Myths about Ministering, Myth 7: “My sister is (or I am) serving in the Primary, Nursery, or Young Women—she doesn’t (or I don’t) really feel like part of Relief Society. We don’t need to participate in ministering.”
Sisters who have callings in Primary (including Nursery) or Young Women may feel isolated from the rest of the ward or from other sisters in Relief Society. They may feel that ministering is not very important. Yet these sisters may need ministering sisters even more than those who are able to attend the Relief Society class on Sundays and get to know each other there. All adult sisters are an important part of Relief Society and of ministering.
Challenges of Working in Primary
Sisters serving in Primary may be especially isolated from other sisters. They don’t attend adult Sunday School or Relief Society—they come to sacrament meeting and then go to the Nursery for two hours, or to their Primary classes and sharing time. Primary leaders and teachers are necessarily focused on the children and their needs during Sunday meetings. And sisters serving in Primary may be relatively unknown to Relief Society leaders.
Feelings of isolation may be compounded if sisters are called to serve in Primary when they are new in a ward, before they have a chance to get to know other sisters. If they don’t come to Relief Society weekday meetings, aren’t part of ministering, or don’t have other contact with LDS sisters (such as neighbors in areas where there are many Church members), these sisters may not feel that they belong to Relief Society at all. It is possible for a sister who has never had a chance to serve as a ministering sister, or a chance to attend Relief Society in a family ward, to find that she is adjusting to a new ward and adjusting to a new calling in Primary or Young Women, without a chance to become acquainted with other sisters in the ward, or to see Relief Society or ministering in action. Some of these sisters will also be newly married, or perhaps soon to be expecting or welcoming a first child, and making those tremendous adjustments, too.
What Do Primary Teachers Say About Their Callings?
As I have talked with sisters who are called to serve in Primary, some would prefer serving in Primary than in any other calling. Others are happy to work in Primary for a time, feeling that they are taking their turn, learning to work with children, and serving the Lord in that way.
Yet others may feel that they are serving time, as in a prison, rather than spending time serving—they have accepted their callings obediently, but may feel isolated from others in the ward.
And all these sisters, no matter how happy they are to serve in Primary, Nursery, or Young Women, seem to share a feeling: “I never know what is going on in the ward.”
Ministering and Service in Primary or Young Women
Any sister serving in Young Women or Primary may be an active giver or receiver of ministering. But if she is not, and does not see any reason to be, that is a problem, because ministering is means by which the Lord has commanded that each sister be known and loved, be strengthened in her faith, and receive service in times of need (see Handbook 2, Administering the Church 9.5.1). The opportunity for sisters to give and receive ministering is important to the Lord—it is way that each of His daughters has sisters to watch over her temporal and spiritual well-being, and each has the opportunity to serve her sisters and the Lord in turn.
Suggestions for Leaders
What can we do? Here are some suggestions:
(1) The bishopric could see that the ward has an excellent and well-delivered newsletter, whether or not it’s combined with the Sunday sacrament meeting program, and encourage the editor to gather and include news and announcements as though it were people’s only source of information about ward, stake, and (to a point) general Church news and events. Regular reports from Ward Council to the newsletter editor, as appropriate, could be assigned. The ward executive secretary could send the newsletter editor a copy of the sacrament meeting agenda, so that information about callings and releases; baby blessings; Primary, Young Women, and priesthood advancements; and other ward business can be included accurately in the newsletter. The newsletter can supplement the fleeting announcements in sacrament meetings and Relief Society, which are sometimes incomplete and are not heard by everyone.
(2) The Relief Society presidency could work closely with the Young Women and Primary presidencies (something that could be coordinated in Ward Council) to give information, appreciation, and encouragement to the sisters serving in Primary and Young Women. Relief Society leaders could see that the opportunities circulated on clipboards in Relief Society meetings are made available to sisters in Primary and Young Women in a manner that is not a distraction while they are serving on Sundays.
(3) The stake Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women presidencies could work together to encourage the ward presidencies to be aware of the needs of sisters serving in Primary and Young Women.
(4) The Relief Society presidency could work with ministering sisters to provide timely information and invitations to sisters serving in Young Women and Primary about weekday meetings, conferences, and other Relief Society events.
(5) The bishopric and Relief Society presidency could see that sisters serving in Primary and Young Women are able to attend Sunday Relief Society meetings from time to time (perhaps quarterly) by arranging for Young Women and priesthood brethren to substitute in their callings. These meetings of the entire Relief Society could be special or regularly scheduled lessons—they probably should be more than lessons about ministering. The flexibility of the new format for Relief Society meetings allows for these meetings to be planned to meet the needs of all sisters. The bishopric, Relief Society president, Sunday School president, and Primary president could consider calling two sets of teachers for each Nursery and Primary class, on a rotating basis, so that Nursery and Primary teachers could attend Relief Society, Elders Quorum, and Sunday School meetings during the month. Problems with staffing the Primary may decrease now that Primary lessons are just 20 minutes long (although teachers still attend the entire hour, and Nursery leaders are with their children for the entire hour), but the lack of continuity in teaching may be considered a negative result for children.
(6) The Relief Society president could consider, as she makes ministering assignments, if sisters teaching in Young Women and Primary could be assigned to give and receive ministering with sisters who are not also serving in Primary and Young Women. A good mix of sisters who are experienced with ministering and attending the Sunday Relief Society classes with sisters who are less experienced, or are serving in the Primary or Young Women, could be considered. The need for continuity in ministering assignments will need to be balanced with this suggestion. In wards with a high turnover of sisters, this suggestion will make it more difficult to keep up with ministering assignments among new and more established sisters in the ward, but the opportunity for sisters to enhance their testimonies of ministering could be a great blessing.
(7) The bishopric could consider, as they call sisters to serve in Primary and Young Women, whether a sister is new in the ward and has had the opportunity to feel that she is part of the Relief Society sisterhood.
Some of these suggestions may not always be practical, and they could require additional work by busy leaders. Also, many of the thoughts in this essay apply to brethren serving in Primary and Nursery, or with Aaronic priesthood boys, as well as to sisters—which suggests parallel action on their behalf by priesthood leaders. This essay is meant to help begin a discussion that could lead to increased unity and participation by all sisters in Relief Society, as that organization “helps prepare women for the blessings of eternal life as they increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement; strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants; and work in unity to help those in need.” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church, , 9.1.1.)
Edited and revised 23 January 2019.