Do We Still Teach Homemaking?

The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.)

Though “Homemaking” and “Enrichment” are officially terms of the past in the Relief Society today, it seems to me that those ideas–the idea that we need to develop skills and a knowledge base that will make us (I suppose I should say “women” rather than “us” if I wanted to be brutally honest, but I don’t want to bring gender roles into the question at this point) better, more responsible and capable, homemakers–continue to lurk around Relief Society, and indeed the church as whole. So my question, which is really two-fold. First, in your Relief Society (or, just to be ridiculous and throw all caution to the wind, in your elders quorum or high priest) meetings, do you frequently, or even just occasionally, learn about actual, practical, usable homemaking skills and resources? And second, if your answer is no, is it because not many skills and resources are taught that are genuinely relevant to your home existence needs, or because you’re bored by or find unhelpful the way such skills are taught, or some other reason?

I await any thoughts you may have. And thanks.

Comments

  1. In EQ meetings, no. Not at all. And that’s actually a shame. Good cooking skills, for example, are important, even for men. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude many hold is “real men don’t bake cookies” (I recently overheard a former bishop say that, in all seriousness, in Sunday School).

    I get the impression that many of the skills taught in Relief Society are not actually all that practical, but I’m sure that depends on the Relief Society. I just wish EQ would focus a bit more on practical skills, whether it be cooking or changing oil.

  2. My wife hosts a ward cooking group bimonthly. We talk about parenting small children in Elder’s Quorum or Sunday School (admittedly this is often because I occasionally interrupt a lesson to ask parenting questions).

  3. Yes. Not my thing, it bores me terribly, but yes, we teach homemaking.

    My personal brand of homemaking runs more along the lines of earning money that pays for the home and some of the care of it, but more importantly, making a family, by which I mean, making a family culture, atmosphere, making memories, etc. Being a family. We do some of that at RS, too. But the plain old crafty, cooky, stuff has definitely been a part of our RS program in the last year.

  4. Oh, and, homemaking is very much a presence in the YW program, both in lessons and in the weekly activities (indicating people at both the general and local level instigate it). When I was in YW, I always tried to point out that “homemaking” was not something to be done after you get married and have kids. You are a vital part of your home when you are unmarried and living singly, living with roommates, and living in your parent’s home.

  5. Our Relief Society teaches skills that can still be used profitably today even though there are decent alternatives.and in Young Women we include these kinds of lessons as well, although they have been more organizational rather than how-to’s.

  6. No. I have lived her 12 years and we’ve never done a craft. Occasionally we’ve done something involving homemaking skills. I taught a financial class once.
    The thing is that homemaking is very, very different today than it was 50 years ago. Because products are cheap, there is no need to make them. Sewing clothes used to be cheaper than buying them. Not anymore. (Of course sewing can be cheaper but nowadays usually isn’t). Cooking is different. Eating out (takeout) is cheaper than it used to be. Prepared foods are cheaper and often actually taste good. We have microwaves.
    We also have so many other resources to learn things that would be helpful for our lives.

  7. In my ward they have some sort of cooking training at least once a year; often it is tied in with the use of or establishment of year supply foods. For example, they had a big eating healthy meeting as well as a cooking with a solar oven meeting within the past year. Next week they are having a RS meeting on improving family home evenings–does that count? From what I know (which, being currently called to a Primary position, may not be completely current), our stake provides a list of topics they encourage RS meetings to utilize.

  8. proud daughter of eve says:

    No. We haven’t had anything like Enrichment in months. Every now and again there’s something. Last time they did a kind of spa thing which sounded nice (I had to be out of town) but in general, I wish our RS did SOMETHING more often. We never see each other outside of church. *sigh*

  9. I don’t know if it qualifies as a “practical, usable homemaking skill” but EVERY EQ activity in my ward for the last… long while has involved shooting stuff with guns. I never expected that from a Seattle area ward. I suppose in some post-apocalyptic scenario where we’re all back to living off feral cats this might become useful.

  10. At the beginning of the year all the sisters in the ward I attend fill out a little survey that for the most part discusses what they want in RS activities. Then groups are made based on majority vote (which is determined via said survey).

    Currently we have a book group, play group, cooking group, and I believe a sewing group. Oh and there’s an exercise group that’s starting once the weather warms up.

    However actual RS events (groups are for those that are interested and usually have about 8-9 sisters in each) mainly revolve around the RS birthday and conferences. I believe the idea is that a lot of the sisters in the ward already know how to do things due to the 6-year crash course in YW as ESO mentioned. It also helps that the majority of the presidency is under 40. ;)

  11. One frustration I encountered during my brief stint on the Enrichment Committee is that most skills take significantly longer than ninety minutes to master. I often wished we could take a skill–gardening, canning, sewing, quilting, plumbing, car maintenance, whatever–and follow a single project for several months. But of course anything you pick is going to exclude the women who aren’t interested in that skill or have already mastered it, and you don’t want to shut a significant portion of the RS out for several months. Maybe a large ward with lots of recourses and skilled teachers could pull it off by offering several classes each month, but that simply hasn’t been possible in any ward I’ve recently lived in.

    I do think there’s a repository of homemaking knowledge among older Mormon women that’s often not being passed on. I really wish I had more homemaking skills (and I have no one to blame but myself for refusing to acquire them in adolescence). One of my skilled and capable Mormon friends just volunteered to teach me to sew, and I’m immensely grateful to her.

  12. I was reasonably active in YW, and I don’t think I acquired a single homemaking skill there. We did do a lot of crafts.

    I don’t consider crafts a form of homemaking. If you like them, fine, but they’re not an essential skill in the way food and clothing production and management are.

    Maybe home decorating more generally.

  13. Chris Gordon says:

    We’ve got a pretty good repository of skills in our ward. Our setup among the sisters is pretty similar to what Newly describes in comment 10: several loose, semi-sponsored activities (sometimes announced in RS, sometimes not) around comment interests, particularly among the younger mothers–craft night, book club, playgroup, etc.)

    In our EQ, we’ve made various attempts at “men-richment” type activities under the guise of self-reliance and teaching basic “man skills” (sorry to put a gender spin on it, but that’s how it’s been marketed). We’ll learn basic plumbing, auto maintenance, home repair, electric work, etc. Good way to get less actives involved if they have those skills to share.

    I’ve also been in a stake that pretty aggressively taught mission prep to the priests quorum from a more practical standpoint: how to iron shirts; do laundry without a washing machine; cook cheap, quick, easy meals; basic sewing; what have you.

    For the sisters, with all the mommy-blogging and what-not, I’ve seen something of a renaissance in desire to learn homemaking type stuff. My sisters who are older marvel at how eager my wife and her friends are to learn all that. I think they grew up and were young mothers in sort of the anti-homemaking phase, but I don’t know how common that is.

    For the brethren, we just struggle to want to do things together. I wish we institutionalized and encouraged more “men-richment” type things other than basketball–where ACL’s of out of shape dudes go to die (myself included as I’m now forbidden in my post-op condition). Whether you’re particularly interested in the activity or skill or not, it’s as good an excuse to gather.

    If you’re focused on making or doing something practical as opposed to brik-a-brack, I say bring it on.

  14. Chris Gordon says:

    Follow-up: the common lament among the older sisters in my ward (post-retirement) is that they don’t have interest in coming to an activity, learning a craft, and bringing home more stuff. Their homes are already full of stuff (their words), and they really don’t want any more.

  15. My last ward did some homemaking skills, like canning and sewing, but not a lot. And that ward did the most of any ward I’ve been in for a long time. They also did lots of crafts, but like ZD Eve, I don’t think crafts have much to do with homemaking.

    I don’t think that homemaking skills would be popular in my current country if I had a ward/branch. We all spend an unreasonable amount of time on housework and cooking and I can’t imagine that we’d want to talk about it in a church setting.

    I think it would be interesting to find out if teaching homemaking skills in Relief Society is a good idea in less developed countries. (Although I wouldn’t mind learning how one sister makes jam. She makes the best jam I’ve ever had.)

  16. things we have discussed in the last two years in whatever the meeting is currently called: knitting, baking bread, cooking with food storage, finances, cleaning with natural cleaners, family home evenings with young children, shopping with cuopons, gardening…

  17. apparently not spelling or how to fix typos in the …… bloggernacle

  18. Russell,

    I definitely think we have moved away from homemaking in Relief Society. I joined the church 21 years ago, and attended many classes on canning, gardening, upholstering, making candle type things in tuna cans for emergency kits, etc. Many women also had me into their homes and we canned strawberry jam and made salsa together. While I always struggled with the sewing, many of the other aspects appealed to me. We don’t really do any of that anymore. Since then, reading Wendell Berry particularly, “Feminism, the Body and the Machine” and more recently Shannon Hayes’ Radical Homemakers has influenced the trajectory of my thinking and approach to “homemaking”. I’ve wondered if these types of ideas could find a home among Mormons or if North American consumptive lifestyles would drown them out. I think your panel looks great!

  19. unfortunately this persists. Why can’t one go to church, participate, feel uplifted, strengthen others without laying guilt upon the masses because our grape lamp isn’t as neat as so-and-so’s grape lamp?

  20. Some great comments here–thank you for them! Let me pick out a couple:

    [H]omemaking is very, very different today than it was 50 years ago. Because products are cheap, there is no need to make them. Sewing clothes used to be cheaper than buying them. Not anymore. (Of course sewing can be cheaper but nowadays usually isn’t). Cooking is different. Eating out (takeout) is cheaper than it used to be. Prepared foods are cheaper and often actually taste good. We have microwaves. We also have so many other resources to learn things that would be helpful for our lives.

