Why Don’t We Respect Relief Society Presidents Enough to Give Them an Office?

Relief Society Presidents are famous for doing a lot of work.

I’ve heard it said many times that a ward Relief Society President works in a partnership with her bishop to run their ward together. I’ve also heard it said that the Relief Society President is basically the female equivalent, and even equal to, the bishop in her ward. I object to these conclusions for many reasons (which are another post unto themselves), but I was specifically thinking today about why the bishop and stake president get their own offices in church buildings, yet neither the ward nor stake Relief Society President do.

I live in Utah County, Utah, and it’s not unusual to hear people discussing church business in public places, and this week while lifting weights at the gym I overheard two women discussing the church and current covid protocol. One of them was married to an LDS bishop, and the other was asking about his experience serving in a pandemic. The omicron variant has been surging in Utah the past couple of weeks, and we’re smashing new daily case records left and right. My school district is in the middle of an emergency five-day online learning break, Hamilton performances in Salt Lake City were just postponed because of a covid outbreak in the cast, and my daughter’s volleyball practice was canceled this weekend. It feels a little bit like March of 2020 all over again. The woman at the gym asked the bishop’s wife, “Do you think we’ll go back to at-home church?” The bishop’s wife said, “Oh, I hope not! That was so hard for my husband to deal with.”

The woman went on to explain the things her husband disliked so much about leading his ward remotely, and three of the things she talked about specifically had to do with missing his bishop’s office. He hated not being able to meet with people face to face for interviews. It was hard for them to hold bishopric meetings over zoom, because it was difficult to concentrate with all of the distractions and noise in their homes. And finally, (she mentioned as a side note) he missed seeing primary kids on their birthdays, when the Primary President used to give them a coupon for a handshake and a piece of candy, redeemable at the bishop’s office. (This stopped at the beginning of the pandemic and hasn’t resumed even with in-person church in their ward.)

A bishop has a physical office in his church building where ward members, primary kids, and even visitors can seek him out. I imagine that a confidential conversation works better in an office than inside a bedroom closet over zoom because of the privacy it affords both parties. I also understand wanting to have bishopric meetings in a comfortable chair with your desk in front of you to put papers and take notes on. I especially can appreciate the fun of having children come to see you every week, excited to be recognized and get a treat.

Has anyone considered that a Relief Society President might appreciate the same level of privacy when meeting with a family to discuss their temporal needs? I’ve seen Relief Society presidency meetings that take place in empty classrooms, notebooks balanced on the women’s laps until the next ward kicks them out for the start of a Sunday School class. The luxury of a desk is not offered to the ward’s top female leader, and no one sends primary kids to see her on their birthdays.

On the other hand, the primary children learn songs about the bishop, get a message at the beginning of each month from a bishopric member, see these men on the stand each week, and even have primary lessons teaching them about who and what a bishop is.

At least twice I personally took a primary or nursery class on a field trip to the bishop’s office, but it never crossed my mind to do the same thing with the ward Relief Society President. And honestly, how would we? Where would we find her and meet with her if it was a busy Sunday with multiple wards using the building? In the hallway, or out in the parking lot by her car? She doesn’t have a home base anywhere.

Despite the pandemic and reports of wards and stakes collapsing worldwide, my corner of the world is still actively building new church buildings and dividing wards. Our growth here is steady as new neighborhoods go up and we experience an influx of Latter-day Saints from other states like California. Why not carve out a little office space in one of the brand-new buildings for the ward Relief Society Presidents? (Or what about for the Stake Relief Society President? Could she have an office in a new stake center?) These women take notes on their laps and use kitchen tables for desks, while the male leaders can close the door and focus without distractions. Why can’t women in the church have equal working conditions to the men?

Is that really too much to ask?

The bishop meets with his counselors in his office at the church, while the Relief Society President meets with her counselors at a kitchen table in her home. As a mom, I bet she’ll be interrupted 73 times by kids needing fruit snacks and fighting over a tablet before the meeting ends.


  1. You’re going to have to spend more money on your buildings. When the ward nurseries are about the same size as the bishop’s office, there are a LOT of things that need to be done before worrying about the RS Pres’ office. Good thought though! (Maybe they could share an office, changing hours of occupation. Hey! Yes!)

    • We’re a church with a bazillion dollars. (We’re practically richer than God!) I think we can afford office space for female leaders.

