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Observations on the minutes of the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

My kids are growing older and in a few years my youngest will be out of the house. I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the next 40 years or so of my life. It’s no easy task. I have a lot of interest in many things, but I haven’t worked in the field of my degree for nearly 15 years now. I have interests in design and diplomacy, but I’m not really sure if I want to pursue those or not. The one thing I have steadily studied since high school is church history and doctrine, even through college and babies and moves and family difficulties. The University of Virginia set up a Chair for Mormon Studies, and I am starting to think maybe I’ll pursue a Masters Degree there. The hubs is also considering an MBA or Masters in Technology Management. Maybe we will take off a few years and be students for a while….

Anyway, I picked up a copy of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, and I have been reading it and writing all over it. I’ve been following up on the footnotes and reading up on little tidbits that strike me as interesting, too. I’ve decided that I might blog about my observances to see if this is really something I’m interested in pursuing a Masters in or not. I’m not really interested in starting a dialogue, so comments will probably stay off, but I figure the writing practice might give me an indicator whether this pursuit is for me or not.

I’m going to record my observations regarding at least some of the first meetings of the Relief Society minutes to try getting my feet wet. Though I’ve blogged on and off for years, I don’t expect anyone to actually read this material but I do want to make some attempts at expressing my thoughts in writing.

Also I need to figure out how to do footnotes in WordPress……..

Observations on the minutes of the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

A Record of the

Organization, and Proceedings of

The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

Nauvoo Lodge Room

March 17th 1842.

The Lodge Room was located in Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store. This building was completed 1841 and had only recently opened for business on 5 Jan. 1842. It was a large assembly room used for both religious and civic purposes, such as theatrical productions and municipal court. In this room just two days earlier, on 15 March Joseph Smith had become a Master Mason (equivalent to a 33rd degree, see http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_masons.shtml). About six weeks later on 5 May, the a partial endowment — a precursor to the full temple ritual — was given to nine men. (See http://josephsmithpapers.org/place/store-jss-red-brick-store-nauvoo-illinois and http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Freemasonry_in_Nauvoo)

Occasionally critics decry and members are surprised by Masonry’s influence on Mormonism. While these influences definitely exist, they are often overstated. Joseph was probably not ever an active Mason is only known to have attended three meetings at the Masonic temple in Nauvoo. Though he had friends and family who were Masons like John C. Bennett, his father, brother Hyrum, Orson Whitney and others (See http://www.ldsendowment.org/masonry.html), Joseph chose to go through the ritual himself to become a Mason. Why? Had Joseph wished to lift the Masonic ritual for use in the temple, he could have pressed his relations for information, claimed it was “inspiration” from an “apostate endowment” in which he had never participated, and revealed such to his membership. Further, why the additional building requirement? The full Masonic rituals could be performed in his lodge. Why wait for a temple? And why include women? Joseph had never needed authority outside of God for starting his own church or writing his own book of scripture. Why did he now require the Masonic Lodge to be set up by local Masons? The arrogant, demagogue Joseph of critical literature would have just started his own Lodge, added some Josephisms, invited the women, and moved on. This didn’t happen, so again, why Masonry?

I surmise that Joseph had known for some time that temple ordinances were pending and was anxious to have them revealed. He had learned from Masonic friends and family that Masonry claimed linked to Solomon’s ancient temple, that Masonry united men in fraternities, and that powerful men outside of Mormonism were Masons. All of these, no doubt, combined to make Joseph interested in Masonry. His lack of interest in Masonic ceremonies thereafter might be supportive of the argument that Joseph believed that Masonry does actually have an apostate form of endowment — had he believed anything else (that the fraternization aspects would be useful or that the connection to Solomon’s temple was real or close) I would expect him to have participated more frequently. Certainly Joseph’s lack of Masonic experience weakens the argument that he learned or memorized the ritual and then reproduced or adapted it for the temple endowment ceremonies. Joseph was elevated “on sight” to the degree of Master Mason. This is a high honor and unusual event (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Freemasonry_in_Nauvoo), usually offered to men who have been Masons for many years. Though bestowed this high rank, Joseph did not have the experience, knowledge, or understanding typical of a Master Mason.

One could argue that Joseph’s inexperience with Masonry led to the adaptations for the temple endowment — he didn’t know the symbols or their meaning and perverted them. That is every bit as reasonable an argument as mine that his inexperience shows a lack of interest once he had experienced the Masonic ritual. Unfortunately there isn’t clear evidence either way. Joseph may have decided afterward to adapt Masonic ritual forms for the presentation of the endowment, but … so?

Irrespective, Joseph’s temple endowment (which which emphasizes male-female cooperative eternal exaltation) far surpasses the Masonic ritual (which emphasizes male fraternity for enrichment through commerce) in scope.

Though Joseph attended only three Masonic meetings, he attended nine meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, participating in six. It would be difficult to say for certain, but based on his training of the women he seemed to place a heavy emphasis on the role of the Society in the a group as a collection of morally upstanding women who actively sought to stamp out immoral behaviors. The training emphasis on morality — and later secret-keeping — during his presentations to the Society seems to show that Joseph saw the Relief Society as something preparatory for the coming temple endowment.

Present— President Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Willard Richards, Emma Smith and others.

Elder John Taylor was call’d to the chair by Prest. Smith, and elder W. Richards appointed Secretary,

Meeting commenced by singing “The spirit of God like a fire is burning” &c.— Prayer by elder Taylor.

The meeting was called to order by Joseph Smith. Prayers and the majority of speaking were done by men. The very structure of the meeting and the location emphasizes that this group is being organized under the authority of the priesthood. The minutes correlate with Sarah M. Kimball’s 1883 autobiography recorded in the Women’s Exponent thus: “In the summer of 1843 a maiden lady Miss Cooke was seamstress for me and the subject of combining our efforts for assisting the Temple hands came up in conversation. She desired to be helpful but had no means to furnish. I told her I would furnish material if she would make some shirts fey the workmen. It was then suggested that some of our neighbors might wish to combine means and efforts with ours and we decided to invite a few to come and consult with us on the subject of forming a Ladies’ Society. The neighboring sisters met in my parlor and decided to organize. I was delegated to call on Sister Eliza R. Snow and ask her to write for us a Constitution and By and submit them to President Joseph Smith prior to our next Thursday’s meeting. She cheerfully responded and when she read them to him he replied that the Constitution and By-laws were the best he had ever seen. But he said ‘this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord and he has something better for them than a written Constitution. I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren in the Masonic Hall over my store next Thursday afternoon and I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.’ He further said’ The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.’ He wished to have Sister Emma Smith elected to preside in fulfillment of the revelation which called her an Elect Lady.” (The Woman’s Exponent 1883-09-01 vol. 12 no. 7)

When it was mov’d by Prest. Smith and seconded by Mrs. Sarah Kingsley Cleveland, that a vote be taken to know if all are satisfied with each female present; and are willing to acknowledge them in full fellowship, and admit them to the privileges of the Institution about to be formed.