    This is, I think, an extremely important and revealing comment–because of technological improvements, economic transformations, and demographic shifts, a lot of what used to be entirely reasonable skills for “homemaking” simply aren’t, any longer. How well are we adapting to that change–or, perhaps, should we be resisting it? The fact that gardening and food storage haven’t entirely disappeared from church culture, to say nothing of the above given examples of knitting, food preserving, etc., reads to me like little signs of resistance: activities announcing, whether they are conscious of it or not, “We know that no one really needs to know this for the sort of home life they most likely actually have, but it’s a worthy skill all the same.” Is this perhaps a reason why some of those most proficient at teaching homemaking skills are also those who most seriously dissent from our current society and economy? (The premier food storage sister in our ward is a wonderful, ardently conservative, gun-toting survivalist.)

  21. A couple more:

    ZD Eve,

    I often wished we could take a skill–gardening, canning, sewing, quilting, plumbing, car maintenance, whatever–and follow a single project for several months. But of course anything you pick is going to exclude the women who aren’t interested in that skill or have already mastered it, and you don’t want to shut a significant portion of the RS out for several months.

    I think some of this becomes a vicious cycle–because there is a legitimate desire not to bore or drive away the majority of members, hard and long-term projects are not taken on, with the result that elders quorums pride themselves, not on learning how to build solar panels or rebuild carburetors, but on moving people; and Relief Societies count it a success not when anyone has been taught how to develop compost, but how to make a frickin’ Christmas ornament.

    Chris,

    In our EQ, we’ve made various attempts at “men-richment” type activities under the guise of self-reliance and teaching basic “man skills” (sorry to put a gender spin on it, but that’s how it’s been marketed). We’ll learn basic plumbing, auto maintenance, home repair, electric work, etc.

    I envy your elders quorum! You have no idea how much.

    Amira,

    I don’t think that homemaking skills would be popular in my current country if I had a ward/branch. We all spend an unreasonable amount of time on housework and cooking and I can’t imagine that we’d want to talk about it in a church setting.

    A good reminder that I’m talking about the American church here, and addressing homemaking in the rich, urbanized, bourgeois environment of your stereotypical American middle and upper-class ward. Thanks!

    Kris,

    Since then, reading Wendell Berry particularly, “Feminism, the Body and the Machine” and more recently Shannon Hayes’ Radical Homemakers has influenced the trajectory of my thinking and approach to “homemaking”.

    Excellent reading choices! Shannon Hayes, in particular, is the real inspiration for the panel. I’ll probably be writing something about her for BCC either just before or just after the symposium.

  22. I would tend to disagree with jks on the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of the traditional homemaking skills, but maybe that’s b/c I have 5 kids, 4 of them boys who put holes in their pants faster than I can buy replace them and our food bill keeps going up as they grow.

    Yes, it certainly cost a bundle to sew your own clothes, especially if you’re trying to copy current styles, but just being able to sew on a button or hem or skirt or cut off jeans and make them into shorts for your kids can help save money and the environment. I make almost all of our bread. My 100% freshly ground whole wheat bread with no preservatives that tastes better than store bread is only 50 cents a loaf. If you’re only going through a loaf a week, then it’s no big deal to pay several dollars for a loaf of bread. But if you go through a loaf a day like we do, then the savings becomes a bigger deal. Same with powdered milk (we’re up to about 1 1/2 gallons/day now) and homemade jam – again, fresh fruit, no preservatives, tastes better, costs about 50 cents/jar.

    And I’m not a stereotypical conservative, gun toting survivalist. I lean more left in my politics and am interested in the environment which helps add another level to my choices beyond saving money – homemade cleaners, gardening, composting, rain barrels, etc.

    Or maybe you could just say that I like a practical component to my hobbies. I like to work with my hands and see tangible results for what I do.

  23. Oh, and thanks to Tracy M, I make awesome homemade pizza that’s better than most take-out and much cheaper too.

  24. No. And it drives my mother nuts. She’s the old-school, canning and sewing, gardening and baking RS type. Her mom was a RS president for about 20 years from the 40s to the 60s, and the emphasis was more heavily on nursing skills, improving sanitary conditions for babies, and knowing how to use those old Singer foot-pedal sewing machines. My own mom used to teach bread classes across multiple stakes – we boys liked nothing better than when she’d come home and bake the dough they’d mixed in class, since she had to take some previously finished product for tasting.

    Nowdays, it seems to be painting and crafts. I’ve heard modern RS presidencies bemoan how if they do the “traditional” homemaking lessons, nobody comes, so they have gravitated towards the activities that put seats in the seats.

    A few years ago, I arranged and taught a grilling class for a mass Priesthood activity. 75 said they were coming, 25 showed. We did grilled tuna and pineapple kabobs, fajitas, and pizza. The handout covered marinades and basics like smoke and seasonings. I ended up over $300 out of pocket, and delivered about 40 pounds of leftovers to some of the less-well-off members of the ward. I didn’t mind the labor or expense, but to do all that and have everybody stay home was kind of a slap in the face.

  25. Knowing how to fix simple clothing issues (sew on a button or patch) and knowing how to cook nutritional meals (because prepared meals tend to be disgusting, unhealthy, and/or expensive) are important skills for those with limited resources. The upper-middle class might be able to do fine without those skills; those of us with fewer resources are not that fortunate.

  26. I can’t say I learned any homemaking skill in RS or in YW growing up. I learned them all from my mother and grandmother. Anything I learned from YW leaders was by way of modeling in their own homes rather than any lesson. Learning these skills via RS would bore me to tears. I have attended homemaking lessons (or rather Enrichment about homemaking) on cleaning or child rearing once or twice, but they are usually geared toward the one and only true way of doing things–which doesn’t t jive with me.

    I’m glad I know how to sew, but it’s more expensive than Target for me if I factor in time and money. I sometimes can and make jam, but only because I want to–again, definitely not cost effective. But I enjoy it and think it is usually healthier. Sometimes I’ve been in wards where ladies get together to can, etc-but I’d rather do it on my own with my kids than in an assembly line. I don’t get it when I hear ladies say how sad it is people don’t know how to sew, garden, etc-that we need to teach them these things. Why? Nowadays those things are hobbies more than necessary skills.

    Beyond cooking, which I think is best taught at home, I’m not sure you can teach any homemaking skills in lessons (maybe ironing?) in a church setting. YW aren’t going to learn how to be a mother by hearing a lesson every Sunday. Motherhood is a bit of shock to everyone.

  27. Oh, and home decorating and crafts are not my thing either. While they may be fun to some, I think we need to admit they are a hobby–not a homemaking skill.

  28. I’d still argue (sorry mmiles) that canning is cost-effective, not all the time, but certainly often. You have to search out sources for cheaper fruit, but they are there. I canned quarts of applesauce, peaches and pears this year for about 50 cents/jar. Much cheaper than storebought.

    I think canning is best taught in someone’s home, with a smallish group. I usually invite people over to come can with me b/c I much prefer to talk with friends while I work and everyone can get some hands on experience. Demos at the front of the room are pretty useless. And I don’t think you have to can to be righteous, I just love the flavor (I won’t eat store bought canned peaches or pears) and love the satisfaction of looking at the results when I’m done. And love watching my kids inhale good quality fruit all year long for snacks.

  29. jes,
    I’m glad that works for you.

  30. philomytha says:

    ZD Eve –

    I do think there’s a repository of homemaking knowledge among older Mormon women that’s often not being passed on.

    I agree. My great aunt did tatting. I’ve seen some of her work and it’s amazing. How many people now know what it is, much less how to do it? I’d love to learn how. Except that it would obviously be way too hard for me.

  31. But is tatting really a homemaking skill? I guess we are all defining homemaking differently. Certainly tatting is a skill, but so is wood working, but I wouldn’t consider either a necessary skill to improve the home.

  32. John Mansfield says:

    The president of my quorum about ten years back would tell new move-ins at the beginning of their first quorum meeting, “Don’t buy any tools. Anything you need, someone in here already has.” It carried a nice message to all to be a resource to one another to get tasks done. It felt very comfortable to ask someone there if he could help me for a long evening of sheetrocking over a cracked plaster ceiling.

    One project that comes to mind was re-roofing the very leaky house of a woman my wife visit taught. I had worked for a roofing company a couple summers, but my experience was nothing compared to Bill, the 75-year-old high priest I worked with. I provided the youthful energy and enthusiasm, and Bill watched me work and let me know when I was missing something. I felt honored to have him on the roof with me.

  33. Tim,

    Knowing how to fix simple clothing issues (sew on a button or patch) and knowing how to cook nutritional meals (because prepared meals tend to be disgusting, unhealthy, and/or expensive) are important skills for those with limited resources. The upper-middle class might be able to do fine without those skills; those of us with fewer resources are not that fortunate.

    Very true–much that has long since fallen as beneath the curve of marginal returns for those who professionals and established members of the middle or upper class is still quite valuable for those who are poor. But a complementary problem is that there is a time-cost to using that knowledge and those skills, and the poor are the ones frequently most strapped for time, because the multiple jobs they need to hold down, or because of the long lines in welfare and other government bureaucracies, or (quite commonly) the commutes to and from different doctors and/or childcare providers. So we have a difficult problem: those with the most time, ability, and resources to master homemaking skills gain the least economic benefit from it, which those who would gain the most economic benefit from it are often those with the least time, ability, or resources. No easy solution there.

