Christanne Harrison, a stake Relief Society president in Boston MA, is a guest contributor today at MWP. Christanne grew up in a small town in Idaho with six sisters. She attended BYU and received a degree in Dietetics, during which time she also served a mission to Montevideo, Uruguay. After working at a migrant health center for two years, she went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and receive a Master’s in Public Health. She currently works as a nutrition consultant and trainer for schools and child care centers and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children. She is an active member of the church and has had many different callings including serving in several Relief Society presidencies (president twice), Stake Young Women’s President and is currently the Stake Relief Society President. She shares with us some valuable thoughts on developing women’s local leadership in the Church.

When I think back on my leadership experiences, the thing I regret the most is not taking advantage of the opportunity to build better relationships with other women auxiliary leaders. In my current calling as Stake Relief Society President, I have relied on my relationship with the Stake Primary and Young Women’s presidents. I am strengthened by their testimonies, and I have learned from watching their leadership. I value the opportunities we have had to plan activities together (such as service projects before General Women’s Meeting), brainstorm about solutions to problems in our stake, and discuss training.

In most youth councils the number of young men and young women is about equal. From my experience the young women are just as eager, if not more so, to make contributions as the young men are. As these youth shift into Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums, leadership in the church changes, not just in representation but also in confidence. In general, men have more opportunities to be leaders as well as to be trained in leadership in the church. It is vital to women and to the church in general that we do more to build leadership in women and a strong connection among women auxiliaries.

First, the church, and women and young women specifically, need to see the Young Women’s program linked to the Relief Society just as the Aaronic Priesthood is linked to the Melchizedek Priesthood. Sister Oscarson said, “Young women of the Church need to see themselves as essential participants in the priesthood-directed work of salvation and not just as onlookers and supporters. You hold callings and are set apart by those holding priesthood keys to function as leaders with power and authority in this work.”

In a personal conversation that I had with a counselor in the General Relief Society, I asked her what advice she had for me as a Stake Relief Society President. One thing that she recommended was for the Women’s Auxiliary Presidencies to meet more often at the ward and stake level.

Meeting regularly with other auxiliary presidencies creates a stronger link among the programs. In one stake the women’s auxiliaries meet together before Stake Council and they encourage ward auxiliary presidencies to meet together at least quarterly. By understanding what is happening in other auxiliaries, all leaders are able to offer their support and help solve problems. Once women have a clear understanding of the needs of other women’s auxiliaries they can be powerful advocates for righteous purposes.

There are many ways that the connection between the women’s auxiliaries can be strengthened:

  • In one stake all priesthood quorum presidencies, from age 12 on up, meet
    together at least twice a year for Stake Priesthood Leadership Training, thus
    reinforcing the direct link between the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood. If
    Young Women class presidencies were invited to Stake Auxiliary Training with
    the women leaders, perhaps that same type of connection could be generated.
  • The Relief Society President or a counselor can attend Young Women’s events
    like New Beginnings or YW in Excellence and be recognized or asked to speak.
  • Women’s Auxiliary Presidencies can take more active roles in Girls Camp,
    leading a fireside or teaching a workshop.
  • Auxiliary presidencies can plan a Primary Sharing Time. Also, pictures of ward
    and stake women leaders can be used in primary presentations and lessons
    (when appropriate).
  • The Stake Relief Society President and/or all Stake Women leaders can attend
    PEC when a sister missionary reports to the High Council about her mission.
  • Personal Progress can be used as a bridge between Relief Society and Young
    Women, with RS sisters either completing the program and serving as Personal
    Progress mentors.

In addition to the once or twice a year Stake Auxiliary Training, Stake Auxiliary Presidencies can provide additional training. In our stake, as a suggestion from the Stake President, all the ward Relief Society Presidents meet with the Stake Relief Society Presidency every two or three months. This allows auxiliary presidents to meet together, share ideas, and encourage one another. Feedback on this training (even though it is held at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning) has been very positive.

These meetings also mirror the Bishop’s Council led by the Stake Presidency.  If calendaring permits, the meetings can be scheduled at the same time. Then, as the Stake President and Stake Relief Society President find upcoming topics for these meeting that overlap, Bishops and ward Relief Society Presidents can meet together. By receiving relevant information at the same time in the same meeting, Bishops and RS presidents feel more like partners.

In our area, all of the Stake RS Presidents in the coordinating council meet twice a year with the Area Seventy assigned over the coordinating council. There is no female leadership in the church between the Stake Auxiliary leaders and General Auxiliary leaders leaving a void in training and idea sharing among stake auxiliary leaders. Having the opportunity for Stake Auxiliary Presidents to meet provides valuable perspective and vision for these female leaders.

As women in the church become stronger and better leaders, the church becomes better and stronger too. A more robust cooperation between auxiliaries will impact the visibility and effectiveness of women’s leadership, and thereby the vision and sense of purpose that especially younger women have for themselves in the church. Such cooperation not only bolsters the knowledge, skillset, idea bank, and support system of women leaders—it underlines the spiritual link between women of all ages, as they progress to higher callings and responsibilities.