The Church Historian's Press The Church Historian's Press

30

The Value of Faith

Relief Society General Conference

Assembly Hall, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

April 3, 1926


Amy Brown Lyman with group of women and children

Amy Brown Lyman at Social Service Training in Anaconda, Montana. Circa 1920. Lyman, bespectacled in the center of the front row, became a trained social worker after formative visits to Hull House in Chicago and was a leader in implementing social service work within the Relief Society. Lyman served on the Relief Society general board for thirty-six years, including her time as president. Photograph by Montgomery Studio. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

My first love had been Primary work,” wrote Amy Brown Lyman (1872–1959), after nearly four decades of service on the Relief Society general board. In truth, she loved any program that concentrated on human development and flourishing. Before joining the board in October 1909, her major church work had been in the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association. Lyman served on the Relief Society general board until 1945, the last five years as president. The first meetings she attended connected her to foundational Relief Society roots: Bathsheba W. Smith, who joined Relief Society as a nineteen-year-old in Nauvoo, was president. At that time the board met in the office of the Woman’s Exponent in Salt Lake City’s Templeton Building.1

When Lyman gave the following talk, she had been serving as Relief Society general secretary under Emmeline B. Wells since 1913 and was in the middle of a two-year term as secretary for the National Council of Women. As general secretary, Lyman fulfilled church president Joseph F. Smith’s request that she modernize and supply the Relief Society offices, “that the business affairs of the organization, including those of stakes and wards, be conducted according to the best business practices.”2 Lyman obtained typewriters, filing cabinets, and adding and mimeograph machines; established professional bookkeeping procedures; and introduced uniform ward record books and visiting teacher report books. Lyman also worked in the business department of the Relief Society Magazine for more than thirty years, starting when it began publication in 1915. To finance the new magazine, she and Jeanette Hyde solicited advertisements. Their children helped them wrap and mail issues to subscribers each month.3

Social work was among the enduring pursuits of Lyman’s life. When she accompanied her husband, Richard, to the University of Chicago in the summer of 1902, she took several courses. Her favorite was on the new discipline of sociology, and decades later she recalled, “It was at this time that I first became interested in social work and social problems.”4 She also did volunteer work with Chicago Charities and attended the lectures of Jane Addams, a prominent crusader against poverty, at Hull House, interviewing Addams several times for a class project. President Joseph F. Smith asked in 1913 that Lyman continue her previous study of social work with the hope of improving the church’s current practices.5 She joined a delegation of four women in 1917 for a special course in family welfare work taught by the University of Colorado and the Red Cross; she later credited that course as being crucial to her developing understanding of the field.6

A month before Lyman’s husband joined the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 6, 1918, Joseph F. Smith consulted with Amy Lyman about creating a new Relief Society social services department. By the beginning of the following year, Lyman had established a social welfare department at Relief Society headquarters, which she directed until 1934.7 In 1920, she organized and taught a six-week course on family welfare work at Brigham Young University, the first of many courses that would train Relief Society members in the challenges and methods of social work.8

She served in the Utah House of Representatives in 1923 and was very pleased to introduce to the House the bill requesting state acceptance of the federal Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided funds for maternity and infant care. The bill passed, and Relief Society branches in the western states supported it by equipping and operating well-baby and health clinics.9 These efforts contributed to 19 percent reductions in infant mortality and 8 percent reductions in maternal death rates by 1928.10

Lyman’s understanding of faith, expressed in the following talk given in a general session of the Relief Society general conference in 1926, intimates why and how she pursued these many contributions.11

The lack of faith in the world today, together with some recent personal experiences, has led me of late to appreciate more than ever before the value of faith and the great blessing it is to those who possess it.

I am sure that every woman in this audience has passed through trials and afflictions which would have been almost unbearable without faith in God and a testimony of the gospel, with all that it comprehends.

Faith in our Heavenly Father and in his Son Jesus Christ is an asset to any individual. It helps him to be a brave and courageous individual. It helps to make him a positive and forceful character as opposed to a negative and vacillating one. It helps him to have confidence in himself and confidence in others; to believe in himself and to believe in others; to be generous to those in need and charitable to those less fortunate; to be cheerful, hopeful, and optimistic.

Faith in the Father and the Son is a blessing—yes, one of the greatest blessings one can have. It is more far-reaching as a comforter than any other influence. It is a source of solace in times of sickness, sorrow, and despair. Faith helps an individual to be philosophical and to meet with comparative composure whatever comes, and to be resigned and reconciled to circumstances over which he has no control. It helps one to be meek and humble and to put his trust in God.