  34. in considering the past few years of rs mid week activities, i cannot think of one practical homemaking skill that was presented in lesson form. we have had some nice get togethers which seemed to meet the social needs of the women in our ward, and i am not knocking the effort put in by the rs to pull off these events.

    in all fairness, i have skipped the crafty portion of these meetings for years. a few times the activities have revolved around making tchatzkie stuff for the walls, like plaques for the home or picture frames or holiday decorations. i suppose some women may equate these projects with homemaking skills, and they may be right in so doing, but for me most anything requiring a glue gun or shellac makes me suicidal.

    on the other hand, the young women have had some practical homemaking lessons with a focus on cooking skills, sewing, general interior design principals, gardening, and the like. i guess it’s easier to teach the youth these things when their knowledge base is fairly equal. maybe the real challenge is meeting the needs of a group of women (or men) with varied interests and already fairly established levels of expertise or interest in whatever ‘skill’ is being presented.

  35. Just this week a ward in our stake had an RS night about teaching children about sex and sexual abuse, taught by a licensed and experienced counselor. Her presentation was great, and the information was immensely helpful. I suppose that would qualify as homemaking in a general sense that includes child care. Another night last year we all got CPR-certified. That was great, too, and I think it would also fall under homemaking in the most general sense.

    I like to walk away from Enrichment night (or whatever it is now) feeling as I’ve actually learned something useful, or as if I’ve made a real contribution to someone’s well-being, if it’s a service activity. I think in general we do too many crafts and too many spa pamper-yourself nights. And I don’t understand why we have to celebrate the RS birthday every year.

    Given that sewing, for instance, isn’t cost-effective in the way it once was, we may need to shift focus, but here are still many practical skills to be taught. I’ve recently seen classes on bargain hunting, refinishing furniture, cooking, and finding free and cheap entertainment in the local community. All good things to know.

  36. Chris Gordon says:

    Does anyone know anything about the history of homemaking as a RS activity and when it took on the cliche form that most of us are thinking about (doilies, knick knacks, decorations, etc.)? I’m curious as to whether it came out of a post-depression, post-WWII climate where with the move to the suburbs there were a lot of fairly cheap, fairly bland homes constructed and these activities were seen as quite popular ways to personalize and differentiate?

    @ Russell, you’ll note that I mentioned that my quorum is making the attempt, but not necessarily succeeding. :) We suffer a lot from what Michael (#24) mentioned where we expect one number to attend and usually come in at about a third.

    @ John Mansfield, I love that your QP was able to make that promise. It really does set a nice tone and it can be hard to overcome a ward/quorum culture not adjusted to that level of service.

    I was wondering if you ever came across a “problem” that we’d faced, sort of as it relates to Russell’s observations in #33. We recently had a brother remodeling much of his newly purchased home by himself, at great cost of time to himself and burden to his family. He rebuffed several efforts by the quorum to organize work parties to come help him finish large chunks of his project, and though I never heard it from him, it came back to me that his concern was getting what he didn’t pay for in terms of quality.

    As a general question: though quorums and the RS each share a tradition of mutual service, why do you all think that the quorums don’t seem to ever have institutionalized anything comparable to homemaking or enrichment? Too much scouting influence? Guys just don’t hang out with other guys unless they’re playing basketball or shooting guns?

  37. Natalie B. says:

    The ward I grew up in often did neat craft projects that could be finished within a few hours, sometimes with the YW and RS meeting together. I loved those events, because they were socially satisfying and the only place where I got to make things by hand that I felt proud of.

    Did I learn homemaking skills that I could use daily? No. Most of the projects were things like wreath-making that were just for fun. But, honestly, I want to attend church social events to have fun and meet people. We have too little time to just gather and talk. I never show up to the “useful” activities about food storage, etc.

  38. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think it would be useful to note that up till the 1960’s, the doilies and other homemaking crafts were not only a form of creative expression for RS sisters, but looked upon as industry and a way to fund RS budgets with the periodic (annual?) bazaars which used to be held. I remember attending these as a small child, and only remember that they disappeared. I assume it was when the RS funding became part of ward funding. I’m sure that others (Ardis?) have a better grasp of the history of this, but this is one of the sources of influence for our present iteration of Homemaking/Enrichment/Other RS Meetings.

  39. Kristine says:

    Also, re: CPR–HUGE portions of the early YW manuals were devoted to first aid and basic medical education. (Given the frequency of our family’s visits to the ER when my kids were little, this seems entirely appropriate!) I think that kind of knowledge definitely fits under the broad umbrella of homemaking.

  40. lindberg says:

    Our ward’s next RS meeting (to which the men are also invited) is schedule to be a seminar on caring for aging family members. Not a topic that typically comes to mind when one things of “homemaking,” but one for which many members of our ward have or will have need in the near future.

  41. I have to agree that it can definitely reduce financial strain to know how to cook things from scratch. And the nutrtional impact of less refined/processed food & fewer preservatives is huge.

    During my stint as RS president, I really tried to
    focus on practical skills. Our ward has been pretty good at that in the 8 years I’ve lived here. Over the last few years, we have had lessons on car repair, bread making, gardening, sewing, teaching children to read, home decor, canning,emergency preparedness, & making
    solar ovens, among others. this next week we are having an activity for men & women about marriage relationships (taught by dh, the marriage therapist) & budgeting.

    I think homemaking may be a rather old-fashioned term, but I think that learning useful or enriching life skills always has a place at church.

  42. The last three weeknight RS meetings I attended were devoted to making quilts for a local organization that supplies baby needs for low-income mothers, learning about the physiologic and emotional aspects of addiction in order to respond with more charity to those are dealing with it, and understanding the purpose of Relief Society as outlined in Sis. Beck’s RS address last fall (relief work, increasing faith and strengthening families, as I recall).

    Relief work frequently requires homemaking skills in my experience. I have both taught and utilized homemaking skills (cleaning, cooking, sewing, repairing appliances, painting, mowing lawns etc.) in my visiting teaching work and in my RS relief work, so whether or not they are being taught in formal RS meetings, they seem to still be a necessary part of what we do.

  43. #29 mmiles – I didn’t mean to come across offensively.
    I agree with the point that Tim and Russell made that frugality is a trade off with time. I fought against that for many years (and still do at times), but since I’m choosing to stay at home, then I figure it’s my “job” to make our budget stretch further as our kids grow and require a larger portion of our expenses. And I’m discovering how much better tasting it is to cook from scratch than to order out or buy ready-made from the store and derive satisfaction from that. It’s not for everyone; I realize it’s about choices. But by making a choice for ourself, are we taking away choices for our kids?

    The ability to cook (or sew or clean a house or do laundry or home repairs) can be lost in one generation. If a mom (or dad) quits cooking b/c they’d rather spend money than time, then their kids have a much harder time ever learning that skill if they want or need to b/c they’ve never seen it modeled. I’ve learned a lot through books, but it’s much easier to start learning a new skill if I’ve seen it before and know it’s benefit.

    That’s all tangential to the discussion, but I do have to rebut anyone saying that traditional homemaking skills are not cost effective.

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    It still exists in pockets of the church, at least. My oldest sister lives in Kaysville and is a homemaking Yoda, and is much in demand among area Relief Societies. I envy her her skillz. My impression is that they don’t really do that sort of thing in my ward (suburb of Chicago).

  45. jes,
    No offense was taken. I really was just saying that I’m glad that works for you. However it simply really is not cost effective for everyone. There are many factors.

    Of course you are right that if parents don’t model those things you mentioned then their children may not learn them-and may later wish they had those skills. But it’s equally true that parents who spend time doing something else could just as well be spending that time/money teaching their child other skills that are equally or more valuable.

  46. jes – I pointed out that it “CAN” be cheaper, but usually isn’t. You have to work out a major system for it to be cheaper.
    How on earth do you buy powdered milk for cheaper that regular? At $2-$2.25/gallon for milk I can’t buy powdered milk cheaper than that.
    I cook the basics…..always cheaper than eating out, but I’m more likely to spend time shopping frugally than spend hours on cooking.

  47. Some activities I would be interested in doing with groups of people:

    local rock identification and basic geology
    making an authentic international cuisine (sopapillas, crispy garlic chicken, crepes) … spicy, not bland!
    playing board games, challenging strategy-based ones (Dominion, Small World, Zertz)
    attend a university lecture on international affairs/life science/sociology
    teaching English to refugees
    in-depth genealogy: not just name-trawling, but learning about primary documents, internet resources, etc.
    young people teaching old people computer skills
    old people teaching young people social dance
    a decent musical with auditions and rehearsals
    making organic bath bombs or shampoo
    potted plants
    tennis
    basketball
    volleyball
    murder mystery
    visit an art museum
    pick up trash
    scrub, weed, and donate new school supplies (pencils, printer paper) to a run-down elementary
    discuss Sartre or Proust or Tolstoy in a coffee shop over herbal tea
    have an immigrant ward member teach her native language
    an inter-faith music concert/bake sale to raise money for Japan
    yoga
    car maintenance
    Christmas caroling
    pinewood derby
    watch a foreign film

    I think that the majority of what Mormon groups do is represented by the sedentary, cheap things that Post-War suburbanites may have found fun or useful. It’s hard to imagine anyone young, urban, non-white, or under the age of 70 finding painting a stencil on a piece of wood interesting, stimulating, or even cost-effective (unless they’re under the age of 24, and then it’s probably somewhat ironic, and highly unlikely to be a scripture or “don’t touch the chocolate and nobody gets hurt.” It’d probably be a quote from Dr. Horrible or something).

    Life is enough loading and unloading laundry, shopping for socks at Target, and eating bowls of cereal. I’m sorry, but living isn’t a hobby, and if you can’t figure out how to sew on a button or chop an onion, I just don’t think you were trying very hard at life. I don’t find the sublime in pre-industrial survival skills.

    I actually very much enjoy extremely elderly people: if they lived through World War II, they’re probably a hoot (and slightly batty). But somehow people forget that they had FUN, dammit–they went swing dancing (well, well, into adulthood, sometimes till 3 or 4 AM), they organized ADULT baseball leagues, they actually kept up an instrument after the age of 18… I’m 23, not in my dotage, so why is it shocking that I would rather go dancing or play baseball than go to your stupid, saccharine gathering where I sit on my butt, and the food is Frito’s and Barq’s? I could get better free food and a better venue by crashing a random departmental lunch at a local university.