This emphasis on good feeling between members hearkens to the future endowment.

The names of those present were then taken as follows

Mrs Emma Smith

Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland Bathsheba W. Smith
Phebe Ann Hawkes Phebe M. Wheeler
Elizabeth Jones Elvira A. Coles
Sophia Packard Margaret A Cook
Philinda Merrick Athalia Robinson
Martha Knights Sarah M. Kimball
Desdemona Fulmer Eliza R. Snow
Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney Sophia Robinson
Leonora Taylor Nancy Rigdon

Sophia R. Marks

Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor and Richads withdrew while the females went into an investigation of the motion, and decided that all present, be admitted according to the motion, and that

Mrs. Sarah Ward Higbee
Thirza Stiles Cahoon
Kezia A. Morrison
Miranda N. Johnson Hyde
Abigail Allred
Mary Snider
Sarah Granger

should be admitted; whose names were presented by Prest. Smith.

At the Society’s organization, none of the founding women were yet plurally married to Joseph Smith.

Women present who later became plural wives were Sarah Kingsley Cleveland, Eliza Rocxy Snow, Elvira Annie Cowles, and Desdemona Fuller. Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde was not present at this meeting but is listed as a founding member. She later became a plural wife of Joseph Smith as well. (See Brian Hales’ Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Volume 2: History, Evidence of Plural Marriages, Appendix B)

You could draw a reasonable conclusion that some women from the Relief Society who proved their mettle were then brought in to the holy order of marriage based on their comportment in these preparatory meetings. Though men received endowments as early as May 1842, Emma Smith and other women did not receive them until September 1843 (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/08/my-great-great-grandmother-emma-hale-smith?lang=eng).

Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor & Richards return’d and the meeting was address’d by Prest. Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society— that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor— searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants— to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching.

Prest. Smith further remark’d that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; and if they need his instruction— ask him, he will give it from time to time.

Contrast this instruction with the instruction to men ordained to Priesthood in D&C 20. Where there is a clear comparison between instructions I have tried to indicate it below:

Society Priesthood Office
the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor

11 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that it is expedient for my servants Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney, A. Sidney Gilbert and Sidney Rigdon, and my servant Joseph Smith, and John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps and Martin Harris to be bound together by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken by transgression, except judgment shall immediately follow, in your several stewardships—

12 To manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric both in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland; (D&C 82:11–12)

searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants

46 The priest’s duty is to … visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. (D&C 20: 46–47)

to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community


teach the female part of the community


expound scriptures to all

53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;

54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;

55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.

59 They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ. (D&C 20: 53–53, 59)

46 The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament,

47And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. (D&C 20: 46–47)

save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching

41 An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons;

40 And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—

41 And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures;

42 And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church;

43 And to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost;

44 And to take the lead of all meetings.

45 The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.

61 The several elders composing this church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint;

62 And said conferences are to do whatever church business is necessary to be done at the time. (D&C 20:41–45, 61–62)

the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society

An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; (D&C 20:39)

Note in the above the differing assignments given to women in the Society and to those holding priesthood office. Where priesthood minister to “the church”, “each member”, and “all”, members of the Society are instructed to direct their attention to assist the Elders “by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community”. Regarding charitable works, however, while priests are instructed to minister to each member, women are under no such restriction. They may seek out object of charity in any place, in or out of the church.

The presiding officer chooses counselors, but they are ordained by Joseph himself, not by other members of the Society or its officers. It is clear from this that the officers were not see to have authority to ordain others to equal or lesser office, even within the Society, unlike Priesthood holders.

Let this Presidency serve as a constitution— all their decisions be considered law; and acted upon as such.

Following the pattern of the priesthood for the Relief Society organization, instruction was given that leader instructions were given primacy, rather than a written constitution. The decisions of the presiding officers are to be followed “just as the [First] Presidency preside over the church”.

If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers &c. are among us.

This sentence does not mean that female deacons and teachers are among us, but that Deacons and Teachers are present in Nauvoo and can be called upon to set apart officers in the the group as needed.

Noting the hierarchy of priesthood leadership in D&C 20, the fact that Deacons — the lowest office in the lower priesthood — can ordain women to office in the new society indicates its place in the relative hierarchy of the church structure. This may be offensive to some, however, it’s consistent from all evidence I can find that the new organization was intended to operate under or outside of the lower priesthood. This is consistent with the quotation above from Sarah M Kimball’s Auto-Biography: “[Joseph] will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.”

The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon— your Constitution and law.

This instruction seems to indicate that once a decision has been made by presiding leaders, that is considered precedent for future actions, much as in a common law system. The Wikipedia describes this concept well: “A ‘common law system’ is a legal system that gives great precedential weight to common law, so that consistent principles applied to similar facts yield similar outcomes. … In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, judges have the authority and duty to make law by creating precedent. Thereafter, the new decision becomes precedent, and will bind future courts.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law).

Society leaders were expected to study the minutes of earlier meetings to determine how to handle future events consistently.

He then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &c. like the first Presidency of the church.—

Motioned by Sister Whitney and seconded by Sister Packard that Mrs. Emma Smith be chosen President— passed unanimously—

Mov’d by Prest. Smith, that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her Counsellors, that they may be ordain’d to preside over this Society, in taking care of the poor— administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this Institution.

The role of counselor is to preside over the society in taking care of the poor and administering to their wants. They also administers to the various affairs of the Society.

The Presidentess Elect, then made choice of Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Whitney for Counsellors—

President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.— The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was then had to the same thing; and that why she was called an Elect lady is because, elected to preside.

The relevant verses are D&C 25:3: “Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.” and 2 John 1:1: “The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth.”

Emma was instructed to expound scriptures to all and teach the female part of the community. These blessings are not limited to her alone, but others may also have the same.

Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.

Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs. Smith, the Prest. of the Institution— with all the privileges pertaining to the office &c.

He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.

Note that Emma was not ordained, unlike her counselors. Emma had already been ordained to this office as an Elect Lady in 1830 as recorded in D&C 25. She does not need to be ordained to an office that she already holds, but she receives an additional blessing to aid her in carrying out the responsibilities of that office.

Prest. Smith then resumed his remarks and gave instruction how to govern themselves in their meetings— when one wishes to speak, address the chair— and the chairman responds to the address.

Should two speak at once, the Chair shall decide who speaks first, if any one is dissatisfied, she appeals to the house—

When one has the floor, occupies as long as she pleases.

Proper manner of address is Mrs. Chairman or President and not Mr. Chairman &c.

A question can never be put until it has a second

When the subject for discussion has been fairly investigated; the Chairman will say, are you ready for the question? &c.

Whatever the majority of the house decide upon becomes a law to the Society.

