How well I remember the day Bishop Thatcher called me into his office to extend the call of Relief Society President. I've never been so terrified in my entire life! Having served in two Relief Society Presidencies before, I had a pretty good idea about what the calling entailed -- and I DID NOT WANT TO DO IT! Despite my trepidation, I accepted the call and did not regret it. Being the Relief Society President for two and a half years was hard in ways I couldn't have imagined, but I learned to love the sisters in our ward and learned so much about the practical application of the Gospel that I'm grateful I had the opportunity to serve at the RS president, as I hope you are.
So, if you're a newly called Relief Society President, the best advice I can give you is a quote from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
Your feelings of inadequacy are natural and healthy: you're absolutely right that you can't possibly do the job of Relief Society President alone. No person can (not even Sister Molly Mormon that sits next to you at the RS broadcast). But don't worry -- you're not in this alone. Heavenly Father will send you the inspiration and materials and people He needs you to have to fulfill His work. Rely on Him, and you'll be fine.
And more importantly, He promises, too:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him (Matthew 7:7-11)
Even though you have faith the Lord will help you in this challenging calling, you may still have some questions about what you'll be expected to do. Here is some basic information you'll need to know about being the Relief Society President.
Selecting Counselors and Other Personnel
Okay, so maybe this is no biggie for you, but this freaked me out! When I was in YW class presidencies, counselors were assigned to us, plus I had never been a president of anything and so had not had the opportunity to choose a counselor before. Again, "Don't panic!" It really isn't as awful as it sounds.
You'll be using both your judgment and inspiration to make this decision, and you will be able to narrow your list down to some sisters based on your knowledge of their skills, talents, and personalities. You may also consider family and work constraints. Be open to the spirit however. The "obvious" choice isn't always the person the Lord wants (after all, he chose YOU didn't He???).
- Relax - Don't feel pressured to have names in super fast. Take your time. The Church won't fall apart if it takes you an extra week or so.
- Pray for help - Read Matthew 7:7 again. Ask, and ye shall receive.
- Consult the Bishop - I served under two Bishops -- one said I could have anyone that wasn't a president, the other said I could have anyone that wasn't already in a presidency. Ask him if anyone is off limits or if he has any suggestions.
- Be open to sisters who are not the "Obvious" choice - I mean it, too. Don't eliminate names from your list because they don't have experience or the right personality or you don't know them well or they have not served well in other callings or can't bake bread. Trust the Lord to choose who He wants.
- Seek peace - When you feel calm and confident about the sisters you've selected, you've got it right. Take those names to the temple. Still feel great? Take those names to the Bishop.
By then end, I was more confident that the Lord would speak to me, and I would simply pray for inspiration, especially when I was at Church meetings. When the right woman for a position would come around, I'd know when I saw her. Sometimes I'd be sitting in RS, once I saw her in the hall, and another time I stopped by a house for a visit.
Just remember, it's His work, and He'll help you get it right. Calm down and open your heart so you can hear Him.
What Materials Should I Receive?
There are several things you will probably receive from the previous president when you are called. It's likely you'll receive other materials, too, but this a list of things I think you can't serve without:
- A Well-worn copy of Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2 - has all the information found in the shortened CHI booklets you've probably seen before. Includes the activity instructions, budget guidelines, visiting teaching information, RS section, and much more. If you didn't get a copy of this, ask for it.
- In the Service of your God DVD - This video is very helpful training resource regarding the Church's Welfare system. I found the video segment showing how a welfare visit goes to be very helpful. I used it as a training resource during presidency meetings as well. If this is available in your language, get a copy.
- Instructions on Clothing the Deceased who are Endowed - Short pamphlet describing what to do when an endowed member passes. The RS president oversees the dressing of endowed, deceased women.
- Teaching, No Greater Call - If you don't have this already or don't recieve it, ask for it. This is a great resource for teachers. Ensure your Education Counselor and teachers have it, too.
- Latter-day Saint Woman A&B - This is the lesson manual for when YW and RS combine in micro units of the Church. It can be used as a resource for First Sunday lessons. I never found it very useful in the wards I've served in, but you might.
- Current ward calendar - Use it to find the meetings you are expected to attend,like Welfare and Ward Council.
- Contact Information of all Members of the Bishopric - Be sure you have all their email addresses, cell phones, and home phone numbers.
- Current Visiting Teaching Assignments list
- Current Membership List with addresses and phone numbers
- The telephone number of the stake RS president - Ask lots of questions -- that's what she's there for.
- A list of community resources - In my experience this is the most often neglected item in the RS president's arsenal. You should have a list of community agencies that you can refer members to when they need help. For example, local food banks, women's shelters, thrift stores, schools, free attorneys, free health clinics, and social services contact information will all be helpful. If you don't receive this list, work with your secretary to start one.
