Tag Archives: Sisterhood

Hymn #310: A Key Was Turned in Latter Days

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.

Hymn #293: Each Life That Touches Ours for Good

“The Lord answers our prayers,” said Spencer W. Kimball, “but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” It’s rare that He Himself will descend to do the things we ask of Him. Instead, He sends a kind family member, a trusted co-worker, or even a gentle stranger to help us along our way. Possibly most often is the case when he places a loving friend in our path when we need bearing up.

“Each life that touches ours for good,” we sing at the beginning of this hymn, “reflects thine own great mercy, Lord.” Friends, family, and others offer kindness and support to us, and who else could they possibly be reminding us of? The Lord is the great example to all of us, and when we do any good thing, anything kind, loving, generous, or virtuous, it’s because we learned it first from Him. The Apostle John said of the Savior, “We love him, because he first loved us,” though he could just as easily have said, “We love family, friends, and everyone else he places in our path, because he first loved us.”

What greater gift does thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

This second verse speaks for itself, but I’ll do my best to add what little I have. Good friends, kind family, and every other loving person placed in our path are a supreme blessing. They bear us up, stand with us when we need comfort, weep with us when we weep, and rejoice with us when we have joy. A Christlike friend can strengthen our faith, as we sing. We learn how to love and how to trust in our Lord through a trusted friend who demonstrates those attributes in his or her own life.

It’s difficult for me to find anything to add to this verse simply because it feels so simple and obvious to me, and that’s because it’s something I feel so keenly in my own life. I’ve been richly, richly blessed with good people in my life. I have a loving family, and I have dear, good friends. I find myself thanking the Lord for each of these people often, and I have ample reason to thank Him for each one of them. There were kind people placed in my life during lonely times as a teenager that I still cherish relationships with today. The same goes for my college years, and it continues today. The Lord places good people in our path to help us along, and it is in their faces and kind deeds that we can see His face and His deeds.

If you’re reading this, and you and I are acquainted to nearly any degree, then please know that you are one of these dear friends that I’m speaking about. We may have met as young people in middle or high school. You might be one of those friends I met in college and shared movie nights and late night conversations with. You might be a fellow writer for the Beesley Project, with whom I get to share my feelings, appreciation, and love for the hymns, and all of whom (except Kim, but that’s only because we hadn’t met yet) I thought of by name when considering a project like this.

And maybe you’re someone I’ve only met or spoken with once, as we crossed paths in the street or shared a short conversation while waiting in line. Relationships don’t have to be deep to be meaningful. Even small kindnesses can remind us of the love the Savior has for each of us. And it’s worth remembering that not only do we have good and kind people placed in our paths, but that we also have the chance to be a good and kind person placed in someone else’s path. We don’t know when we’re the one the Lord is counting on to support someone else, whether it’s through lending a helping hand, a kind deed, or even just a smile.

So no matter who you are, I want you to know that when I sing the fourth and final verse of this hymn, I sing about you:

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim
Devotion to the Savior’s name,
Who bless our days with peace and love,
We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.

Hymn #309: As Sisters In Zion

As Sisters In Zion is written specifically for the women of the church, and it includes language to that effect. Nevertheless, the message found here is applicable to all of us. If you’ve never had opportunity to sing this hymn, I encourage you to read the lyrics before we start.

The text of this hymn praises qualities and actives often associated with the women of the church: gentleness, comforting the weary, strengthening the weak, cheering the downtrodden. These are, of course, not exclusively feminine traits; they could also be used to appropriately describe the great exemplar, Jesus Christ himself. They can apply to us all.

As I’ve studied these lyrics, the collaboration between the sisters in Zion and divine helpers, guiding their work, really stands out to me. It’s right there in the first verse:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.

The work of building God’s kingdom is not one we undertake alone. God has not requested this effort of us as some sort of “price of admission,” before we can receive his blessings. Rather, it is something he takes active interest in. God wants us to build Zion, and he seeks to help us.

The first couplet in the second verse also strikes me:

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim

Our mission is framed in exalted terms— it is “the errand of angels.” This is both an ennobling and wearying phrase. If this errand were simple or easy, it probably wouldn’t require angelic intervention, would it? But the opportunity to participate in the work of God is a privilege to be claimed, not a burden to be borne. We each have talents and gifts that enable us to serve with the angels in God’s work, and it is a privilege to exercise those talents in their intended way.

I wonder, how often do we view our callings and religious duties as burdens that weigh us down, rather than gifts that bring us in association with angels?

Perhaps what stands out most to me is that these lyrics make no attempt to promise blessings for our service. We are not serving because it will make us happier, or lift our own burdens (though it will). Rather, the implied reward is the work itself: the building up of Zion. This is a wholly selfless view—we lift others because we share God’s vision for mankind and rejoice in bringing it about.

With this in mind, the opening lines of the third verse seem appropriate:

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.

There are no small dreams here; God invites us to participate in his work to exalt all of mankind—every soul that will accept it. The cooperation of mortals, angels, and the Holy Spirit are all essential to bring it about. Only through divine help can we adequately meet this great call.

As brothers and sisters in Zion, we have a dual relationship with deity. We are currently working out our own relationship with God, seeking to come back into his presence as we learn to keep our covenants. And yet, at the same time we actively work at his side, serving as companions in the great work of bringing salvation to all mankind.

My fellow companions of God, let us serve well.

Hymn #311: We Meet Again as Sisters

I have to confess: I’ve agonized over this hymn all week. Every time I read the title, I am reminded of all the jokes I’ve heard about the sisters of the church having meetings to plan their upcoming meetings. The sarcasm isn’t unwarranted. When I think about all the things women are involved in or in charge of–Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, compassionate service, visiting teaching, girls’ camp, various committees, etc.–it’s no wonder we seem to meet again and again and, oh yes, yet again.

This hymn simplifies all that busyness, though, and meetings take on a significance beyond all the cookies and crafting. The first two verses give us the two main reasons women of the church should meet at all: to observe the Sabbath and to “plan our service.”

The first verse lays out an ideal Sunday. We go to church to “worship God together, [we] testify and pray.” Through our worship, we invite the Spirit to be present, to “enlarge our minds with knowledge and fill our hearts with love.” And while we may not experience a perfect Sabbath every week, the goal is always to show that we “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The hymn’s second verse, unsurprisingly, hints at the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (vs 39) In our non-Sabbath meetings, we should plan to give service, help those in need, “show charity and kindness,” develop our talents and use them to bless others. It’s a good rubric to keep in mind; one or both of these commandments should be addressed every time we hold a meeting.

In my adult life, I’ve been in many different wards, and each Relief Society has functioned differently. Some women place a strong emphasis on rituals and culture, while others have broken dramatically from tradition. Some value elaborate centerpieces and homemade handouts, and others really couldn’t care less. From what I have seen, though, every successful Relief Society–wherein sisters feel loved and great things are accomplished–is centered on the actual purposes of the organization, which we find in the third verse.

We meet to sing together
The praises of our Lord,
To seek our exaltation
According to his word.
To ev’ry gospel blessing
The Lord has turned the key,
That we, with heav’nly parents,
May sing eternally.

As the Church Handbook states, “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life.” The saving ordinances of the gospel are available to everyone, and Relief Society provides whatever assistance women need as they work out their salvation. Whether that means addressing temporal needs or spiritual ones, the goal is the same: to “seek our exaltation.” Together. As sisters.