Above Joseph offers the Society a brief training on Parliamentary procedure, which should govern the proceedings in Society meetings.

Prest. Smith proceeded to give counsel— do not injure the character of any one— if members of the Society shall conduct improperly, deal with them, and keep all your doings within your own bosoms, and hold all characters sacred—

The Society is not to deal with impropriety publicly. They should keep even the character of evil-doers sacred. Today we’d say, “no gossiping”.

It was then propos’d that Elder Taylor vacate the chair.

Prest. Emma Smith and her Counsellors took the chair, and

Now that the new officers have been installed, they take the leadership position, or chair. This means that all communication is now directed to the chair by the Parliamentary procedures described above.

Elder Taylor mov’d— secd by Prest. J. Smith that we go into an investigation respecting what this Society shall be call’d— which was

carried unanimously

Prest. Smith continued instructions to the Chair to suggest to the members anything the chair might wish, and which it might not be proper for the chair to put, or move &c.

Emma and counselors are trained a bit more in Parliamentary procedure.

Mov’d by Counsellor Cleveland, and secon’d by Counsellor Whitney, that this Society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society.

Elder Taylor offered an amendment, that it be called The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society which would give a more definite and extended idea of the Institution— that Relief be struck out and Benevolent inserted.

Prest. Smith offer’d instruction on votes— The motion was seconded by Counsellor Cleveland and unanimously carried, on the amendment by Elder Taylor.

The Prest. then suggested that she would like an argument with Elder Taylor on the words Relief and Benevolence.

In the above discussion, Sister Cleveland suggested a name for the Society, The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. Elder Taylor suggested a different name, The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society, because he thinks that the word benevolent gives a more definite and extended idea of what the Society is to accomplish. Sister Cleveland, in the way of women, agrees, seconds Taylor’s motion, and the vote is unanimously carried.

But wait! Emma doesn’t like the phrasing and wants more discussion on the terms relief and benevolent. It is possible that Emma, new to rules of order, did not know when to express her disagreement. She may have decided after hearing the name aloud that it was not a good one. Either way, she desired more discussion on the topic.

Prest. J. Smith mov’d that the vote for amendment, be rescinded, which was carried—

Modeling Parliamentary procedure, Joseph helps Emma rescind the vote so that more discussion can ensue.

Motion for adjournment by Elder Richards and objected by Prest. J. Smith.—

Everytime I read this I want to laugh out loud! No doubt anticipating a fight, Elder Richards calls for the meeting to be adjourned, but Joseph objects. He, too, prefers the word benevolent, but he is willing to entertain discussion on the matter. I think this speaks to Joseph and Emma’s relationship — while Joseph knows that Emma is firm, he also knows that she can be counted on to conduct herself with deportment and propriety. He does not fear her or her ideas. He is also modeling for the women how to deliberate in a meeting when multiple opinions are expressed.

Prest. J. Smith— Benevolent is a popular term— and the term Relief is not known among popular Societies— Relief is more extended in its signification than Benevolent and might extend to the liberation of the culprit— and might be wrongly construed by our enemies to say that the Society was to relieve criminals from punishment &c. &c— to relieve a murderer, which would not be a benevolent act—

Let’s compare the 1828 Webster’s dictionary definitions of the words benevolent and relief.

Benevolent has but one definition: having a disposition to do good; possessing love to mankind, and a desire to promote their prosperity and happiness; kind. Relief, on the other hand, has several meanings. The relevant ones with their position in the dictionary are listed below:

1. The removal, in whole or in part, of any evil that afflicts the body of mind; the removal or alleviation of pain, grief, want, care, anxiety, toil or distress, or of any thing oppressive or burdensome, by which some ease is obtained. Rest gives relief to the body when weary; an anodyne gives relief from pain; the sympathy of friends affords some relief to the distressed; a loan of money to a man embarrassed may afford him a temporary relief; medicines which will not cure a disease, sometimes give a partial relief A complete relief from the troubles of life is never to be expected.

2. That which mitigates or removes pain, grief or other evil.

3. The dismission of a sentinel from his post, whose place is supplied by another soldier; also, the person who takes his place.

7. A remedy, partial or total, for any wrong suffered; redress; indemnification. He applied to chancery, but could get no relief He petitioned the legislature and obtained relief

(Okay, maybe #3 is a stretch, but I like it in terms of the Relief Society — the Society is ready to stand in for someone who has tired in performance of their duty so that they can return to their post rested and ready to fight/defend again.)

Joseph and Elder Taylor have a point about the word relief. Given Joseph’s extensive experience with the law, he is probably sensitive to the use of the term. He may fear that people will think he has organized a society to help him escape the law or avoid punishment for any of the many lawsuits and criminal proceedings in which he was frequently involved. Though this is not the most common, or even sixth-most common, use of the word, Joseph’s objections indicate how the word has been most often used in his experience.

Consider, though, that while benevolent indicates a character trait, relief describes an action.

Prest. Emma Smith, said the popularity of the word benevolent is one great objection— no person can think of the word as associated with public Institutions, without thinking of the Washingtonian Benevolent Society which was one of the most corrupt Institutions of the day— do not wish to have it call’d after other Societies in the world—

I’m pretty confident that Emma refers here to the temperance movement called Washingtonians. The goal of that group and its societies was the reform of drunkards and helping their families. The group was distinctly a-religious and did not invite pastors or other religious leaders to participate because the religious element kept potential converts away. Meetings of the societies were testimonial style, similar to the Alchoholics meetings of today. Women’s benevolent societies often cropped up in connection with Washingtonian societies. The movement was probably beginning its decline in 1842. It’s unclear what Emma’s objections to the group were, but the groups were loosely organized and enjoyed limited success. “Some societies take none but those who have lately made, sold, or used intoxicating liquors – others receive all except children under a certain age – others receive even children with the consent of their parents or guardians.” (http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/washingtonian_movement_organization_procedure.html ) Members of the Washingtonians often traveled from city to city as missionaries to recruit members and were not of the more desirable elements of society. Some of the members could not maintain their total abstinence pledge, despite being officers in the Society. At least one member who relapsed committed suicide (http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/prohibitionists_paterson.html). In 1844, a member remarked that “The open infidelity, and radicalism, and abuse of ministers, by some reform-speakers had kindled up in many minds an opposition to all temperance effort, especially on the Sabbath”. There is an exhaustive library of information regarding the Washingtonians at http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/index.html.

Some have speculated that Emma was referring to the Washington Benevolent Society, which was an electioneering group formed by the Federalist Party to influence votes in the early 1800s. I find it more likely Emma is referring to the contemporary Washingtonians, which would have been making news in the press of the day.

Prest. J. Smith arose to state that he had no objection to the word Relief— that on question they ought to deliberate candidly and investigate all subjects.

