Opting Out of Visiting Teaching

Sunny Smart returns…and this time, It’s For Real!

Sisters (and any men-folk who’d like to chime in), can we talk? I’m having a real problem with my testimony of visiting teaching. Namely, I don’t have one. So I’m going to tell you a bit about my story and then I’m hoping you’ll tell me yours. I know there are those of you who feel like me, and then there are those of you who really get a lot out of this program and feel it has great worth. I want to hear from all of you. Maybe somewhere in the middle we can figure out what this visiting teaching stuff is all about.

Six months ago at our bi-annual visiting teaching interviews I told my RSP that I wanted to stop receiving visiting teachers. It felt great. Really, really great. I had dreaded the monthly call, clearing out my schedule for the obligatory visit, the scented lotions for birthdays. Cynical? Probably. But truly, I hated the idea of these women, sweet as they were, having to show up simply because they were assigned. It felt like a waste of my time and theirs. I had felt for so, so long that I was getting nothing out of it, that it was more of a burden than a blessing, but I felt obligated to let them come. I wanted to tell them each month that they needn’t bother, I was fine, but I knew it would break their hearts. And they would feel like failures. What would they have to report if I didn’t let them visit? So, for a long time I danced the dance: I let you come over so you can give the visiting teaching supervisor a glowing report of your works this month, then you let someone else come to your house, on and on it goes, then promenade and dos i dos. Six months ago it stopped.

I felt immediate relief, but something still nagged at me. Though I didn’t have VT’s, I still was a VT simply because I know that while the program is in place it needs to be done and I am able and willing, so I should probably help out. However, I soon realized I disliked that part of it too. Beyond the regular stuff- the impossibility of getting schedules to match up and the fun of finding a babysitter (as many sisters do not want children brought along anymore)- I hated being the person that shows up because of an assignment. I felt that even the most sincere and genuine of offerings on my part toward the sisters to whom I was assigned felt tainted by that which had come first: Obligation. To me, obligation felt like an insurmountable wedge between us.

Yesterday we had visiting teaching interviews again. This time I asked to be taken out of visiting teaching altogether. My very wonderful RSP of course wondered (as she had six months ago) why. Here is what I told her:

To me, the program of visiting teaching has become a replacement for the very thing it was designed to inspire: True service and watch-care born of charity. Speaking in generalities, instead of keeping our eyes and hearts open for those around us who may be in need of a heart or hand, we keep our eyes once-monthly focused on those whose names have been assigned to us. Instead of feeling bound by covenant and charity to our ward family as a whole, we feel obligated by numbers and reports to a few whom we often care for just enough to make sure we can say, yes, we served this month. It feels contrived and, even when (as I think they often do) VT’s really do care about their teachees, I think there is often a wedge of obligation that keeps it from feeling completely sincere.

My RSP agreed, in her words, with about 92% of what I had just told her. She told me the reasons she appreciated visiting teaching, mainly, that she, the bishop, and the EQP could never be in all the homes they need to be in each month in order to ascertain and attend to needs. VT’s (and home teachers) are invaluable in this regard. Having been in her shoes before, I understand that sentiment completely. There is a need for watch-care. But to me, the way we’re doing it misses the mark. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like, as kind and wonderful as many of my VT’s have been, there ain’t no way I’m spilling the contents of my heart to them during our monthly chit chat. The program has replaced the principle and now the program feels obsolete.

Now, I know that many people find great value in visiting teaching and there are many wonderful stories to accompany those sentiments. I also understand there’s something to be said for organized watch-care when it comes to those who may have little to no association with the church (but don’t mind the visits/calls/letters) or those who really do look forward to the friendship and outlet they feel visiting teaching offers. I think that’s great. Truly. And I think it should be completely optional. Why not simply create a pool of sisters who want to participate in visiting teaching? They can all take turns visiting each other. Beautiful! Then it can be what it so often ends up being: Assigned friendship. And really, if that’s what we know it is, there’s nothing wrong with it.

As for the real issue, I think we need a return to truly watching out for one another. We need to be mindful of those whose heads are hanging a little low at church, who maybe haven’t made it to church in awhile, who have had heartache befall them. And then we need to act. We need to stop feeling like we’ve done our duty by visiting (or not) those simply assigned to us and instead assign ourselves to our ward family as a whole. I think we’ve buried our heads in the sands of a program for so long that we’ve forgotten how to be shepherds to one another. Does anyone else feel this way? Or have I completely missed the mark?

——————

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Comments

  1. I’ve been opting out of visiting teaching for a long time now and feel really good about it.

  2. I’ve expressed my own feelings about Home teaching elsewhere.

    I’ve come to view HT and VT as akin to a blind date. Sure, it’s awkward and you go through the motions, but it has the potential to bring people together in a really good way who never would have otherwise.

    I also think HT/VT feels more worthwhile when people have actual needs, like when I HT an older guy in Chicago- elderly, African-American, former baptist preacher with a list of health problems and needing help with his computer so he could chat with his kids and grandkids, as well as just someone to talk to. That felt meaningful.

  3. On a serious note, in regards to hometeaching, I am sometimes frustrated by similar dynamics – the experience can be awkward for a wide variety of reasons – but I do feel hometeaching serves a great purpose when those involved are happily involved.

    I remember once having a particular hometeaching assignment where neither the companion or families I was assigned wanted anything to do with hometeaching – which made the process arduous and discouraging.

    But at other times in my life, hometeaching has been a step to friendships that long outlasted the hometeaching assignments.

  4. Sorry to chime in so much – but I also wanted to add that my mother once shared with me a very sacred experience that she had in connection with a visiting teaching assignment. I won’t right the details of it (since it wasn’t my own experience) but it meant the world to her at a very critical/crucial time in her life.

  5. Sunny,

    Would you feel differently if your assigned VT’s were also your friends?

  6. I don’t mind the program that much mainly because I genuinely enjoy all the people in my ward (but two). I’m happy to have them come to visit and I’m happy to visit them.

    What I don’t like is emphasis on achieving a certain statistic. I don’t like being told by our stake, who is repeating what the general RS presidency has said, to wear skirts or dresses. I also don’t like giving or receiving spiritual messages. If the purpose of the program is to ascertain needs, then do that. If the purpose is to be a friend, be a friend. But if you are my friend and you show up at my house all formal and preach to me in any fashion, our friendship just got mighty awkward. I think this is especially a barrier with less active people.

  7. I feel pretty much the same way you do–I could happily never visit teach or have anyone visit teach me again.

    The thing is, I see it like this: You visit teach during the easy times so that when someone does have a need, they know you and feel they can call on you for help.

    I went into a diabetic coma once. My visiting teachers were women I had nothing in common with. They brought me things every month I thought were useless (I’m not a knick knack kind of person). I could have happily done without their visits every month–I’m just not a very social person.

    And then I ended up in the critical care unit. To this day I don’t know how they knew I was in the hospital–I only know when I was in and out of consciousness, I opened my eyes one time to see them standing there, telling me my home teachers were on their way to give me a blessing.

    I’ll never forget that. I would never have had that blessing without them. My husband was inactive at the time. Just knowing my VT were looking out for me and my family (they brought meals while I was in the hospital) was a huge relief.

  8. Matt W. says:

    “Does anyone else feel this way?” Probably, but they shouldn’t.

    “Or have I completely missed the mark?” Yes.

  9. bbell (5),

    No. I’ve had friends assigned to me (both as my VT’s and teachees). And other women that I really like, though am not particularly close to. It still doesn’t change that the visit itself feels quite purposeless. Plus, what Natasha said in her second paragraph.

    I’m enjoying and appreciate the comments thus far. I’m gonna hold back from commenting for a while (just wanted to answer bbell) because I’d like to see the conversation takes it own tone before I chime in. Keep ‘em comin’!