    And when I was the Relief Society president of a bunch of freshman girls, I and my counselor actually organized fun, active, out-of-the box activities. The typical lower-middle class Mormon just doesn’t seem that open to new ideas or anything that requires committment or skill, broadly speaking. :\

    Hell, if some old lady was actually showing how to make a good, organic, homegrown strawberry jam, garden to jar, or how to sew a cost-effective apron that looked hot, or if we reached out beyond the “ward boundaries” to actually indigent, impoverished people, I might show up. Beyond a few renegades, I see mostly quilting and “talks” and choirs that sound horrible.

  48. jks, I’m about to place an order with Walton Feed (our stake combines with a bunch of others to be able to fill a truck and bring down the cost of shipping). Powdered milk through them is $80 for a 50 lb bag, which makes about 63 gallons, cost per gallon being about $1.26/gallon. Our cheapest milk around here is up to $2.70/gallon. If you live anywhere near a cannery, powdered milk through them is similar in price to Walton right now. I use the non-instant kind. You mix it up the night before and it’s ready to drink in the morning, no blender needed. It takes about as much effort as mixing up instant pudding with a whisk.

    I used to have a source of much more palatable powdered milk through a dairy, but they got caught up in the whole salmonella thing and quit producing that product). I would drive 4 hours one way for that milk. Even with the cost of gas, I still saved $1/gallon of milk by going there – mostly b/c I found other people who were also interested in the milk. I bought everyone’s milk for them and we all shared the cost of gas.

    To find cheap fruit for canning, I also look around at farms up to a couple hours distant. That’s where it all becomes dependent on the price of gas as to whether it’s cost effective. Pickyourown.org lists farms by states and what products they offer. And oftentimes if you call them up, asking for “seconds” or “#2s” (the slightly imperfect ones), they’ll sell you those for a good bit cheaper – oftentimes without you having to do any of the picking.

    To me, the benefit of having “homemaking” RS activities is you can find out who in the ward is interested in that stuff and then you have a resource to answer all your questions – where to buy, how many jars you can get out of a bushel of fruit so you can calculate your cost ahead of time, what’s considered a good price on fruit, how to look for deals, etc

  49. “The typical lower-middle class Mormon just doesn’t seem that open to new ideas or anything that requires committment or skill, broadly speaking. :\”

    This is awesome. Maybe add “develop some self awareness” to your carefully manicured list of things you would rather do . Maybe put it between yoga and car maintenance.

  50. As far as I can tell, our ward does not teach “homemaking” skills of any kind. When I hear about the activities, they are usually of the pamper yourself, make a craft, celebrate the RS birthday variety. I don’t go.

    I don’t go for two reasons. First, they are always at the same time on the same night of the week and my schedule conflicts. Second, even if I could go, they’ve been doing the same craft for the two years I’ve been in the ward (a decoration thing, it’s just different depending on the time of year. So if you go consistently, you have a whole set.) and I’m not interested. The handmade, cute sayings stuff is not my cup o tea, it’s not how I decorate my house. I don’t want to spend money (albeit only $3-$5 each month) on something I will keep for a couple years because I feel guilty throwing it away, never use, and then end up throwing away anyway.

    I like the people in my ward, at least I think I could get to like a lot of them. I just wish we had activities that I was interested in and could go to.

  51. Portia,

    I can see the point of much that you say, but this stands out to me:

    I don’t find the sublime in pre-industrial survival skills.

    But what if it happens to be the case that making a home is dependent upon a foundation of just such “pre-industrial” skills? Installing pipes? Composting refuse? Hanging drywall? Cultivating beans? Making soap? Isn’t it arguable that your life is dependent upon someone doing those things, even if outsourcing and technology have allowed the skills inherent in such to be extended far, far beyond your immediate socio-economic sphere (and let me be honest here–far beyond mine as well, and I’m betting far beyond the spheres of practically everyone reading these words).

    I have no idea what the actual, institutional history of “homemaking” and “enrichment” in the church are, but on the level of ideas, it seems to me pretty obvious that the priority attached to teaching and learning such often (though not always) “pre-industrial survival skills” was the result of the belief that the Mormon people had to build a world for themselves. Well, we don’t any longer, at least not in America–we are officially supposed to be “in, but not of, the world.” And yet…we’re still told about gardening, and we’re still told about food storage, and other “pre-industrial”. Maybe that’s just a result of the church leadership’s gerontocracy. Or maybe it’s because we somehow feel bad, on some level, for not taking responsibility for building a foundation for our own socio-economic world any longer?

  52. “The typical lower-middle class Mormon just doesn’t seem that open to new ideas or anything that requires committment or skill, broadly speaking.”

    Yeah, that bit of stereotyping jumped out at me, too. It’s good to know that poverty is nothing more than the direct result of laziness – and that it’s unique to Mormons. Stupid poor Mormons. Nothing like good, old-fashioned class condescension.

    I grew up quite poor, and my parents did all kinds of things that relate to this post – specifically because they had no other practical choice. We were poor because my father loved my mother enough to quit his very good paying job and move back to where she was raised, in order to allow her to function as normally as possible when her schizophrenia came to light. Our poverty definietly was a result of his lack of commitment and skill. If he’s only been less Christ-like, I would have had a better example of commitment and skill.

    /end of rant

    If we are going to speak broadly, I’d say the lower-middle class often improvise and do whatever it takes – but those efforts generally aren’t noticed by a lot of people (especially the upper class), since those efforts just are seen as necessary parts of everyday life. Broadly speaking, it usually is the upper-middle class that has the time, energy and narcissism to discuss their efforts publicly – and, before anyone mis-characterizes that last term, it is meant in its purest definition and not negatively. Self-reflection often is a luxury for those who have little time for it.

  53. Let me share the perspective of my wife and her friends.

    Most of them avoid RS enrichment like the plague. Why?

    Because activities are predominately either useless crafts or means to deal with the apocalypse. They find either category just plain silly.

    I’ve repeatedly hurt diatribes about the stupid craft projects or how to make bean fudge.

    I’ve heard several discussions that they would appreciate things that really impact their lives.

    Here are some of my ideas:

    Cooking — Not how to use horrid food storage items but how to cook interesting food like Indian Curry and Naan bread, Mexican tamales, artisan breads, homemade yogurt. The key is not bland and yucky but healthy and fun.

    Learning — How about an astronomy night with telescopes? Or, a geology night with fossils and gemstones?

    Skills — How to plan flower gardens. Refinishing floors. Updating bathrooms. Dressings daughters for the prom. Vacations that are not a cruise or a theme park. Building a big pantry as a food storage strategy.

    The key is relevance.

  54. Adding in my two cents…

    I’m 18, freshman in college, and I absolutely HATED those crafts and homemaking type activities and lessons. I also did not like the ‘make a list of what you want your husband to be like’ lessons, although that is for another time…

    Ray (comments a lot on here) is my father. I was not raised with the most money, actually hardly any at all. Like he said, we had to do what it took. But that’s why I do not like those lessons – those skills I learned at home. I do not want to go to church to hear about homemaking skills. I want to hear about my Savior. Scripture. Joseph Smith. Revelation. Activities, I have mixed feelings. I do not feel like those Young Womens activities were useful (occasionally we had some really good ones, but a lot of times they were typical cliche activities). Portia’s list of activities I agree with completely. Or if I am going to be learning how to quilt, why can’t it be a service activity and give those quilts to someone who needs it? Donate it to the hospital – for cancer patients, for babies, for the elderly. I do not need extra junk in my future home. I wish we had more service oriented activities.
    I got stuck with learning things I already knew how to do. I would teach youth things like:
    -Managing money (what can I say…I’m an economics and mathematics major). And not just the basic common sense stuff. Teach them how to keep records, teach them insurance policies, teach them how to save (and not just for a mission, what things like a car? Or with groceries if you still want to go down the route of helping them improve their home?), how to balance a checkbook, difference and importance of credit cards/debit cards, difference and importance of different bank accounts, the stock market, bankruptcy, heck questions to think about when talking to a business person so you know if they’re selling you out short and trying to take advantage of you/company you may be working for, pretty much REAL LIFE APPLICATIONS.
    -If someone is teaching me how to cook, I do not want to learn things I already know. Like I mentioned, my family is not exactly the most well off. I know how to make cheap food, or improvise on my own version of pizza. How about I learn how to cook some real Italian food or real Mexican food? I would be interested in learning how to cook foreign foods. Or how to cook nice, classy meals.
    -More service projects. Visiting a MRDD center was one of my favorite youth conferences ever. Or serving those in your ward. The comment earlier about the roofing is amazing.
    -I was sick of doing crafts in young womens. I wish I would have been taught other skills sooner like changing oil in a car (car maintenance in general), home improvement skills. I would love to know how to re-model a home – and no, that does not mean putting up different pictures on the walls. That’s easy to pick up on.
    -Campouts. I love camping. And I mean legit camping. No AC buildings, tents, or even nothing at all. And even if you do have buildings instead, at least learning survival skills. They teach those things at Girls Camp, but it doesn’t always mean the girls will remember it. I love the spiritual side of Camp, but I liked the emphasis of more survival skills it also had the last couple years I went. (My last three or so years of camp in Cinci North Stake was amazing because the Camp Director was a big outdoor type person and a spiritual giant – I’m very grateful I did not have the typical cliche type of Girls Camp)
    -Exercising. Yoga, zumba, anything really. I love that stuff.
    -One of my favorite combined YM/YW activities included stuff like ice blocking, water balloon volleyball, co-op dinner, human foosball, ultimate frisbee, life version of the game Clue, etc.
    -I also loved how Cincinnati North Stake had a good 8-9 dances a year. Pretty much exclude summer besides YC because people are out of town. And months they didn’t have dances, they had Stake Firesides.
    -Learning a different culture’s dance. That would be fun! (My oldest brother swing dances and I absolutely love him trying new moves with me.)

