An acquaintance of mine here in Gig Harbor who belongs to Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church recently commented to me how nice it is to find church people in our community working together in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. That is my experience here, too.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 16, the Relief Society will host this year’s Gig Harbor Women’s Day of Humanitarian Service. The “drop in and serve” event is open to all women in the greater Gig Harbor community regardless of faith, and will benefit St. Joseph's Medical Center, A Place Called Hope, FISH Food Bank and the Red Barn Youth Center, among others. Men are invited to join the women during the event for a blood drive to benefit the Cascade Blood Bank. There is no charge for this event, held at the LDS meetinghouse at 12002 Peacock Hill Drive. Volunteers may contact coordinator Gail Hendricksen at 253-282-9341.
In a day and time when many of the Millennial generation would rather identify themselves as “none” when asked to identify their religion, it is good to find persons of good will, often active in their churches, who are selflessly pitching in on worthwhile community projects to bless others. The Women’s Relief Society, hosting the upcoming Gig Harbor Women’s Day of Humanitarian Service, has recently celebrated 173 years since its rather humble origin.
In the spring of 1842, after having been driven out of Missouri for their faith by mobs, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were busily occupied with the work of building a temple in the village they had established at Nauvoo, Illinois. On March 17 of that year, 36-year-old church president Joseph Smith formally organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, in response to benevolent efforts of the sisters to provide clothing and other relief for the men voluntarily working on the temple.
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“The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized,” he declared.
The first general president of the Relief Society was Emma Smith, wife of Joseph, who stood and boldly stated, “We are going to do something extraordinary. We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”
Emma Smith had always demonstrated a strong desire to serve others and build God’s kingdom. When the Church was in New York, she sewed clothing for four missionaries leaving to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ among Native Americans on the western frontier. She helped prepare meals and make clothing for the workmen building a temple at Kirtland, Ohio, taking in so many temple workmen as boarders that she and Joseph had to sleep on the floor. She worked with other women in Ohio to collect blankets, food, and clothing for brethren who would march to Missouri to bring relief to persecuted members there. In the early days at Nauvoo, she provided nursing to the many malaria victims camped outside her home on the banks of the Mississippi River.
In these and other ways, Emma exemplified the service given by many sisters in her day. One pioneer woman recalled that when the Prophet Joseph Smith saw a group of women busily sewing tapestry for the Kirtland Temple, he said, “Well, sisters, … you are always on hand. The sisters are always first and foremost in all good works.”
That was the beginning of the Relief Society. And what is it today? Well, I would say, the women are still first and foremost in good works.
In 2012, Julie B. Beck, who was then general president of the Relief Society, met with the new head of UN Women at the United Nations, who was anxious to work on behalf of women worldwide. When asked about the group she represented, Sister Beck said, "I work for a small organization of six million women, and we are in 175 countries. We have at least 33,000 grassroots groups, each of them lead by a president and some people who assist her. We are a faith-based group so we work to increase their faith in their God and faith in themselves. We work to strengthen families and homes."
Now that is what I call good, organized religion. Emma Smith’s call to “do something extraordinary” is evident today in the lives of women who serve together in the spirit of cooperation.