All adult women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are included as members of the Relief Society, the church’s women’s organization. Formally organized in 1842, women in the church originally wanted to form a charitable society to meet the needs in their community by caring for the sick and the poor, and these acts of service have continued over the years.
As part of another tradition, Relief Society members in Cache Valley join women throughout the world for their annual Relief Society celebration held during the organization’s March birthday month.
Individual ward Relief Societies celebrate in creative ways, and each has their own unique approach to the anniversary.
For the women of the Smithfield 11th Ward, the birthday celebration is the highlight of the year.
“We have a committee that comes up with ideas of what we want to do that year,” said Valry Boehme, Smithfield 11th Ward Relief Society President. “It is a time to gather at the church building for a meal with the women helping by bringing soup, salad, and rolls. There is always a birthday cake, decorations, a program, and a memento of the theme to take home.”
One year the 11th ward group asked a few women to make a birthday cake, then used them as centerpieces for the tables. The cakes were shared with those from different tables to taste the cakes for dessert.
In March 2020, theirs was one of the few wards who were able to hold their annual birthday party.
"We had our party on March 11th, the night before things shut down due to the pandemic. All activities to gather were cancelled the next day,” recalled Boehme. “We were thrilled to have been able to have our party. Our theme for that party was ‘It's fun to ‘Bee One’ meaning to be one in purpose so that our sisters would feel they are part of Relief Society.”
The colors of the bees, yellow, black and white, were used in the decorations.
Boehme spoke at the meeting about how ‘Bee-ing one’ is to be like a busy bee who works to serve and help the colony.
“Like the honeybee provides to the hive, your contribution is vital to our ‘hive’ here in Smithfield. You can ‘Bee One’ in purpose, prayer, kind, and merciful,” Boehme said.
The attendees were given a honey bee charm to remind them of their contribution to the ward hive and a lip balm made with honey.
This year, due to COVID-19, the Smithfield 11th ward Relief Society had their birthday party via Zoom earlier this month. A ‘cake in a mug’ kit was delivered to the home of each woman for them to make so they could eat a birthday cake during the party.
They took a live virtual tour of the Sarah and Hiram Kimball home where the first Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo, Illinois.
“These birthday parties are a time for the sisters to meet,” stressed Boehme.
During the five years (2015 to Dec. 2020) that Laura Morgan was the Mendon Stake Relief Society President – overseeing Mendon, Nibley, Petersboro, Young Ward, and College Ward – she always held a stake women’s conference close to the Relief Society birthday anniversary.
“Every year we planned to celebrate as a Stake, but also gave the ward Relief Society organizations flexibility to celebrate as a ward as well,” Morgan said.
She said the stake celebrations included a speaker, and a meal or mini classes, depending on the year.
“One year we had Janice Kapp Perry, a well-known church songwriter, speak to us. She encouraged us to write a family song. Each ward Relief Society wrote a verse to the music ‘Stand for the Right.’ We sang them together in our women’s conference the next year,” Morgan recalled.
“In other years, we loved having speakers from our stake, school districts, and USU, who offered to have mini-classes on personal histories, food preparation, finances, emotional health, music, raising children, organization, and communication.”
For their 2020 meeting, the Mendon Stake had Hilary Weeks scheduled, but had to cancel the conference due to COVID-19. Instead, they recorded an online celebration with Stake Relief Society sisters speaking and performing music.
“These annual women’s conferences focused on finding joy as we celebrated being together,” Morgan said. “It was just uplifting to be together.”
Lisa Christensen, current Mendon Stake Relief Society President, outlined this year’s women’s conference held on March 13. Some attended in person and others watched at home. The theme was “Lifted Together.”
“Sometimes we are the person who needs lifted and sometimes we are the one who is doing the lifting. A missionary who was severely injured while serving his mission shared a message of faith and hope by putting God first,” Christensen said.
“Lisa and three women shared a message on how they can be ‘lifted together’ through family history, temple work, ministering, and missionary work. The High Councilman also gave remarks about love being the key to being lifted and lifting others.”