Faith in the Father and the Son presupposes a belief in their teachings which include a preexistent state and a life beyond the grave; and to a Latter-day Saint it comprehends the gospel plan of life and salvation as revealed to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith.12 Such faith and such belief helps one to formulate a plan of life on the highest plane, and to set up worthy and worthwhile standards of living which conform to the standards of the gospel. It helps one to judge of values—to choose between those things which are really worthwhile, which are lasting and eternal—and those things which are temporary and passing. It makes one realize that life is a stepping stone to a higher life, and the better the life here the greater the happiness here and in the life to come. Faith fills the possessor with the desire to emulate the life of the Savior and to keep the commandments of God.

Sublime faith is one of the greatest of all gifts. Let us pledge our allegiance to our faith. Let us as individuals say, “No man may destroy my faith and hope and belief and leave me a stone.” For I have observed that those who have no faith, and who tend to undermine and destroy faith in others, never, so far as I know, leave anything constructive in its place.

Let us not be influenced by doubters and cynics and atheists, nor by the wave of doubt and despair which is filling the earth today.13 Let us cling to the belief that faith with good works is an asset,14 a comforter, a blessing; it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.15 Let us cling to the belief that faith is our birthright, and let us sell it not for a mess of pottage.16

Footnotes

  1. [1]Amy Brown Lyman, In Retrospect: Autobiography of Amy Brown Lyman (Salt Lake City: General Board of Relief Society, 1945), 36, 42; Belle S. Spafford, “In Memoriam: President Amy Brown Lyman,” Relief Society Magazine 47, no. 1 (Jan. 1960): 47. The Relief Society offices were housed on the second floor of the Bishop’s Building from 1909 until 1956, when the Relief Society Building was dedicated. (Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 2, 1892–1910, Dec. 3, 1909, 183, Jan. 27, 1910, 191, CHL; Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992], 174–177, 197.)

  2. [2]Lyman, In Retrospect, 42–43, 89. Joseph F. Smith served as the sixth president of the church from 1901 to 1918. Smith’s request that Lyman modernize the Relief Society offices was part of a wider trend within the church to align with Progressive-era practices. (Dave Hall, A Faded Legacy: Amy Brown Lyman and Mormon Women’s Activism, 1872–1959 [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015], 64–65; Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith [New York: Random House, 2012], 152–183.)

  3. [3]Spafford, “In Memoriam,” 5; [Vera White Pohlman], “In Memoriam: Amy Brown Lyman, 1872–1959, Biographical Summary and Funeral Services,” 10–11, CHL.

  4. [4]Lyman, In Retrospect, 30.

  5. [5]David Hall, “Anxiously Engaged: Amy Brown Lyman and Relief Society Charity Work, 1917–45,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 76–77; Hall, A Faded Legacy, 48–50; [Pohlman], “In Memoriam,” 12–13.

  6. [6]Lyman, In Retrospect, 63; Spafford, “In Memoriam,” 46.

  7. [7]Joseph F. Smith, “Elder Richard R. Lyman Chosen to Fill the Vacancy in the Council of Twelve,” in Eighty-Eighth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Apr. 5–7, 1918 (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1918), 51; Amy Brown Lyman, “Social Service Work in the Relief Society, 1917–1928,” Sept. 1928, 4–7, CHL; [Pohlman], “In Memoriam,” 13.

  8. [8]Lyman, In Retrospect, 64–65, 84; Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 236. For more on the development of Social Service Institutes, see chapter 31 herein.

  9. [9]Lyman, In Retrospect, 83; Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 231.

  10. [10]The Promotion of the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931), 134, 138; Loretta L. Hefner, “The National Women’s Relief Society and the U.S. Sheppard-Towner Act,” Utah Historical Quarterly 50, no. 3 (Summer 1982): 263–264.

  11. [11]Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 15, 1926–1927, Apr. 3, 1926, 21, 29.

  12. [12]For a contemporary discussion of the plan of salvation and premortal life, see James E. Talmage’s popular treatment of Mormon theology, The Vitality of Mormonism: Brief Essays on Distinctive Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Boston: Gorham Press, 1919), 48–51, 256, 236–238.

  13. [13]Urbanization, industrialization, and disillusionment with World War I led Americans to question the Victorian ideal of order and rationality in which they had previously taken comfort. For a discussion of the new ways Americans were seeing the world at this time, see Lynn Dumenil, The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), 145–200.

  14. [14]See James 2:18.

  15. [15]See Romans 1:16; and 1 Peter 1:5.

  16. [16]See Genesis 25:29–34.