When Barbara Bradshaw Smith was called to be the General Relief Society President on October 3, 1974, the Tabernacle was filled to capacity. President N. Eldon Tanner paid special tribute to Belle S. Spafford whose presidency had lasted 29 years. She had served under 6 different Presidents of the Church. Many women who were present that day had never had a different General Relief Society President. When President Kimball announced at the last session of the two-day conference that Sister Spafford was being released, gasps could be heard throughout the building. The murmured exclamations of “Oh, no!” were clearly heard by Sister Smith who was sitting with other general board members. When she came to the podium, her voice trembled and she declared,
“When you said ‘Oh, no’, so did I. I have sat in this audience many times; when the conference was over, I have thanked my Heavenly Father that Sister Spafford was still our general president. And when President Kimball came to my home and called me to be the general president of Relief Society, I couldn’t believe it could happen to me.” (Women of Covenant, p. 347)
While Barbara Smith may have felt overwhelmed by the reaction to her new calling, at least she got one.
From what I can tell, the Bloggernacle has been generally silent and disinterested in the calling of a new General Relief Society Presidency. (If I have missed your post, please notify me and I will link to you immediately.) In case you missed it, the new General Relief Society President is Julie B. Beck who had been serving as a counselor in the General Young Women’s Presidency. Her first counselor is Sylvia H. Allred. According to the Deseret News, she is the first member of the Relief Society General presidency ever to have been born outside the United States. She is a native of El Salvador and a convert to the church. Second counselor, Sister Barbara Thompson is employed as executive director of an international assessment center for abused and neglected children. She is also an official with Christmas Box International, a charity focused on abused and neglected children. It would seem that this is a presidency who could represent some of the diverse interests of the women of the Church.
Who cares about Relief Society? I do. I care desperately about the history of the women in this Church. I care deeply about the women in my ward. I am disappointed when we drop the ball as an organization in regards to gender, but I’m also saddened when women leaders are dismissed because of their suit colours, hairstyles, intonation or analogies. I am sorry that Sister Beck did not address the conference and regret the possible reasons for this omission. In spite of it all, I continue to hope that Emma Smith’s vision of doing something extraordinary comes to fruition and hold out the highest of hopes for those sisters that temper the body of the Relief Society together.
**update: there are links in comments below to other bloggernacle notations of the RS changes