  10. If this is the kind of program you’d like, why not be an example of it? Instead of backing out all together because it’s not meeting every need perfectly, why not be the kind of VT you want to have? This can inspire others to be a real VT friend.

    My current VT asks in what ways I want to be served and then I truthfully tell her. She cared for my daughter twice even though her house is on the market and she has 5 young kids herself. It is a blessing to me, especially after not having an active VT for over two years.

    I think the idea of a permanent status of “no VT” can be harmful because our needs change constantly. Susan M’s experience is a great example. My aunt was recently in the ICU. When I called to talk about how she was doing she openly wept over the love and prayers she felt from her ward family.

    There have been times I’ve been unhappy with my VT situation. I do what I can without guilt. If I feel motivated by guilt and not love I wait until I find a way to love them and then serve with truer motives (Ok, there have been times I’ve served out of guilt and then gained the love along the way.) With VT we really have a flexible program to meet the needs of the sisters as we and they can handle. It’s not about being perfect (100%) it’s about the people. Just tell your supervisor to take a flyin’ leap.

  11. Well, nevermind. I’m gonna comment.

    Matt W.,
    Can you flesh that out a bit? Simply disagreeing without explanation doesn’t help me understand the value you find in the program.

    Brent,

    No, I really don’t have the same question you’ve asked. I don’t believe the church or our leaders are perfect. I speak to God and I’m not perfect. The temporal (and therefore imperfect) nature of our church institution and it’s programs doesn’t lead me to question my testimony in general. I’m sorry that was your experience.

  12. Wm Morris says:

    Is the feeling/attitude described in the original post (which is not unfamiliar to me — both personally, but also as expressed by others) a fault to be found in the set up of the program by the Church or in the middle class, suburban, overscheduled, must-appear-self-reliant-and-successful mores of those who are asked to carry out the program?

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, I have very mixed feelings about these programs. I can relate to a lot of what you say. For some reason my PH leaders keep assigning excellent HTers to us. I’ve tried to gently suggest that they should assign the really good HTers who really go out and do it to people who really need and would appreciate it, as for us it’s mainly a burden to clear time for the HTers to come over. But they keep giving us the really good ones for some inexplicable reason.

    I relate to the artificiality of it, the sense of obligation, the frustration with a focus on statistics, and so forth.

    And I agree with Ben’s thought that it makes a big difference where there is a genuine need. I once HT a young family in the usual perfunctory way for a period of time, when out of the blue the father–only 30 years old–died of a heart attack. All of a sudden nothing was perfunctory anymore; my involvement was essential to the survival of that little family. HTing stopped being about a scheduled visit and teaching a lesson from the Ensign, and started being about genuine, life-changing service.

  14. Stephanie says:

    Sunny, if you opt out of visiting teaching because you feel it is not meeting its purpose of “truly watching out for each other”, then what will you personally do to meet that need?

    I gained a strong testimony of the purpose of visiting teaching while listening to this talk at BYU Women’s Conference in 2008.

    I don’t think that “the way we’re doing it misses the mark” means that the program itself is the problem. I think it means we are the problem.

  15. Mark B. says:

    Go read Philemon.

  16. jendoop,

    I don’t think any program (or person) is going to meet “every need perfectly”. That’s not what I’m asking.

    Why not be the example of what I’d like to see? Do I need the program of VT in order to do this? My experience is, no. I think we can give meaningful, inspired, heartfelt service without an assignment.

    I’m glad your aunt had such a wonderful experience. Sounds like it was about the ward family, which is largely what I’m getting at. I think it can be easy to not reach out when things happen in people’s lives simply because we figure the VT or HT will take care of it. In this way, I think programs can hinder building the kind of warmth that let’s us know we can count on one another in times of need.

    As to your last paragraph, in my particular situation I don’t have a problem with my supervisor. Nor did I have a problem with my route, ie, companion, sisters I visited, etc. That’s not it at all. I like all of them very much.

  17. So here’s a pragmatic view of home and visiting teaching: When they work well, they are a real blessing to those individuals or families who really need some assistance or encouragement, whether spiritual or temporal. When they don’t work well … little or no harm done to anyone. In other words, HT and VT are programs with no downside, apart from a couple of hours each month that we put into it, and a significant upside.

  18. From what I’m reading here in the comments, hometeachers and visiting teachers are a safety net.

    Most of us probably feel like we are very talented acrobats and we may feel that we don’t need the safety net. Or we may wonder why we need to be there as a safety net – when those we are visiting are clearly doing so well.

    But then occasionally, something happens that makes it immediately clear why hometeachers and visiting teachers are necessary.

  19. Stephanie,

    Your question is a legitimate one and one I discussed quite openly with my RSP. However, I feel a bit weird about discussing that here. There’s something about displaying how I serve, how I intend to serve, etc., that feels yucky. Your point is valid though, that the service is still important. I’m with you there. Heartfelt watch-care is important, even sacred, to me and, even if it’s hard to understand, is the basis for my struggle with the program.

    As to great experiences with VT/HT, I’m not saying they don’t happen and I think it’s beautiful that they do, my question is why/whether we need a program in order to make that happen.

  20. Stephanie says:

    My experience is, no. I think we can give meaningful, inspired, heartfelt service without an assignment.

    Of course, but how do you as a Bishop or RSP make sure that everyone who needs service receives it? Without the HT or VT program, how do you propose that is done?

  21. I think any member who spends a great deal of time every month watching over and serving ward members who otherwise are not given the attention they need can make a good case fo being excused from home or visiting teaching. Unfortunately, I’m not such a person. I need the push of an assignment to get me out of my home looking for service. My mother, on the other hand, fulfills that standard. If her ward had a dozen sisters like her – and they didn’t overlap their efforts – they wouldn’t need visiting teachers. But neither her ward nor mine has that. Visiting and home teaching are certainly a “lesser law.”. But I don’t think “opting out” is an option unless there is a promise of an adequate replacement.

  22. I would love you see a day when your home teaching (I know, not exactly the same thing as visiting teaching) companion is your spouse. I know this is difficult if people have small kids that need to be watched and then there is the whole idea that it takes two men to give a blessing. (Although there was that time in church history…)

    But just seeing senior couple missionaries going forth two by two as couples has always made me wish my home teaching companion was my wife.

  23. I tend to agree that both VT and HT can be the form of Godliness without the power thereof. But here is the thing, I think it can also be the form and the power, depending on how we negotiate it. As many have indicated, there is some extraordinary potential. Guilt however, should never be part of the equation.

  24. britt k says:

    I haven’t always had active visiting teachers. I have visit taught. The sisters I have visit taught have become friends and they have been there for me when I needed them..it became so much more wonderful and deeper that way-a recipricol relationship. In my last three wards this has been the case, that the women I visit teach-or my visiting teaching companion, have been the ones I call on when I’m in need.

    In my current ward the sisters I visit taught Sunday-we ended the disucssion with talking about what I needed for my upcoming birth. One sister is my twins’ primary teacher and she offered to watch my children or help with meals. Another sister also offered babysitting-she is another daughter’s teacher and has become like a substitute grandma for this daughter-they go to the library every week together to encourage my daughter in her reading-she’s been a little slow on the uptake.

    Two wards ago when I had my daughter on Christmas eve, the sister I visit taught showed up with dinner and watched my children while my husband brought me home from the hospital.

    It’s a different perspective…but I prefer that give and take in a relationship and I have been greatly blessed by it. I do think it helps that I visit and try to see them outseide of hte “visit”-going to their children’s games once in a while, or to their plays or whatever…doing something they like with them…building a friendship, calling them just to talk.

    Right now very few of thhe sisters on my list go to church (only the twoi mentioned). One, we meet at her bar…I don’t think people would automatically think to do that. I do think a RSP needs to know who has been visited and cared for so she can see to those who have been missed.

