The general Relief Society and general Young Women’s meetings will return to a previous practice and hold a combined semi-annual general women’s broadcast on the Saturday before General Conference, beginning in 2014.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the change in a letter from the First Presidency sent to Church leadership around the world on Nov. 1.
According to the letter, the meeting will be for all girls and women 8-years-old and older and will be conducted by leadership of the general Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations.
“As the women of the Church gather together — sisters, mothers, and daughters — they, their families, and the Church will be strengthened and blessed,” the First Presidency said in the letter.
Enthusiasm about the announcement has been high among Church membership.
“I am just thrilled,” said Marged Kirkpatrick, a former member of the Relief Society general board. “I’ve thought for a long time that the Relief Society and Young Women should meet together for sure, and so then to add the Primary I think is just fabulous.”
Change in the format for women’s meetings is not uncommon. The general women’s meeting is a return to a previous meeting format used by the Church.
According to Church Archivist Christine Marin, records show Relief Society meetings for adult women were held annually in the fall beginning in 1947. Annual meetings for Primary age children began in 1954 and for the Young Women in 1994.
A meeting for all women age 8 and older was held 1978–1979 and 1982–1992, temporarily replacing the annual Relief Society meetings.
Separate meetings have been held for Relief Society and Young Women sisters since 1993, with the Relief Society meeting in the fall and Young Women’s meeting in the spring.
Spring 2014 will mark the third time the Church has returned to this format.
“I think it’s always good to try different things and see if we can be more inclusive,” said Camille Olson, associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. “That would be my hope.”
While the Church offered no official explanation for the change, many see great advantages to the youth meeting together with adults, pointing out that young men interact with adult men weekly in local church meetings and semiannually in the priesthood session of general conference.
“I think young women have not always had an easy time making the transition from Young Women to Relief Society,” Olson said. “To have opportunities with older women in the Church and be reminded that we are all part of a society together can’t help but be meaningful.”