    I loved Portia’s idea of an inter-faith concert. That would be incredible.

    I loved the things they did as a stake in Cinci. Ward level can be more difficult planning activities. But I wish they would stray away from the cooking basic meals, cleaning the home, crafts, making quilts, etc unless they incorporate it into a service activity somehow. There are things I’m learning how to do now that if I had learned when I was younger, right now I would be golden. I don’t want to learn how to do things I already know how to do, or will not find useful in the future. I think a lot of better activities should be planned. Some about practical skills and some about socializing, and better yet, combining both.

  55. I should say publicly, after having to say it privately to Sarah, that the class-related portion of Portia’s comment was the only thing that bothered me about the comment. Otherwise, it really was a great comment.

    I should have said so in my first comment. I’m sorry, Portia, that I didn’t.

  56. Oh this just breaks my craft loving heart. I have made impassioned defenses of crafts in other places, but for today I’ll just agree with ZDEve:

    “One frustration I encountered during my brief stint on the Enrichment Committee is that most skills take significantly longer than ninety minutes to master.”

    I have battled against this in YW by leading “units” where we spent more intensive time on things so that the girls could leave with an actual skill instead of a lame time-killer they pasted together from a kit. I often get facebook messages from my former YW telling me what they’re cooking for dinner.

    I do all those skills traditionally thought of as “post-apocalyptic,” but it’s not fear of Armageddon that encourages me. It’s all those hippie liberal values of being a steward for the earth, reducing my footprint, etc.

    I’ve also found RS sisters to be a little resistant to many true homemaking classes. The cooking classes didn’t go far, but the recipe group where everyone brings a contribution is still working. I wonder if there’s an element of competitiveness that is affecting how receptive people are. To attend a cooking class, you have to admit you could be a better cook, and in many Mormon female environments I’ve been around, that doesn’t happen very often. Maybe it’s an extension of the common mindset, “I’m righteous so I’m blessed and happy and perfect,” and to admit otherwise is to admit failing.

  57. Reese, that sounds wonderful. I was so, so turned off by crafty stuff in YW, but I think it was because I am very anti-clutter, and so much was what you say “a lame time-killer they pasted together from a kit,” rather than a skill-builder.

    I wish I had been taught less crafty trinkety stuff, and more actual down-and-dirty of homemaking. (1) How to schedule a family, (2) how to do a budget, (3) how to do a grocery budget/meal planning, etc. It seems like we too often get all these things in useless “lite” form. For (1) it is: how to X (e.g. ab routine) in 15 minutes! For (2) it is: how to make this useless piece of crap home decorative item for $10 instead of paying $50 in the store! For (3) it is: here’s some over-the-top recipes that women in the ward want to share. That’s all well and good, but it still leaves you not knowing how to schedule, budget or manage family feeding.

    Systems and practices and strategies that are needed for running a household without running it into the ground, that’s what everyone needs.

  58. I don’t find the sublime in pre-industrial survival skills.

    Homemaking is no more about the sublime than wage earning is. It’s about doing what needs to be done. (There is, I suppose, a sublime in doing what needs to be done with what grace and beauty one can muster, but it’s not the cheap sublime of young upper-middle-class urban organic hipness that seems to interest Portia. It’s the costly sublime of caring for other people.)

    Reese and Cynthia can be my homemaking/enrichment/night RS leaders any day of the week.

  59. This is probably the sort of discussion that prompted the change to the small group enrichment meetings and then the ending of the small group meetings a few years later. The original thinking might have been, “well, since everyone complains that they don’t find the monthly homemaking meetings useful or interesting, then let’s organize it so everyone can find something useful or interesting to belong to and learn.” But then women didn’t complained some more that the small group meetings didn’t meet their needs b/c it was at the wrong time or wrong place or they didn’t like that particular group of women or no one wanted to be in charge, or the person in charge moved away and no one stepped up to fill her place, or they just didn’t feel committed to it b/c it didn’t seem like a “real” RS meeting that they should attend out of duty, etc, etc. All sorts of valid, realistic reasons for why the small groups didn’t work in many wards, and so the Gen RS Pres. threw up their hands and said, “never mind, just have a couple big activities/year and call it good.” And then women complain b/c nothing ever happens anymore.

    Everyone is at such a different place in their lives that it would be impossible to plan a meeting that everyone can feel excited about the skill being taught, that fits within budget guidelines, and at a day/time where everyone can attend. Lately, I decided that the answer, for me, is that if I think everyone (or just me) could use a girl’s night out, then I plan one and invite everyone I can think of. If they can attend that night, then great, if not, I’ll do another one later. If I want to learn a skill and I want someone to show me, then I ask someone. Or I invite others over to share in my work and fun and we learn together in the process . If I want a running club, then I ask around and see if I can find someone to join in.

  60. And apparently a skill I need to learn is better editing in a small text box.

  61. As a current RS president, our focus is on fellowshipping and addressing welfare issues during our RS activities. That’s because these are the two things our bishop & I agree our ward most needs right now. So many good comments above–but I’m so saddened to hear that so many wards have focused on crafts to the exclusion of life-skills. I feel like any activity that increases a sister’s ability to take care of herself and her family with the limited resources at her disposal (we all have limits of various kinds) is worthwhile. If sisters are more self-reliant, they are also more able to serve, and are free from the stresses that can interfere with recognizing the Spirit in her life. We try to make it fun, but there will always be a few super talented sisters who can’t benefit from a particular activity. Maybe one month’s activity just isn’t meant for them. But I love the points that people have made above about finding resources in the ward. One of the fabulous byproducts of activities is finding people with common interests, or with a skill you covet–and then being able to connect with them one on one later. 90 minutes isn’t enough time. So true. But it’s a start. Over the last few years we’ve had activities & workshops on patching drywall, basic car maintenance (and everyone left knowing they could call Brother McGuire with ANY car question), freezer jam, quick & easy bread making, thrift store shopping, FHE ideas, Christmas outings in Manhattan on a budget (we live on Long Island), budgeting, basic family finances (insurance, wills, etc.), food storage & church cannery basics, volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, cooking with a crockpot, and yes–crafts. Card making, quilting (where we made a quilt for a shelter for abuse victims), vinyl lettering, etc. And in small groups: ballroom dancing, crocheting, sewing, cooking, running, playgroups . . . . we even had a work out group for a while that worked off videos. Yoga, dancing with the stars workout . . . seriously. Those things address the fellowshipping & socializing more I guess. I think the bottom line is that RS activities should address the needs in the ward, although not every activity is for every sister. Remember that the only mandatory meeting at church is sacrament meeting.

  62. There is, I suppose, a sublime in doing what needs to be done with what grace and beauty one can muster, but it’s not the cheap sublime of young upper-middle-class urban organic hipness…It’s the costly sublime of caring for other people.

    Smashing comment, ZD Eve. There’s been a lot of good stuff in this thread, but this one needs to go into my presentation.

  63. As a fellow 23-year-old, I have to say, I’m in love with Portia’s list of potential activities for a large group. Can we start our own RS? ;)
    The RS in our current ward tends to gravitate towards the usual craft/hobby/useless knick-knack making activities. Though, to be fair, they usually find 3 different activities so that there’s a modicum of choice. I would love to see something more interesting like trips to local historical sites or lessons on how to cook certain interesting dinners or desserts, or even how to not kill a few herbs or vegetables that are useful to have around.

    That said, I think if the Relief Society and even Young Women’s programs are routinely called to step in as the first resort for teaching basic life skills like budgeting, cleaning, and managing your time, something has gone seriously wrong. I believe that falls into the category of the sin being upon the heads of the parents.

  64. Heck, our mission will flutter in the slightest breeze. We can’t even decide on a name for “homemaking”. Since we don’t know exactly what we do anymore or what to call it, we’ve decided to celebrate “it” every March. So, we’re celebrating the fact that we celebrate ourselves? Mmmm.

    What ever happened to our role as ‘literacy teachers’ from the early ‘90s? We were supposed to teach the world to read (starting with children and moving on to adults who were illiterate across the globe as well as in our backyards). Readers could then access the scriptures and grow closer to God. I haven’t seen big push in this direction for years. Now we’re back to 21st century “homemaking” skills, except we can’t define what that means, since home-making a hut in the Carribean is different from a McMansion.

    Many on the list are trying to reinvent what it should mean. So, less canning, quilting and wheat and more car repair 101, book groups and managing childhood obesity? If we could just pick the right local activities, everything would be better, right? Not completely.

    Remember when our 18yr old RS retention rates started falling through the floor? What 18 year old heading off to college thought that food storage and cooking with wheat was relevant? We’re still struggling with 18 yr old retention rates in RS, and I think not being able to clearly articulate what we do is a huge part of the problem. Sure, they tell us who we are, “You are special daughters of God, mothers, wives”, but exactly what do we DO except sit on pedestals?

