Relief Society celebrates 181st anniversary, looks at local and worldwide impact

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The Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally created 181 years ago on March 17, 1842.

What began with 20 women in the upper room of a store in Nauvoo, Illinois has become one of the largest women’s organizations in the world, rendering service and creating sisterhood across the globe, according to the Church’s website. 

Church women’s leaders, including Relief Society General President Camille Johnson and Young Women’s General President Bonnie Cordon, met with Latter-day Saint women in Africa. Johnson and Cordon exemplify the mission of Relief Society as they minister to and serve with sisters all over the world. (Church Newsroom)

Tracie Cudworth, the lead writer for Church Newsroom, has a unique perspective on the growing impact of Relief Society. Part of her work includes traveling the world with the Relief Society general presidency of the Church and other leaders, capturing their experiences and telling their stories. 

“It’s been amazing for me to help raise the voices, value and visibility of the women leaders of the church. We want to tell people the wonderful work that they do,” Cudworth said. 

Having just returned from a 9-day ministry in Africa with two of the female leaders, Cudworth commented on the strength in leadership these women exemplify and the strength of the women in the church as a whole. 

Maddy Haggard, second from the left, is gathered with her presidency. Haggard and these counselors oversee relief society affairs for a number of local congregations. (Photo courtesy of Maddy Haggard)

“Over half of the (members of the Church) are women. We value women in our church — they lead, they speak doctrine, they teach and they train,” Cudworth said. 

As Sister Camille N. Johnson, Relief Society general president of the Church, and others met with and ministered to the women in Africa, Cudworth said she was touched by the love felt and the power of a “global sisterhood.”

Cudworth said the African women of the local relief societies welcomed them with song and dance. They were full of gratitude to simply have these leaders in their presence. 

Even on the global scale where humanitarian work is being performed and overseen, the purpose of these leaders is still to minister to “the one,” according to Cudworth.

Speaking of the women in the global Church Cudworth said, “We are all God’s children. We love God, each other, our families and our countries. We lift where we stand.”

Each Latter-day Saint congregation across the world contains an individual Relief Society with a president, counselors, a secretary and a number of other roles pertaining to service and engagement within and outside of the organization. 

Over half of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are women. The ratio of women to men in the Church is greater than the ratio of women to men in the world. (Made in Canva by Mckenna Schmidt)

Members of Relief Society often refer to each other as “sisters,” a reminder of their belief that they are all daughters of the same God.

In congregations in Provo, college-aged women serve as presidents of local relief societies. Maddy Haggard is a nursing student at BYU and also serves as the Relief Society president over a number of congregations in the area, known as a stake Relief Society president. 

Haggard said her appreciation for the organization and its impact has magnified since beginning this assignment. 

She commented on some of the ways her and her counselors strive to create this environment of love in small ways, such as keeping track of the birthdays of the sisters and sending them a birthday text.

Rayelle Poulsen, second from the left, and a few members of her Relief Society participate in a hike together. Poulsen and the women in Relief Society spend time deepening their relationships and connecting with one another. (Photo courtesy of Rayelle Poulsen)

Haggard said Relief Society is “a place where you can belong, connect and feel God’s love.” 

Rayelle Poulsen is a Spanish major at BYU and she serves as Relief Society president in her ward. She said Relief Society creates an environment where women can learn from each other and recognize each other’s strengths as well as their own. 

“There hasn’t always been this kind of equality for women in the world. But in the Church, I’m grateful we have that ability to meet together as women and to strengthen and uplift each other,” Poulsen said.

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