Integrating Young Women into Relief Society

[ 18 ] Comments

by Emily

Looking-Forward-to-RS-517x268-2012-09-20A few months ago, I was talking to a Young Women president about how the 17/18-year-old young women viewed their upcoming transitioning into Relief Society. I was shocked when she said not one of them wants to go, and they’ve all asked if somehow they could please just stay in Young Women!

I want to know how young women are being integrated into Relief Society. Are most young women afraid of entering Relief Society?  What can adult members of the church (men and women) do to make the transition from Young Women’s to Relief Society less daunting?



About Emily

I'm a busy mom of 4 living in Utah and have been married for 14 years. I went to Ricks & BYU and have a BS in Health Science and minors in History and International Development. I did my student teaching in Western Samoa. If I ever have time, I enjoy blogging and sewing (especially re-enactment sewing), but usually I'm just trying to make time to exercise and clean the house. I hope to someday remodel and get more into historical research.

18 Responses to Integrating Young Women into Relief Society

  1. Sarah says:

    Hold a RS/YW combined activity, invite the nearly-RS aged girls to a few activities before they turn 18, find out their interests and include them in discussions, make friends with them.

    I felt the same when I turned 18, because it seemed like nothing in RS applied to me. The ward I’m in now seems to have done a better job, because one recently turned 18 sister said that at the heart of it, RS is just like YW, just more opportunities to meet interesting people. 🙂

    I would also say that it’s important to make references to experiences outside of motherhood or marriage. Yes, these are huge aspects of many of our lives, but not for all.

  2. Becca says:

    I remember choosing to go into Young Women’s after graduating from high school (I was still 17 and wouldn’t turn 18 until my freshman year at college). I had always loved associating with adults more than I liked associating with my peers (too much drama in YW, I guess, and I wanted a serious gospel conversation, not the watered down version we were getting in YW.

    I think the solution isn’t to make RS more appealing to Young Women by making RS more like YW, but just the opposite – by making YW a training ground for RS. I think the new Youth curriculum is going to do big things for that – since the new curriculum allows for a less watered-down approach to the gospel. Our ward is really good at inviting the Young Women to RS activities, but I think it needs to go well beyond that. Young Women leaders need to increase their expectations for the YW (one area where our ward struggles – expectations for these YW are actually pretty low. YW leaders need to treat the YW program as more than just a fun thing to keep the girls occupied and coming to Church. Ironically the younger YW advisors in our ward seem to understand that better than the older women in the YW presidency.

    I would really like to see leaders use the YW program as girls’ equivalent to the Aaronic Priesthood quorums (that’s what is should be, and I believe that’s what the Church wants it to be). Ironically this has been an issue that has been addressed by Mormon feminists – but for some reason many people think it is an issue with the purpose of the program, while my belief is that, just like we do not catch the vision of Relief Society, we have a hard time catching the vision of the Young Women program.

    • Bonnie says:

      I agree, Becca. I’ve long thought that YW would function more efficiently if it were folded into the RS organization much as AP is folded into the larger Priesthood. If YW and RS leaders and members understood that YW was a continuum in the RS experience I think we would naturally see more coordination of programs and such, even if it functionally only meant an opening exercises together.

      The downside is that you fold what, on the ward level, are two of the three busiest callings in the church (YSP and RSP) together, and although I think they are busier than they are spiritually effective, it would certainly be a tough initial transition. I think the long-term payout would be worth it, however. It seems that making this small administrative change would force the needed changes all the way down the structure.

      FWIW, I would fold Primary in there too, and still keep the makeup of the current ward council, and have the three female presidents function as a parallel to the ward PEC leadership. Still, there is nothing saying that female leaders in the church can’t effectively accomplish the same thing through voluntary coordination.

      In our ward, the YW and RS meet together for opening exercises once a month, and the YWP and RSP take turns conducting. We have a remarkably integrated ward and the YW often choose to move to RS at their birthday instead of graduation. With long-standing traditions of inviting RS sisters outside of the leadership to participate in YW activities, the friendships are created across many ages. I don’t think there are any programs that accomplish that if people don’t want to have that openness, but it seems that clarifying the continuum might help.

      • Becca says:

        Your ward sounds amazing! Our ward is great, but our YW program is … honestly lacking. Not sure it’s the leaders’ faults, particularly. The girls are openly unenthusiastic about YW, so it’s only natural that they would balk at the thought of attending RS. But the leaders seem to have the expectation of the YW being unenthusiastic, and they don’t seem to care.

