Easing the transition from Young Women to Relief Society

So I understand we have a problem retaining our young adults, who tend to go inactive once they leave the youth program and transition to being adults in the church.  The good news is that I don’t think we are any worse off than typical Christian churches; for all I know, we could be better off.  (Somebody who has read a study should tell me.)  The bad news is that I’m not sure there’s much we can really do about this problem.  I’ve observed a lot of conversations about this issue, and of all the explanations that are given for why our young adults stop going to church, the one that seems to get mentioned least often is the one that is the obvious, most-likely culprit:  young adults, at least the ones who are not living at home and don’t have parents to force them to go to church, would much rather sleep in and do whatever the heck they want on Sunday than go to church.  I mean, who wouldn’t?  Have you ever skipped church before?  It’s kind of awesome.  It’s like having another Saturday, one even freer of obligation.  (I have noticed that Sunday is the one day of the week my non-church-going friends and acquaintances always have available.  Always.)

When I first left home, I continued going to church mainly because I was scared and lonely.  I was certainly not any more religious than other eighteen-year-old Mormons I knew.  When I went to college a year later, it was clear across the country from my family, so I was still a little scared and lonely, but as time went on and I made more friends at school, I became much less scared and lonely.  I was the only Mormon at a Baptist college and the local ward had no people my age or even close to it (except for a handful of youth, who I was too old and mature to hang out with); it hardly had any people at all, actually.  Possibly the only reason I continued going to church was that I was contrary and stubbornly clung to my Mormon identity, if only to stick it to the Man.  It’s the same reason I continued to vote Republican even after moving to the Pacific Northwest.  I’m just that way.

But most of the believing Christians I knew at college (and there were a lot them) did not attend church while they were at school.  Even though they’d been raised as weekly church-goers, even though they occasionally said, “I should really start going to church again,” being on their own meant they were free not to go to church, and most took advantage of that freedom.  Blame it on laziness or apathy–or how boring church is–but that just seems to be the way young adults roll.  Obviously, some young adults stop going to church because they have become disillusioned with their religion and no longer believe the doctrines.  I don’t know what percentage of non-church-goers they comprise, but I would be surprised if it was larger than the percentage that just doesn’t feel particularly like going.  In any case, I’m not sure how much we can do to prevent disillusionment, either.  In my observation and experience, that’s pretty much another way young adults roll.

HOWEVER, we can’t just throw up our hands and say, “Okay, the young people are going to be inactive once they’re freed from the shackles of Mom and Dad–maybe they’ll come back later, maybe they won’t, we’ll just have to wait and see,” because that would be fatalistic and that’s wrong or something, so we still have to figure out how we can keep our young people going to church even when they don’t have to.  For the purposes of this post–which I have taken my sweet time getting to, you may have noticed–I will focus on how we can ease the transition of our young women from Young Women (they really need to come up with a more interesting name for this program) to Relief Society–because I’m a girl and this is what I know.  (Sorry, dudes.  But you probably stopped reading at the title, so what am I apologizing for?)

Historically, when people have hand-wrung in my presence over the problem of young adult women not feeling comfortable in Relief Society, I’ve suggested the radical step of actually calling women under the age of 55 to serve in Relief Society.  I know, it’s crazy, but let’s just think outside the box for a minute.  In many of the wards I’ve been in, even women in their thirties feel too young to be in Relief Society.  It seems common practice for relatively young adult women to have Primary callings, while slightly (slightly!) older adult women serve as Young Women leaders, and Relief Society is where you go to die.  Just kidding about that last part–the library is actually where you go to die–but you see my point, I think.  And don’t tell me this isn’t the case in your ward–I know it isn’t the case in every ward.  I’ve lived in wards where that wasn’t the case.  Obviously, in student and Young Single Adult wards, this isn’t the case.  But in those wards where this is the case, it should probably stop being the case, if we want our young women to feel like Relief Society is for them.

So far I have identified the following obstacles to young (female) adult activity: 1) awesomeness of sleeping in and doing whatever you want on Sunday, 2) lack of personal testimony and 3) preference for hanging out with people in your age/stage-of-life demographic.  Have I left anything out?  I’m sure someone will tell me.  In the meantime I’m just going to move on.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ideas for how we can make church more exciting than napping or jet-skiing or hanging out at the mall or whatever those wayward whipper-snappers are doing.  Let’s not even go there, as it will only make us ridiculous.  The fact is, young adults will come to church if they want to (whether they feel like it or feel obligated), and since we have no control over a person’s faith or how guilty someone will feel about not going to church, the most we can do is make church a welcoming place that does more good than harm, and hope that people will develop spiritual growth and self-reliance as a pleasant side-effect.