  25. Sunny (20),
    “As to great experiences with VT/HT, I’m not saying they don’t happen and I think it’s beautiful that they do, my question is why/whether we need a program in order to make that happen.”

    I haven’t had home teachers since moving to my current ward; in theory, I enjoy the freedom, but the other week, while I was out of town, my family could have benefited from home teachers–yes, there are people we know who could have helped, but the timing was inconvenient, and it would have been nice to have had someone at the top of the Rolodex, rather than scanning through alphabetical pages of LDS.org.

    And why do we need a program? I don’t know where you live or what the Church situation is there, but here, our ward is ethnically and socioeconomically and geographically diverse. I think home and visiting teaching force a mixing that would be difficult otherwise to engage in. So no, it’s not necessary, and if I were in charge of things, there are a couple significant tweaks I’d make, but, like some others have said, while it’s mostly banal, occasionally, a family will have a real need, and home and visiting teachers can meet that real need.

    (Did you ever do a first aid course, where you were taught in an emergency that you don’t say, “Somebody call 911!” Instead, you point to once person and tell them to call an ambulance, you point to another and tell them to get a blanket, etc. Home and visiting teaching, to some extent, is like that–sure, we should all be being charitable of our own accord, but charity needs to be done whether or not someone thinks to do it him- or herself.)

  26. Pretend with me here for a minute that we didn’t have these “safety net” programs in place. I’m curious as to whether general opinion is that watch-care would sink to an all-time low, or whether people might step it up and be more likely to reach out simply because they can’t assume things will be done through assignment?

    What think ye?

  27. Stephanie says:

    Sunny 27, honestly, based on my experiences in the church, I think watch-care would go down. Or, watch-care would increase for those who are in the social circle, but decrease for those who are not.

  28. I sympathize, but I think you are missing the mark. I believe the VT program is inspired.
    I never feel limited to the VT program. I can look for ways to serve others in my ward too.
    I see the VT program as a way to try to serve and love those particular women. More than half the time I feel I am successful at using the VT program to learn to love someone and watch out for them.
    I think perhaps your vision of VT is limited. Why didn’t you ask your VT to call you instead? Why didn’t you ask your VT to come hang out with you while you did yard work?
    I have a sister that I have VT for a while (years now). Hard to know. Health problems, limited church attendance, older than me. My companion knew her thru their grown children. It has meant a lot to me to give her cookies (oops, she can’t eat them) and then learn to give her fresh strawberries or other fruit instead. I admit I don’t visit every month, but a driveby with fruit, I can do that. I found out she was in an art walk so I went to that. I feel like I represented our ward at that art walk. I represent Christ, not just our ward.
    I found her on Facebook and suddenly I could see things about her life. I could comment about her life. She comments about mine. So now when I miss a month I can easily call her and chat because I know something about her life. She is needy and moving, so it is nice to have little details like the house is selling on facebook.
    The last time I called and got an update we talked and she gave me some useful parenting advice that I will probably remember for the rest of my life. It was simple and I have no idea if she told it to me specifically because I was doing the opposite (perhaps from a facebook comment or something) or just general from normal conversation.
    The next day, I gave this advice to someone who also needed it, perhaps more than me, but now that I think about it I am already applying it successfully in my life so I appreciate it more for my own sake.
    My point is that I had nothing in common with this woman for YEARS as a VTer. She apparently had nothing to offer me and I nothing to offer her. However, I was excited to find her on Facebook and find a new way to connect with her and since I rarely comment, others rarely comment on my page. But she does.
    There are a million BIG stories. In my ward I love the one where the VTers beat the ambulance to a sister’s house in the middle of the night (and the hospital & fire dept are really close).
    Or how about the friend I made when she had post partum depression (and I did too, but I was 6 months ahead of her). The time she called and just needed to shower. Here we are 10 years later and she doesn’t go to church and is another ward anyway, she is a single mom with NO family. Who does she call? She still calls me for help. I’m 7 years older so although we had our same age kids, I was like a big sister too. Because of that bond, I still feel like that. So if she’s at work an hour away and her son needs to come home, I will step in happily. I still represent Christ.

    My advice. Be creative. Don’t be limited to boring visits every month. Figure out the needs of your sisters. Communicate your needs.
    I view the VT program as God wants EVERYONE to have their own representative from JESUS helping them. Pray about your sisters and he will help you know how to love them and serve them.
    Have a long term view. Life lasts 90 years. I don’t know how old you are. I’m 39. I look back and I see the bigger picture. A couple years of boring VTing is a small price to pay for the VT successes that I see. The connections that are made. The love that is given.
    Even when it isn’t particularly blessing my life at the moment, I know that it is blessing others and for my ward’s sake, for my church’s sake, for Heavenly Father’s children’s sake, I want the visiting teaching program in place.
    Keep practicing love and service in every way you can. Don’t miss these opportunities.

  29. Sunny (27),
    Both. I think you’d get three groups of people: those who are socially integrated, active, etc., who have a network of friends who could support them if they suddenly needed help. (This category is slightly guarded, though: my family probably fits here, but we didn’t ever get our emergency weekday help. Still, long-term help will probably always be available.)

    Then you’ve got the group with obvious needs. I think members would do a great job of stepping up to help them.

    But you’ve got a group of people who are active, but may be more socially reserved, may not have as tight a social network within the Church or the ward, or may even just be new in the area. This group presumably wouldn’t be on a watch-list, and potentially could have issues that their fellow saints didn’t know about. At that point, the burden would fall on them (who are already socially reserved) to ask for help or to flag their need. But to whom do they go if they don’t have close friends or historic need? Without a safety net that can catch them, it seems to be magnifying this group of people’s burden by adding on the layer of actively trying to find someone to ask for help.

    (And that’s not to say we do a perfect job with our current HT/VT of finding these middle-category people. But at least they’re provided with a group of people whose role is to offer and provide help, and who presumably make that offer on a regular basis.)

  30. I opted out of VT about 3 years ago. I was a working mom of young kids, paired up with a medical student and mom of young kids to visit a variety of women, some of whom were VERY hard to visit, especially with kids in tow. The woman who taught me was totally sweet and sincere, but I was just so wiped out from life, I would have preferred to use the time we used for her visits to, well, veg. I got to the point where I just couldn’t schedule it anymore; since I wasn’t going to pay into the system, I didn’t feel I could receive from it either. So I contacted my RS president and told her I needed out.

    Cool beans. I was free.

    Then my husband moved out when I was 5 months pregnant and the ensuing difficulties and my home teachers were MIA and I really didn’t have any friends in my very friendly ward because I was a working mom and missed out on lots of church activities and get togethers that happened when I was working or when my kids were already in bed and NO ONE KNEW MY LIFE CRUMBLED because I didn’t have the kind of relationship with anyone that I (personally) needed to tell anyone. [I know other people in my position would have shouted out for help, but I just tried to tread water with a smile on my face and waved to the passing ships in the hall at Church].

    Two years after the life crumbling, when I was still living in ruins, it came out to my bishop in Tithing Settlement. Boy did Bishop feel bad. He was really very distressed that that could have happened under his watch and he had no inkling.

    Had I had the relationships I would have developed with visiting teachers, whether through a companion (I have always made friends with my companions–been very blessed there), or one who visited me, they would have figured me out long ago. After aforementioned Tithing Settlement, my Bishop, I assume, made sure I had some Home Teachers who came and, sure enough, in their very first visit, the fact that Hubby was not there was noted and briefly discussed in a very natural fashion.

    That was a long-winded way of saying that VTing matters. True, I could have received needed attention with “watch-care,” as you call it, but I didn’t. Some of that (lots of it?) is my fault, but, you know, people just don’t think that people who continue to function in their lives, jobs, stake callings, etc. might be in need.

    I have learned much through visiting teaching and have opted-in again. I missed out on the friendships I could have been forming these last few years. My RS president tried to lighten my burden by assigning me without companion, which is easier for me right now.