    We’ve got a generation of sisters coming through the ranks that don’t remember the glory days of the Idaho Dam disaster, or the welfare work of the great depression or WWII era. Perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway as large disasters are managed differently today by entities like the Red Cross, and they don’t need our helping hands as much as our checkbooks. As a matter of fact, we succumb to several of the pitfalls mentioned in this Wall Street Jrnl aritlce ‘What’s Wrong with Charitable Giving and How to Fix It’. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704500604574481773446591750.html

    The church’s most funded and most coordinated relief efforts come NOT through the RS, but through the church’s male humanitarian aid and priesthood efforts. I hear all the time how the RS is involved, but frankly, I’ve NEVER seen it or participated in it (except through fast offerings). In our local RS chapter and a 30 year time span, we’ve NEVER done anything except occasional local service projects (which frankly are akward since the church isn’t a vested community partner). We have had no interaction with bishop’s storehouses, welfare square, the church’s humanitarian projects, etc. Toll painting, yes; collaborating with the male-leaders and storehouses, no. (This is one stake’s experience, it’s probably different in the Mormon corridor where more resources are housed). Seriously, aren’t most RS activities about toll painting, exercise, scrapbooking, mommy blogging and crafts instead of sending body bags to the Tsunami victims or cholera meds to Haiti? To add insult to injury, we’re not even really focusing in on the arts, but crafts which are rote and frankly, very conscripted and therefore infantilizing of women. How much more irrelevant can we get?

    From the recently digitized early RS records as well as the scriptures and church history, we know that an important part of the RS encompasses comforting the sick. We used to establish and manage hospitals, we sent off the first female physicians, trained scores of rural midwives, and studied nursing, herbs and medicines. As a group, we could today find purpose in training each other to be doulas, midwives and nurses, to study medicine, allied health, nursing and mental health services. We could mentor these skills to our YW who would find new meaning in service and new knowledge, skill and testimony in working toward families and charity to mankind. Parish nursing is all the rage in most denominations, and we won’t touch it with a ten foot pole, despite the fact that it would be very helpful not only in U.S. wards, but especially in underdeveloped countries. I suspect the link to female priesthood healing (past and future) makes this a hot topic that few want to touch. Besides, we’re really happy with the medicalized male model of women’s and family healthcare.

    Frankly, I don’t really see the $0.50 cent bread debate on this thread as being as much of a major problem for my family’s budget as our OUTRAGEOUS HEALTHCARE BILLS. Gee, if we were going to cut costs somewhere, why not go for the BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM??? No, we as women think our role is to instead pitter away at the fringes, cutting coupons, saving ten or twenty cents there, never actually facing the REAL problems. (Are those for the boys?) Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we struggle with irrelevancy.

    Lastly, I want to point out that there is a link between homemaking for our families and home-making God’s house . . . in temple worship. Temple worship is about more than one name and one session. It involves being an active participant, not a passive partaker of all stages of temple work, including construction and building of a temple. The RS used to literally be home-makers for God’s house by contributing art in myriads of forms from tatting to music, interior design to acting, food to china. Our identity as homemakers was amplified by our participation in temple celebration and beautification. That has been removed. We (the general membership) no longer participate in the actual temple beautification or building. Right now the church is building a temple a few miles from my home and everything is pre-fabed and brought in on trucks. This speaks very loudly to our identities as homemakers and the lack of importance of this skill for the general member- the general sister. Heck, we even had our ward kitchens and food preparation taken away from us. Ovens are for warming purposes only, remember? We could burn the building down. Silly women.

    As a feminist, I perceive the imbalance of power between men and women in the church combined with our struggles to move into the 21st century as being contributing factors in our struggle for relevancy. We’ve got too many men telling us “don’t bother” and we’ve also got each other to remind us our place is instead to worry about the petty details and let the big boys handle the important stuff.

  65. ClaudiaHen says:

    J.A.T., great comment! I do think we are rudderless. Where is the relief in the Relief Society?

    Your point about helping to provide for the temple beautification is a great one. My mother in law is a beautiful knitter/crocheter. She was asked to make one of the alter coverings for one of the temples years ago (I’m not sure how long ago or which temple, it’s escaping me right now). She had to come up with an original pattern with the right dimensions. I have no idea if they still do that, but what a beautiful way to contribute!

    Homemaking to me encompasses so many things–making home a functional place where your family can interact in a place that is atheistically pleasing, saving money, learning skills like home-remodeling, being self-reliant (why pay for someone to do something when I can do it myself and don’t have the means?), knowing about nutrition and child development, and on and on, even reaching out the community, because the home is the building block of society. I don’t think our activities have taken it far enough. For instance, we had a great class on home organization, but it was taught at the church. It would have been wonderful to go to the sister’s home and get more than theoretical knowledge–and see what she was actually talking about. Then why not have a challenge where we each do a task a week for several months and provide support and encouragement to each other? Even if it was all conducted through an email mailing list? I agree with the comments that have said we don’t really build skills. How many people have gone home an implemented these things into their lives?

    And I am with Reece! I love crafts. I do have to say that many of the craft projects at church don’t appeal to me, but I love crafting and repurposing in general. For example, almost every frame in my house was bought at the thrift store for $1 and then spray painted or refinished to look brand new. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on frames that way. I also love turning thrift store shirts into skirts and dresses for my daughter. Thrift store clothes are an amazingly cheap source of fabric and it’s great for the environment. Anyway, crafting can be cheesy and trite, but it doesn’t have to be that way and it can be a feminist act to craft, as many of these skills have been branded women’s work and under appreciated for generations.

  66. ClaudiaHen,

    Was your mother per-chance in the mormon corridor? You see, most of the temple craftsmanship is imported into our local area from Utah. Did she know someone who pulled strings? We don’t have ties with people who make those decisions. They don’t know who crochets, paints, makes stained glass, is a carpenter, etc. I understand that a few people get to contribute a few things sometimes there will be a cute example of something yocal-local (oftentimes the species of wood used for furniture). . . but on the whole, a great deal of the interior is store-bought or imported from the Utah area, people we don’t know and we don’t have the opportunity to participate. How is your mother’s experience relevent to the general membership of my area? How does her experience teach all 50 of the RS sisters in my area to be home-makers???
    To enjoy homemaking and learn to crochet???? How does her extremely rare and unique experience effect us? I’m very glad for her, but it doesn’t help me to think of myself as a homemaker, since there is never anything for us to do. You see the model we have now for everything from the handbook to the music, temple worship to sacrament speeches is “expertise—mass produced and delivered to the people”. Doesn’t create growth, doesn’t give us ownership, doesn’t create active participatory religion.

  67. ClaudiaHen,
    Rudderless . . . the relief in relief society. Amen. I also hear ‘comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted’. Sometimes we get into that rut too.

  68. Saving money, nutrition, self reliance, not paying for things we can do ourselves . . . all extremely important. I’d add, comforting those who are dying, who are ill, who are having children, have post-partum depression, who are depressed or struggling with a mental illness and let’s not forget, those who have teenagers!!!

    We keep doing toll painting when the real Christian mandate here is health care . . . learning about health and bodies, the mind and spirit, death and birth. Learning how to not say things like “I understand, I totally know”, or how to recognize early onset alzheimer’s. Isn’t that more relevant to a “Relief Society” than toll painting, seasonal wreath-making, or mommy blogging our vacays?

  69. I have to say that I really disagree with some of this criticism–and yes, let’s call it what it is. When the Manhattan temple was dedicated a few years ago (way outside that Utah corridor) there was a request for local craftsmanship. In Relief Society, we worked on fabric arts to contribute–alter cloths, etc. In the Primary activity days, the girls made what was for some of them their very first sewing project–pin cushions for the temple. I still see them when I go–often in the bride’s room. And then I come home and tell those girls–now women–where they were and how their contribution is making a small but significant difference. And how they will see them when they go for themselves. Maybe it isn’t your favorite activity, but it is really useful to be able to do quick clothing repairs instead of having to pay someone else to do something that really is a quick/easy job. I feel like all this talk about how Relief Society is not relevant is . . . not relevant. If you feel like Relief Society is not relevant to you, then you need to talk to your local ward and stake Relief Society presidents. It may be that you need to shift your paradigm from seeing Relief Society as a place to take, and turn it into a place to give. Maybe you don’t need the skills they are teaching, but others do–desperately. That’s how those activities are (or at least should be) planned. And if you value other things, then pour those talents out into the Storehouse and offer to give back. Your RS president will be thrilled with your offer to help. Relief Society is NOT all about going and getting a fun/interesting class on something you would have hand chosen. It’s about self-reliance (temporally AND spiritually). It’s about helping members have the Spirit in their homes. It’s about saving souls.

  70. I just wanted to point out, J.A.T, that my 50 cent bread meets all your criteria of “saving money, nutrition, self reliance, not paying for things we can do ourselves”. And saves me $600/year which can go towards our healthcare bills. So I don’t really feel that I’m ignoring the elephant in the room and pittering away at the edges.

    And my mom made my temple apron. Did she contribute to the building of a temple? No, but she used one of her homemaking skills to make an item that makes my temple attendance that much more personal for me.

    I know it’s not the same as parish nursing, but one of the women in our ward is volunteering for hospice. Perhaps you could get involved with something like that and encourage others in your ward to join in as well. I know that if I have someone I know and like participating in an activity I’m not familiar with, I’m much more likely to try it out. You wouldn’t have to wait for the RS to organize it, you could just do it b/c you’re interested.

  71. Sara,
    In all seriousness, the pin cushions are great. Don’t let me deter you from the pin cushions. As a matter of fact, I was reading just the other day a study about how pin cushions are being used to treat everything from depression to birth pains, alzheimer’s, post-partum depression to mental illness. Also, I read that pincushions tied together with hot glue and a little toll painting, are being used to stop the leaks in the reactor in Japan. Also, my flight attendant notified me that in the event of a water landing, pin cushions can be used as a flotation device. I was notified this evening via the RS phone tree that a group of us are gathering on Thursday night to fill care packages with pin cushions that the church is shipping to Japan and Haiti. Pin cushions, is there anything they CAN’T do? Yes, indeed, I feel enriched.

