Outgoing Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton welcomes incoming president Jean B. Bingham during the Saturday afternoon session of the April 2017 general conference. (Photo courtesy LDS Church)

While 2017 marked the 175th Anniversary of Relief Society, it also marked the release of the Relief Society general presidency.

Relief Society General President Linda K. Burton and her counselors, Sister Carole M. Stephens and Sister Linda S. Reeves received a release from their callings during the Saturday afternoon session of the 187th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sisters had served in this capacity since March 2012.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, announced the new Relief Society general presidency:

The presidency will lead one of the largest women’s organizations in the world.

Over the five years Sister Burton led the Relief Society, significant changes led women to play a more prominent role within the LDS Church.

1. Mission age change

In October 2012, President Thomas S. Monson announced women could begin serving missions at 19 as opposed to 21.

The announcement created a dramatic increase in sisters serving in the mission field. In 2014, 28 percent of the 85,039 full-time missionaries were sister missionaries, according to Mormon Newsroom.

Because of the increase in sister missionaries, the church created the position of sister training leaders. These leaders now help train and care for the sisters in the mission and participate in the mission leadership council.

In addition, mission president wife’s received more responsibility to train and care for sister missionaries.

2. Women giving prayers in general conference

During the Saturday morning session of the 183rd Annual General Conference (2013), Sister Jean A. Stevens, then first counselor in the Primary general presidency, offered the closing prayer.

According to Deseret News, Sister Stevens became the first woman to pray in a general session of conference. Women have been speaking in conference since 1984.

Sister Carole M. Stephens, then first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, also offered a prayer during the April 2013 general conference. She opened the Sunday afternoon session.

Since then, each general conference session has included prayers from women.

3. General Women’s Session

In November 2013, the First Presidency announced the general Relief Society meeting held in September and the general Young Women meeting held in March would be replaced with a general women’s meeting. The meeting held a week before each general conference would be attended by all women ages 8 and above and the general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary would conduct the meeting.

In September 2014, the meeting became an official part of general conference. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, began his address at the session by saying he was “honored to have this opportunity to be with you as we open another general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

When the talks became available online and in the Ensign, the meeting’s name changed from the General Women’s Meeting to the General Women’s Session.

Starting in April 2015, the talks from the General Women’s Session were listed at the beginning of the Ensign and the conference website as opposed to the end of the magazine.

4. Photos of presidencies in the Conference Center

In addition to women offering prayers at conference and having an official conference session, women have more visibility in the Conference Center. In 2014, portraits of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary general presidencies were put on display near the hallway of busts of the prophets. The Sunday School and Young Men general presidencies also have portraits.

“Conversations about giving more visibility to women have been going on for some years,” LDS Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody told Deseret News. “The decision to have the sister leaders of the church be more visible in the Conference Center is just one outcome of those conversations.”

5. Increased access to the history of LDS women

Several publications in recent years have addressed the role of LDS women and their history and contributions to the church.

In 2015, two Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org gave additional insights into the role of women. “Joseph Smith’s Teaching about Priesthood, Temple and Women” and “Mother in Heaven” both add an additional dimension to the identity and potential of females.

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society,” a book released in 2016, contains documents and biographical sketches from the beginning of Relief Society. Many of the documents had never been published before allowing additional insight into the lives of the devoted women.

The release of “At the Pulpit” in February of this year, gives women the opportunity to read more than 50 speeches by LDS women. The speeches cover a timeline of 1831 to 2016, from Emma Smith to Linda K. Burton.

6. Women on boards of the church

In August 2015, three major councils of the church received their first female members.

The Relief Society general president now sits on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council; the Young Women general president joined the Missionary Executive Council and the Primary general president is part of the Temple and Family History Executive Council.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said he was very pleased to have these women join these general priesthood councils through a Facebook post.

“We need their wisdom and participation! It is sensible that their assignments line up with their current responsibilities,” Elder Oaks wrote.

7. “I Was a Stranger”

One of the legacies of Sister Burton’s presidency will be the “I Was a Stranger” refugee relief effort, announced during the General Women’s Session in March 2016.

“This is an opportunity to serve one-on-one, in families, and by organization to offer friendship, mentoring, and other Christlike service and is one of many ways sisters can serve,” Sister Burton said during the conference.

The increased focus on refugee relief efforts doubled donations to the LDS humanitarian fund allowing LDS Charities to conduct 488 refugee relief projects in 54 countries in 2016, according to Deseret News.

8. Updated Relief Society purpose

In March, Sister Burton announced an updated Relief Society purpose. The purpose has three goals:

“Relief Society is more than a party,” Sister Burton told LDS Church News. “We’re not here to imitate the world. We’re here to help prepare our sisters to return to our eternal home with our Heavenly Father. Our purpose is what sets us apart.”

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