        “voluntary coordination.” This is key, I think. I feel like someone mentioned something about this in a conversation at James’ blog about changing things – that often people will implement things at the local level (local adaptation and all that) and then the Church administration will pick it up and apply it everywhere. There is nothing preventing us from integrating YW and RS more right now, without further direction from headquarters (although I would say there is a lot of direction to be found in already published conference talks and training meetings – which goes back to your blog post about us wanting more revelation but not being willing to accept what we’ve been given.)

        • Bonnie says:

          And I think that kind of implementation is highly dependent on the way the ward is set up. One of the most striking things about our ward is its unity among the adults, which I think has carried over to the youth. We have had stake leaders comment on both consistently over the years. It’s our ward culture. I think that begins with a bishop who creates continuity with the next bishop (and this is the job of a stake presidency) to work with a culture, but the key that we believe has made such a difference is that our ward is homogeneous economically. I’ve found that when a ward isn’t, all of the unities are much harder.

  3. Angie says:

    We have a very small YW and an overwhelmingly large RS (so much so that there really isn’t room in the RS room for all to meet together). Some combined activities have been executed; for a time the YW and the RS met together for the 4th Sunday lesson, for another, for opening exercises at least once a month. These seem token inclusions as far as I can see. The better changes need to come in how much purpose there is to the YW activities. The serious discussion and preparation of the new Come Follow Me program will help, I think. I think many YW organizations try so hard to attract the girls to YW that they end up throwing endless excitement and parties instead of teaching them to lead and plan and execute activities that fulfill their personal progress goals and further their progression in the gospel.

    I also think we can do a lot as RS sisters to treat the YW like sisters and not children. I entered RS immediately upon my 18th birthday in February because of some drama among my peers and I stayed there even though I cringed every week at the anti teen sentiment among many of the mothers of my peers in the RS with me. I felt most welcomed by the women who treated me like their peer instead.

  4. Annie says:

    YES. I agree whole-heartedly with Angie.

    My YW hate going to RS. Every first Sunday we have opening exercises with them and they groan and drag their feet the whole way. We’ve had combined lessons with the RS before and that was like pulling teeth. In one of these combined YW/RS lessons, my counselor and I were asked to teach the group about dating. I thought that would be hard to discuss in a room full of women and girls that are all at very different dating stages in their lives–some aren’t old enough to date, some are married, some are divorced, etc. My worst fears were confirmed when all the RS women immediately assumed this lesson was only applicable to the YW. I’m sure they thought they were being helpful, but all that I heard when they spoke was: “YW, you are little girls, and I am mature and wise. Listen to what I have to say.”

    That is NOT what should be happening when we put the YW with the RS! Yes, there is an age difference, but we are all SISTERS. We’re not just mothers and daughters (or grandmothers and granddaughters). The RS needs to embrace the girls as sisters. There is going to be enough trouble getting the YW to accept being friends with women 30 years older than them–the last thing they want to feel is that they are being berated and preached to whenever they walk into the RS room. We need to embrace them with love and sisterhood–leave the teaching to the parents and youth leaders.

    I’ve also wondered if we shouldn’t get the YW involved in visiting teaching from a young age, too. The YM home teach with their dads and they tend to have a better understanding and appreciation of that program than YW do of VT.

    • Becca says:

      I love your comments, Annie, because I think that was one reason I felt so welcome in RS as a youth. I babysat for many of the RS sisters’ kids, and I had experiences where I had conversations with these women, many of whom were 10-15 years older than me, at least, and I felt like they respected me and would listen to what I had to say, and not feel like they were always “teaching” me.

      And when I was in RS, I felt great respect from the older sisters. I felt like a peer rather than a little girl they needed to take care of. The summer after my freshman year at college I was at home for the summer and one of the teachers asked me to substitute for her. The lesson was on blessings of the temple from the TOTP book that year, and I remember thinking “I haven’t even been to the temple, I can’t teach this lesson!” But I did, and I felt like the teacher, and afterwards almost all the sisters thanked me for the excellent lesson and discussion, and for presenting the words of the prophets so well.

      Definitely helping the YW feel likes peers is a big issue. I think the YM feel more like peers with the Melchezedik priesthood quorums than the YW do with RS.

  5. Paul says:

    I did not have to make the transition from YW to Relief Society — I’m on the other side of that divide, and moved from AP to MP, instead.

    I think there is a comfort level that comes from years of meeting with the older men in opening exercises and as home teaching companions and having many of them as youth leaders. Young men do grow up talking to those men all the time.

    But I would hate to bore a young man in my high priests’ group! It could be pretty dreary. (I worry when we get a “young” high priest who’s been released from a bishopric; I remember thinking I was too young to be a high priest when I was first ordained, too, but I was called into a bishopric and got to meet with the young men, instead.)

