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37

Union of Feeling

An original recording of this discourse is available at churchhistorianspress.org (courtesy of Church History Library).







Relief Society General Conference

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

October 3, 1962


crowd of women in Salt Lake Tabernacle

Relief Society General Conference. 1962. The first Relief Society general conference was held in 1889. This photograph of the Salt Lake Tabernacle shows a large crowd at one of the sessions of the October 1962 conference, at which Louise W. Madsen spoke. Photograph by Ross Welser. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

Life experience led Elen Louise Wallace Madsen (1909–1987) to develop the organizational, homemaking, and intellectual skills she would use during her service on the Relief Society general board. Beginning when she was thirteen years old, Madsen helped to raise her four younger siblings after her father died.1 She graduated from LDS High School, then took courses in English, history, literature, and law at the University of Utah.2 On June 1, 1928, she married Francis Madsen, and together the two established the Madsen Furniture Company, first in Ogden, Utah, and later expanding to Salt Lake City. Also while in Ogden, Louise Madsen hosted a radio program.3 Her early church service included teaching seminary, leading the Gleaner Girls, and teaching literature and theology classes in the Relief Society.4 She was also the Emigration Stake Relief Society president.5 Madsen began her service on the Relief Society general board in December 1947, and by the time she became a second counselor to Belle S. Spafford in the Relief Society general presidency on August 11, 1958, she had served on many general board committees.6

Madsen’s work in the presidency included directing homemaking activities (called work meetings until October 1966) and overseeing both the temple clothing department and the Mormon Handicraft Shop.7 She oversaw a yearlong course of study inspired by the Red Cross home nursing program to educate Relief Society members in home nursing skills.8 She also supervised the creation of a nursery program, which the Relief Society established to enable more young mothers to attend Relief Society meetings, to provide learning opportunities for young children, and to create service opportunities for Relief Society members who either supervised or volunteered in the nursery.9 Madsen traveled around the world to instruct various Relief Societies and represented the Relief Society at the National Council of Women.10 Many of Madsen’s speeches and articles, for which she was celebrated, appeared in the Relief Society Magazine and the Church News.11

By the early 1960s, the United States was entangled in conflicts both internal and external. Awareness of racial violence in the United States had increased substantially during the late 1950s, following media coverage of a number of high-profile acts of violence against the African American community.12 In 1962, the United States was also on the brink of war with the Soviet Union over the placement of ballistic missiles in Cuba.13 During this period of heightened fears and disputes, Madsen spoke on how God rewards unity with power at a Relief Society conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1962.

My dear brothers and sisters, just before he entered the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal, the Lord “lifted up his eyes unto heaven”14 and prayed to the Father. President McKay has spoken of this prayer as “the greatest, most impressive prayer ever uttered in this world.”15 His prayer was for those who had believed on him and for “them also which shall believe on” him. A sublime message contained therein is in this verse: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”16

This is a most beautiful expression of the principle of unity. It is this principle of unity, this spirit of being “one,” with each other and with our God, which has been instrumental in enabling the church to progress and to accomplish the purposes for which it was established.

One of the statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith to Relief Society which has great and continuing significance is “By union of feeling we obtain power with God.”17 This is an expression of the principle of unity which shows how it works to fulfill purposes. He urged the sisters to obtain power from on high by being “one” in spirit and determination to do the work he would have them do. The fact that they have done so is attested by the growth and accomplishment of Relief Society throughout the world. Separation by vast expanses of land and oceans of water does not change or diminish the feeling for, or necessity of, “oneness.” A quarter of a million women unified in feeling and purpose, seeking power from our Heavenly Father in righteousness, can exert a tremendous power for good wherever they may be.

What is this power we may obtain? Since it derives from our unity with God our Father and his son Jesus Christ, is it not in the words of Micah “to do what is good, to do what the Lord requires of us, to do justly and to walk humbly with our God”?18 Is it not the privilege to serve we seek, the moving force of compassion to feel? Is it not the power of God-given strength and his blessing of knowledge we cherish? Is it not the power of unselfish thought and action, selflessness, the ability to rise above fault-finding and petty-mindedness we desire? The power to be instrumental in saving souls has been accorded to Relief Society. To build firm testimonies to the divinity of the Savior and of the gospel is our ultimate purpose. Charity, the true love of Christ, is our guiding principle.19

We are again reminded that these aspects of power are derived through “union of feeling,” “union of feeling” among ourselves and with our Heavenly Father. This kind of unity cannot be successfully maintained with less than the best from each other. Dissatisfaction with mere mediocrity enhances the ability of the organization to use this heaven-given power to its fullest extent. Our vision and aim must be exalted and the integrity of purpose and dependability of each member must be heightened.

Those to whom power is given must assume the responsibilities that accompany it. One of these is wise leadership. To guide, persuade, and direct aright,20 to fortify in righteousness, to educate and to give impetus to courageous action are facets of leadership for which Relief Society women are trained.21 The strength of an organization dedicating itself to good, fitting itself for what needs to be done, and thoroughly believing that its work is basically and spiritually right, is the strength required of us by the Lord. Each Relief Society, no matter how small, no matter how isolated, must participate in this “union of feeling.”

Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, speaks of the “mutual faith both of you and me,”22 and beseeches his brethren to “strive together”23 in all that must be done. He warns them to avoid “divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine.”24 A number of the sisters he singled out for special commendation:

I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the Church at Cenchrea:

That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Jesus Christ:

Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles …

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour upon us …

Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.25

That kind of commendation can also be given to many individual women in this dispensation. Great numbers of the sisters holding office in the society could be described in the words of Paul as having “laboured much in the Lord.”26 But it is the society as a whole, as an auxiliary of the church, receiving power from God by “union of feeling,” which best serves to do the work he would have an organization of his daughters do.