I am not much of a statistics person, and I am especially not a looking-up-the-source-of-statistics-just-for-a-blog-post person.  But I tend to believe stuff that makes sense to me, so when I heard someone in church quote a study that said the young LDS people most likely to be active as adults were those who consistently engaged in personal prayer and personal scripture study, I thought, “Well, duh.”  It’s easy to be all religious while you’re being spiritually hazed at EFY or Trek.  When you get to be a grown-up, you have to manufacture your own Holy Ghost Experience.  The earlier you learn how to do this, the better off you’ll be.

I’m not arguing against EFY or Trek because that would be curmudgeonly and pointless.  And nitpicking aside, I think that the Personal Progress program as it is now constituted is fine for encouraging girls to learn the gospel and develop their individual testimonies.  The thing I would tweak is how we do the YW hour on Sunday.  Our Young Women are, what, thirty years overdue for new lesson manuals?  (Yes, I know an update is in the works; so’s the Second Coming.)  Assuming they ever get them, they should not only (hopefully) focus on things that are most relevant to contemporary young women, but they should be designed the way RS manuals are–for student use, not just for teachers.  Yes, I am suggesting that young women be given their own lesson manuals they can misplace, forget to take to church and never open, just like grown-up women do.  The point is not to change human nature (and certainly not teenage human nature), but to change our mindset.  Even if the Mia Maids are still just sitting there looking bored, at least they will know that this is, ideally, not just another hour to passively absorb gospel factoids.  They’re supposed to be prepared and participating.  Invite girls to give lessons or mini-lessons themselves.  The primary purpose is not to develop good public speaking/teaching skills that they can use later in life (although hopefully they will), but rather to get them discussing the gospel as peers–just like adult women do in Relief Society (you know, when they’re not just sitting there looking bored).

While young women are in Young Women, we should be preparing them to attend the temple and for membership in Relief Society.  We already talk a lot about the temple and temple worthiness.  I understand that recent years have brought more emphasis on preparing to receive one’s endowment, in addition to all the marriage talk.  That’s a good thing.  Not that I have anything against marriage talk–marriage and motherhood are a big part of adult life for most women, so it makes sense to talk about those things.  Marriage and motherhood do not comprise all of adult life, however.  (It only seems that way sometimes.)  And most of what will best prepare you for marriage and motherhood is the same stuff that will prepare you for adult life in general; therefore, I’m in favor of increased talk about adult life in general, and for women in the church, adult life means being part of Relief Society.  We need to talk more to our young women about Relief Society.

Young men are typically ordained to the priesthood and start taking on its attendant responsibilities when they are twelve years old.  Young women aren’t ordained to the priesthood, and, contrary to popular belief, there is really nothing else that’s like the priesthood or comparable to the priesthood.  No, not even motherhood.  Let me say that one more time:  Motherhood is not like the priesthood.  You know, I bolded it and everything, and I still feel like I need to say it again.  But I’ll refrain for the time being.  (Don’t make me break out the caps lock!)  There is no female analogy to the priesthood, and there’s no point pretending that there is (unless your point is to annoy Sister J).  Men have the priesthood; women don’t have the priesthood.  Men have priesthood meetings and responsibilities within their quorums; women have Relief Society meetings and responsibilities within Relief Society.  Young men need to prepare for a lifetime of priesthood service; young women need to prepare for a lifetime of Relief Society service.

In my current ward, the Young Women and Relief Society have joint opening exercises once a month, just like the menfolk do with their “priesthood meeting.”  For a while we tried doing this every week–to make it even more after the manner of priesthood meeting or perhaps for consistency’s sake, I don’t know–but we had to stop for reasons that were never disclosed.  I suspect inconvenience or some whim of the Powers That Be.  It doesn’t really matter because while I think this is a completely innocuous practice, I suspect it doesn’t make a lick of difference in terms of the young women feeling integrated with the Relief Society.  It’s just ten minutes of crowding into a tiny space once a week to make announcements that aren’t applicable to half the people half of the time.  It isn’t love.  It also isn’t Relief Society.

There is sometimes the suggestion that Young Women should be paired with adult women for visiting teaching assignments, just as young men have home teaching assignments.  (It’s been ages since a young man has been to my house in a home teaching capacity, but I assume they still do that.)  I don’t think this is a bad idea; theoretically it makes sense, if you want to prepare young women for Relief Society, because visiting teaching is a big part of Relief Society.  There are, however, some practical difficulties which make it maybe only a good idea in theory, not so much in real life.  Part of this has to do with the difficulty of matching up teenager schedules and adult schedules, but most of it has to do with the differences between visiting teaching and home teaching.  Discussing those differences is beyond the scope of this post, which is already way too long.  Suffice it to say that I think it might be more useful to implement a visiting teaching-like program within Young Women.  Young women already do “secret sister” and “big sister/little sister” type things as special events, as part of Girls Camp or just for (leader-initiated) fun (at least they did when I was young); something like that could be a regular part of Young Women and perhaps be more beneficial than assigning young women to adult visiting teaching routes.