        • Maybe I misunderstood your comment. I thought you were saying that offices for Relief Society presidents shouldn’t be the priority because we need to spend our building budgets on other things first. I feel like office space for female leaders should be the number one priority, and not only that, we have enough money to add office space AND fix other problems at the same time.

  2. We had two unused Bishop’s offices in our building. We turned one into a larger mother’s lounge. The second was the Relief Society President’s office until we split the ward and needed a second Bishop’s office. It was incredibly helpful.

    • If only the Relief Society had refused to give up their office to the new bishop, and made HIM plan his meetings in empty classrooms and his living room. Once the men realize the inconvenience, maybe they’ll start to raise awareness for changes. (As men with the priesthood are the only ones who can make the change!)

  3. Great points. One former RS pres in my ward said that when she was called, she said she would do it, but only if she had an office. She said it was utterly unworkable to try to have confidential meetings about welfare needs in hallways and corners. She got her office.

    • I’m curious how and where she got an office. Where was it?? (Was it in the church building?) I can imagine a RS president insisting on an office where I live, but no one being able to give her one since no such space exists for anyone other than the Bishop and ward clerks.

    • I actually had no idea of the temple matron had an office or not. She doesn’t?! That’s so sad to me. She needs her own office!

      • In the Gilbert, AZ temple the matron has an office. A tiny little thing; whereas, the president’s office is huge with an attached full bathroom.

  4. Why don’t RS Presidents have offices? That’s easy. Most don’t have time to sit down.
    Seriously, they need offices. And we could reduce the number of interviews performed by Bishops.

    • It would be so great to let all of the women and young women in the ward be interviewed by the RS president, not the bishop.

  5. I had never thought about this – I guess I’m just too used to the status quo – but I think that’s a brilliant idea. I remember several years ago standing next to the RS president between second and third hours when a Primary teacher came running up to say she’d been having a Good News moment with her class and one little girl had announced, “I don’t know if this is good news or not, but my mom is taking us to a shelter after church, and my parents are probably getting a divorce.”

    That conversation should not have had to happen in the hallway.

    • There are so many things that we just never think about. I have to actively step outside of my culture and pretend I’m an outsider looking in, and then suddenly I can see so many things that make no sense! (And once you start seeing them you can’t unsee them, and you just keep seeing more and more.)

      And yes, the fact that delicate conversations are had in the hallway because there is no other option is so crappy.

  6. There is literally little reason for the clerk’s office. Clerks now complete their work online at home. Financial clerks need a filing cabinet and computer for one hour per week. Much of the cabinetry could be removed for a space for the RS President and Bishopric counselors to interview.

    While I am on a roll, take most of the chairs out of the Bishop’s office. Ward Council should be a standing meeting. If it lasts longer than 15 minutes, you aren’t helping, you are gossiping. Pray, report, suggest, leave.

    • As an act of respect for the women in our lives, I think that bishops throughout the world should themselves move into the small clerk’s office and give their old office to the Relief Society President. They’ll still be better off than she ever was (with no office at all), and it can make some form of restitution for not allowing her to have one at all for so long.

    • I think the RS president deserves her own office, not one that she has to share with all of the youth leaders and primary presidency. They can take out some of the grass that surrounds most churches and add on the Relief Society wing of the building. (Then the other auxiliaries can use the revamped clerk’s office.)

  7. Such a valuable insight about the gender disparity laid bare by COVID protocols and at-home church. It IS hard to concentrate without the space and privacy of an office along with the noise and interruptions of family life. But those are the only conditions that have ever been afforded to ward and stake RS presidencies in modern ward buildings. The RS president needs a room of her own.

    • It’s always funny when a man is reduced to the same state a woman has always been in, and only then does he notice how inconvenient it is. (For example, working from home after covid hit makes a man realize how isolating and boring staying at home all day can be – just like his wife has been home with kids for years.)

  8. I can report that before the current renovation of the SLC temple started, there was, don’t know if there still will be after renovation, an office for the head temple matron. I only know that because I vacuumed that area during a ward cleaning assignment. Still agree that ward and stake RS presidents should get their own office though.

  9. It all sounds like luxury to me. In many of the small chapels we have in the UK both the bishop’s and clerk’s offices are also used as classrooms. The only difference between the bishop’s office and a standard classroom is the professional desk and soft swivel chair.

  10. Recently released RS President here…. A huge belief in the value of women to address the most important issues in the ward and being a moderating, equal and powerful voice for others in need and to issues that affect us all equally. I believe that the RS President role, when seen at its best functioning, is of no less value than the Bishops.