Joseph may not be married to the word relief, but he is married to Emma :)

Counsellor Cleveland arose to remark concerning the question before the house, that we should not regard the idle speech of our enemies— we design to act in the name of the Lord— to relieve the wants of the distressed, and do all the good we can.—

Sister Cleveland revisits her preference to relief, emphasizing the action implied by its use.

Eliza R. Snow arose and said that she felt to concur with the President, with regard to the word Benevolent, that many Societies with which it had been associated, were corrupt,— that the popular Institutions of the day should not be our guide— that as daughters of Zion, we should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which had been heretofore pursued— one objection to the word Relief is, that the idea associated with it is that of some great calamity— that we intend appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurrences—

Perhaps predictably, Eliza supports Joseph’s use of benevolent. It’s interesting that she objects to the word relief because it implies too much action. She seems to fear that the group will step outside its bounds and insert itself into major catastrophes and neglect the smaller acts of kindness.

Prest. Emma Smith remark’d— we are going to do something extraordinary— when a boat is stuck on the rapids with a multitude of Mormons on board we shall consider that a loud call for relief— we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls—

Fearless, and perhaps influenced by some of the big thinking her husband frequently enjoins, Emma welcomes the challenge of an emergency or crisis. She expects these things and plans for the Society to be prepared to meet them.

Elder Taylor arose and said— I shall have to concede the point— your arguments are so potent I cannot stand before them— I shall have to give way—

Prest. J. S. said I also shall have to concede the point, all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this Society—

One can only imagine the fervor with which Emma must have spoken that convinced the men to follow her preference. Joseph shows his confidence in her leadership by committing to give all the funds he has to give to the poor to the Society for its use.

Counsellor Whitney mov’d, that this Society be call’d The Nauvoo Female Relief Society— second. by Counsellor Cleveland—

E. R. Snow offer’d an amendment by way of transposition of words, instead of The Nauvoo Female Relief Society, it shall be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo— Seconded by Prest. J. Smith and carried—The previous question was then put— Shall this Society be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo?— carried unanimously.—

Wisely, and perhaps now seeing Emma’s expansive vision for the Society, Eliza suggests a slight name change from The Nauvoo Female Relief Society to The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Removing the Society’s locale to the end of the name makes it easier for other organizations in other locations to form similar societies.

Or maybe she just thought it sounded better. Who knows?

Prest. J. Smith— I now declare this Society organiz’d with President and Counsellors &c. according to Parliamentary usages— and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this Society must be free from censure and receiv’d by vote—

Originally the Society did not admit all females who wished to join. Members were received by the vote of current members.

Prest. J. Smith offered— $5.00 in gold piece to commence the funds of the Institution.

Prest. Emma Smith requested that the gentlemen withdraw before they proceed to the choice of Secretary and Treasurer, as was mov’d by Prest. J. Smith—

Willard Richards. Secty.

The gentlemen withdrew when it was Motioned and second. and unanimously pass’d that Eliza R. Snow be appointed Secretary, and Phebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary——

Motioned, second. and carried unanimly. that Elvira A. Coles be appointed Treasurer—

Prest. E. Smith then arose and proceeded to make appropriate remarks on the object of the Society— its duties to others also its relative duties to each other Viz. to seek out and relieve the distressed— that each member should be ambitious to do good— that the members should deal frankly with each other— to watch over the morals— and be very careful of the character and reputation— of the members of the Institution &c.

Emma reiterates the charitable purposes of the society and that the membership must be women of good reputation. Interpersonal dealings should be frank, or straightforward and honest, but not rude.

P. A. Hawkes— Question— What shall we reply to interrogatories relative to the object of this Society?

Prest. E. Smith replied— for charitable purposes.

This is perhaps the most interesting event in the entire document. Though having both Joseph and Emma explain that the purposes of the organization were for relieving the distressed and aiding the poor, Sister Hawkes still wants to know how she should answer when someone asks about the secret society she has just joined. Why? There must have been no small amount of talk about what Joseph had planned for the women. Could he have been telling the women he planned to build a “kingdom of priests” among them? Were there indications that the Society was a precursor to the temple endowment? Knowing the Society was organized after the pattern of the priesthood, might there have been there some confusion about the relative status of the organization? In later meetings Joseph requests that nonmembers of the Society leave so that he can offer instruction only to its membership. Explosive growth of the organization might indicate that prospective members came seeking this additional special knowledge and instruction.

Mov’d and pass’d that Cynthia Ann Eldridge be admitted as a member of this Society—

Coulr. Sarah M. Cleveland donated to the fund of the Society



Sarah M. Kimball do



Prest. Emma Smith do



Counlr. E. A. Whitney do


Prest. E. Smith said that Mrs. Merrick is a widow— is industrious— performs her work well, therefore recommend her to the patronage of such as wish to hire needlework— those who hire widows must be prompt to pay and inasmuch as some have defrauded the laboring widow of her wages, we must be upright and deal justly—

When Emma invites the membership to provide work, rather than money, to a widow in need, the work of the Relief Society is begun.

The business of the Society concluded— the gentlemen before mentioned return’d—,

Elder Richards appropriated to the fund of the Society, the sum of

$ 1,


Elder Taylor do



Elder T. then arose and address’d the Society by saying that he is much gratified in seeing a meeting of this kind in Nauvoo— his heart rejoices when he sees the most distinguished characters, stepping forth in such a cause, which is calculated to bring into exercise every virtue and give scope to the benevolent feelings of the female heart— he rejoices to see this Institution organiz’d according to the law of Heaven— according to a revelation previously given to Mrs E. Smith appointing her to this important calling— and to see all things moving forward in such a glorious manner— his prayer is that the blessings of God and the peace of heaven may rest on this Institution henceforth——

The organization of the Society was recognized by leaders as fulfillment of the promise for women to preside over organizations, and to expound scriptures within the church. Though benevolent societies were common in the day, this one was authorized by priesthood authority with a new pattern (no Constitution) under which to operate. Thought it had charitable purposes like other similar organizations, this Society also had a doctrinal teaching purpose for women.

The Choir then sang “Come let us rejoice in the day of salvation &c.

Motion’d, that this meeting adjourn to next week, thursday, ten o’clock— A M.

The meeting then arose and was dismiss’d by prayer by Elder Taylor.—

Men prayed at many Relief Society meetings.

How to write an LDS Funeral talk

How to write an LDS Funeral Talk: 5 Tips

Have you been asked to write an LDS Funeral Talk? It’s a daunting proposition. Fortunately, there are some guidelines you can use.

