A lot of people often ask me, “what is Relief Society?” or “what does dispensation mean?” For non-LDS members, these terms can be confusing. I will attempt to explain them here.
STAKE/BRANCH/WARD If you are at all familiar with the Catholic church, you will know what the diocese is. The Mormon church has a “diocese” too. It can be thought of as a town within a county and a group of counties to make up a state. A branch or ward is where a local meeting house is located. Sunday worship and sacrament meetings are taken here. A stake center is a meeting house too, but offices overseeing a group of branches or wards are carried out from here. Often, certain events are done here, like singles events, dances, concerts, and conferences. A district is a group of stakes within a particular area, and of course Salt Lake City, Utah is where the main church headquarters are located.
TEMPLE A temple is a sacred building set apart for ordinances not performed at a stake center or a meeting house. These ordinances include baptism for the dead, sealing of families and marriages.
SACRAMENT The sacrament is the body and blood of Christ, and is a reminder of the covenants of baptism. Pieces of bread (body) are blessed and passed by the priesthood and then given to members, who prayerfully remember Christ’s atonement. Then, water (blood) is similarly blessed and passed. This is similar to communion in other church organizations.
GARMENTS These are VERY SACRED articles of clothing. They are a further reminder of covenants made with Heavenly Father. They are often thought of as a “shield” or “armor”.
RELIEF SOCIETY This is essentially the women’s ministry within the LDS church. Many things the Relief Society women do is visit the sick, do service work for sisters both active and inactive, and help the church with its charity efforts. Relief Society sisters often hold special events to learn such things as homemaking skills, disaster preparedness, self-sufficiency, and child care.
ORDINANCE An ordinance is a special event performed within a church or temple. Marriage ceremonies, baptism, administration of the sacrament, and laying on of the hands to heal the sick are all considered to be ordinances.
PRIESTHOOD Priesthood is simply the power and authority of God. There are two types of priesthood spoken of in the LDS church. The Aaronic priesthood, named after Moses’s brother Aaron, and the Melchizedek priesthood. Melchizedek was a great high priest. The Aaronic priesthood performs sacred ordinances within the church: blessing and passing of the sacrament, baptism, etc. The Melchizedek priesthood is a higher priesthood and in addition to the ordinances performed by the Aaronic priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood can hold positions of leadership in the church. There are certain conditions attached to these privileges.
AGENCY In many religions, this is the same thing as “free will”. It is the ability to choose. It is the one area of one’s life where Heavenly Father won’t interfere. He trusts us to choose the right path on our own.
ATONEMENT Many people will think of this as the “passion of Christ.” It is essentially the same thing. To atone for something is to pay a ransom or restitution for a crime committed. Likewise the atonement of Christ was that he sacrificed himself to free mankind of death, sin and Satan’s grasp. It is a hard concept for the human mind to comprehend but Jesus suffered for each and every person on this planet, both righteous and unrighteous. He felt the pain and guilt of an injured person as well as that of the person who did the injury. He suffered the grief you feel when you lose a loved one, as well as the pain the loved one goes through if they are dying a slow and painful death. That’s the atonement.
COVENANT A covenant is like a promise made to God. If you are baptized, you have made a covenant with God to live your life righteously and forget all of the sins of the past.
PROSELYTE Missionaries will proselytize. This is their search for new members to teach them about the church and encourage them to investigate it.