Disclaimer: Any of you blog readers out there in the Blog Stratosphere who are not Mormon will probably not understand this blog post. However, you Mormon women, especially you Utah Mormon women, will understand exactly what I’m talking about here.
This time of year, all over the world, LDS women are celebrating the anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society. I am currently serving as a counsellor in our RS presidency, and I was in charge of our RS birthday celebration.
This was the first time I have been in charge of one of these events, although I’ve attended many of them in Utah. All of those that I’ve attended have been held on a weeknight evening. An entire committee of women would have spent months in preparation. The Sunday before the celebration, a lovely hand-made invitation would be handed out and a few days before the event, a cute reminder would magically appear on the door of every sister in the ward. A delicious dinner would be served, prepared by members of the committee. Other committee members would have spent most of the day putting up lavish decorations that they had spent weeks making. The room would have been transformed into something that looked like it came straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Magazine.
The program would consist of semi-professional musicians performing beautiful musical numbers and speakers that could have come straight from BYU Education Week. At the end of the evening, the sisters would go home with some sort of hand-made party favor that would include a quotation from the evening and probably something chocolate. The evening would be inspiring to all who attend.
But I don’t live in Utah anymore. I now live in Taipei where things can’t be done like they are done in Utah. For one thing, all of our RS activities have to be done on Sunday afternoon, immediately after church. Many women in our ward are Filipina domestic workers; and for most of them, Sunday is their only day off. If our activities were held on weeknights a large number of our sisters would never be able to attend. Because activities are held right after church, we have very little time to set up and decorate. Also, whereas in Utah, an event like this would require a large committee of women, in our case, the committee consisted of me and one other sister (who coincidentally is also named Erin. We were the Erin Committee.)
Here is how our RS birthday celebration went: There were no hand-made invitations. The invitation was given orally during the RS announcements the week before. With the help of our husbands, Erin and I quickly set up tables in the cultural hall during the Sunday School hour. We needed seven tables to accommodate the forty-five or so women and young women we expected to attend. (We have eight beautiful young women in our ward.) Unfortunately, our RS owns only one set of six dark red tablecloths, so one table didn’t even have a tablecloth. (It is my recollection that my former ward in Utah had six or seven sets of tablecloths in various colors, each set consisting of twelve to fifteen tablecloths.) Each table was decorated with the paper products from which the women were eating. The tableclothless serving tables were decorated with the food that was served–nothing else. Sisters signed up to bring either a crock pot of soup or some sort of side dish. The ward sprung for rolls and cake. The food that was brought included dishes from the Philippines, China, Korea, Mexico, the US, Taiwan and Italy. One sister brought a pot of boiled chicken soup–with an entire chicken carcass, skin and all, still in the pot. (Not very common in Utah, but quite a hit in Taiwan.) There was even a lovely hot dog soup.
After dinner, we moved to a large room on the 4th floor. (Our building serves as the stake center for three stakes and consists of four floors, two chapels and three underground parking levels.) Erin and I spent a grand total of seven minutes decorating the room. I won’t embarrass myself or Erin by describing the decorations. But in our defense, neither of us had any idea where to go to buy any cute or crafty supplies to make Martha Stewart decorations. So everything came from our houses and they were pathetic.
We started the program by reciting the RS Theme. I love, love, love hearing women recite this. And hearing it recited together by women from so many nationalities with so many different accents sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. Our adorable young women then recited the YW Theme from memory, just like young women all over the world do each week. I then spoke briefly about the history of the RS. Then we heard from two lovely senior sister missionaries, one from Utah and the other from Kentucky. They both shared insights that only women well-seasoned in life experiences could share and they were both delightful and inspirational. We then played some fun games prepared by the other Erin. Then we had cake and that was it.
Earlier in the week, I saw some pictures from one of those Martha Stewart RS celebrations on Facebook. I also spoke to my mother on the phone where she described her ward’s celebration. I’m pretty sure both of these celebrations were put on by full-time professional RS Birthday Party Planners. And it made me kind of sick to my stomach when I compared those celebrations to the meager celebration we were planning. But then during the dinner portion of our celebration today, when I was apologizing to our bishop’s wife who was sitting at the one tableclothless table, and comparing our sad, little party to those in Utah, she said to me, “Erin, you need to let go of your Utah ways and expectations. Look around this room. Are the sisters here enjoying the company of their sisterhood in the Gospel?”
“Are they getting to know one another better so they can better serve one another?”
“Then you’ve accomplished what this celebrations is intended to accomplish. We don’t need all the tablecloths and decorations. No one here is expecting that and trust me, no one here cares that we don’t have it.” And she’s right. In my previous wards women would spend countless hours and incredible amounts of stress with the same results we achieved.
However, at the end of the celebration, we did hand out a home-made party favor which included a quote and chocolate. As she took her party favor from the basket, the bishop’s wife said to me “See, you still have some Utah in you!”
Just a little.