However, there ought to be more interaction between young women and adult women.  It is fairly common to invite Laurels (sometimes all the young women) to certain Relief Society activities-formerly-known-as-homemaking-meetings, but these are usually “events,” and “events” are less useful than habits.  It might be useful to open up certain small Relief Society interest groups (such as book clubs, or other groups that meet regularly–not the toddler playgroups) to Laurel-age girls.  Yeah, they may not be particularly interested in hanging out with old ladies; we’ve been over that.  The point is to make them welcome, not to force the issue.  Have more YW activities that involve other adult women, not just YW leaders.  Invite non-YW leaders to guest-teach a lesson on Sunday or teach a class for a weekday activity.  Again, I realize stuff like this already happens, with varying levels of “success.”  The point is not to reinvent the wheel, or to be “successful,” but to do more things with the mindset that we are preparing young women to be in Relief Society.

Lastly (yeah, I know, the Second Coming is also nigh)–young adult women will feel like they belong in Relief Society if we treat them like they belong there.  Young adulthood is necessarily a time of transition and lots of changes.  Many of the young women in your ward will leave home, whether for college or some other reason, when they graduate high school and not become permanent members of your Relief Society.  That doesn’t mean there’s no point in getting to know them or letting them be useful.  If they do end up staying in your ward, you should definitely get to know them and let them be useful–preferably in Relief Society.  They are not just young single adults; they are your Relief Society sisters.  While they are in Young Women, they are your future Relief Society sisters.  Think on that, and let’s talk about what we should do about it.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I agree that joint meetings and more integration between YW and RS throughout the church would go a long ways to assist YW in making the transition to RS.

  2. Chris Gordon says:

    I’m just a guy, but I loved this post/essay/pamphlet. Great points all, and I think there’s a lot of translation of concern and potential solutions within the priesthood as well. I’d never thought of how the priesthood structure mitigates a lot of the concerns you talk about here, but it’s a good point.

    Do you find that RS presidencies generally mirror the bishopric and stake presidency tendency to have the president be in the middle, one counselor a little older, and the other the token young counselor? I’ve always thought that was a funny little custom but there’s definitely some payoff to having various demographics represented within the leadership and I think it would behoove any president to take that perspective to the Lord when hammering out a presidency. Pretty much every ward I’ve lived in since I was 13 was something of an outlier ward that broke every stereotype you put out there, so I don’t really have a reference.

    In our little nook of Zion, my wife and one of her friends are starting a book club and I’m going to share this with her and encourage her to invite the laurels along.

  3. this might be blasphemous, and can be moderated, but honestly it seems to me that a lot of young people are having sex and being in relationships (yes even the mormons) and its a big part of their lives. but if they go to church there is no discussion of it , except to make them feel bad.

  4. Have you ever skipped church before? It’s kind of awesome. It’s like having another Saturday, one even freer of obligation.

    While driving to church one beautiful spring day in college my group of Mormon dorm-mates and I passed a series of fields, each filled with our fellow students playing soccer, ultimate, and touch football. Another occupant of the car turned to me and said, “Those poor people just don’t know what they’re missing, do they?” It was all I could do to not jump out of the car and scream, “Neither do you!” and run off and grab a frisbee.

  5. Instead of having opening exercises with the YW once a month, we invite the Laurels to join us for our 4th Sun. Lesson. They sit mixed in with the older of sisters, not in a clump of girls, and are encouraged to participate with assignments to read and such. It seems to me it is working well. They add their comments to the lesson and it is good to get a younger point of view. We have some very great YW in our ward and thier insight and comments are welcome.

  6. I think it’s true that the young men feel more integrated with the older men than do the young women with the older women, and priesthood service like hometeaching contributes to this, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say we’re losing young men at a rate at least as high as young women.

  7. I’m trying to remember when I’ve been in a ward with RS leaders older than 55.

    Thanks for this post. My daughter just graduated BYU and is “on her own” outside a student ward and our home ward for the first time, and we’re watching from afar to see how she’ll manage the transition in a small ward where there are no other young single adults like her. She has been serving in her RS in her student ward, but is hoping for a Primary calling so she can forestall the transition a bit.

    I think my daughters feel still like RS is their mother’s meeting, even though they’ve both attended RS in their student wards.

  8. In my zeal to finish this post before the Second Coming, I neglected a very important point: YW and RS should do more joint service projects/activities. Working together in charitable service helps foster relationships between young women and adult women while simultaneously reinforcing the purpose and mission of Relief Society.

  9. hm (3) – You may be right, but I’m not sure what can be done about that. I’m all for toning down the Law of Chastity rhetoric where it needs toning down, but I imagine that talking about pre-marital sex in church in a way that makes people feel good about it might be working against some of our other goals.