    Becca, I think you’re on to something: it’s all about personal connections. The way we feel about our leaders (male or female) has a lot to do with the relationship we have with them. If the bishop seems distant, we are less likely to be comfortable around him, and will feel more anxiety when we need to approach him (which is why good bishops do all they can to break down barriers with youth).

    Annie, it’s so easy for “experienced” adults to take over a discussion when the youth are around. It’s why when I was a bishop I finally told adults they could attend youth firesides, but they could not speak unless specifically invited to by me. They could not answer questions, and they CERTAINLY could not lecture (that was my job!).

    So whether they are organizationally combined or not, getting our YW and RS members to interact in a variety of settings, allowing them to forge personal relationships is key.

    • Bonnie says:

      I agree. Many people have suggested YW as VT partners for RS sisters, and it makes as much sense to think of sisters as along a RS continuum as it does to think of men along a Priesthood continuum. And Zion isn’t about the way the program is structured but how the people relate, which is Part II of Why I Think We’re Having the Wrong Conversation.

      What is funny to me is that the older women often give advice to the younger women in our ward, but there are such amazing relationships that nobody is offended. Ever.

      • Paul says:

        Again, you’ve said it clearly: it depends on the personal relationships (like so much else in the gospel). Advice from a loving friend rarely sounds like preaching from your mom’s friend. 🙂

  6. Barbara says:

    I left for Relief Society as soon as I turned 18 even though I had not yet graduated from high school because I couldn’t stand YW. I didn’t really have any girl friends in the ward and I found YW boring and lacking in any intellectual stimulation (this was the late 80s and very early 90s). I also felt like I didn’t fit in because I didn’t care what color dress this girl wore to the high school dance or that girl’s new haircut.

    I also had/(have) a bit of a anti-conformity streak and our ward had a tradition of calling all of the recently graduated YW to serve in the primary to help ease the transition. I was not going to do something just because that was how this ward had always done it. So while the other 4 girls in our ward all got primary callings, I told the bishop no and when he insisted that he felt it was better for me to serve in the primary than attend RS at that point in my life, I changed wards and went to a student ward with a friend.

    I think our ward probably did a good job with what the other YW needed but not with what I needed at that point in my life.

    I have a daughter who is turning 18 this year and she doesn’t want to go to RS. It doesn’t help that they make all of the Laurels in our ward attend RS every month and I am in the primary so she doesn’t even get to have me attend with her. I hear both positive comments (what fantastic and caring leaders we have, our YW activities are so much fun) and negative comments (the lessons don’t apply to me, I don’t have any friends, the leaders are too focused on fashion/popularity/marriage/babies) about our current ward’s YW program which tells me that it is meeting the needs of some of the young women well but not the needs of others.

    My daughter and I have such different personalities yet my daughter doesn’t particularly enjoy YW either because she has different views and talents than the other girls and doesn’t feel accepted for who she is. She is nothing like me but still feels like she doesn’t fit in.

    I have been in wards where I felt welcome in RS and enjoyed attending because I was accepted for who I was. I have also been in many wards where I did not fit in. The sisters weren’t being mean, they just didn’t understand who I was and why I wasn’t like them. I don’t like being patronized, pressured to change or excluded. (And I experienced them all.)

    Some of the other sentiments expressed here also seem to reflect the feeling that in some wards YW/RS isn’t a place where everyone is accepted regardless of their economic status, personality, spiritual level or age.

    I don’t think that a single solution would work for every girl because each girls has different needs but I think that age has nothing to do with it. Age is just one more way we divide ourselves. Maybe the transition activities in various wards aren’t working because they are just viewed as mandates rather than opportunities for sisters old and young to celebrate diversity and learn to appreciate each person as a valuable individual.

  7. Nancy says:

    I was called to be Primay pianist when I was in High School. The women who served in the Primary treated me as an equal, not as a kid. They were friendly and asked my ideas about things. They welcomed me to Inservice meetings and asked about school and other aspects of my life. When I went into Relief Society a couple of years later, I was going to be with my RS friends that I had served with in Primary, so it was an easy transition for me. However, as the present RS President in my ward, I’ve noticed that when we do try to do activities where the Laurels or any of the YW are invited, the RS Sisters mainly keep to themselves and don’t go out of their way to make the girls feel welcome. I love the YW and have taught most of them in Primary classes and Activity Days. I wish I knew how to get the rest of the RS Sisters to make the YW feel welcome. Perhaps forming a “Welcome to RS” committee for our RS Board would help.