Meetings the RS President Attends
Yes, you attend a bunch. Here's a list in order of frequency:
- RS Presidency meeting - Usually held weekly. Be respectful of your counselors' and secretary's time and keep this meeting short. Two hours is too long. You will attend this meeting with your entire presidency and your secretary.
- Welfare Committee meeeting - One Sunday per month. I felt this was my most important meeting, and I worked very hard not to miss it. You'll use this meeting to enlist help from the Priesthood for service projects, etc. You'll also report on your activities and the status of members you're working with. You will also be asked to use the resources of the Relief Society to provide help and information to members. Be sure to ask your counselors to attend this meeting, even though they may not get the chance to talk much. They need to be aware of needs in the ward in the event that you are unavailable. You will attend this meeting with your entire presidency, excluding your secretary. All information discussed in this meeting must be kept strictly confidential.
- Ward Council meeeting - One Sunday per month, in addition to Welfare Sunday. This meeting has primarily a calendaring purposes, but you may use it to discuss non-confidential needs that affect multiple auxiliaries. You will attend this meeting alone.
- Stake/Regional/Other Welfare Training - Held quarterly in areas with many members, annually elsewhere. These trainings are very helpful for teaching you how to help families dealing with addiction, grief, depression, and other issues.
- Stake RS Leadership Training - Held once or twice per year. This meeting is where stake leaders will provide guidance and answer questions you may have about Church policies as they relate to Relief Society. For example, here's where you'd ask such questions as "Must we sit at the front of the room?", or "Do we repeat the RS Declaration in meetings?", or "How do we prepare the body of an endowed sister for burial?".
You may be invited to attend the following meetings on occasion:
- Missionary Committee meeeting - Held weekly. You may not be invited to attend all of these meetings, but a member of the presidency should attend to help integrate female investigators by suggesting sisters to go on splits with the missionaries or homes in which discussions could be held. You will also provide background information to missionaries reactivating less active members and will tell them about visiting teaching assignments and changes to families you are focusing on. This meeting can be very effective when used correctly.
When you can't attend a meeting:
When you can't attend a meeting, ask a counselor to attend in your absence.
Learn the Fine Art of Delegation
The Relief Society President who burns out after a month is the one who does not learn to delegate. Here are some things I learned that may help you:
- When you become aware of needs or difficulties in people's lives, always call the visiting teachers. Don't think you need to give out personal or confidential information for visiting teachers to be able to help. All you have to do is call the VTers and say something like, "Sister Smith is struggling and could really use a visit or phone call this week." Most will not ask why, but if they do, I'd say, "I can't really say what's going on -- if she chooses to tell you, great -- but I have to keep that confidential. Just know that Sister Smith could really use your support right now."
- Be prepared to let others fail - There will be people who serve with you who choose not to make their assignments a priority. Some may still be learning the skills they need to perform their callings as well as you or others can. It is not your job to step in and fix everything or to make everything look perfect. Provide support and training, but do not micro-manage. This means that some meetings will not run as well as you'd prefer. Learn to let it go.
- Use your helpers. - Use your compassionate service leader, visiting teaching leader, counselors, and secretary to do assignments you are not required to fulfill. Notice the qualifier in that sentence: "required". You will be expected to make VT changes and handle welfare orders (except in exceptional circumstances). Let others complete other assignments, even the big ones, that you need not handle. Free yourself to be flexible when needs arise.
- Be flexible. - The YW president in our ward schedules a certain time each week to do Young Women's related things. It's easier to do that in YW because nearly all of the things that happen are scheduled on a calendar. While a Relief Society President can schedule some things, like meetings or visiting teaching changes on a calendar, some issues she'll be handling will occur randomly -- sometimes many at a time. Be sure to delegate assignments appropriately so that you'll have the time to step up in an emergency. RS presidents who work must become very good at scheduling and delegating.
RS President FAQ
How long will I serve?
This depends on your personal circumstances and your Bishop. One Bishop I know did not leave RS presidents in for more than a year because he felt the calling was so difficult. When I lived in Utah, leaders told RS presidents to expect to serve about 3 years. I did 2.5 years. (My advice is plan to serve for 20 years, and then throw a party when you end up serving less!)
How does the budget work
Detailed instructions on the budget are found in Book 2 of the Church Handbook of Instructions. In short, you can't pay a speaker, and RS meetings should be free of cost (or be a physical craft-type item with very minimal expense). The RS secretary tracks budget expenditures.
How do I plan a funeral?
Check out my LDS funeral planning information section. Call your stake RS president with any questions about acquiring clothing or any other burial related needs.