Tip 1: Speak Words of Comfort

“A comforting, spiritual funeral is of great importance. It helps console the bereaved and establishes a transition from mourning to the reality that we must move forward with life. Whether death is expected or a sudden shock, an inspirational funeral where the doctrines of resurrection, the mediation of Christ, and certainty of life after death are taught strengthens those who must now move on with life. ( Boyd K. Packer, “Funerals: A Time for Reverence“)

At the funeral of a 3-year old child in Utah who was related to Elder Rasband of the Seventy and had been mentioned in General Conference, the Deseret News made the following account of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s statements, which may prove useful to someone planning a funeral talk:

“We extend our heartfelt sorrow and sympathy to you and your family. As parents and grandparents, we understand the sorrow you feel at this tender time of parting with a beloved child,” Elder Holland read. “The Savior loved children, and you can be certain that Paxton is now a recipient of the Lord’s love in that sphere where he will await a happy reunion with those he left here on earth.

“Although there is no substitute for the physical presence and affection of one so loving and so young, we pray that you will receive the blessed assurance that Paxton is perfectly happy and once again with our Father in Heaven.” …

“This is a sad day of parting, but it is not a tragic day of death,” Elder Holland said as he rejoiced in the knowledge of Jesus Christ’s atonement and resurrection. “I testify that Paxton Norton is this very moment rejoicing in the spirit world, a paradise prepared for just such a pure, beautiful and innocent spirit.” (3-year-old Paxton Norton remembered by friends, family and LDS general authorities, By Sarah Petersen, Deseret News Published: Monday, July 22 2013)

Tip 2: Use Humor Thoughtfully

“Sometimes family members tell things that would be appropriate at a family reunion or at some other family gathering but not on an occasion that should be sacred and solemn. While quiet humor is not out of order in a funeral, it should be wisely introduced. It should be ever kept in mind that the funeral should be characterized by spirituality and reverence….” ( Boyd K. Packer, “Funerals: A Time for Reverence“)

Tip 3: Maintain a Spirit of Reverence:

“We are close, very close, to the spirit world at the time of death. There are tender feelings, spiritual communications really, which may easily be lost if there is not a spirit of reverence.”  (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine 2nd Edition, “Funerals”)

Tip 4: Share the Good Qualities and Achievements of the Deceased

Below is a link to the first of nine videos of Gordon B. Hinckley’s funeral.  Watch the videos and take note of the way that President Hinckley’s friends and family speak about him:

Tip 5: If you didn’t know the deceased well or at all …

… don’t start with an apology, like “I didn’t know Jane (well), but _____”.  This type of statement can be insulting or hurtful.

If you didn’t know the individual, it’s probably expected that you briefly talk about soul-saving doctrines of the gospel.  You don’t need to make judgments or observations about the life or actions of the deceased.  Don’t berate the audience or call them to repentance.   Be brief, clear, and thoughtful as you share the plan of happiness with the grieving.

More LDS Funeral Information

Find out How to Plan an LDS Funeral, including how to prepare a deceased body for burial, dressing the body in temple clothes, family prayer information, preparing a family meal, and other Mormon funeral traditions.

Must the presidency sit at the front during meetings?

I’ve been in three Relief Society presidencies, and each group has had someone ask if they have to sit at at the front of the classroom during meetings.  In the past I’ve said it’s up to you, but today I stumbled on this article from Elder Boyd K. Packer (The Unwritten Order of Things, Brigham Young University devotional, 15 Oct. 1996).  He says something different:

The things I am going to tell you about are not so rigid that the Church will fall apart if they are not strictly observed all the time. But they do set a tone, a standard, of dignity and order and will improve our meetings and classwork; they will improve the activities. If you know them and understand them, they will greatly improve your life. …

I give as my first illustration of this unwritten order of things so simple a thing as this: The one who presides in a meeting should sit on the stand and sit close to the one conducting. It is a bit difficult to preside over a meeting from the congregation. The one who presides is responsible for the conduct of the meeting and has the right and the responsibility to receive inspiration and may be prompted to adjust or correct something that goes on in the meeting. That is true whether it be an auxiliary meeting presided over by the sisters or any of our meetings.

A new stake president sometimes will ask, “Must I sit on the stand in every meeting in the stake? May I not sit with my family?” I tell him, “While you preside, you are to sit on the stand.” I am tempted to say, but I don’t, “I can’t have that privilege; why should you?”

Another example: If you watch the First Presidency, you will see that the first counselor always sits on the right of the president; the second counselor on the left. That is a demonstration of doing things “decently and in order,” as Paul told us. Ordinarily, but not always, if the presiding officer speaks, it will be at the end of the meeting. Then clarification or correction can be given. I have had that experience many times at the close of meetings, “Well, brother or sister somebody said such and such, and I’m sure they meant such and such.”

Well, there you have it.  According to Elder Packer, those who preside should sit on the stand (or at the front of a classroom) near the location from which the meeting is conducted.  Counselors should sit with the president — first counselor on the president’s right and second counselor on the president’s left.

I’ve never seen a Young Women presidency conduct a meeting in this way, but I this makes it pretty clear they should. Relief Society presidencies should sit at the front during their meetings, and Primary presidencies should observe the same pattern.

Can my secretary sit up front during meetings?

Secretaries are not part of a presidency — rather, they are assistants to the presidency.  Secretaries in any priesthood quorum or auxiliary do not sit at the front during meetings. You’ll notice that the Executive Secretary does not sit on the stand during sacrament meeting.  The Secretary to the First Presidency does not sit at the front during General Conference.

The only exception I can think of for this rule is if  a secretary is presiding over a leadership training for a group of secretaries, such as in a stake leadership training meeting where the secretaries split off for their own meeting.

D&C 60-64

Well, that went well.  I felt the spirit more strongly during this Relief Society gospel study lesson than in our previous lessons.  I started out by debunking that Mormon myth about the devil having control of the waters in D&C 61.  Easy.  Hopefully it’s clear to everyone that the destroyer is not the devil, but s/he is an angel of God’s whose job it is to tear things up when instructed.  That thing about missionaries not being able to swim because the devil has control of the waters is junk, too.

Anyway, I went into the lesson using my old favorite What Did You Underline? This started a good discussion.  The verses we used were

My students really enjoyed this, and we had some fantastic discussion.

I skipped the Ezra Booth section on signs because we were taking up a lot of time, and went straight into my Forgiveness mini lesson.  I showed the video He is the Gift the Church put out this year about the real gift at Christmas #sharethegift

It became obvious during my lesson that one of my new students can’t read, so since this video has no audible words, I read the writing aloud.  That was rough.  I’m not even a crier and the video did me in.

So now I’ve got two students for whom reading is an issue: one is nearly blind and the other can’t read at all.  This means I will need to adapt some of my activities even farther……

Anyway, I covered D&C 64:1–4 and 7-10 while talking about how the Lord offers us forgiveness, and likewise how essential it is for us to forgive.  I invited the class to consider giving the gift of forgiveness to someone this year.

I closed by reading little bits of D&C 64:22,33,31, and 25.