  8. jendoop says:

    From my experience there are two intangible things, independent of church structure, that make a huge difference: The attitudes of the YW’s mother, and the attitude of the YW leaders.

    In the past as a counselor in the RS we assessed our transition plans, trying to figure out what would be the best place to focus our efforts. In looking at successes it was a solid line of success- YW whose mothers attended RS or monthly RS activities made the transition well. Those who had inactive, offended, or mothers otherwise engaged (working on Sundays, etc.) had a more difficult time finding their place. We focused on making sure the mothers of our upcoming transitioning YW were being visit taught, that their needs were addressed and that they felt welcome and loved in RS so their daughters would too. We hear that quote, ‘save a girl and you save generations’, but what about the adult girl, the mother of that YW?

    I was a YW leader when the talk was given by a RS leader about how important transition is, and that YW leaders attitudes about RS are a huge factor. (I’ll see if I can find it and post later) It made me think twice about the little snide comments I had made to my YW about YWs being so much better than RS, that I would much rather attend YWs, and that my calling in YWs had saved me from RS. I realized that I was an example to the YWs of what a RS sister is and if I couldn’t muster some enthusiasm for RS I was impacting their future success in the organization that they would attend for the rest of their lives.

    I’ve shared this post with some of my former YW , now RS sisters, that I still keep in contact with through Facebook, I hope they’ll share how their transition went.

  9. Carolyn says:

    Personally, I never had a problem with the transition. But I think partly that was because I moved out of my parent’s house and several states away the week I graduated from high school. I was absolutely sick of being a high school teenager and wanted to be treated like an adult. I went straight from young women’s to a singles ward (where I somewhat intentionally did not tell people my age; for a long time people assumed I was 22, not 18).

    Moreover, except for the fact that I now got to act like an adult, relief society in a single’s ward isn’t too different from young women — lots of women in your same demographic, who are your friends outside of church too, now with more independence and authority (i.e. your peers teach the lessons, rather than someone’s mom).

    I don’t think it would have been too different if I had stayed in the family ward I grew up in — I had babysat for a lot of the women in relief society, and many were my mother’s friends. I appreciated the different perspective they had in lessons and comments. I do think I would have felt more lonely, though, with only a couple of girls anywhere near my age. I would have felt like all the older women still thought I was 12.

    I guess this is more my thought: the transition to relief society is a lot easier when you do it away from the ward you grew up in.

  10. Liz C says:

    My observation/comments will echo many others… I guess there are some common problems in many wards, eh? One thing that makes me optimistic is that solutions to the current challenges can be made at the local level, since everything that *could* be done is still well within the established current programs. It just takes people being willing to really seek inspiration, and live UP to our privileges! Right now, I think in many ways we’re holed up in a cabin on the cruise ship, eating tinned beans, instead of feasting at the gala reception. 🙂

    My oldest is 16-1/2, and has been chafing in YW since she was 12-1/2. Things noticeably improved with a leadership change this last year; the YW presidency was reorganized yesterday, and the incoming leaders have personalities that will support the positive changes, and run with them, too. She and I are very encouraged!

    Training YW in the watchcare of visiting sisters among their own organization could be a great forward step. My girl started her own very informal “route” as a second-year Beehive, because she thought it would help some of the other girls feel more included, even if they didn’t regularly come out to church. She was right. Visiting training can start early on–it can only increase unity for the YW, and they’ll be accustomed to considerate care when they go into RS.

    Working together fosters mutual love and respect. RS sisters can get the YW actively involved in meaningful service together. RS sisters can choose to be involved (as workers!) in YW service. Pair up across the generations… some of my best friends as a teen were ladies in their 70s and 80s. (And this is not RS-related, but she and I are headed to a DUP meeting in just a minute–because ladies in their 60s invited us to come.) (Back from the DUP, and it was So Much Fun, even if we were younger than the youngest of the ladies by three and five decades! Now my daughter is very excited to have the DUP come in for orientation for youth conference, and share pioneer stories with the youth.) Do REAL things together, serving in the church and in the community.

    Several years ago, our ward had a great unifying experience; the RS president hosted a ward Sisters (All Ages) 5K Walk-Jog-Run. In six months of training, amazing unity across the generations resulted… Beehive girls out strolling with senior sisters in their 70s, everyone encouraging one another. Even the home-bound ladies came out on their porches to cheer, or waved from their windows, as the route wove through the ward neighborhoods. It Was Cool.

    Make practical applications (all of which have been part of my YW or RS life at some point):

    RS/YW can trade off with EQ/YM to bake the bread for Sacrament meeting.