Christensen said this year many wards celebrated in unique ways. One ward gave the sisters a night off by doing a drive-through dinner providing a take-and-bake pizza and cookie dough along with a message on unity.
Another ward made a video that was sent to the ladies of a compilation of interviews with a couple of sisters in their ward. One ward delivered to each woman a treat and a celebratory card about the Relief Society, and one of the wards had a fashion show of wedding dresses from many years ago with a program that tied in with the Relief Society history.
In the past, the Spring Creek Ward made a video of members in their ward singing the song “We’re Sisters” by Cherie Call. One woman sang alone. Every few seconds, another joined singing the song. By the end of the song, there were ten women of all different ages singing together.
“The message of the song was that even though we are different ages, at different stages of life, and have different personalities, we all have so much in common and that we are all sisters of a Father in Heaven who loves us,” said Christensen, who lives in the ward.
Another year Spring Creek had the theme of “Finding Joy in the Season of Your Life” with a panel of a senior sister, one middle aged, and one who was not married yet, who were asked questions how they found joy in whatever the question asked.
In early March of 2020, the Spring Creek Ward had dinner. Each sister was to bring a purse with three items relating to things they liked to do. Then the person conducting the party selected one purse and pulled the items out of the purse. The sisters tried to guess whose purse it was.
“It was a fun way to get to know each sister in our ward,” Christensen said. “We always tried to make it fun and inspirational.”
While a traditional commemoration for the founding of Relief Society often includes a dinner and program celebrating the history and the purpose of the organization, there is no outlined protocol for what to organize, and other creative and thoughtful service events are often planned.
“Since all in-person events were canceled in 2020, over the months since then, Relief Societies have found innovative ways to serve one another and connect through shared experiences or Zoom gatherings,” said Laraine Swenson, Mt. Logan Stake Relief Society President.
For instance, this year in the Stewart Park Ward, President Rebecca Parkinson said they had a “simplified celebration.”
“We asked the sisters to do some act of service in celebration of the 179th birthday of the Relief Society. Then the following week of March 25th, we will have a Relief Society activity that sisters will share more about themselves to get to know each other better. The theme ‘We Do Not Walk Alone’ event will take place at the church. The sisters will take home cupcakes in celebration of the Relief Society's birthday,” Parkinson said.
A couple of years ago in the Johansen Park Ward, Mt. Logan Stake, they had a full-on birthday party with pointy hats, streamers, balloons, a concentration game matching photos of the Relief Society Presidents back to Emma Smith, the original president. They played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, a dart balloon-pop game with a scripture or quote inside each balloon, and enjoyed a birthday cake with ice cream.
Melody Johnson, Relief Society President of the Logan Ridge Ward, said they planned their 2020 gathering with the theme of “Because I Knew You, I Have Been Changed For Good,” but were unable to hold the celebration. They hope to have it this year.
The sisters are asked to bring a pair of their favorite shoes to tell where they wore them and why they are special. Each table will be decorated with party favors, quizzes and games about shoes. All shoes will be put on display.
Johnson spoke about the origins of the Relief Society in the early days of the church.
“We ask our sisters of the Relief Society never to forget that they are in a unique organization. No other woman’s organization in all the world had such a birth. In organizing the Relief Society, the Prophet Joseph Smith told them that the purpose of the Relief Society organization is ‘To save souls, and relieve suffering.’
“As you look at these shoes, you can see our differences. Differences that can enrich and inspire and help us achieve that which could not be done with one style of shoe worn by all women. Joseph Smith also counseled the sisters in that first meeting about their tendency to use differences against each other.
“He said: ‘We would not be successful if we gave into our tendencies to gossip, backbite, judge one another, and be self-righteous.’ Does what he said to a small group of women 179 years ago still apply to us today? It does.”
It all began in Nauvoo, Illinois, on March 17, 1842, when a group of women were organized by their prophet to strengthen themselves and their community. The Relief Society helps prepare women and their families to be able to work in unity to assist those in need.