Updated: May 18
On this day in Christian History we go back to year 1842 and travel to Illinois when today the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is formed. One of the oldest and largest women's organizations in the world it has more than 7 million members in over 188 countries and territories. However like all churches, the activity rates for members is up to 40%. As the church counts anyone as a member who was baptized unless the formally resign. There are about 5 million Men, women and children still active.
The Relief Society is a philanthropic and educational women's organization with the motto "Charity never fails." taken from the writings of St Paul. As the Church has had a growing international presence, local Relief Societies in congregations throughout the world would work to help those who have special needs because of old age, physical or emotional illness, emergencies, births, deaths, disability, loneliness and other challenges. Because of their history as a church, often being held in suspicion by other Christians, and sometimes outright hostility from surrounding communities. Part of the charism that has developed in Mormon formation is self-reliance and other needed skills for individuals.
The Society started amidst the construction of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois, which was the second place of worship constructed by the Latter-Day Saints. It would be partially destroyed by fire before the group were driven out of Ohio. Two men discussed combining their efforts to sew clothing for workers on the temple and this was the original idea for a Ladies' Society. Writing up a constitution to the President of the Church Joseph Smith, after review he told them "this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and He has something better for them than a written constitution. ... I will organize the women. .. after a pattern of the priesthood." He claimed to be inspired by how the early church relied on the participation of female disciples such as Mary, Martha, Tabitha, Priscilla and many others to strengthen and sustain the church. He would later say that The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized. So Today in 1842, twenty Latter Day Saint women gathered, in the second-story meeting room over Josephs Smith's Red Brick Store in Nauvoo to discuss the formation of a support group.
The group was to elect Smiths wife Emma Smith to lead them and she chose two counsellors, making it a three member Presidency. As a part of a recent comprehensive look at historical sources, entitled the Joseph Smith Papers project , the detailed minutes of the 34 Relief Society meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, are now available online. The describe the founding but also describe the rising tensions or persecutions faced by the residents.
The early Relief Society worked to fund medical training for women, make and market homemade goods, make their own silk, store grain for relief, build hospitals, secure suffrage and establish adoption services and programs of loans and grants to women. As the Society grew and the church became more established the Relief Society’s work engaged more with the wider community and received the American Red Cross "Heroes 2004 Award" for its service in the Greater Salt Lake area In 2010, Catholic Community Services honoured Julie Beck, the general president of the Relief Society, where she was named Community Partner In Salt Lake City. Its own headquarters building known as the Relief Society Building, which is separate from the other administrative offices of the LDS Church and is the building closest to the door of the Salt Lake Temple
This is not the extent of the charitable work of the Church. Philanthropies, is a department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and is responsible for facilitating donations to humanitarian and educational initiatives such as Brigham Young University (BYU). Humanitarian funds are given to Latter-day Saint Charities which sponsors and organizes relief efforts. In 2019, the church reported over 3,000 community-based projects with an excess of 2,000 partners, in locations around the world and a total of $2.3 billion that had been donated over Philanthropies' existence in just over fifty years.