Beautiful are the bonds of sisterhood! Uplifting are the ties of friendship. Glorious is the work of thousands of sisters unified in righteous purpose. Humbling is the realization that it is the Lord’s work we are to do.

May he bless us with the desire to approach him in “union of feeling,” and be one as Christ prayed his followers would be, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Footnotes

  1. [1]“Louise W. Madsen, Former Relief Society Officer, Dies at 78,” Deseret News, Oct. 6–7, 1987.

  2. [2]LDS High School, also called LDS College, offered courses on the high school and college levels. (Lillie C. Adams, “Elen Louise Wallace Madsen Called to the General Board,” Relief Society Magazine 35, no. 2 [Feb. 1948]: 81; “Louise W. Madsen.”)

  3. [3]“Louise W. Madsen.”

  4. [4]Adams, “Elen Louise Wallace Madsen Called to the General Board,” 81. Madsen taught not long after the Latter-day Saint seminary program first began.

  5. [5]“Louise W. Madsen.”

  6. [6]Marianne C. Sharp, “Elen Louise Wallace Madsen Appointed Second Counselor in the General Presidency of Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine 45, no. 10 (Oct. 1958): 651–652. Madsen served on the Christmas party, educational helps, literature, Relief Society conference, poetry, short story, social science, and stake conventions committees, among others. (Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 27, 1948–1949, 211–212, 401–402; vol. 28, 1950–1951, 243–244, 444–445; vol. 29, 1952–1953, 211–212, 473–474; vol. 30, 1954–1955, 239–241, 507–509; vol. 31, 1956–1957, 251–252, 289–290; vol. 32, 1958–1959, 196–197, CHL.)

  7. [7]“New Titles for Lesson Courses,” Relief Society Magazine 53, no. 6 (June 1966): 460; “Louise W. Madsen.”

  8. [8]Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 33, 1960, Jan. 6, 1960, 10; “Louise W. Madsen.” The Red Cross began a program of instruction on home nursing in 1908, and the Relief Society sponsored Red Cross home nursing courses as early as the 1920s. (Lavinia L. Dock et al., History of American Red Cross Nursing [New York: Macmillan, 1922], 1352–1354; Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992], 233–234.)

  9. [9]“Need for Relief Society Nurseries,” 2, Louise W. Madsen Papers, CHL. The earliest Relief Society nursery manual is from 1963. The Primary had nursery curriculum for children aged four and younger starting in 1951 and a class for children three and younger starting in about 1956. (“Nursery Committee Report,” 1, Louise W. Madsen Papers, CHL; Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 345; Carol Cornwall Madsen and Susan Staker Oman, Sisters and Little Saints: One Hundred Years of Primary [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979], 208.)

  10. [10]“Louise W. Madsen.” During the middle of the twentieth century, the National Council of Women (NCW) was a moderate organization that supported peace and strongly supported the United Nations. Belle S. Spafford, who began holding office in the NCW in 1948 and would serve as president from 1968 to 1970, reported after the 1952 meetings that the council was most concerned with declining moral standards, the breakdown of family life, increasing secularism and materialism, and inadequate educational systems. (Margaret Nunnelley Olsen, “One Nation, One World: American Clubwomen and the Politics of Internationalism, 1945–1961” [master’s thesis, Rice University, 2007], 73–76; Belle S. Spafford, “The National Council of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 40, no. 4 [Apr. 1953]: 217; Priscilla L. Evans, “President Belle S. Spafford Elected to Office in the National Council of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 36, no. 1 [Jan. 1949]: 20–21; Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 337.)

  11. [11]“Louise W. Madsen.”

  12. [12]These incidents included the beating and murder of fourteen-year-old African American Emmett Till; the shootings and bombings of buses, African American homes, and churches following the Montgomery bus boycott; and white adults threatening and taunting African American children during the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Robert J. Norrell, The House I Live In: Race in the American Century [New York: Oxford University Press, 2005], 174–186.)

  13. [13]For more information on the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Len Scott and R. Gerald Hughes, eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Critical Reappraisal (London: Routledge, 2015).

  14. [14]John 17:1.

  15. [15]David O. McKay, “Unity in the Church,” Instructor 87, no. 8 (Aug. 1952): 225.

  16. [16]John 17:20–21.

  17. [17]Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, June 9, 1842, [61], in Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 78.

  18. [18]See Micah 6:8.

  19. [19]See Moroni 7:47.

  20. [20]See “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free,” Hymns, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1948), no. 90; see also Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 240.

  21. [21]Relief Society members took monthly courses in literature, social science, homemaking (work meeting), and theology. At this time, experts in the relevant fields wrote the lessons, including lessons meant to be shared through visiting teaching, which appeared in the Relief Society Magazine. Relief Society board members read and critiqued all of the lessons before publication. The goals of the curriculum included increasing members’ appreciation for literature, their sense of social obligation and knowledge about how to serve more effectively, their spirituality and understanding of church doctrines, and their civic awareness. (“Lesson Department,” Relief Society Magazine 48, no. 6 [June 1961]: 411–420; Alice C. Smith, interview by Harvard Heath, Oct. 25, 1985, 42, BYU; Handbook of Instructions of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: General Board of Relief Society, 1962], 92.)

  22. [22]Romans 1:12.

  23. [23]Romans 15:30.

  24. [24]Romans 16:17.

  25. [25]Citation in original: “Romans 16:1–4, 6, 12.” For more on these women, see Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1994).

  26. [26]Romans 16:12.