In the spring of 1842, some women in Nauvoo had gathered to organize a sewing society intended to help with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Though Joseph Smith spoke highly of their proposed charter, he had told them that God had something greater in store for them. He invited them to meet with him again a few days later, and on March 17, the Relief Society was formed.
At that first meeting of the Relief Society, Joseph told the sisters that their society lead to better days for the poor and needy:
I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads. (History of the Church vol. 4 pg. 607)
Eliza R. Snow, second president of the Relief Society, later said “Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently.”
Today’s hymn is A Key Was Turned in Latter Days, and it references this founding of the Relief Society. From the very beginning, it has been a charitable organization, seeking to relieve the suffering of those in need. Though the motto wasn’t officially chosen until 1913, the phrase “Charity Never Faileth” seems to describe the society well from its very beginning.
Though it may sometimes seem that Relief Society is simply another class in church with some visiting teaching mixed in, it seems that the Lord’s vision for it is much greater. The Relief Society cares for those in need, both locally and throughout the world. Their mission is Christ-like compassion and service. Sometimes that simply involves taking care of someone who just moved into the ward, or someone who just had a baby. Other times, it means organizing blood drives or collecting supplies for survival kits. In some areas, the Relief Society has a literacy program to help adults learn to read.
A key was turned in latter days,
A blessing to restore—
A gift of charity and peace—
To earth forevermore.
Our Father, we would turn our hearts
To those who seek thy face,
Give hope and comfort to the poor
In mem’ry of thy grace.
In their Christ-like service, members of the Relief Society set an example for all of God’s children. Sons and daughters see the example of a mother’s compassionate service and faithful visiting. Men and women alike are reminded of the importance of charity in our discipleship. As sisters reach out and serve in the name of Christ, the effects of Christ’s love are scattered throughout the world, lifting everyone a little bit closer to Him. The Relief Society indeed does many small and simple things, but by small and simple things great things are brought to pass.