  31. i think you’re missing the point. yeah, its awkward, and yeah you gotta find a babysitter, match up schedules, feel dumb while you try to find common ground to talk about, feel like a friendship is being forced upon you . . . . . . BUT the point is –

    we’ve been asked to do it. the visiting teaching program is an inspired program. and while i don’t necessarily enjoy it and get somewhat annoyed every month – i do it.

    doesn’t matter what the reasons are behind it. doesn’t matter if i get irritated – i’ve been asked to do it, and i’m going to do it to show my commitment to this church, my RS, my fellow members and the Lord. case closed.

  32. I totally agree with #27. People that are in the “in group” will always be taken care of. VT and HT reach out to those that are not as popular. I know this is not a pleasant reality but I think its true

  33. Correction: In my above comment I said a sister was needy. She above average needy so I don’t know why I typed that!

  34. Sunny, to respond to your question in #26 …

    One thing to consider is the way different spiritual gifts and the way specific talents or abilities or may be sprinkled among the members of a given ward. Some people are introverts. Some people are extroverts. Some people are open and kind to all. Others are cliquish. Some are active and some are inactive. Etc. and etc.

    Due to the wide variety of dynamics at play – some people, probably many people, need an assignment (or to be assigned to someone) so that invaluable relationships will be created where they would not necessarily occur spontaneously – and so that those who are strong in certain areas can strenghen those who are weak.

  35. Last Lemming says:

    Pretend with me here for a minute that we didn’t have these “safety net” programs in place. I’m curious as to whether general opinion is that watch-care would sink to an all-time low, or whether people might step it up and be more likely to reach out simply because they can’t assume things will be done through assignment?

    People’s friends will step up. People without friends will fall through the cracks. Nobody will step up for them because nobody will know there is a problem.

  36. Correction: In my above comment I said a sister was needy. She is NOT above average needy so I don’t know why I typed that! (I changed how I wrote this correction so many times I messed up again!)
    Maybe I should go call her. Maybe God’s trying to tell me something. Maybe she needs something.

  37. Wm Morris says:

    To be fair, much of what happens in HT/VT with the current set up still revolves around the cliques and the “in” families and people still fall through the cracks. And although assignments can definitely be inspired, some of it is simple calculations of geography, demographics and who is tight with who.

    Of course, even with all that said, I still point back to my question above. It seems to me that much of the hollowness of the programs (when they feel hollow) are a function of how and where American Mormons have chosen to live over the past four decades more than a reflection of the merits of the structure of the program.

  38. jks:

    Typos aside, I thought your testimony (if I can presume to call it that) was beautiful and I’m glad you shared it. It helps me see the value that others find. I don’t generally struggle with feeling out of the loop, and I’m also not afraid to reach out to those whom I don’t know or who seem standoffish. My experience has been that an assignment isn’t necessary in order to look for those who are missing (my mom was a self-assigned friend to many, many people and it’s just the way I grew up), but I can appreciate that others have very different experiences and perspectives. Thank you for sharing yours.

  39. Ashley,

    Sorry if I wasn’t very clear. My problem is not with the normal inconveniences. What I’m saying is that what I’m feeling goes beyond that.

    Then there was this:

    “and while i don’t necessarily enjoy it and get somewhat annoyed every month – i do it.

    doesn’t matter what the reasons are behind it. doesn’t matter if i get irritated – i’ve been asked to do it, and i’m going to do it to show my commitment to this church, my RS, my fellow members and the Lord. case closed.”

    I think that about sums up everything I dislike about the program. Ouch.

  40. my question is why/whether we need a program in order to make that happen.

    I think that most of us really do need a program to make that happen, and the reason is simple: We’re mortal and therefore easily distracted, selfish, oblivious to what is going on around us, and unable or unwilling to ask for what we need – especially from people we don’t know well.

    While some of us might be able, willing, and aware enough to render meaningful service without being assigned (and more blessings to you for that), I know I personally am just not that way. If I wasn’t assigned to go visit three families each month, I would visit zero families each month.

  41. Sunny, I relate very well to what you’re saying. I still don’t like it when my home teacher comes — he’s just doing his duty and feels bad for inconveniencing us.

    But I’ve actually made friends with many of the people I’ve hometaught simply because I decided to love them — by assignment. And, when they decided I actually cared, it didn’t seem to matter to them that it was by assignment. I’m the first one they call when they need help, and I actually feel I’ve done as much good as a HT as any other calling I’ve had.

  42. #27 Stephanie’s right on. That’s exactly what I think would happen.

  43. I’ve had some good, a lot of mediocre, and a few downright terrible VTing experiences. I can definitely appreciate the practical value of the program. At the same time, I’ve endured–and perpetrated–so many of those stiff artificial visits.

    I think Ashley’s remark

    “and while i don’t necessarily enjoy it and get somewhat annoyed every month – i do it.

    doesn’t matter what the reasons are behind it. doesn’t matter if i get irritated – i’ve been asked to do it, and i’m going to do it to show my commitment to this church, my RS, my fellow members and the Lord. case closed.”

    beautifully, if inadvertently, illustrates where VTing and other such programs can go awry. I don’t want to be the staging ground for someone else’s grim-faced display of religious commitment. (Nor do I want to risk inflicting my own grim-faced display on anyone else.)

    I’ve long thought that such VTing failures are a lovely refutation of Kantian ethics. No one wants to be someone else’s duty.

  44. Ashley,
    I really hope my VT don’t come to my house with that attitude. I’d really rather not have them come.

    I’m a fan of visiting teaching. I’ve gotten to know people I otherwise wouldn’t. I’ve been assigned to teach sister that have helped me more than I help them. And I’ve had people come than need to dump on somebody instead of help. Both are fine. But it isn’t a cure-all.

  45. Even though I’m terrible at doing it, I actually think that home/visiting teaching are the best ideas in the modern church.

    The thing is, we DO have an obligation to each other. We are in a community together, and we need to watch out for each other’s needs. We need a way of making sure everyone is accounted for.

    For example [have we started using the acronym FE for that yet? I'm starting now], think about Hurricane Katrina. One of the many huge problems was that so many people just didn’t have any way of getting out. They were left behind. In theory, no member of the church should have been left there, because every single H/V teacher should have been accountable for their teachees. Sure, maybe the friendship is artificial. But I think it’s a really good idea for us to have an official responsibility for another person. I like Susan’s story in #7.

    Now, the awkwardness/uncomfortableness of initiating visits with people you have never met? Yeah… still figuring out how to negotiate that one.

  46. If we didn’t have an organized program of watch-care, some people would still get all the service and fellowship that they need, and other people would get nothing. That is the sad and simple truth.

    I don’t agree that the only meaningful service is heart-felt. Service is service, even if it’s performed grudgingly. Maybe God will care at the final judgment if you’ve been delivering casseroles with a song in your heart all your life, but in the meantime people have needs regardless of whether or not we feel like meeting them, and when you meet a need simply because you’re supposed to, it matters, regardless of how you or the recipient feels about it. If you resent service you feel was done merely out of obligation, you are certainly free to reject that service. If you resent giving service as an assigned task, perhaps you should only serve when the idea originates with you–certainly if it results in you serving more, I am all for it.

    However, I’m a basically lazy person who means well. I’m also anti-social. I’m not aware of most of the needs in my ward. I’m kind of hung up on my own needs. I know from experience that it is no fun asking for service and wondering how much the person serving you is resenting you for it. I would much rather not feel that way; however, I am grateful for people who serve me just because they feel obligated to do it. Without those people, I would most likely go without, and so would a host of other sisters and brothers.