    Martin (6) – I would not be surprised to learn that we are losing young men at a higher rate–women tend to go to church more than men do (if we believe the “studies”). I reckon that among young LDS men, the expectation to serve a mission at 19 tends to force the issue–are you going to serve a mission and be a “good” Mormon boy, or are you going to forego a mission and pay the social price that in some cases (maybe most) is so high that it’s easier to just not go to church? On the other hand, these duties and expectations associated with the priesthood can be motivating for some young men who might otherwise find it easier to drift away. As I said, I focused on YW and RS because girl stuff is what I know, not because the female issue is more pressing.

    Paul (7) – YSA wards provide many more opportunities for RS service and leadership, but virtually no opportunities for interaction with women in different age/stage-of-life demographics. That is why I have mixed feelings about YSA wards. My own YSA ward experience contributed greatly to my spiritual development and overall maturity, but ideally we should be striving to better integrate singles into family wards, and perhaps the best way to do that would be to not have “singles” vs. “family” wards and just work on making ward families.

  10. “Easing the transition from Young Women to Relief Society”….
    DON’T. There should be a programs for teens (girls without boys) to eighteen. Then YM and YW together. Then on to married with/without kids. Then on to middle/old age_persons not raising kids.
    Or, it should be OK to transition yourself by only attending Sacrament Meeting, until you feel a need to join one of the support groups. Most other churches I know do something like this. They mirror the real world of today.

  11. thebookofarmaments says:

    I also think it might help to divide up RS according to age, much like a parallel to EQ/HP. I think the YW would be less creeped out if the lesson/format were more geared towards the younger RS-age women, rather than having to hit all demographics.

    I really love the suggestion of having the girls teach. And of Chris Gordon’s suggestion to invite them to adult activities (like book club). Maybe if we treat them (and interact with them) like young adults, they’ll feel more comfortable in the adult setting at church.

  12. This post should be required reading at the COB and RS building, RJ. Well done.

  13. I stopped going to church post-mission for a number of years. I don’t think any of your suggested reasons quite fits me; i think it was because there really was nothing for me to do except to sit quietly listening to other people give talks or lessons. None of my three wards during those years wasted home or visiting teachers on a young single sister, and there were no activities that weren’t either for families with children (Christmas parties) or for married couples (Sweethearts dinners and dances). The YSA program was limited to dances, a monthly single parent discussion group, and the occasional pool party.

    I contrast that with the opportunities for the 20-30-year-olds of the old M-Men and Gleaner program that ended in 1974. Any participating young person, not just the organizations’ leaders, was offered the chance to be fully engaged in what was essentially a training program for church leadership. They taught classes, organized ward activities, edited ward papers, supervised church sporting events, and dozens of other things. There was a definite place for young adults, and the ward needed them — they weren’t silent attenders, and didn’t merely engage in entertainment.

    If I were a young adult today, I would almost certainly stop attending church in any ward I’ve lived in since I became active again. There simply are too few opportunities for meaningful involvement. There is still nothing for young adults (or for most women of any age, frankly) beyond passive entertainment, service projects that require too low an investment of commitment, visiting teaching, and sitting in mostly mediocre classes and general meetings. Wards should rediscover the old ways (if not the specific programs, at least the same or updated opportunities) for young adults.

  14. Ardis – My “3) preference for hanging out with people in your age/stage-of-life demographic” should properly have been more generic, as in “3) preference for activities and programs specifically geared for your age/stage-of-life demographic.” Obviously if there are no such activities or programs, that is a problem. Everything I know about M-Men/Gleaners is contained in your comment, but it sounds like it was an effective program that we should try to replicate/reintroduce/update. I think the different demographics need their different programs–people in different stages of life have different needs; there is a big difference between teenagers and adults, certainly–but I think our natural tendency to congregate with people who are like us can lead to ghettoizing ourselves (or each other), and I think that makes us all poorer.

    When my husband and I were first married, our ward had a lot of diversity–racial diversity, economic/social diversity and age diversity–and yet it was also the most integrated ward I have ever lived in. By contrast, the ward we moved into when my husband started grad school was half established families, half students, and it was totally segregated. The student members had their activities and the “real” members had their activities. Many of the students had families, so it wasn’t a family vs. singles thing; it was a stage-of-life/”you’re only going to be here four years so why bother” thing. It was a very depressing ward to live in.

    Of course, this integration is easier to talk about (and spout platitudes about) than actually accomplish. Our family-centeredness, super-neato in many respects, is part of the problem. But I’m a simple girl with a dream. I think we can do better than we’re doing.

  15. #13, Ardis: Ahh, to bring back the “M-Men and Gleaner” program! My father was a recipient of the “Master M-Man” recognition, just one more thing where I’ll never be able to equal him!

    Rebecca J: Very interesting post, lots of insightful observations, and some good humor as well.