It’s a nice that this lesson went so well. It’s the last of 2014, and I have to say, it started out like a pretty rough day.  I read all the material, but I couldn’t get to lesson planning on Monday because we were running to the Minute Clinic and pharmacy to get patches for the upcoming cruise.  Then we went to the cell phone store because time Jared’s new phone was acting up, and that took forever.  They never did get his settings moved over.  The good news is that the new phone does get better reception, so it had to be a hardware issue with the other phone.  By then it was late and the kids were hungry, so we ate out and wrote Christmas cards for the great grandmas.  I got up early Tuesday morning and wrote the lesson easily, and left the house at 9:30 to pick up some cinnamon rolls in a can to bake.  I also bought some gluten free English muffins and bananas and juice. Got to the Gardens, and realized the thing I thought was an oven was actually a DISHWASHER. Arg.  So I thawed out the English muffins and cut up the bananas figuring we could all eat that.

I went to set up the classroom, and realized that my lesson notebook was missing.  Yep — even after I had double checked for it when I left the house. I called Jared: meeting.  I called Betty to see if she could pick it up on the way, but she had a conflict and wasn’t coming to class.  It was 10:09 and it’s 8 minutes to my house from the Gardens, so I jumped in my car in the rain and drove back to the house to get the notebook. Made it back at 10:26. Crazy start, but it worked out.

The good news is that somehow the internet worked for me on the laptop even though I didn’t put in the password.  Tender Mercy.  I’ll take it.

Disaster Water Angel in the City image: http://dark.pozadia.org/wallpaper/Disaster-Water-Angel-in-the-City/

D&C 8-9, 11-16

After last week, I thought that the class might be dwindling to an unsustainable level. Even though people keep expressing “interest” many were not showing up or were scheduling other appointments during class time. I was thinking that we might be approaching a time that we would have reassess the need for the class. But yesterday’s class was surprisingly big! We had 9 sisters show up, most of whom were new, and a couple of old timers were absent. I had planned activities enough to go to about an hour and fifteen minutes, but with the unexpected number of students, we got more comments than I had made time for, and the class actually ended up going about 10 minutes over. We had Betty, Connie, Margot, Marie, Trudi, Jean, Patsy, Kelly, and Miriam in attendance.

Things went super well, though. I think this was a good lesson — not as good as last week, perhaps, but it was still very good.

I altered my lesson slightly just before I arrived, because I felt that since it was September 30, I needed to include some time to talk about the anniversary of the date that church membership accepted the announcement that all worthy male members of the church could receive the priesthood. In case you don’t know, the LDS church had not always offered the priesthood to all members of the church. Some men were excluded because of race. No one really knows where this idea came from, but we are thrilled that the announcement in 1978 opened the door for all men to exercise priesthood authority. Anyway, I asked the sisters to share what they remembered about the announcement (hence the slightly longer than I planned chat time), and I showed the following video from the 30th anniversary:


I have a black member in my classroom, and the video was well received.

Next I transitioned the class to the main focus of my talk: receiving revelation.  I explained that last week we had learned about the importance of praying always as opposed to praying occasionally or never.  So now that we’ve prayed — what do we do?  How do we understand or recognize answers that we receive.  I told the class we’d be learning how God speaks to his children by studying the experiences of Oliver Cowdery and others as recorded in the D&C.

To set the stage, I did a 5-7 minute historical review of the life of Oliver Cowdery based on the text I got from The Conversion of Oliver Cowdery. Then we used the following scriptures to fill out this worksheet on Receiving Revelation, with a special emphasis on understanding with both the mind and heart.

We were running out of time, and so I cut us off.  To wrap up, I covered D&C 12, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, in brief and showed this short clip:

I had the impression to remind sisters than men are not the priesthood.  Each of them, no matter if they are widowed, divorced, single, married to a priesthood holder, or married to someone without the priesthood (I have all of these in my class), have the priesthood in their homes.  Priesthood power does not stop at the door of single women.  I hope that I got this point home, but I’m not certain I did.

Anyway, to close, I had sisters share in one word what the restoration of the priesthood means to them.  Power, comfort, peace,  were some of the answers.  Closed with a reminder that next week its D&C 17-19.  Hope to see a lot of these ladies again next week.

Get to know you Activity

By [email protected] (Pam Mueller)

We have 6 new students, so we needed a get to know you activity:

I put out various objects and told them to each pick one.

After they chose one, I had them come up with how that object was like them.
I believe, like art, an object can “speak” to you.
So choosing an object, they had to have some connection to it, why else would they have picked it?

Each of them came up to the front and showed their object and gave a little information about themselves.

Source:: Seminary Moments – Pam Mueller

UP2U Gum Tags for Personal Progress & Visiting Teaching

By [email protected] (Sheena Perron)

I am always on the look-out for new ways to get the YW excited to do Personal Progress. One day while we were at the grocery store I saw a pack of UP2U gum and had an idea for a Personal Progress treat.

I created this little handout that you can tape to a pack of UP2U gum to encourage the YW to keep working on their Personal Progress.

The front flap of the printable says:

Lift up the front flap and you’ll see:
On the back I added a great quote I found from Sister Elaine Dalton.

Hopefully a good quote and some yummy gum can get those YW excited about Personal Progress…fingers crossed. :)

While my Mom was visiting us a few weeks ago I showed her my UP2U gum idea and she loved it. She then said, ‘You should make one for Visiting Teaching.’ Hmmm…..why didn’t I think of that. So, I got to work & created one for Visiting Teaching.

As I was looking for quotes about Visiting Teaching I saw one from Bonnie D. Parkin that said, “We don’t ‘do‘ Visiting Teaching. We ‘are‘ Visiting Teachers.”

So, I decided to type

“Being a Visiting Teacher Is…” instead of “Doing Visiting Teaching Is…”

These would be great to handout out to your Relief Society sisters at the beginning of the month or at a Visiting Teaching activity.

To create your own UP2U Treats…
1. Print out my UP2U Gum Labels (link below)
2. Cut them out
3. Fold on the dotted/dashed lines
{the label will go around the pack of gum}
4. Tape/Glue the back of the printable (where the quote is) to the back of the pack of gum. You can also add a small piece of tape/glue onto the top of the pack of gum.
5. Fold over the top flap
6. Hand out to your YW or RS Sisters and Enjoy!
{I added a strip of Washi tape to the front to keep the front flap down. You can do this or not.}

I hope you enjoy my UP2U Gum Labels and use them for your YW or RS sisters.

Thanks so much for stopping by and visiting my blog.

Have a wonderful day!


Source:: Little LDS Ideas

Bible Videos Screen Capture

Help Showing Videos at Church

I know teachers with problems showing videos in church all over the world.  The church typically relies on the very lowest bandwidth residential connections it can get, which causes problems for a media-hungry curriculum like Come Follow Me.  The Come Follow Me site has a page that teaches you how to avoid the bandwidth crush as several teachers try to display the same videos during class at the same time.

First go to your desired video.

You’ll see the download links for individual videos like this on the Come Follow Me site:

Download Video PopUp Window

and at http://biblevideos.lds.org/ like this:

Bible Videos Screen Capture

Click on the download link and be sure to save it somewhere you can find it again.

