Women Giving Blessings Within the Church
In the early days of the Church, it was not uncommon for women to participate in giving blessings of healing (see the Church’s Gospel Topics essay “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women“). In fact, by 1880, women had developed a ritual to help those who were about to give birth, often calling this a “washing and anointing previous to confinement”.
Naturally, many questions arose within the Church about the role of women administering these blessings. A recent book released by the Church, The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, details women’s role in the formation of the Church and the beginning of the Relief Society. Contained within this volume are many previously unpublished and significant Church history documents that shed light on these early practices.
And though there are many new documents within the book, this is not the first time the topic has been addressed by Church leaders. Here are a few of those insights from The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society and other Church sources.
Blessing of Healing
In a meeting with the Nauvoo Relief Society on April 28, 1842, the meeting’s minutes record the prophet Joseph Smith’s instruction to women regarding the priesthood and giving healing blessings: “Respecting the female laying on hands, he further remark’d, there could be no devil in it if God gave his sanction by healing—that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water—that it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration” (The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, 55).
In the early days of the Church, many Relief Society sisters saw these blessings as an extension of their call to serve and minister to the sick and afflicted. These early Saints understood the gift of healing “primarily in terms of the New Testament’s teaching that it was one of the gifts of the Spirit available to believers through faith” (“Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women”).
As a result, many women in the 1800s used their faith to bless the sick, but, as Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS [through faith], but not by virtue of the Priesthood” (“Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women”).
Because these blessings were administered through the power of faith, not priesthood authority, sisters did not need to be set apart to participate in such practices. However, some confusion arose because women on occasion would be set apart to bless the sick, “although this setting apart was not seen as a prerequisite” (The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, 539).
Read the rest of the history at LDS Living.com