  16. Chris Gordon (2) – I’ve been thinking about your observation about presidencies, and I wonder if it might be a good pattern for all auxiliary presidencies. Except Sunday School, which no one cares about.

  17. ” Our natural tendency is to congregate with people who are like us”. That works. IMO it works better than how the Church un-naturally congregates it’s members.That’s why young people leave. That’s why we have ‘Friends” on TV and “Men of a Certain Age’, also.

  18. Reggie L. says:

    I wholeheartedly support inviting the Laurels to certain activities. When I was a Laurel (not so long ago), the RS sisters invited me to join their book club, and it was a blast.

  19. Chris Gordon says:

    @Rebecca (16), don’t even get me started on how nobody cares about the Sunday School! The most under-utilized auxiliary in the church! “Sunday School Presidency: where high priests go out to pasture.”

    I’ve heard some former bishopric and stake presidencies own up to consciously shooting for a presidential demography that way. I’ve had others wink and tell me that the Lord calls who the Lord calls, knowing full well that they also strove for a split along those lines. I couldn’t see the Handbook ever seeking to pigeon-hole counselors that way and it’s probably not appropriate to do so. Still, I can remember as a young man it was always nice to have the “approachable” member of the bishopric who showed up at mutual, shot baskets with us, gave us the occasional noogie, etc. It seems like half the time they were former young mens presidents of mine.

    Certainly the General RS has taken this type of ‘diversity of life experience’ to heart with Sister Dew and Sister Thompson in the mix, and for that matter Sister Allred from abroad.

    Here’s the question, though: I often hear from my wife’s friends and sisters that the issue is as much stage of life as it is age. Even if you had a reasonably-young sister serving in the presidency, how much would it resolve the issue of “belonging” for the incoming 18 or 19 year old to have a 29-year-old mother-of-three as the RS second counselor? While I think it would be great for the other young mothers, I don’t know what else it would resolve.

  20. lulubelle says:

    Yeah, none of these suggestions would have worked for me. The bottomline is that 3 hours of church on a Sunday is painful for A LOT of people (majority?). Some learn to deal with it anyways but when I left the nest and was on my own, opting out was an incredibly liberating experience. I think having a greater acceptance of those who go to Sacrament meeting only and leave would help. I feel that if you only go to the main meeting and not the rest, many are considered “less active” and it’s just not widely seen as “ok” to do. Even today, I feel tremendous guilt for only going to Sacrament, or even skipping out on a 2nd meeting and coming back for a 3rd. I do it anyway (I’m learning to ignore the guilt) but it’d be nice not to feel it’s “all or nothing” because a lot of Mormons pick “nothing” and that’s a shame.

  21. StillConfused says:

    I find Relief Society to not be that pleasant of an experience most of the time. The comments made are usually extremely “pat answer”ish and often are old fashioned. The young woman would probably prefer some depth in the discussions, less crying, and more openness/acceptance of different lifestyles etc.

  22. One of the things we could do better is explicitly exploring how the living of church principles are relevant across life stages – especially in Sunday RS lessons. Daily scripture study does not mean the same thing when you are single/widowed (and have no family scriptures study) as when you have small kids (seriously, who is studying scriptures first thing in the morning when you’ve been up 5 times that night) as when you are wrangling teens into a family scripture study schedule. It just doesn’t. Asking a variety of sisters in each age group (young, middle, old) and family status (single/divorced/widowed and married) before class to describe challenges in meeting this principle given her life stage would provide a lot of wisdom for everyone.

    For instance, a few weeks ago we had a lovely lesson on writing your life history. It was given by a sister who I would describe as a young 60. Most of the women in the group are 50+. Her presentation was great and may have even been appropriate for most of the group. It focused on reflective exercises to jog your memory of your life. Writing my life history in a word document in a way that is reflective of my life’s entirety seems very strange as I raise a preschooler and finish grad school. BUT, I do (and many young moms do) spend a lot of time documenting my kid’s life AND I often do so in digital formats. When I was single I spent some time with an elderly relative who could no longer write/type in order to document her life. Mentioning those activities would validate where other sisters are doing.

  23. I also agree with the 3-hour block is just a very large commitment that seems more so when RS is not relevant. Also, swapping RS and sunday school in the block schedule might help for those who think 2 hours sounds more reasonable.

  24. “Except Sunday School, which no one cares about.”

    My last ward cared so little about Sunday School presidency that for all three years I was there, we didn’t have a Sunday School president, let alone a full presidency. During ward conference, when the stake presidency named the leaders of the ward for sustaining, we were all surprised to find out we did in fact have a Sunday School president. It was a less-active man who I’m fairly certain didn’t show up to church once in the three years I was there.

  25. On the one hand, I’m defensive because I’m the SS Pres and do a heck of a job. On the other hand, there’s no need for a full Presidency or even a President because the calling requirements have been whittled down so much over the years that it’s basically, do the Teacher training course. And substitute when necessary.