    I have VT’d sisters I didn’t particularly like and others who probably didn’t particularly like me, but in the final analysis I am grateful that obligation pushed us together–otherwise we could have easily ignored each other without even meaning to. One of the things I love best about this Church–maybe THE thing I love best–is how it forces us not to ignore each other. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it’s been good for my character as well as eased my burdens.

    And now I have to call the elusive sister that I’m assigned to visit and see if I can squeeze in the obligatory visit for May. Thanks for the reminder!

  47. For those that feel that VT/HT help us focus on those we otherwise wouldn’t (and I do believe that’s true), do you also feel that it, in a way, permits you to not watch over others because you are not assigned to them, or because you feel you have done what is required in caring for your assigned families?

    My point is, I wonder how much being bound up in a program has been the catalyst for the problem of some being left out, left behind, etc. We can get so comfortable in assignment (almost relieved that that is all we have to do) that we fail to feel a responsibility for all instead of a few.

    To be clear, I’m not calling for an end to these programs. My opting out was born of my own struggles with it, but I’m not putting up posters at church encouraging other women to get out. I posted it here because I was hoping to explore all sides. I fear I’ve invited a defense of the program (not all comments, but some) instead of an objective discussion of pros and cons, blessings and flaws.

    To those of you that like the programs but can admit the flaws, what would you do to improve how they are carried out?

  48. nat,
    “For example [have we started using the acronym FE for that yet? I'm starting now]”

    What you want is “e.g.”

  49. Coffinberry says:

    I’ve had mixed experiences with VT, myself. My observation is that opting out of VT, for a person who is self-contained and self-reliant (and serving in Primary for multiple years) only results in that person being totally and completely out of the loop with regard to both opportunities to serve and opportunities to be served. I have VTs right now that make the perfunctory visit, but I wouldn’t tell them squat about what I wrestle with. I personally cannot imagine, any more, how I would go about sharing a crisis of faith or emotion with anyone other than my spouse. Now, as far as serving others, I’m all for it. But I utterly do not expect to be served by anyone else, and would not ask for it. (Dodges lightning bolt… but that’s ok, God’s zapped me for this before but I haven’t changed–one of the weirdest experiences in my life was a broken leg, and people kept thinking that helping me would be to clean my house and keep bringing me the stacks of stuff to sort and tell them where to put it. Please, put it back where you found it, I knew where it was then and what was in it. What I really needed was someone to entertain my 18-month-old, but at the time, nobody in my assigned circle had little kids, or were frail in their own health, and so couldn’t do that. After that, I’ve sworn off being a service recipient, more or less.) Seriously, the stuff I wrestle with spiritually and emotionally is sometimes such a deep dark well that it’s a point of pride not to suck others into it.

  50. Sunny,
    With or without home teaching, I take care of people in my circle, and try to help people whom I know need help. And the formal program doesn’t diminish that. It has, however, permitted me to serve people whom I wasn’t or wouldn’t have been aware of. But I don’t feel (and don’t know anyone who feels) that if I’ve done my home teaching, I’m free from any other obligation.

    How would I change the program? I’d only have active, connected members visited, say, quarterly (so that they know their home teachers and can call them in an emergency) unless they requested more frequent visits or something changed. But I’d keep more frequent visits for people who need them.

    Which, come to think of, might signal to those who are less connected that there is something wrong with them. Plus it would be administratively irritating to divide the list into “visit monthly” and “visit quarterly.” So never mind; maybe I’d encourage informal requests by visitees to their visitors that the visits happen less frequently. Or something.

  51. de Pizan says:

    Even though I do dislike the awkwardness and the forced social interactions, at the same time, I think VT/HT are extremely important. My situation is that I have had significant health problems for over 12 years that prevent me from making it to church on any kind of a regular basis. It might be months, or even a year or so between church attendance (and obviously ward social functions are out of the question). In that time, I’ve been in quite a few wards, and in every ward, I’ve contacted the bishopric, RS president, EQ president and explained my situation; and asked that since they will likely be my only regular interaction with the church, I need HT/VT that will come and that know my situation so that they don’t just assume that since I’m not at church, I’m inactive and therefore don’t want their visits. In almost every ward I was in, I never had a VT/HT contact me, and never knew who they were. The only contact I had with the church was my calls every few months to the ward leaders yet again to ask for help that didn’t come. This really isn’t mean to be a condemnation to those leaders or those who were assigned that never showed; however, I’m saying along with several others posters, that voluntary watch care won’t work because assigned watch care often fails. And human nature being what it is, unless there’s a big flashy neon sign with WARNING on it pointing to a problem, we’re likely to forgot about it or not even notice it at all. We notice the most visible and forget that’s not all there is out there.

  52. Sunny, would your problems be solved if your ward did away with the reporting aspect?

    The parts that are worth keeping are the formalized relationships, even though they’re assigned. I think we all agree that there is value with having a couple buddies in the ward who have your back and are on standby for PH blessings, etc.

    But the reporting irks, and I think it can supplant the holistic type of watch-care that we’re supposed to be providing. And I hate sitting through EQ lessons about numbers. In fact, I might be MORE inclined to take better care of my HT assignments if I didn’t have to go through the de-humanizing experience of reporting the status of our relationship according to lunar cycles.

    My dream scenario: Gimme four families in the ward that I should be paying extra special attention to. And leave it at that.

  53. I don’t agree that the only meaningful service is heart-felt. Service is service, even if it’s performed grudgingly. Maybe God will care at the final judgment if you’ve been delivering casseroles with a song in your heart all your life, but in the meantime people have needs regardless of whether or not we feel like meeting them, and when you meet a need simply because you’re supposed to, it matters, regardless of how you or the recipient feels about it.

    For the record, I agree. I’d certainly never argue that the only meaningful service is heart-felt. As many of us can, I think back to times in my life when I had concrete, specific, [what felt anyway like] desperate needs that ward members I may not have even particularly liked have met–needs for help moving, needs for meals during an episode of PPD, etc.–and that’s where I think VTing and HTing and associated forms of watchcare can be fantastic and necessary, and I resolve to make meals for families whose children are in the hospital even when I really don’t much feel like it.

    Where VTing gets murkier and more potentially problematic, for me anyway, is in the realm of the less concrete, where needs are personal and nonevident and require a high degree of mutual trust even to be disclosed. The need for a friend or a confidant, for instance, requires a level of trust and reciprociaty the need for a casserole does not.

    Maybe one way to frame the problem is that HTing/VTing, while (potentially) wonderfully suited to meeting temporal needs, is inherently much less suited to emotional and spiritual needs–simply because of the assigned nature of the relationships. Of course sometimes one gets lucky, and of course the distinction ultimately breaks down, and then you get issues such as calling upon HTers for priesthood blessings–but, as I said, just one way of framing it.

  54. If anyone ever feels “guilty” about opting out, just move to Costa Rica, no one does VT or HT. It was the best part about the move to be honest with you.
    As to the question of people still being watched over. Yes they are. I have had the RS pres walk up to me in the hall and ask if I had a couple of bags of beans to spare. They came by and picked them up after church for a needy family.
    People here have no problem letting it be known when they need help, it is not shameful to be down on your luck so to speak.
    Once a year we have a vt party and all get together and get it done, it is great. They even go out and pick you up if you don’t show up.

  55. Wonderfully put, ZD Eve. I think that last paragraph hits the nail on it’s proverbial head.

  56. nat kelly says:

    Sam, 48,
    Sure, sure, eg. But when I read that, I just think “eg” not “for example”. Semantically identical, yes, but aesthetically different. :) Plus, I’m generally trying to retire old dead Latin phrases that have a perfectly clear modern meaning.

  57. I’m the RS president of an urban ward and this is a subject that I wrestle with. A LOT.

    We have about 100 active and semi-active members (that’s being generous) and 500 inactive. My visiting teaching printout contains 3 pages of companionships with assignments and a least 8 pages of those sisters who haven’t been assigned a VT – yet. I wish I had the resources to even be aware of the needs of those sisters who fall on the 8 pages.