    Your point about how we should focus on the pin cushions of life (not the multi-million dollar temple components, the high-level skills necessary to make edifices for God, or honed skills to serve our brothers and sisters, is well taken. To the pin cushions sisters!!!

    Let us not forget that the RS is the single largest women’s organization in the world. Surely we can provide more relevant and meaningful service to the world than pin cushions alone. I think of my fore-mothers who worked in the RS during the great depression and WWII. They organized everything from food relief to medical care, blood drives to first aid training and kits as well as rationing projects. I think too of my grandmothers a few generations further back who gave their fine china to the walls of the Kirtland Temple. When I meet them in heaven, will I say I carried their legacy forward by answering that I indeed filled their shoes because several years ago, we made pin cushions one night? Is the level of my sacrifice and effort sufficient to receive a reward equal to theirs? Is this the legacy of God’s Relief Society?

    Seriously, the pin cushions are really wonderful. It was a way in which children participated in something temple-related. For that, it was wonderful. In my post, I advocated for MORE opportunities such as this for women to participate in temple worship. I was thinking of participation on a larger scale and involving more women in more challenging ways, but every little bit is important. However, this cannot be the extent of our ‘relevancy’. I understand that it is important to preserve this type of detailed service. I just wonder why you choose to take umbrage at my suggestion that women focus on more than just the details in order to more fully actualize the mission of RS by addressing more serious concerns than toll painting and crafts. Women do not live up to their divine potential by focusing only on the minutia and ignoring humanitarian and spiritual issues of greater importance. (RELIEF!)

    I also find it interesting that you attacked my worthiness and spirituality and referred me to my leaders. (BCC people, I thought that was off limits?) I stand guiltless before my God and fear no leader. Why do people with weak counter-arguments always attack the spirituality of others? Lame. Let’s get back on topic, shall we?

  72. Jes,
    Bread-make away. Are you counting the hours it takes you to make this bread and be near the oven, not just the ingredients and energy in your penny-specific calculations? $600 is really good. Kudos.

    When you told me to take my skills and service to another group were you trying to argue FOR or AGAINST the relevancy of RS? ‘Cause frankly, your suggestion was probably the most damning of all of them tonight against the future of enrichment/homemaking. If we want to do something, we have to go to another organization???? If the purpose of relief society is to in-part provide relief, wouldn’t it make more sense for us to go as a group to volunteer for hospice and accomplish a great deal with our united efforts, and then do crafting as individuals? Why do you suggest it the other way around?

  73. J.A.T.—I’m sorry. You totally misunderstood. I would never address your worthiness. You’d have to go to your bishop or stake president over that anyway. Not your RS president. In suggesting that you talk to your RS president, I was suggesting that you ask them “In our ward/stake, why are we focusing on _____?” And they will tell you and then you can start a dialogue to either join in or facilitate change.
    I’ve lived in South Carolina, Utah, and now in NY, and each Relief Society functioned in radically different ways. I think that the answers to the questions posed here are different in different units. Local conditions determine local needs and resources available to meet those needs. I think that a big part of why the church has shifted away from the old formula of hospitals and grand projects is because of geography and the related variables. A hundred years ago when the main body of the church was focused in a very small area and units were much larger, fewer people were needed to fill leadership positions, the church was naturally an enormous community partner because of local history, and more membership was available to devote time & resources to grand projects such as you mentioned. In the less-settled west of the past, there was a greater need for projects that were part of the settlement and civilizing of the west.
    I don’t think we have those same needs today. I can’t speak for other areas of the country, but I can speak for where I live today–on Long Island. Our ward and stake are very spread out. We don’t have a critical mass of membership in a small area geographically. It’s a very expensive area to live in, so between that and the economy, most families are struggling to pay the mortgage between multiple jobs, and we have very few families with stay-at-home moms. We have to be realistic here about the local culture & economy that prevent us from tackling large visible projects, and keep our focus on . . . yes, pin cushions. “By small and simple things . . . ” In our ward, here are the projects we are focusing on: several families fighting drug addiction and all the fallout, several families losing their homes, several families without work and the related employment/skills issues, broken marriages, enormous numbers of single parent families & unmarried single adults who need support, mental illness including depress but also schizophrenia and bipolar and . . . and the work that visiting teachers are doing to address these issues is incredibly relevant. A sister who rolls up her sleeves and digs into the mess of addiction and CPS and neglected children? “Charity Never Faileth.” Amazingly relevant. The work these sisters do is of immediate and eternal relevance–and very much the work of “Relief.” Very different from the “relevance” of yesteryear, but very relevant in today’s world. And I would venture to say that the service these sisters provide is very much on the level of those who donated their china to the Kirtland temple. And in some ways, greater.
    What is your ward like? I’m curious to know what their challenges are. I’m sorry your experience has been apparently so irrelevant.

  74. it's a series of tubes says:

    Heck, we even had our ward kitchens and food preparation taken away from us. Ovens are for warming purposes only, remember? We could burn the building down. Silly women.

    J.A.T. – for this one, you can pin the blame on the lawyers (well, more specifically on gov’t food preparation & licensing requirements). By saying the kitchens are for “warming” only (wink wink), it obviates the requirement that the church go through the same permitting / licensing / training requirements as a restaurant.

  75. My dad works for the county health dept and does the food inspections for restaurants and organizations(churches, fraternities and sororities, lodges, etc.). It’s a relatively painless process and there is a customized (less formal) ‘track’ for churches who do the incendental buffet. Several other churches go through with it . . . it isn’t expensive or time consuming. It shouldn’t be an obsticle that prevents anyone from living life. The church kitchens are already set up for industrial food prep (have double sinks, cupboards, working fridges, etc.)

  76. I’m a huge fan of teaching important skills for men and women. I don’t think it should happen on Sunday, but cooking or sewing or car work seminars are great.

    I’m just tired the scrap booking, toll painting, greeting card making, etc. stuff. Ya, it’s cute and fun and makes a nice get together. But it’s so unnecessary and actually ends up wasting money. I’ve got no beef about doing that on your own. But as a community we have a lot of things we can do to help one another and to enrich each other’s lives. Helping to organize a kitchen or even tips on paying bills (just the top of my mind, not necessarily good ones) are going to actually make a difference in your life for the better. Making a cute halloween ghost, won’t do much.

  77. it's a series of tubes says:

    My dad works for the county health dept and does the food inspections for restaurants and organizations(churches, fraternities and sororities, lodges, etc.). It’s a relatively painless process and there is a customized (less formal) ‘track’ for churches who do the incendental buffet. Several other churches go through with it . . . it isn’t expensive or time consuming.

    While that may be true in your particular county, it is not in fact true in others. I can’t reveal here why I have additional insight into this topic at the decision making level of the CPB, but suffice it to say that there are additional factors you are probably not aware of.

    The point remains – this change was not one made out of malice in order to “take away” some supposed power previously held by women.

  78. Sara,
    Good points. I’m glad to hear about the other much more pressing needs that your sisters are addressing.

    *************
    “. . . several families fighting drug addiction and all the fallout, several families losing their homes, several families without work and the related employment/skills issues, broken marriages, enormous numbers of single parent families & unmarried single adults who need support, mental illness including depress but also schizophrenia and bipolar and . . . and the work that visiting teachers are doing to address these issues is incredibly relevant.”
    ****************
    That’s what I’m talking about!!! These things exist EVERYWHERE and sometimes they get shuffled under the rug when we spend too much time toll painting, doing crafts and dinking around with the details. “All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth”. I think women socially and politically gravitate towards the minutia, especially in story-telling and conversation.

    The very heart-breaking issues you mentioned can be softened by small and simple things, (a plate of cookies, an nodding “frowny-smiley-face”, cheesecake, a flower and a hug), but they aren’t completely solved that way. (Frankly, catch someone at the wrong time and the reaction can be pretty bad.) Making a difference in these areas takes much more elbow grease . . . more study, knowledge, time, inspiration and prayer, strategy and of course more support from the community (including a unified RS and cooperation with the ward/stake leaders).

    So, (hooray) we can agree that there is important work to be done. It might be nuanced and subtle or loud and pressing. Yes, we can even agree that ‘small and simple things’ CAN make a difference, but that single small acts don’t get the job done, ergo “things” from the phrase “small and simple things” is plural. I see those many little things building upon each other as opposed to one-shot stops. We can agree that charity doesn’t need to be large or visible to be relevant. Our goal is to provide the right service at the right time.

    I know we don’t run around and show our alms in public, but can’t we have an anonymous discussion on the bloggernacle about the pressing issues that RS is uniquely situated to address which make it relevant? Why must women always cite the minutia instead of really discussing some of the weightier matters they are called to address? Why didn’t you cite those things in your original post? Is it because pin cushions are more symbolic? More feminine? Would it have been too bold to have mentioned something weightier? Does Mormonism have an element of pacificity relating to these things? Is the understatement a statement? In all honesty, I ask these questions. One of my concerns is that the enculturation of LDS women tends to veer away from communicating power with concrete details. Perhaps this is a contributing factor in our struggle to communicate the relevance of RS to converts, 18yr olds, the men, and those outside the church.

    I ‘preciate your concern about my supposed struggle for irrelevance, but I don’t perceive myself that way. However, when my RS struggles I wonder whether we aren’t taking advantage of the structure and power of the restored church. I’ve found ways to keep my baptismal covenants and serve others when I see a need. Mostly, I do these things by myself or with my family. I pray to see opportunities. I desire to work with sisters to amplify this effort. My frustration is that I’ve been with too many RS presidencies and too many congregations who either will NOT talk about or engage in this ‘roll-your-sleeves-up’ type things and instead focus on the fringe. Years will go by without my RS participating in a SINGLE service project- not EVEN pin cushions. So, when we have AN example, a precious example of SOMETHING, we tend to talk about cutsie antiquated (irrelevant) things like: brushing our children’s hair to perfection, delivering cheesecake (to the lactose intolerant), cookies (to the diabetics), dropping a may day basket, ringing the bell and running from the porch (of a shut-in), going out of our way to smile to the unpopular girl, and essentially saying ‘let them eat cake’.