After the video downloads, TEST it.  You should be able play the video directly on your computer automatically, but always test.  You don’t want to discover during your lesson that there was a playback or downloading problem.

If you want to view the videos bigger during class, you can

  • output from your laptop to newer televisions by a video output cable
  • set up the unit projector (not recommended for Sunday use if you have more than one unit meeting in your building — too many people to fight!)
  • burn a DVD of the downloaded video and play it on the DVD player and TV at your church – RECOMMENDED

If you plan to use videos fairly frequently, you can download

as a single archive from the above links.  Start it downloading before bed and when you wake up you’ll have all the videos ready to go ahead of time for your lessons.  Problem solved.

I’d suggest that Sunday School presidencies and Stake Seminary Coordinators download all these video files for all their teachers and provide each with a DVD.  They’d love you forever and ever!  Other stake leaders could do the same as well and provide DVDs at leadership trainings.

YouTube Videos

I’m often asked how to get around the Church’s firewall to show a YouTube video at Church.  There are two ways:

  1. Download the YouTube video
  2. Use Facebook

Download the YouTube video

There are a million websites that download YouTube videos, but the easiest I’ve found is SafeFrom.net.  Here’s how to do it:

This super cute video is of some missionaries singing a fantastic song “How Can I Be (Like Nephi)”.  To download it, simply type ‘ss’ in front of the youtube.com part of the URL and press enter.

SaveFrom.net Closeup


Here’s a close up:


You’ll be redirected to SaveFrom.net.  Follow the instructions on the page to download the video to your computer at any resolution.

Use Facebook

It’s always best to download videos before using them in class to cut out at least one level of possible technical things that can go wrong during your lesson.  If, however, you’re like me and sometimes get texts during Sacrament meeting asking you to sub, you may need to use the Facebook method to show a video.  In short, you’re going to post the video to your wall but set the video to “Only Me”, so that your students won’t see it before class.

Paste the URL into your status box like this:


Then, click the post privacy settings (above it’s the “Friends” button), and change the share settings to “Only Me”.


When you want to show your video, go to your Facebook profile page, and click the play button (Don’t click the URL!).  Your video should begin playing.

After class, you will want to change the privacy settings to “Friends” or “Public” again so that your students can watch it again at home.

Be sure to TEST this method before using it! Again, it is ALWAYS safest to download a video before showing it in class.

More Lesson Planning Ideas

Check out our plan a lesson main menu for lots more ideas on planning effective LDS lessons faster.

Sleeping Student

My Lesson is Boring!

AC expressed a common concern on the LDS Seminary Teacher Facebook Group: “I’m a new teacher this year, not creative at all and need desperate help. I have my two boys in my class and they both tell me I’m boring.”

Here’s what I said:

Please know that everything I’m about to say is intended to be helpful. Please read it in that context.

1) Consider the source. Your own children may be harder on you than others. They may be uncomfortable being taught in a formal setting by their own mother. They may have already seen all your tricks and heard all your stories. They may even be saying something to get a rise out of you, which unfortunately teenaged boys have been know to do sometimes.

2) Your lesson will not speak to every person every time. Two students sitting next to each other will have different experiences in class based on material, the way it’s presented, prior experience, and attitude. Accept this, and remind your students of it often. Remind them to come keep coming back, because the next lesson will probably be for them.

==Now on to the hard question. Are your lessons, in fact, boring? ==


Keep in mind what Joseph Smith said:

“Joseph Smith gave the following advice to a woman complaining of hurt feelings from malicious gossip about her. First, he gave his method of dealing with persons who accuse him of doing wrong: He would think in his mind of the time and place that the bad story had originated. Then he would seek to remember if any act or deed of his might have given rise to a building block by which the story could have been started. If he found any slight act, he then thanked his enemy for warning him of the weakness and went on his way without resentment. If the report was utterly untrue, he would think no more about it, for it could not harm him. If untrue it could not live, and the truth would survive. Joseph then gave this advice to the offended woman: In your heart you can forgive the person who had risked his own good name and his friendship to give you a clearer view of yourself.” (From the journal of Jesse W. Crosby.)

If you think that there is some genuine sentiment behind your boys’ complaint, ie, if you think that you may actually be boring — thank them for risking your wrath, and use the opportunity to see yourself a little more clearly and move to change. Here are some ideas you can think about:

3) How much would you estimate that you are talking, percentage-wise? Usually when I hear students complain that someone is *boring*, it’s because lessons are being given lecture-style. Find teaching techniques that help students talk more, and you’ll automatically seem less boring. Here’s a quote from LDS.org about talking less:

“Teachers who speak 90 percent of class time are probably talking too much. Of course, teachers need to give explanations, instructions, examples, stories, testimonies, and so forth, but their speaking should be a planned part of promoting participation. In many lessons, students can speak 40 to 60 percent of the time.” https://www.lds.org/…/increasing-participation-in…

4) Are your questions intriguing? The manual questions aren’t, generally speaking. Practice writing better questions — those that can have multiple right answers. Your SI or stake seminary coordinator will be able to help you with this. Ask for a special training at inservice, or for him/her to come observe your class and offer suggestions on question-asking.

5) Are you using a variety of teaching techniques to help students stay engaged? Try some from the collection here: http://www.mormonshare.com/come-follow-me/teaching-tips

It is unfortunate that the manual is primarily written like a script that follows the exact. pattern. with. the. same. questions. progressing. in. the. same. order. every. day. If you’re treating the manual like a script, your class may get pretty dull.

“When a teacher takes the spotlight, becomes the star of the show, does all the talking, and otherwise takes over all of the activity, it is almost certain that he is interfering with the learning of the class members.” (Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook for CES Teachers and Leaders(1994), 14.)

Criticism is a painful experience, to be sure, but lessons can only get better as we try to be an Old Dog Learning New Tricks. You can do it!


(Image courtesy of stockphotos, FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Increasing Student Particpation

Increasing Student Participation during Gospel Lessons

Most gospel teachers struggle with classroom participation. Sometimes you’ll get a classroom of students who are very active and loud, and other times you may have a classroom of very quiet students. We want students to enjoy each other, but “between the prayers” we want them to talk about the gospel — not Friday night’s game. Following are some ideas to help you increase appropriate discussion in your classroom:

  1. Talk Less
  2. Ask and Pause
  3. Make your Classroom a Safe Place to Ask Questions and Share Ideas
  4. Encourage Sincere Participation Attempts

Talk Less

When a teacher takes the spotlight, becomes the star of the show, does all the talking, and otherwise takes over all of the activity, it is almost certain that he is interfering with the learning of the class members. (Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook for CES Teachers and Leaders(1994), 14.)