Visiting Teaching changes are putting me over the edge.
Try our Visiting Teaching Leader Tips.
Family Meal? I'm panicking.....
Check out my LDS family meal planning section.
Who do I call when I have a question?
Call the previous RS president, your stake RS president, or the Bishop.
What is the compassionate service report?
The compassionate service leader keeps a record of compassionate service assignments made (usually by her, sometimes by you) by members of the ward. She tracks hours served, who was served, and who performed the service. This report is provided to the Bishop. (I don't think it goes on to the Stake level.)
I'm highly opinionated and I don't make bread -- I was not exactly the "Molly" RS president. Here are a couple more things I learned as RS president.
- Stop comparing yourself to the last RS president - It's hard I know. Just don't do it. Be the best President you can be, and be happy with that. The Lord can draw a straight line with the most crooked of sticks. Trust that the Lord will help you, even if you don't bake bread, have 43 kids, know every church member in the stake, or have the entire Standard Works memorized.
- Keep a cell phone list. - Keep a list of cell numbers of people (male and female) in your ward. Keep it private, but make sure you have as many numbers as you can get. When people call you using their cell phones, record them. You can't predict who will have a crisis. This cell phone list will save you a lot of valuable time during an emergency. (Our ward clerk keeps an updated ward cell list that he emails out monthly. Some ward members did not want their numbers listed, but they would give their numbers to me privately.)
- Long announcements - Write announcements on the board. I don't know why this helps, but it does.
- Don't skimp on the compassionate service - Read Mosiah 4 16-27. Now read it again. Let's face it, we all know the way to McDonald's. Therefore, EVERYONE is eliminated from receiving meals from the RS, right? Providing a meal or other service is not something we do because people "deserve" it. We do it because we love the Lord and want to show that love through compassionate acts to His children. Taking meals by is not about providing what people can't provide for themselves; it's a physical manifestation of the love we have for others. In my mind, the only time to avoid giving compassionate service is if the family will become dependent on the service rendered. In my experience this has never happened. I realize that casseroles are the catch-all of compassionate service -- the thing we do when we don't know what to do. Don't provide meals when there is other, more needful service that can be offered. But do provide it as often as you can reasonably do so. Don't fail to provide help to those who have adult children in the home, spouses who can drive to McDonald's, or who are fully employed and can order take out. Relief Society is about providing relief. We should not limit ourselves to helping only when situations are dire. Are we not all beggars? If Heavenly Father only answered prayers when situations were desperate, we would never receive those tender mercies he promises. Compassionate service is the Relief Society's way of being the Lord's Tender Mercy Givers. Don't skimp!
- Don't do all the compassionate service yourself - Compassionate service will increase the unity in a ward; I've seen it happen. People who serve each other learn to watch out for each other. You can provide people opportunities to serve each other through compassionate service, thereby helping them gain a remission of sins and gain salvation. (Don't believe me? Read Mosiah 4: 26 again.)
- Read Mosiah 4 16-27 - If you didn't read it earlier read it now. Be ready to whip it out during Welfare meeting!
- Addressing Gossip or other difficult topics during meeting times - Pray first before you do this. If it's the right thing to do, don't be shy, but talk pointedly about the problem. Do not use names. Do not describe circumstances. Don't beat the problem like a dead horse. Simply tell the sisters there has been a problem, describe it, and ask for their cooperation in helping to stop it. Do not accept comments. I learned early on to talk about problems right at the end of a lesson. I would teach right up until 5 minutes before the bell on my main subject, and then address the issue breifly. When time is running out, you can prevent sisters from sharing their feelings inappropriately on the topic, and you can keep the problem from being the focus of the entire meeting while still getting your point across.
- Listen more than you talk. - Most women are not expecting you to solve their problems for them; they just want a friend to listen to them. Use that resource guide to help people. When you can solve a problem, tell them how you will solve it, and report back when it's done.
- Ask for permission before you tell the Bishop. - Always ask people if it's okay if you share what you've discussed with the Bishop. If they say no, keep it to yourself. Make sure that you follow their instructions exactly. Remember that you are not under obligation to share anything shared with you in confidence with the Bishop or Branch President -- refer to the handbook. If the confidence is about an unresolved sin, encourage the person to speak with the Bishop or Branch President.
- Reiterate confidentiality. - Remind others to keep confidences when you discuss things in Welfare. Nothing breaks down trust in ward leaders more than personal information becoming public.
- Apologize - You're going to make mistakes and hurt feelings. Apologize, and mean it.
LDS.org Visiting Teaching Main (NEW) - has helpful information for both visiting teachers and for Relief Society presidents on organizing visiting teaching
Are you an experienced RS president?
Please share your tips in the section below! Others will be grateful for your experience.