    Of course we haven’t done away with VT/HT in our ward, but as a ward council we’re working on something that I hope will work better for us. We’re dividing our ward up into smaller neighborhood zones and identifying all members, both active and inactive, that live in each zone. Each zone will be assigned a strong active family to shepherd that zone and they will be given wide latitude in how that shepherding works for those that live there. I think this approach will get us closer to the watchcare that the OP (and I agree) we should be striving for. Hopefully less begrudging action out of a sense of duty and more action out of pure and Christlike love.

  58. As someone who has moved regularly, I have found that often VT service is the best way to form those relationships needed to disclose “emotional and spiritual needs.” If you don’t have other ways to form friendships in the ward (ie, you have a stake calling so don’t directly interact with people in your ward, you can’t make it to the mommy groups, RS meetings are too late for you, etc etc), isn’t VT a good way to start?

  59. You’ve made some interesting points, Sunny- quite a few of which I can see and some with which I agree.

    I’ve had good VT’s, and terrible ones. There are times I hate the program, and the artificial intimacy it’s supposed to create. I think that’s what bugs me the most- the artificial intimacy. As others have mentioned, I cannot confide and trust in someone just because she is assigned to me- that happens organically, over time, with people I feel friendship towards.

    One of the unanticipated benefits has been finding that I quite like/appreciate some women I NEVER would have expected to, or even been in contact with through normal life. I find I agree with ZD Eve in that the impersonal service when I’ve been in times of crisis has been a huge safety net. Those women don’t need to know me personally to help care for my kids and feed us- or pack my house and pick me up.

    I do wonder if those less _popular_ members would get thought of and taken care of without assignments. I fear many would fall through the cracks- and honestly, there are women in my own ward who I would have no clue even existed without calls for service from the VT’s.

    It’s a flawed system to be sure- but I think we need to be careful about tossing the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

  60. Amen Stephanie #27.

  61. Mary W. says:

    I agree with Stephanie in just about everything she has said. Thanks for your comments, S.

    My experience with visiting teaching is this: I’m a very private and independent person, and I just don’t share my needs and problems with very many people (and yes, I do have as many as the next person). But, I love being loved and loving other people. I have had VT’s come, and I’ve had absentee VT’s. My life is always better when they come, even when it’s awkward, or I don’t know them, or I don’t tell them what I need (which is always). Just to know that if something came up where I did truly need to reach out, I know that they will be there for me (just because I asked). And just to know they care. I don’t care if they are prompted because it’s an assignment–if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t come.

    I visit teach 3 women, none of whom attend church. I know for a fact that my companion and myself are their ONLY regular contact with the church. The other members know and love them, but my girls have full time jobs and don’t go to the activities either. We were total strangers when I was assigned, but now they are my friends and I need them in my life. I think VT is as much for the visitor as the visitee. The human soul needs to serve others; needs to reach out and touch others in order to thrive.

    When I’m feeling yukky and squirmy because I’m visiting my friends on assignment, the way I handle it is to still visit but not report the numbers. It messes up the ward records, but my conscience is eased quite a bit. I DO understand that feeling you have–I have had it too. I just choose to resolve it in other ways. By doing more instead of backing out because I’m uncomfortable. I do always report to the RS Pres and/or Bishop if my girls have any needs (whether they asked for help or not, and even when I don’t turn in the numbers), while respecting their private lives. And my RS Pres & Bishop always follow through–they really care.

    If you are concerned about people getting taken care of for the right reasons, go ahead and step out of VT. BUT, please take upon yourself the blessings of becoming good friends with all the less-active, difficult, and otherwise forgotten members of your ward. That way you will be there for them when they need anything, and they will feel love from you. THAT is the true spirit we are aiming for, isn’t it? But what if you say you just don’t have time for that, or just don’t like them, or just don’t know them well enough…hmmm…maybe that’s why we are given an extra push to do our part for those women who are not in the middle of the social circles.

    I think what you are feeling is more a problem inside you, and less with the program. And the same with the other women who don’t like being part of VT but who don’t fulfill its spirit outside of the program. I’m not only talking to you (Sunny), I’m talking to all of you. It’s you. When I feel the same, it’s me and not visiting teaching itself. The program suffers because of all the people in it who are doing it only because they should. So, how do we change it? Find a reason to love your ladies and do it for love. If we all did it for love (because we’re already like Christ), we wouldn’t need an assignment, would we? But Heavenly Father wants all His children taken care of, whether we feel like it or not. So, he gives us constant opportunity to do things for the right reasons. It’s really up to us what our motivation is.

  62. Roblynn,

    I’m moving to Costa Rica. Really though, I think what you’ve shared speaks to Wm Morris’ question. Maybe it is a societal/cultural hang up, wherein we are reluctant to let our needs be known or let our real selves hang out. In U.S. wards, the RSP would almost never approach a sister and ask if she had enough to spare. We are told to make sure things are volunteered so we don’t put anyone in an awkward position. Again, culturally we are not generally willing to share when we are struggling.

  63. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think these programs are, historically, placeholders until we can learn to act out of love on a wide scale. I think an active member possibly ought to consider that they have a smidgen of duty (duty is not nothing) to participate in them while they exist.

    It seems to me that the mechanistic attributes of the programs (arbitrary assignment, statistics) are dangerous to the vitality of any human interaction. At the very least they can be off putting and demoralizing. They are something we’ve got, though, and it is possible to breathe life into them. It seems questionable that if we were to drop them people would suddenly acting spontaneously out of love, since there is nothing in the dropping the programs alone that would make anyone more loving. Those who are truly loving are possibly already pretty good vts and hts.

    Anyway – I personally love dropping out, and have some sympathy for anyone who does so for whatever reason. I wouldn’t want to preclude that as what might be a totally valid choice for some people at some times.

    Groovy. ~

  64. For those that feel that VT/HT help us focus on those we otherwise wouldn’t (and I do believe that’s true), do you also feel that it, in a way, permits you to not watch over others because you are not assigned to them, or because you feel you have done what is required in caring for your assigned families?

    That is a valid question, and my answer is basically what Sam B. said in #51. I feel obligated to serve where I know there’s a need, regardless of whether I have an assignment, but having an assignment results in me serving people who wouldn’t have otherwise been on my radar.

    As for how the program could be improved, I understand the frustration with the focus on numbers. Something I learned, though, while I was serving in a RS presidency, is that the numbers matter because the numbers represent people. As many numbers as I crunched, I knew every one of those sisters’ names. I didn’t know them all personally, but I knew they existed and were real people, and I knew which ones weren’t getting seen month after month. So reporting is important. Even if the numbers don’t tell the whole story, the program can’t work without the numbers.

    I think the most important thing is for individuals, including myself, to adjust their attitudes. But I think that’s best accomplished by fulfilling our obligations first rather than analyzing our motivations. We aren’t asked to serve others to make ourselves feel good; we’re asked to serve others so that others can be served. No one wants to feel like a service project, and we shouldn’t think of people as projects. I do believe that the more we do simply out of obligation, the more our hearts are changed. I know that historically I have started off performing service just because I feel morally obligated, not because I had warm fuzzies about the person I was serving, but consistent acts of service eventually resulted in true compassion for that person. Service doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes resentment arises, but you have to fight it. You get there by doing, not by feeling.

  65. Sam B. (50),

    I think generally people are willing to serve, but often wait for an assignment or for a need to hit them between the eyes. How proactive are we as a people toward those whom we are not assigned?

  66. John Mansfield says:

    I’m thinking about the half dozen families in my ward who live closest to me, one of which I’ve been home teaching a few months. For the other five there is no mechanism for me to watch out for them. They could be in bed with fevers for twenty days and I would have no way of knowing. Having a clue as to the needs of those I’m assigned to watch for is hard enough.