    YW can serve in Compassionate Service ministry, helping with funerals, meals for the sick, bereaved, and “in transition” with moves/babies, even respite care or companionship for homebound ladies.

    YW can do hard and big things. Why not expect more of them, give them a challenge, and encourage them to live up to it? I wouldn’t stand for going places that placate me or condescend to me. Can’t we expect YW might feel the same way if patted on the head in RS? These are our little sisters. Let’s treat them as siblings, not obstacles. (And yes, there can be a really, really snotty attitude from adult women toward young women; it’s very sad, but that “despising of youth” is very common in the larger culture. We should be actively battling it, and LOVING our teens!)

    Bring Activity Day girls into the fold… perhaps providing supervised childcare so more YW can attend a special service activity with the RS. When my oldest was 8, she provided childcare at the back of the chapel so more parents could participate with the choir right after church. That was real service, and freed up YW to sing in the choir as well.

    Mentoring activities with RS sisters sharing skills with the YW (I got to help teach making food for the freezer and homemade “convenience” food to the girls. We had a blast!) (I honestly think the YM need to be brought into quilting circles, to practice Boy Scout knots, but that’s just my personal weirdness. My dad always helps my mother quilt.)

    I’ve never seen an entire ward invited to attend New Beginnings, or YW in Excellence nights. Why not? Integrating the YW program and the progress of the girls into the larger ward family would be a great support, and also lend a lot more familiarity for girls transitioning over.

    I really think, as with so many things, the transition from YW to RS can be greatly improved on all sides if everyone is seeking prayerful inspiration, and then acting on it. The program frameworks give us ROOM to act in our stewardships, and too often, we limit ourselves needlessly. Elevate the functioning of the RS in true womanly ministry, and the YW program can become a much more rich ministry of its own. I get more than a little excited when I contemplate what AMAZING things all of us women (young and old) could accomplish for God’s Kingdom, as we really do learn to live up to the full privilege of our ministry!!

  11. Emily says:

    I have to admit that I was really uneasy moving from YW to RS, too. We were one of those wards where traditionally YW were called to Primary after they graduated. My mom was also the Primary president, so that helped get me out of RS for the summer before I went away to Rick’s College.

    Although I was not excited to attend RS with the “old ladies,” I was super excited to be a part of RS in a college ward. After Rick’s, I went on to BYU and also had a positive experience there. During my first two college summers I attended the home ward and enjoyed being a long-term visitor in the home-ward RS. I didn’t mind it too much, but did feel a little young.

    Finally, my 3rd college summer I was convinced to attend the single’s ward. Some of RS was a bit silly, but again, I enjoyed it enough. It was when I got married the year after college that RS became ingrained in my heart. At 24, in a well-established down-town SLC ward I was asked to serve as the enrichment leader. The ladies had great expectations, but I also received great training. The RS pres. and the counselor over me were WONDERFUL coaches and became great friends. I really began to understand and connect with women of all ages.

    A few years later I got to serve as a RS secretary, and again, was able to connect with ladies of all ages. I loved it! So, I think what everyone has said is true: we need to create cross-generational connections between women to make them feel at ease. We all, old and young, need to reach out to one another.

    A cool thing I noticed our ward doing, not necessarily with RS, but with giving the YW real opportunity for growth is with a local care center. So many times a year our ward is in charge of providing church services for this care center (FHE, Sacrament Mtg, Primary, etc.). I noticed that the YW are in charge of providing Primary at this facility. I guess I hadn’t noticed it in the past, but I thought it was great that they get to provide that service. Now I don’t know how much the girls plan themselves, but they are getting out in the community and touching the lives of others not like them.

  12. Laura says:

    As with other “crises,” I think the problem is with the individuals, not the institution.
    I totally agree with those that have said that it starts with the mothers though. My mother taught us in such a way that we realized everything related to us, no matter what the stage. We looked forward to the future, to raising children, to keeping a house, to teaching our family and neighbors the Gospel, to supporting our husbands in their priesthood duties… Honestly I loved going to R.S. because of the wisdom that could be gleaned from the older women in the ward who had been through it all. It also helped that my mother included us in her visits and friendships with other women in the ward so there were people there who already knew us personally.
    I’m sorry, but the problem I see is within the girls themselves. The ward and it’s programs can’t make up for all the erroneous attitudes and ideas found in the world today, especially if those same attitudes and ideas are fostered in the home.
    That said, attitudes in ALL R.S. sisters, about the beauty of womanhood, our divine mission and unique gifts as women, along with our roles as mothers and nurturers, and even our relationship to the priesthood will definitely trickle down to the YW. No matter the ward, no matter the demographic, let’s all be better examples to the young women around us.

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