In a short testimony meeting following the lesson, a woman carrying a toddler tells of her conversion to visiting teaching. Early on, she was not interested. Later, because of the friendship it supplied, she would die without it. Visiting teaching allows for mutual intimacy. A young single woman in another congregation said, "I see the members in a different light-at home with their families. Sometimes at church we want everyone to see how good we are. I like to see the other side, the side that's vulnerable. It strengthens me. We'll be talking about the [visiting teaching] message and all of a sudden we 'll get onto other things. It helps me see I'm not the only one who has to go through things. The strong bond between the women in Relief Society comes from visiting teaching."
Church-wide Relief Society leaders try to give a positive message to everyone. The general presidency [in 2005 Bonnie Parkin, Kathleen Hughes, and Anne Pingree] preach the creation of a "global sisterhood" among their four million members. They want LDS women to "stop being judged for working or staying at home, being single, divorced or childless." They want women to feel "valued and supported and bolstered" in life, not alienated and alone. The covenants of LDS women give them the strength of an "eternal perspective."
These leaders urge the women to serve. "Here am I; send me," is one of their mottos. As Anne Pingree noted in a talk, "We can alter the face of the earth one family and one home at a time through charity, our small and simple acts of pure love." Bonnie Parkin has talked about self-reliance and welfare, noting that these principles mean having enough to share with others.
Relief Society does not speak to everyone. A young single woman reported, "Most things in the church are geared toward families. People give talks about families and family home evening. That's why Relief Society and I never clicked. The lessons would be on health habits for your children or disciplining your children. I don't think there 's too much emphasis on families, but they could put a little more on individuals. I'm not in the mainstream. When you're single you have to accept that in our church you're going to hear a lot about families."
Single women felt greater inclusion after Sheri Dew, an unmarried author and publisher, joined the general presidency of the Relief Society in the 1990s. Dew's charismatic talks rallied singles as never before. She showed how a successful career woman, self-supporting and devoted to the Church, although questioning her single state and thwarted motherhood in public speeches, could make the standard categories work for her. She regarded all women, she said, even those without children, as mothers. "Motherhood is more than bearing children, it is the essence of who we are as women." "The Lord's timetable for each of us does not negate our nature. Some of us, then, must simply find other ways to mother."
Without autonomy, women would seem to have little power in this religion. But what does it mean to be powerful in religion? Leadership seems important, but many religions, certainly most in the Judeo-Christian tradition, have stressed the humble vineyard worker as the powerful position. The greatest of all is the servant of all, as Jesus says in the gospels. Some are unconvinced. "I'm content to be at home with my family," a woman muses. "I would be even if I didn't have a family because I enjoy having the freedom that a job would take away from me, but sometimes I come away from Relief Society wondering how valuable I am, really. I wonder what will I have when my kids leave? What have I done with what my Heavenly Father has given me?"
Other women are surer of their plans, aided by encouragement from Church periodicals that now recognize women who pursue serious out-ofthe- home careers. Jessica T. Healy Ellsworth, featured in the Church News, dreamed of becoming a doctor. Married in 1975, she began college when her youngest child entered junior high and medical school when he turned eighteen. She served her medical residency at age forty-seven, finding it less demanding than being the mother of three. She did not regret the delay, having avoided the guilty struggle between medicine and motherhood. Her husband sold his business to move to medical school with her. "She supported me when I was going to school," he said. Mrs. Ellsworth explained that mothers, used to losing sleep, had many good years left. "If I could do it over again I would do it exactly the same way." Careers are acceptable-after meeting family responsibilities.
Some couples, unwilling to postpone the wife's career, cooperate to help each other achieve professional goals. They go to school together, support each other, postpone having children, and share childcare so that both will have professional opportunities. Kathy Campbell, the mother of three, takes turns with her husband going to school, but she must still do her work. "By the time I run all the errands, fix dinner, play with the kids, and put them in bed, it's 10:30 and my husband's asleep. That's when I start studying for my classes." Young wives, used to balancing multiple activities, can often meet the conflicting demands of work, school, and family life.
Probably all of these women would agree with Marjorie Pay Hinckley, the straight-talking wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley for sixty-six years, in her assertion that nothing was needed more than strong homes and families. She noted that her role in life had been a supportive one but felt no need to apologize. "I have known the frustrations of being a wife and a mother, but I have also known the joys." Her husband had always given her "space to fly. He never insisted that I do anything his way; it wouldn't have done him any good." She said that happy marriages came from getting used to each other, and she was finally used to her husband, and went on to say, "The other day as I watched him walk across the room I thought again of what an adorable little old man he has grown up to be."
Despite the absence of the priesthood and only small roles in the general Church leadership, despite the encouragement to get education for home rather than career, despite little encouragement to go on missions and enter the professions-Mormon women are strong and effective, great achievers in education, professional life, and Church work. The ideal role of an LDS woman, judging from instruction given young women, is broadening. Each year a special meeting for women aged twelve to eighteen is conducted by adult women leaders and televised around the world. In the 2001 meeting, President Hinckley encouraged his listeners to "become the woman of whom you dream." "You are creatures of divinity, for you are daughters of the Almighty. . . . Magnificent is your future, if you will take control of it." He encouraged the girls to "find purpose in your life. Choose the things you would like to do and educate yourselves to be effective in their pursuit." The girls should be "qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world." President Hinckley chose as a model a working woman. A skilled nurse he had met, a mother of three who "works as little or as much as she wishes," was the "kind of woman of whom you might dream, an educated, expert, loyal woman." Hinckley closed with a message of encouragement. "For you, the sky is the limit."