimonies, a good minister can make all the difference. A good minister can bring the love of Christ into a member's life, help melt away hardships and resentment, and give hope and light.”
Once sisters have a testimony of ministering, it is also important that they take time to understand how the program works. Some presidents I spoke to mentioned having to repeatedly explain to the same sisters why we minister in companionship, why we have ministering interviews, and why young women are assigned to minister. Of course, any sister should feel free to ask questions, but a little personal study about the program could go a long way. For example, sisters can develop a sense of stewardship for those they are assigned to.
“The administrative work of the Relief Society is heavy and takes time, but the most important work is on the micro level,” Rebecca says. “The ministering program, if functioning properly, is divine and inspired. As much as I would love to be a minister to each sister in my Relief Society, there are not enough hours in the day, and I am also a mother and wife. A Relief Society president is a special safety net or second-string line of defense, which helps me sleep at night.”
If sisters desire to be involved on that micro level Rebecca mentioned, one thing they can do is take initiative in helping presidents identify needs in the ward.
Julie says, “Don’t expect us to wake up every day with a scroll from heaven listing all of the new happenings and needs for that day. We need help from others to let us know of accidents, illnesses, surgeries scheduled, family difficulties, or things to celebrate, like babies who have been announced. All sisters should pass on what they learn. It’s not tattling. It’s the way to watch over one another, as friends and ministering sisters are the front lines. They should be the ones communicating things to the Relief Society president, versus the president coming to them to ask for help with the sister they learn has needs.”
Sisters can consider taking a few minutes to read from the section in Church’s General Handbook about ministering to better understand their role.
How Relief Society Presidents Can Care for Themselves
And finally, it is important that Relief Society presidents take care of themselves. Here are a few ways sisters have found to help them feel prepared to serve in their callings.
Emily G. says, “If you are burned out, you are not useful to anyone. Driving yourself into the ground in the name of your calling is a foolish and selfish idea. No one is useful if they are burned out. I had days that I would deem ‘me days’ where I would not do anything regarding my calling. It was not easy, and I often felt selfish for taking that time, especially if I felt like a sister needed me, but I always reminded myself that sending a text to tell a sister that I got her message and that I would contact her the next day was OK. Of course, there were times when situations would come up that needed to be addressed immediately and I would take care of them, but honestly, most things that come up can be addressed tomorrow.”
Andrea says, “I have had to give myself some leeway to still be myself and do the things I've always loved doing. I can't drop every single interest or hobby because I have Relief Society to do.”
McKenzie says, “It is important to take time for yourself. To study, to relax, to attend the temple. To have quiet time to ponder. I received more inspiration and guidance while driving quietly in the car or in quiet moments of pondering than any other time.”
Deseret says, “Set boundaries and delegate. You can love the Lord and magnify your calling without having your phone on 24/7 and doing everything personally.”
I hope reading this article sparked some ideas on how you can support your Relief Society president. To close, I’d like to share another quote from President Jean B. Bingham. I love how her words point us back to the Savior, who is at the heart of all we do in Relief Society. She says,
“Sometimes we think we have to do something grand and heroic to ‘count’ as serving our neighbors. Yet simple acts of service can have profound effects on others—as well as on ourselves. What did the Savior do? Through His supernal gifts of the Atonement and Resurrection—which we celebrate on this beautiful Easter Sunday—‘none other has had so profound an influence [on] all who have lived and who will yet live upon the earth.’ But He also smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends, neighbors and strangers alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those ‘simple’ acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today.”