    I’ve been in a ward that has been reassigned to SEVEN new temples (as they have been built) and about four temples ago, all local participation stopped. There is a formula based on priesthood leadership for most of the open-house and dedication stuff. Not even pin cushions for the RS, YW and Primary. I think the mass-production stepped up a notch. It begs the question, if we are irrelevant to the process, does the process become less relevant to us?

    I see families with the types of problems you described. My family is increasingly pressured by work and the economy with less and less disposable TIME to be able to help. My heart goes out to those with the problems you described and most of what is being offered is, ‘let them eat cake’. There is a push-back when one mentions anything that requires something substantial, especially if toll painting or zumba are at all threatened. While the Kirtland sisters had their OWN sets of problems to deal with (least of all their cherished heirloom china), they carried a willingness to sacrifice and an urgency to be God’s angels and quickly usher in millennial peace. I don’t think we have that urgency if we spend most of our time toll painting with vinyl letters from our Cricuts and then mommy-blogging it.

    There is more of a need NOW than ever to communicate and collaborate to get everything done, and yet there is such a push-back in communicating REAL needs. We’ve also got a push-back for organized religion and activities . . . everyone thinks that they want to be able to do any volunteer work independently on their OWN time. They think it will be more efficient alone without roundin’ up the group. I also think that sometimes women play ‘holier than thou’ by focusing on the more ‘Mary-like’ things and refusing to see the ‘Martha-like’ things. You have more ascribed status if you are the one always talking about warm fuzzies and dabbing the corner of your eye with a kleenex instead of the one who visits the drunk prostitute with full-blown AIDS/HIV. (True story.) You’ve got to remember that climbing the ladder of leadership or social capital means you’ve got to appear to be a person who SOLVES problems and is cool and collected, so never POINT them out (for heaven’s sake). The best way to make a problem go away is to pretend you didn’t see it. Ahhhh, wasn’t that easy? Next!

    The balance level of nearly 99% zumba and crafts to 1% service is uncomfortable for me as a congregant. I’m tired of being a squeaky wheel. Heck, I was nearly de-capitated on this blog! What would the perfect combo of service, art, spiritual nourishment and caring for the caretakers be? 70/30 or 50/50? Perhaps 30/70 or 90/10? I can’t figure it out. All I know is that to be popular and have a happy RS group, the scale has to tip heavily toward toll painting, zumba and spa nights. Classic home run activities. With ‘Caretaking for the Mentally Ill 101’ rounded out by a visit to the crazy cat lady, will be lucky to get a warm body and you’ll become as irrelevant as the proverbial tree falling in the forest that no one hears.

  79. To: “It’s a series of tubes”

    ***************************
    While that may be true in your particular county, it is not in fact true in others. I can’t reveal here why I have additional insight into this topic at the decision making level of the CPB, but suffice it to say that there are additional factors you are probably not aware of.

    The point remains – this change was not one made out of malice in order to “take away” some supposed power previously held by women.
    ********************

    How amazingly condescending! So, all the other U.S. denominations are either breaking the law or have crossed some tremendously difficult threshold that is so complicated, it would explode our brains if we even heard about it? Wow. What other churches took away their food prep? Are health department inspections really so much of a barrier and so impossible that all over the country, the Catholics and protestants, Hindus and Muslims have similarly stopped cooking as well? I haven’t seen a screeching halt to wedding banquets, pot lucks, pancake feeds and Thanksgiving dinners over at my neighbor’s congregation. What’s our problem?

    I’d suggest you read the book ‘The Answer to How is Yes’ by Peter Block. Basically, it says that if you want to do something, you can’t let excuses get in the way. Don’t blame lame little county health departments, blame yourself for not organizing and overcoming the ‘barrier’.

    Was it the money? What was the perceived cost of food and cultural gatherings as compared to the permits?

    Good grief.

    You wouldn’t happen to be a man telling me not to worry my pretty little head about it, would you be?

  80. Mommie Dearest says:

    I can’t engage in a “big bloggernacle discussion” because I don’t have time. But I would like to say that my ward RS almost never has spa-type activities, I believe it’s because none of us want or need them. We already know how to groom ourselves in the smallest time possible. We do have occasional food-storage or provident living topics, and several times each year we organize something service-oriented in the community. The last time we had a tole-painting activity, my (now-grown) kids were in preschool.

  81. it's a series of tubes says:

    How amazingly condescending! So, all the other U.S. denominations are either breaking the law….

    J.A.T., you appear to have a chip on your shoulder. I’m sorry you feel that it is condescending to state that I can’t reveal more of what I know here. It’s simply a confidentiality issue, and I’m not willing to go into additional detail for fear of identifying myself.

    I’m not anyone special – I just happen to regularly interact with one of the people who touched this topic firsthand at the national level. If I said more, I would be breaching that person’s confidence.

    You wouldn’t happen to be a man telling me not to worry my pretty little head about it, would you be?

    Feel free to worry about it all you like.

  82. This post hit very close to home for me. We have a child with significant medical needs who has been in and out of the hosPital his whole life. The first few weeks of his life, the RS provided some meals. Since then, really no emotional, spiritual, or physical suPport.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that our church simply is not set up or caPable
    Of helping Families with significant long-term needs. There is help for small things – new baby, temporary job loss, etc. But if you are in dire need of help that a few meals wont’t fix, forget it. We are thinking of leaving the church because we cOuld use the money that we sPend on tithing to help pay for his medical bill or some respite care. It is getting that bad and we don’t know how we can continue with the status quo.

  83. I’m sorry Belle, what a difficult situation. I can see how you’d feel very lonely and frustrated. It must be very hard to watch your child suffer. I hope she is responding well to the treatments.

  84. Belle–if you were in my ward, I’d give you a hug, and then lead you down the hall straight to the bishop or RS president to find some solutions. ;( I’m sorry. I hope you find some of the relief you need.

    J.A.T.–I’m loving this dialogue. You crack me up.

    “Making a difference in these areas takes much more elbow grease . . . more study, knowledge, time, inspiration and prayer, strategy and of course more support from the community (including a unified RS and cooperation with the ward/stake leaders). ”

    Totally agree. Our counseling wearies me sometimes but we are making progress. Slowly but surely. I didn’t cite those heartbreaking issues initially because the discussion seemed focused on homemaking arts and RS activities, and I don’t know that those are necessarily the best answer for the most discouraging challenges women face. The pin cushions were the first example that came to mind of traditional homemaking skills making an eternal difference. Getting together in groups can address social issues by helping women find friends & support. Groups are fabulous mediums for education–self-reliance topics, gospel topics, on mental health topics in general (we had an activity a year or two ago with a guest psychologist addressing stress & depression in depth for example), etc. etc.

    But an activity with a broad invitation for all RS sisters is not a good setting to address Sister X’s latest conspiracy theories, or Sister Y’s disintegrating marriage. The church’s best solution to those kinds of difficulties at the heart of a family’s salvation is visiting and home teaching. And that is probably the topic of a different post. But when leaders and visiting & home teachers are working together and communicating openly, mountains are moved. Activities only go so far. But that seemed to be the topic of conversation.

    As for zumba, crickut, and the 99% crafts to 1% service, I honestly think this is a local issue. Here in NY, we don’t spend a lot of time on crafts–except for the small groups of women who get together for those activities, or maybe one of three options at a big RS activity once or twice a year. Our RS has a long standing relationship with a local battered women’s shelter. We’ve done service projects at community locations at the ward & stake level. We’ve had Red Cross at our RS activities telling us about service opportunities with them. We’ve had non-LDS legislators come to events at our church–building dedications, eagle court of honor . . . it really sounds to me like you guys have some local issues. When the general RS presidency talks, they don’t spend much time on tole painting. So really–talk to you RS presidents (ward & stake) and find out why. And offer to head something up. Make it how you wish it was.

    In my experience, as much good as RS activities and “homemaking” projects can do, the meat of RS happens during one-on-one conversations. Leaders counseling together. Visiting teaching companions talking & praying together. Visiting teachers talking with the RS president and the bishop about details and personal dilemmas their families are facing. RS presidents discussing with vts the specific mental health diagnosis of the sister they visit. RS presidents working with the vts to assign & educate them so they are prepared to sit down with a sister and examine bills & finance details. RS presidencies speaking privately with vts about how they can support Sister Z during her marital crisis. The bishop & RS president discussing how to help Sister W and how to involve/use/educate/whatever the vts. I think that those cultural shifts you are talking about will come most powerfully when individuals are talking one-on-one honestly about their personal roadblocks to change. And then it ripples outward.

    Good luck. You seem like a thoughtful interesting person I’d enjoy meeting. :)

  85. Sara,
    Sounds terrific.

    Here’s the deal. If I’m doing the majority of my service as an individual and you cite that the most important work is done in VT or one-on-one, then did we just argue against the idea of spending a great deal of energy in homemaking meetings? We can have VT Conferences (learn ways to be a better VTs), and focus on common topics (like how to aid a friend with depression), but can’t get too personal or specific.

    It seems to me things fall down when a person’s needs are larger than what two VTers can provide. (Belle’s example is an excellent and unfortunately common example.) Granted, we have the RS presidency and compassionate service coordinator, but their modus operandi is to call other individuals on a rotation for help. We don’t pull together much to do what St. Steven R. Covey would call ‘synergizing’.

    Yes, we need to meet in NY sometime and have a soda, perhaps go volunteer at a soup kitchen together.

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