  67. Sunny–I think eliminating VTing and saying “everyone be better shepherds” would be chaos. Even if everyone were TRULY dedicated and determined, it would result in some families being watched over fervently by 20 of their closest friends, and it would mean LOTS of people would not get any care because people would assume someone else is doing it. VTing is just an attempt to organize the care.

    If I leave town and tell the rest of the family to keep the house clean, likely, I would find it a shambles upon my return. If I make specific assignments, however (even if the assignments are chosen by those in the house), it is much more likely that A will do the dishes and C will vacuum and P will keep the laundry going. MUCH.

  68. madhousewife,

    I’m not talking about whether or not I get warm fuzzies. In my experience, people feel reluctant to share or ask for help because of the artificial intimacy or sense of obligation. I’m not saying it doesn’t feel good enough to go, I’m saying the nature of going by assignment often negates the good that could otherwise be done.

  69. Mary W. says:

    ESO – touche! great example.

  70. My favorite thing about the visiting teaching program is the occasional homemade baked goods.

    Sometimes this hubbie gets to partake.

    So please do keep ‘em coming.

  71. Thomas (63),

    “there is nothing in the dropping the programs alone that would make anyone more loving.”

    Quite true. I’m wondering how much “fulfilling assignment” lulls us into not seeking to become more loving.

  72. Another thought:

    As someone who has needed a great deal of service through my divorce and the disassembly of my former life, it has been a huge blessing to know there is someone I am supposed to call when I need something. Yes, I have scads of friends- and they have been lovely, and a huge support- but when you feel like a pit of need, always calling on your friends can become draining. Knowing that I have a HT and a VT that I SHOULD call- and do so without apology or embarrassment- has been a quiet blessing. It’s hard enough to ask for help- at least this way there is a CoC for me to follow.

  73. Sunny,
    I think, in general, we’re good about serving those whom we know have a need (especially if we know their need). In my experience, very few people balk when asked to serve, and many (pro-)actively serve.

    You talk about people waiting for an assignment to serve; I’d probably soften that to people waiting for a request. I don’t, however, see that as a bad thing, for at least two reasons. First, unlike the stable suburban ward I grew up in, I’ve lived for a long time in transient urban wards. In these wards, there is enough turnover that we can’t count on a person’s mother, sister, or friend of 20 years to mention that the person needs help. Where a ward has an annual turnover of 20 or 30 percent, there’s not time to develop social ties or intimate knowledge of people’s needs.

    Second, if we have to guess at people’s needs, we’ll sometimes guess wrong. Sometimes it will be false negatives–we’ll miss a problem that really needs help. And sometimes it will be false positives: we’ll provide unneeded (and potentially offensive) service where none is needed. Neither of these is a good thing.

    So yes, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to ask people to serve, because they’d know what service was needed. And there may be wards where this is generally the case. But I haven’t lived in one of those for at least 15 years. People where I’ve lived have been just as generous as where I grew up, but haven’t had the history with each other that would organically create service networks. But at least there are inorganic networks that can backstop the fledgling organic networks until (if at all) they can grow.

  74. Stephanie says:

    For those that feel that VT/HT help us focus on those we otherwise wouldn’t (and I do believe that’s true), do you also feel that it, in a way, permits you to not watch over others because you are not assigned to them, or because you feel you have done what is required in caring for your assigned families?

    My point is, I wonder how much being bound up in a program has been the catalyst for the problem of some being left out, left behind, etc. We can get so comfortable in assignment (almost relieved that that is all we have to do) that we fail to feel a responsibility for all instead of a few.

    How many families exactly are my husband and I responsible for? He’s in the Bishopric and HTs four families. I have my (lame) calling and VT two women (and have 5 kids under 9). Even with the VT program in place, do you know what happens a lot of the time? The same few people/families pick up a lot of the slack for the ward. The other Bishopric counselor and his wife (in the RS Presidency) are everywhere. I swear they are miracle workers. DH and I are amazed that they are always the first ones in a home that needs help. And they have 4 kids under 7. If the VT/HT programs were done away with, I suspect that their burden would increase greatly while others would slack off. I think that would be asking too much of the members who already give a lot. We are limited in our time and resources. Even in King Benjamin’s sermon (I believe that is where it is), after admonishing us to give, he warns us to “not run faster than ye are able”. I think the VT program is a good way to spread the service around. I occasionally do like my husband in his own home ministering to his own family.

  75. I should clarify my false positives: providing service is not a bad thing, but where you assume that somebody can’t provide their family necessities, so you bring them a 20-pound bag of flour and tell them you’re sure the Lord will bless them and help them through their trial . . . well, it would be kind of funny, but it would also be kind of rude.

  76. Stephanie says:

    Also, I think it’s a good way to provide the opportunity to serve for those who might be shy or new or otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to just anyone.

  77. Ok, so I’m hearing a lot of different reasons these programs are good:

    -They help keep tabs on everyone. We can know who’s moving, having a baby, had an illness or tragedy, etc.
    -They offer friendship to those who may not otherwise have occasion/make an effort otherwise
    -They give people a name (even if the relationship isn’t great) to call if they really need to, and the sense of obligation on the part of the VT/HT makes is it a little more comfortable to ask for that help. Like asking a waiter for water, you don’t feel guilty. It’s what he’s there for.

    Here’s where I get hung up. I think we try to make it more than it is, or at least something else, with the formality of the sit-down visit, the lesson, etc. I like the comments talking about making it more personalized, but that is often frowned upon. We get told how important the spiritual message is, but not all sisters want that. We are told how long we should be staying, how often we need to be in the home (in my area we need to make contact every month, but make sure we are in the home at least quarterly), but not all women want those kinds of visits. I think we also try to make it more than it often is relationally, meaning, we feel that a sense of closeness or friendship is supposed to be the end result, which is why we feel awkward visiting for half an hour when that isn’t the result. When friendship happens because of VT, I think it’s great. I just don’t think it’s necessarily the point.

    To me, it seems like an organized safety net and easy way to hand out assignments when things need to be done. I’m ok with that. I think I would be more comfortable if we just called it that. And then left people to decide what they wanted it to look like beyond that.

    “Hi. I’ve been assigned to you as your VT. This means I’m here for you anytime. If I can’t help with what you need, I’ll help get you in touch with people in the ward who have the skills you need. I’d like to have regular contact with you, find out about you, know how things are going, etc. I’ll probably be inviting you to things I like to go do, but if you’re not interested in those things, no hard feelings. I’d like to be around as much as you’d like, but not overstep. What kind of Visiting Teaching do you feel comfortable with? Monthly visit? Spiritual message? A companion to attend functions with? Someone to help you get to know the ward? Phone calls? Or just someone you know you can call in a pinch and leave it at that?” … Only probably not all in one big speech without a breath.

    What that does, to me, is acknowledge the assigned and obligatory nature of VT instead of trying to make it more intimate than it naturally is. If something intimate and tender develops, wonderful! If not, nobody was pretending so in the first place.

  78. I have had the privilege of being of service to one of my teachees a lot recently.

    As a supervisor, telling me to “take a flying leap” as one commenter says happens all the time. I spend lots of time every month trying to bend to the preferences of the sisters in my ward. Some women only want to visit one sister, some women visit four because others refuse to visit any. Some women only want to visit friends, and some will only receive friends. It’s a logistical nightmare trying to fix schedules every month so that the sisters get to do the calling exactly the way they want to.

    And I do it. Sometimes happily, sometimes not.

    As much as I understand, and to some degree agree with a few of your concerns, many of us supervisors try to make the program work in a way that makes all the sisters feel enriched by it.

    I would agree with the person who said try and make the program what you want it to be. As a supervisor, I see all the good that is possible through this program. You may think that the good would occur without it, but I doubt it. More people complete their VT/HT in our ward on a regular basis than ever show up at our service projects or respond to e-mail requests for specific help for individuals in the ward.

