Monday, March 9, 2009

Watching out for Our Young Women

In the months after I graduated high school, my church attendance must have been hard to track. It’s not that I didn’t attend. It was the season of missionary farewells, so sometimes I attended two or three wards—just not my own. Plus, I had to pick a ward—my home ward, the local singles’ ward, or the student ward. No one tracked where I was one week to the next. I remember thinking, “If I wanted to get lost in the shuffle and go inactive, I totally could.”

Good thing that I had no intention of doing so. But it took good friends, a welcoming ward, and effort on my part. I shudder to think what my life would have turned out to be like if I hadn’t made that effort or if I hadn’t had the inner drive to know I needed to keep attending. I could have slipped into inactivity all-too easily.

And many—far too many—young women are doing just that.

In recent years, the First Presidency has stressed their concern of this Church-wide problem. They’ve even sent letters to Relief Society and Young Women presidencies, pleading for them to watch over the young women and make sure they make a successful transition to Relief Society.

The fact is, we’re losing way too many young women, and many never return. For some reason, the young men don’t get hit so hard—they don’t get lost in the shuffle quite so easily. That could be because of mission preparation or several other reasons.

I personally believe one reason is that the young men get a sense of belonging with the men in the Church from the time they’re ordained a deacon. They have combined opening exercises with all the priesthood holders from age twelve right on up to the oldest high priest. From a tender age, each boy knows he belongs in that brotherhood and that some day he, too, will be a teacher, a priest, an elder, and then a high priest.

On the other hand, a Beehive never has a reason to feel connected to the “old ladies” in Relief Society. The sisters of the ward might as well belong to another planet as far as they're concerned. That’s the hurdle we need to overcome: to make the girls recognize that they belong and are needed.

Here are a few things we have done in my ward over the years, coordinating between the Relief Society and the Young Women auxiliary presidencies, to help tether the girls and make them feel their membership of the greatest sisterhood on Earth.

Before applying any of these ideas in your ward, be sure to talk with your bishop for approval.
  • Opening exercises. Follow the example of the brethren and have opening exercises together periodically. We don’t do this every week, but we do meet as a complete group for opening exercises once a month. The two presidencies trade off conducting. The Young Women stand and repeat the theme.

  • Include the Laurels in some Relief Society lessons. We chose the fourth week of the month, the lessons taken from General Conference talks, for the second-year Laurels to participate in. Those lessons tend to be a bit less heavy doctrinally than the Teachings of the Prophets lesson and are easier for the instructor to adapt so the young women and their lives. The instructor makes a point of including them and calling on them.

  • Weclome them. If the Young Women participate in Relief Society, encourage sisters to be warm and welcoming to the Young Women, sitting by them and starting up conversations so they feel loved and that they belong.

  • Mentors. A sister in the ward is assigned to each Laurel as a “mentor,” or a friend to turn to. They are there to help the Laurels have at least one sister in Relief Society they can feel comfortable around. Mentors make regular contact with the Laurels outside church, sit next to them during in lessons, invite them to Enrichment activities, and learn about who they are and what they care about.

  • Visiting Teaching assignments. When a Laurel is in her last year of Young Women, assigning her as a Visiting Teacher can be a useful experience. This is especially helpful if her companion is someone she already knows well, such as a current Young Women leader or her mentor.

  • Combined activities. Occasionally, the Enrichment committee and the Young Women leaders can plan an activity together for both organizations to attend.

  • Other involvement. Whether asking a Laurel to fulfill a compassionate service assignment, teach a skill to be taught at an Enrichment activity, or something else entirely, try to find a place where the Laurels can contribute. They’ll experience firsthand how Relief Society works.

Only time will tell whether our efforts will yield success. We’re doing our best to keep our young women far, far away from any cracks they could slip through.

I believe the key will be making sure they feel a belonging to the sisterhood of the Church and that we as Relief Society sisters need them.

That they’ll know that Relief Society isn’t just a room full of women from another generation. That they’ll know they’re loved.

That they’ll want to stick around, because they know this is where they belong.

And that this is where they want to be.

Return to The Neighborhood.