  26. How about maybe recognizing that the appeal of Sunday off is not just to relax and have fun, but to keep up with the unceasing barrage of obligations that is adult life. When I was that age, I felt I needed every single scrap of time just to get my college/grad school coursework done and keep up with basic chores, housekeeping, and family obligations, and I think it’s pretty normal these days to work a bit on the weekend if one wants to advance in one’s job. People that age are under a lot of pressure to grow into adult household responsibilities, pay off student loans, have a decent career, take care of one’s health, etc.. And I think there’s a lot of LDS cultural pressure to be well-educated, thin, and have money and a respectable job, all of which put a lot of pressure on that age group. They are in an impossible situation, so something has to give. People are probably spending those Sunday hours trying to toe the Mormon line in other ways.

  27. This problem isn’t new, as I recall reading Pres. Kimball saying that we need to stem the flow of active youths to inactives (paraphrasing). I was kind of saddened to read when they restructered those YSA wards in SLC they visited 4600 inactive people and yielded only like 1100, IIRC. But people do come back, I would be interested in hearing how many go inactive at their YSA age and then later come back. I know some of my friends who are in the process of getting kicked out of the YSA program because they aren’t married and one is virtually inactive and the other is holding on but barely, and both were extremely active people with one serving a mission and I don’t know what to say to them about why they should stay.

  28. Bob (17) – I hear you, brother. We naturally congregate with people who are like us because it is easier to find common ground. It does “work,” as you say, or we wouldn’t do it. Personally, though, I am grateful that church requires me to interact with people I would not otherwise interact with. I feel that it has enriched my life. And I would hate to have RS split into different age groups (as the priesthood quorums are effectively, if not intentionally, split up). I like being around the “senior” ladies. Do I hang out with them during the week? No. But I enjoy talking to them at church and RS and getting their perspectives in class. The upside of being in a YSA ward is that you have more opportunities to be an active participant in the ward; being segregated from older people is the downside–at least it’s a downside for me.

    lulubelle (20) – I’m sympathetic to this view. I’d rather not be in church for 3 hours on Sunday. The social pressure to attend our auxiliary classes serves the obvious purpose of keeping those programs going; if it were more socially acceptable to split after sacrament meeting, that would more or less be the end of Primary, YW/YM, and RS, unless we went back to having meetings in the middle of the week, which I’m not sure anyone wants (and I’m not sure anyone would do). (Oh, and it would definitely be the end of Sunday School, but again, would anyone care?) Maybe we don’t need these programs as much as we think we do, but I don’t see the church putting an end to them any time soon.

    Nicole (23) – Our YSA ward tried that for a while. Needless to say, Sunday School was a ghost town.

    StillConfused (21) – Unfortunately, I don’t have a proposal for making church members more interesting.

    Nicole (22) – One of the things we could do better is explicitly exploring how the living of church principles are relevant across life stages – especially in Sunday RS lessons. = Absolutely True/Excellent Point

  29. Side thought: Since when did the comment box change formats?

    Actual thought: For me, the hardest part of the transition phase was that as a married 19 year old (don’t shoot me), I didn’t have anything in common with the average member of the RS in the ward my husband and I attended. Being on birth control, no desire for kids, and no struggle with the whole “to stay at home or work” conflict–my similarities ended beyond a ring.

    But for women who transition from YW to RS in their family wards: it’s a nice touch being known for something other than coming out of mommy’s uterus.

  30. As a male, my transition was smoother. I had a tour in the Marines, then a Mission, then worked my way though college.
    But my wife__had the pains you are talking about and stopprd going to church during this time. She said at 18, “The whole Church seemed to disappear for/from me”.

  31. cahkaylahlee says:

    When I was a Mia Maid or Laural we did this big project where each girl was assigned a ‘grandma’ in the ward and did anonymous service for them for a set number of months (mostly this involved ding-dong-ditching small gifts we made during Mutual). At the end of the project, we had a nice dinner with our ‘grandma’ where they got to find out which YW was doing the service for them. A few of us kept up the relationship–my mom still tells me news about my ‘grandma’ years later–and I definitely learned that the old ladies are worth making friends with.

  32. >>Our Young Women are, what, thirty years overdue for new lesson manuals? (Yes, I know an update is in the works; so’s the Second Coming.)

    Best line. Great post, Rebecca J!

    Our YW didn’t like going to RS even once a month, we tried this for a while. They felt like “youth is the only time I have to be young but I’m going to be spending 6 decades in RS, so don’t make me go there before I have to.” On the upside, we do have young and young-ish RS leaders so it wasn’t all genealogy-obsessed grannies. But it was interesting to us leaders how our Laurels really wanted to focus on youth issues on Sundays and conserve what they saw as a limited resource of “girl time” with their own teachers. RS teachers aren’t really called for stewardship over YW and despite their good intentions, mixing it up on Sundays didn’t work well for us.