If you find yourself speaking the majority of class time, you are probably talking too much. You need to give explanations, instructions, examples, stories, testimonies, and so forth, but your speaking should be a pathway to promoting student participation. You might choose to set a goal to have your students speak 40 to 60 percent of the time, or set a goal to have each student participate during each lesson.  When teachers talk less, they become facilitators who help students learn from the scriptures, from other students, and from the Spirit. (adapted from  Leading Class Discussions, Ensign, June 2009 )

For teaching techniques that help students participate, visit our encouraging student sharing page.

Ask and Pause

Teacher[N]ever answer your own question!”  – Mark E. Beecher, BYU Education Week

Most gospel teachers wait a mere two or three seconds after they ask a question for students to respond and then provide the answer themselves.  If you do this, you may inadvertently train students not to participate.  Students who are not given enough time to think or for whom an expectation of participation is not set, may stop participating all together.

Robb Jones, head of curriculum development for the church, asked teachers to count silently to 20 after asking a question, giving the class time to ponder. He trained gospel teachers to say things like “I’ll give you time to think” or “Would you please ponder this question, and then I’ll ask for responses.” As teachers began to do this, class participation increased and class members felt the Spirit as they began to “teach one another” (D&C 88:77). (see  Leading Class Discussions, Ensign, June 2009 )

I’ve found counting to be an effective way for me to get better responses to questions, too.  During the pause, I will think about my question.  Was it stated clearly?  Should I rephrase?  Did I ask students to give information or share experiences they have not had yet?  Was the question too personal?  Did I set the stage for sharing by giving a personal example myself?  Sometimes students who were not focusing on the lesson will ask me to repeat the question, which gets them back on track.  Sometimes I ask a poor question.  That’s okay — I can rephrase, or I may even say, “That was a bad question.  Let me try again.”

Practice asking and pausing to set an expectation of participation in your classroom.

Make your Classroom a Safe Place to Ask Questions and Share Ideas

In order to make your classroom a safe place for sharing ideas, you must never allow students to be rude to each other or to make unkind remarks.  I have rarely seen unkind remarks made during adult lessons, but cruel comments are frequently made in classrooms of youth.  You might respond by saying in a sharp or stern voice, “That comment was inappropriate/cruel, James. Do not make that type of remark again.”  Pause for a brief second after the rebuke, and then move on.  Following the advice in D&C 121:43–44:

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

Be sure to pull the offender aside after class and reaffirm your love for them, but make it clear that you want participation and appreciate his sense of humor, but cruelty can not be tolerated.

Ensure students recognize that in your classroom all comments and questions are welcome, and that their contributions will not be ridiculed.

Encourage Sincere Participation Attempts

Teachers “can help those [they] teach feel more confident about their ability to participate in a discussion if [the teacher] responds positively to each sincere comment” (Teaching, No Greater Call, 64). Teachers should not ridicule or criticize any questions, comments, expression of feelings, experiences, or testimonies. Teachers should show courtesy and love and do their best to encourage helpful participation… even if sometimes they must kindly clarify doctrinal misunderstandings. Teachers should keep in mind that students are taking emotional and spiritual risks when sharing personal insights. They will hesitate to share again if they do not receive positive feedback. (Increasing Participation in Lessons, Claybaugh and Dahl, Ensign, March 2001)

Some examples of ways to respond to class members’ comments are:

  • Thank you for that comment.
  • I like the way you put that!
  • I think you said it well.
  • Let’s write that on the board; it is so insightful.
  • Did the rest of you hear that? Please say it again.
  • Thank you for sharing your feelings.
  • What a wonderful testimony you have shared!

Teachers may also want to respond to comments in ways that encourage more participation by saying:

  • That is a good question. Who would like to respond to it?
  • That’s interesting. Please explain more of what you mean.
  • How did you come to feel that way?


It takes planning and practice, but even the most inexperienced teachers can encourage participation in students by planning lessons in a way that has teachers talking less, asking and pausing, creating a safe place, and encouraging all sincere participation attempts.

Find more ideas on how to plan a great gospel lesson, or check out our increasing participation teaching techniques.

Evaluating A Gospel Lesson – 10 Questions to Ask

After a lesson is complete, you may feel elated or even discouraged.  Evaluating your teaching is an important, often neglected, step that can help you improve as a teacher.  Evaluating your lessons is the “report” part of the Return and Report pattern taught in the temple.  Reporting, by asking questions of yourself, prayerfully consulting the Lord, speaking with another teacher or leader, or blogging experiences, can help you develop

Here are some tips that can help you evaluate lessons and develop a plan to improve poor experiences or reproduce great teaching experiences.

10 Themes to consider after a lesson

  1. Was my level of preparation adequate?  Did I read each scripture reference?  Did I check LDS.org for music, videos, or general conference talks?  Did I pray for the influence of the Holy Ghost before I planned my lesson?  Did I spend too much time on lesson preparation?
  2. Did I greet each student by name?  How might I improve my relationship with my students? Do my students know I love them?
  3. Was the classroom set up in a way that encourages participation?  Did the classroom arrangement support the activities in my lesson?
  4. At what points during the lesson did those I teach seem most willing to participate? When did they seem less willing to participate?  Did everyone participate?  What teaching methods can I use that will provide opportunities for each student to participate next week?
  5. What kinds of questions did my class answer?  What kinds of questions resulted in blank stares?
  6. How did I respond to a disruption? How could my response have been more Christ-like?
  7. Which parts of the lesson related most to students’ lives? Did my lesson encourage students to apply gospel principles in their lives today?
  8. Did I point out times when I felt the Spirit to help others learn to recognize it?  Could students feel my love of the Lord and testimony of his love and life?
  9. Was my lesson rushed?  How can I pace my lesson better so that students have time to ponder and share thoughts, and yet still have time for a strong conclusion?
  10. Did I have a clear lesson objective?  Was it achieved?

Other ways to evaluate a gospel lesson

  • Blogging I blog about my teaching experiences as a way to provide feedback to myself.  Writing what worked and what didn’t is a way for me to do better tomorrow, and my posts might also help another teacher.
  • Ask a Leader for Feedback – Each of us has a Sunday School President, SI Coordinator, Primary President, or other leader who can provide valuable ideas and tips for improving gospel teaching skills.  Use them!
  • Pray – Ask your Father for help identifying areas where you can improve as a teacher.  Ask Him to inspire you as you serve His children.

Plan a lesson

Check out our plan a lesson page for exciting and easy ways to make improvements to your gospel teaching.

I love to see the temple

My fabulous friend, Jaime, is a convert to the church and has always wanted to go to Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  So, when she finally saw it for the first time her excitment couldn’t be contained.  Luckily I captured it in this photo!  When I see her jump for joy at merely the sight of the temple, I’m reminded of how I should feel EVERYTIME I see and/or go to the temple.  This is a great reminder of the joy that comes from living a virtuous life going to the temple!

Molly Neal, YW Leader

Yakima, WA