    At least this is what I was told mutilple times by the Bishop and his counselors and others as I worked during the pandemic. And (trigger alert) I wished I had the space that actually acknowledged that with respect when the Bishop began to interfere with my ability to do my calling in a way that could only legally be called sexual harrassment.

    I would have liked my own safe space and office when I did what was right and brought it to the attention of those in a position to do something, but they either acknowledged it and asked me to endure it as they could not force the Bishop to repent, or did not acknowledge it and denied it as it became more and more public (by the bishops own actions) and instead sought to protect the Bishop and his family at all costs rather than the victim and any who witnessed it. Or required me to meet with other men in their offices to repeatedly reiterate my trauma to those who don’t care, don’t want to know, and so not understand. But others did understand and many learnt what they could do and get away with as a bishop, as a result. Typically, I was released and he continued in his role. And, theres nothing more traumatizing than being harassed in a role, reporting it, and being unceremoniously dumped in an awkwardly public and surprising way, then to have a wickedly dishonest bishop try to minister to you through others while simultaneously silencing your voice and experience. For without the truth, you can not be ministered to.

    An office would be nice, but until this church becomes a place that is trauma informed, has appropriate reporting channels, isn’t influenced by a patriarchal system that deeply favors men and their reputations and perspective and an almost godlike belief in the ability to “know” when that faux “knowing” would be shot down in any other organization, then I truly think almost nothing else matters.

    If women can’t be given the basic level of acknowledgement, the respect, and appropriate reporting channels and ministering systems in this church, then we are all building a house of flimsy playing cards on a sandy windy beach. This is the era of #metoo. How can this church get away without a proper sexual harassment policy and training program to help those in leadership be more aware? And how can it justify a leaders helpline that bypasses an objective, trauma informed and compassionate therapist and instead goes to the law offices of the church which defends against such accusations and protects the organization at all costs? 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced sexual harassment. Likely higher. And in the words of a great advocate for harmed women, the voice of victims is the voice of God to the church.

    I appreciate the sentiment in this article. But, I only recently realized the extreme lack of true voice and respect and safety women have in this church. I would love some articles on this.

    How can we advocate for change, when our advocating inside the system given us is designed to not hear us, silence us and isn’t in any way trauma informed to be wholly inappropriate in its design?

    And when this is the case, how can we advocate publicly when doing so threatens our status in the church?

    The exponent, please take up this banner. Please report on it. Please let’s start at this most basic fundamental level…. Could we have articles, polls for women readers, education about what sexual harassment is, how to recognize it others, and how to know you are even experiencing it yourself. And, further more, what does sexual harassment look like in a church where “helping” is the way that men insert themselves into your life more than they ought, and use that as the defense (mingled with blatant denials) to avoid the consequences of their harassment.

    I’d like an office. But I’d like to know that this church is a place of integrity, is authentically safe, protects the vulnerable, is respectful and trauma informed, and invests their money into the basic programs to protect women. The same that every other non religious organization is required to do in this era. This is Christ’s church – we can not let it be less safe than organisations that are not his. And, should we advocate for a change to laws that require workplace harassment laws to apply to places of volunteerism?

    Because, one thing I do know, just because the law isn’t applied, it doesn’t make it any less sexual harassment. It just makes the harassment a whole lot more like betrayal trauma in the place that should be the safest we know.

    Can we do this? Can we affect change so that we have what Christ wants to give us – basic safety and respect.

    And, can we do it without so deeply and unfairly losing our status when we are required to go outside of the system to advocate because the system inside excludes our voice? What does everyone think?

    • Wow that is terrible! I’d love to know your story if you would be up for sharing it. Stuff like this needs the proper attention it deserves so it can be learned from and stopped.

    • Em, somehow I didn’t see your comment until this morning, after Audrey replied to it. I’m so sorry about everything that happened to you! We tend to be very proud of the fact that we have an unpaid ministry, but the older I get the less of a good thing I think that is. Other churches have local leaders who have committed their lives and full time job into being trained as a good leader. They regularly go to updated trainings and develop experience and wisdom over time. They are held to a much higher standard of service than the local neighborhood guy who gets called as a bishop for a few years. They know how to recognize and call out abuse, and if they are guilty of it themselves the congregation can replace them.

      I would love it if you submitted your story as a guest post for Exponent. You can use your name or publish it anonymously if you need to.

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