    I do think that the more blended activities the better during the week, though – agreed on that point, for sure.

  33. Get rid of the three hour block would do tons to increase activity.

  34. Comment 20 is the most helpful one so far, imo. Accepting the kind of participation offered, rather than demanding 110% from everyone all the time, seems somehow charitable and supportive (and realistic?).

    One other thought: the transition age (18, 19) is often easier for the young men because they are in the throes of preparing for a full time mission. It’s a time of their life when they begin to take church more seriously for really practical reasons: they are about to go teach it to someone else. Or they go inactive entirely. I remember feeling abandoned and lost as an 18 y.o. young woman because no one cared as much about me as the young men (I wasn’t a candidate for a mission) and so there weren’t “mission prep” classes or really much of a purpose for me to attend church. I wasn’t interviewing with the bishop/stake president regularly to get my papers in order. Institutionally, no one really cared what I was doing.

    Also, it really sucked when most of my guy friends left at 19 and I was left with all the girls and returned missionaries. It was a weird, alienating time. But then I loved my YSA ward at college and I made it through.

  35. Perhaps my viewpoint is biased from being male, or hardly interacting with the RS, or something, but it seems to me that a lot of the disinterest in Relief Society stems from not really understanding what it’s for. My own impression, when I don’t have flashes of inspiration that I then quickly lose, is that it’s the place where women go because the men are all in Priesthood; that all the activities and book groups and whatnot are there to keep the women from getting bored.

    Joseph F Smith said that “[The Relief Society] is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men. Therefore there is not any organization that can compare with it, that can be compared with it, that can ever occupy the same stand and platform that this can, unless the Lord will organize another”.

    I can’t recall when I’ve ever seen a Relief Society that met those requirements. (To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Elder’s Quorum meet them either) So then what’s so special about a Relief Society? You go and hang out with old ladies, read books together, maybe sew a quilt once a year, and then what? What’s the appeal of that? It’s much more fun to hang out with friends.

    I know that I could do with some enlightening here, and I think that if YW truly grasped the purpose and goal of the Relief Society, they’d be more interested in participating.

  36. I think we bifurcate the women in the church by separating YW/RS. It would help to have a women’s meeting the week before Gen Conf that’s not geared towards one or the other, just like Priesthood is for all men over 12. I don’t think the transition would be so hard if we were all just united as women in the church.

  37. jeans (32) – We had the Laurels join us for the RS lesson a couple weeks ago, and I remember thinking that it must have been very boring for them. I’m in favor of more interaction between the YW and RS, especially in service-oriented activities, but YW need Sunday lessons that are more geared toward their stage of life. I absolutely believe that RS lessons can be presented so as to be applicable and interesting to all adult women, even young adult women, but when you’re still in the high school stage, that is different. YW need to prepare for RS, not be in RS.

    Dave (35) – Well, I sure can’t argue with that cynical take!

    anita (36) – This is an interesting point that I have wondered about recently. Apparently YW need a whole different meeting than adult women get, but YM can make do with the same meeting the adult men get (albeit twice as often). I will now confess that I don’t particularly pay attention to the priesthood session. (I mean, if I needed to, they’d invite me to it, wouldn’t they?) Do the YM ever feel like the general priesthood meeting doesn’t cater to their special teenage needs? Do the YW really need their own special meeting? I wouldn’t know. I can’t remember ever attending a YW broadcast when I was a YW. I didn’t attend a lot of things when I was a YW. And look how I turned out!

  38. Jacob M says:

    Rebecca J – as an adult member, I find about half of the General Priesthood session is directed to me. A full half of it has one of the bretheren starting his talk with, “I’m going to direct my talk towards the Aaronic Priesthood.” At which point I usually start nodding off. Of course, during my early teenage days, sitting through two hours of old men talking was hardly my idea of “catering to teenage needs”. Most of the time I tuned them out and wandered in my head for a while, but then again, I’m kinda different, anyway. It wasn’t until I was 14-15 that I started hearing them say something besides the Charlie Brown “Wah, wah, wah. . .” As to how that corresponds with the rest of the post, well, I leave that up to you. :)

  39. Several (including #37) have commented on separate general meetings for YW and RS vs combined PH sessions including young men and adult men. I hasten to point out that my AP boys often sleep through most of the Gen’l PH meetings despite my best efforts to the contrary. Not sure there’s a lot of intergenerational bonding going on there. The typical pattern (as Jacob says in #38) is that the first few talks touch on YM issues (mostly mission prep) and the remaining either touch both audiences (Pr Eyring does this particularly well and consistently) while other talks are generally directed at the adults. But my sons have rarely taken notice. (I don’t know that they would take any more notice of a separate meeting just for them — boys and 2-hour meetings don’t seem to mix so well.)

    A key for youth and adult mixing is in the activities of those organizations. Where we’re fortunate enough to have leaders of the right temprament who really connect with the particular youth in their groups, the mixing provides a much richer experience. It would be interesting to see what effect (if any) those connections had on helping people make the youth-to-adult transition.

    The other thing I’ve noticed for my boys (I have four) is that they connect better over an activity rather than a conversation. My daughters (three of those) seem also to connect over conversations, but may also connect over activities; I just haven’t observed that. My youngest son (now 14) frequently complains he’d rather be in YW just because they have way better planning and execution of their activities than his teachers quorum does.

  40. When I was a somewhat jaded and bored teenager – not that every teenager was or is – I was called to be the Primary pianist. That’s when Primary met on a week day. The day before Primary, the president had me come to her house to review the songs with her. I went from reluctantly saying I would show up every week to actually looking forward to playing the piano and interacting with little kids and big people too. I felt useful and even sometimes indispensable.
    When I was in college I was called as a youth leader for the summer. Again – those same feelings of usefulness and making connections outside of my comfy age group…
    When I stopped going to church in my later college years I realized that close connections and feelings of making a difference were two of the things that I really missed about church. (Not to mention that I also believed it was true!)
    What opportunities do young women have today to participate in regular service where they feel that their abilities and skills truly and absolutely make a difference and at the same time regularly interact with people outside of their age group? People who know them and love them and either look up to them or are role models for them? (Outside of their few YW leaders?)
    After having served in many different YW callings and being a mom to YW I suggest that –
    Showing up to activities that have been planned for you, and sitting in class and listening to the lessons, are two YW activities that should be examined carefully to determine how much relevance they have for young women.

  41. In my short 13 years as an adult in the church, I’ve lived in ten different wards (in four states) and I think in each one I had a whole list of ideas of how to transition YW to RS. It’s been interesting to see the different flavors of Relief Societies and Young Women programs. Any transition from one particular YW to one particular RS will have to be tailor-made, if you want to use activities or “adopt-a-grandma” programs etc. And as has been pointed out, some YW respond well to sitting in RS, and some don’t. In one ward the YW seemed to do well when they went in RS just for opening exercises. But most of the time, that seems rather pointless. But it just depends. I suppose it comes down to hoping (praying) for some inspiration…

    My own connection between YW and RS was forged in my freshman student ward at BYU. I didn’t attend RS before that, and we all called ourselves “Young women playing Relief Society,” like seven-year-olds playing house. But over the course of that year, we realized we could open up the handbook and figure things out on our own; we realized we could prepare lessons and have our own discussions, without “the grown ups” doing it for us; and we realized we could actually help each other spiritually, in 11:00pm visiting teaching conversations on beds in dorm rooms.

    In sum, I realized that being in RS meant I had the ability – and responsibility – to work, contribute, teach, learn, seek the Spirit and make a difference. Once that happened, it didn’t matter how boring or exclusive a RS was, I knew I could change things by comments or fulfilling a calling. I couldn’t perhaps change the whole flavor of the RS I was in, and at times that has been immensely frustrating. But, I knew that my calling as a visiting teacher was real, and I could do something real. When a teacher was open to comments, I knew I had the ability to contribute; I wasn’t shy about my age. I even had the chance to be a teacher when I was only 24 but I didn’t feel like I had to bow to traditions of tablecloths and handouts. I knew I could seek the Spirit to do something “real”, because I had learned it when I was one of those barely-graduated young women “playing” Relief Society.

    That confidence is what I wish I could give every YW before they enter Relief Society.

  42. ks, that falls somewhere in my top ten all time favorite bloggernacle comments. Thank you.

  43. Benjamin says:

    “Showing up to activities that have been planned for you, and sitting in class and listening to the lessons, are two YW activities that should be examined carefully to determine how much relevance they have for young women.”

    I think the most relevant phrase in that analysis is “that have been planned for you.” I talk a lot with my wife (YW president) about getting the girls to do more planning. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But the part of the program that makes it successful is the part where the girls run it.

    In some aspects, I think the young women would do well to have a larger monthly activity (similar to the monthly campout in scouting) that the girls could focus on planning. At least that way there’d be a common theme each month toward preparing for whatever activity was coming up.

  44. Belle (I don’t see #s on the mobile site) – that might increase attendance, but I doubt it would increase “activity.” Without the 2nd and 3rd hour meetings what service opportunities would we have in church? Sacrament mtg talks once every other year?

    My main reason for attending church each week is to give, not to receive. There is usually someone I talk to each Sunday that is in genuine need. The suggestion for more integrated service addresses this need to give; the suggestions to shorten church focus on receiving. I don’t think any amount of adaptation in that department will keep YW attending.

    And for the record: I love SS. It’s the one chance we have to seriously study the scriptures as a group. I would be very sad if it were canceled.

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