  79. Tracy (72),

    That’s the point I was trying to make in my last comment (we were both posting). Thanks.

  80. StillConfused says:

    I am ambivalent about receiving VTers. Sometimes they show, sometimes not. Either way is fine with me. I have not been asked to be one in a while.

    The worst for me was when I was a VT supervisor and was supposed to call of the women to see if they had done it. That sucked.

  81. Amen to Stephanie at #74. You make an excellent point. Few people in the ward already bear the majority of the burden of service. Doing away with these programs would leave people behind, or increase that burden significantly.

  82. Sunny (77),
    That being the case, I see a little better where you’re coming from. Is there really pressure brought to bear where you are to do a formal lesson, to make a visit exactly half an hour (or whatever), etc.? I’d find that offputting, too. But, other than the pressure to make a monthly visit, I’ve never been told how the visit should go, much less how long.

    (In my experience, visits tend to be between one and two hours–which I wish weren’t the case, but we tend to enjoy talking about food and music and church and kids and work and whatever else we talk about. And I’ve rarely had the artificiality, largely because my visits and the visits to me tend to function on this more informal level. There’s often a brief message, but I’ve made visits and been visited where even that didn’t happen.)

  83. Just as a random data point:

    When I was newish to this ward, my visiting teacher was a lady I viewed as part of the “cool kids” in the ward. She never visited me. I would see her and she’d say “Oh I need to get over to see you! I’ve been so busy! You look like you’re doing great though!” Once or twice she dropped off something on my doorstep. Maybe she thought since I’m an active, relatively problem-free kind of person, that it was pointless and sort of awkward to check up on me monthly. But even though I knew it wasn’t personal, it was really hard for me to not take it that way. It took me back to the high school days and not feeling cool enough. Even when it’s awkward, and even though I don’t “need” it, I like being visited. Sure, it’s pure vanity, but I like feeling like someone cares enough to make an effort.

    Anyway I thought that might be something to keep in mind for those of you feeling like slacking on visiting active members.

  84. I honestly didn’t understand HT/VT while growing up in rural Utah County with lots of extended family surrounding us – and in a geographic area I could walk leisurely in 30 minutes. It really was an artiface for my family. We wouldn’t call our HT/VT first for anything. They simply showed up and taught a lesson once a month.

    I understand it better now – but I still struggle to internalize it like I should. That bothers me perhaps more than anything else about my involvement in the LDS Church – that I’m not a very good Home Teacher, even now that I know how desperately my help is needed.

  85. #6: “I don’t like being told by our stake, who is repeating what the general RS presidency has said, to wear skirts or dresses.”

    Is this for real? There goes our usual plan of doing all our May through September visiting teaching at the beach.

  86. acknowledge the assigned and obligatory nature of VT instead of trying to make it more intimate than it naturally is

    I am totally on board with that.

    I am against giving formal lessons to sisters who don’t want them or who seem uncomfortable with them. I am totally for coming out and asking people what they really want/need–in-person visits, checking-in phone calls, someone to call for free babysitting, whatever. They will learn more about the gospel through your acts of thoughtfulness (considering their actual needs, not the official VT checklist, which is only a guideline) than they will through formal lessons, edifying as they might be under the right circumstances. When a person’s needs are being met, that’s as visit-taught as it gets. It should “count” at least as much as a formal, in-home visit with a lesson.

  87. Stephanie says:

    Sunny 77, I get what you are saying. But, without a monthly visit, I wonder if one would be able to develop the kind of friendship where the teachee is comfortable really sharing her needs. Also, I admit that I do like the lesson. I feel like we have good discussions with that as a starting point. I don’t know. I guess I just really like the VT program, although I admit that it doesn’t always go well on the ground. I think that part of that is when individuals focus more on the program than the people. If you think VT is just about visiting someone once a month to deliver a message (which seems to be what is talked about the most at church), then it appears hollow. If you understand that it is the way to minister to every individual as Christ would, then it changes your perception and how you approach it. You focus more on the needs of the people you visit and less on the needs of the “program”. Perhaps better instruction on what VT is supposed to be about? I feel that President Beck has done a good job of that, but I don’t know that it always filters down to the local level.

  88. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Excellent post topic. My wife feels the way you described in the opening. She feels that she is wasting sisters time by having them come to see her. We live a good distance out of town and from any other ward members (which has its advantages). Her visiting teachers have taken the approach to send her cards and to greet her at church rather than making the trip out to see her.

    She had a great deal of difficulty finding a sitter, and couldn’t really enjoy going on a visiting teaching trip because she was constantly trying to make sure that the kids didn’t trash the sister’s home. Now she has a visiting teaching assignment to mail a copy of the message from the Ensign each month to 5 women who are totally inactive. The RSP mentioned that she might call her partner (who is also unknown and totally inactive) to discuss who will mail the messages each month, advice which she repeated to me, then laughed. She mails them with only a return street number, no name. I would imagine that they are frequently received and deposited right in the garbage.

    Her further issue with VT is also an overall weak testimony of the RS program. She is independent and private and doesn’t want to be the subject of “watch care”, even if it is part of being Christian. If she is asked to or sees a need to take dinner to someone, she will always do it, but tries her hardest to avoid being in a situation where someone might need to bring a meal to us. The past two RS presidents have each tried persistently to bridge that gap themselves and I see a gradual change in her attitude through their continued love.

    My own issues with HT are of motivation. Most of the time, I really enjoy it when I get there, but it’s hard to convince myself that it’s worth doing it. I have one family that I really don’t enjoy going to. The brother always goes off on weird conservative political paranoid beliefs, and his wife just patiently listens and never stops him. We always have to change the subject back to the message. I know, however, that deep down my issue is that I am prideful and do not want to really love this person, the way Heavenly Father would have me love him. As a Christian, however, that is really not a valid choice for me. It is something that I need to learn how to do.

  89. Sunny–that sounds like a local issue with implementation, then, not with the actual premise of the program. In the 17 years I have been a visiting teacher, I have never been told how and when to do it. I have never been told how to dress or how spiritual to make the message. I have only ever been encouraged to make it work for those involved–e-mail only contact for some, picnic groups for others, quarterlyish visits for a few, occasional calls for a couple, drive-bys with treats for one, regular old monthly visits for lots. Whatever works for me and for them. I think that is a pretty prevalent idea.

  90. Norbert says:

    Quite true. I’m wondering how much “fulfilling assignment” lulls us into not seeking to become more loving.

    This is a false dichotomy. But you would be the best test of this. Has opting out of the system brought you a stronger desire and more opportunities to serve?

    Is the feeling/attitude described in the original post (which is not unfamiliar to me — both personally, but also as expressed by others) a fault to be found in the set up of the program by the Church or in the middle class, suburban, overscheduled, must-appear-self-reliant-and-successful mores of those who are asked to carry out the program?

    Ding ding ding. When we find it stressful to schedule a time for someone to visit us periodically, we have a problem.

  91. 89:

    I have lived in multiple stakes and have found that when sisters truly try to tailor VT to the needs of individuals it gets frowned upon eventually and we are reminded of the importance of the message, the home visit, etc. I’m not against these things, per say, I just don’t like that the program does feel rigid.

  92. So Norbert, should church programs not change/be flexible to suit the changing needs or experiences of the people they were designed to serve?

  93. Stephanie (87),

    I think monthly contact is not a bad thing, but saying it needs to be a visit is insisting that people participate in something they may not want/need simply so we can say we served them in the way we’re supposed to. I just don’t feel there are a lot of supposed to’s around serving individual needs.

  94. Maybe this is an evil question to ask – but how in the world would a stake enforce the way anyone conducts a visiting teaching visit?

    I hope there isn’t a serious answer to that.

    I suspect in regards to reporting, most people in the hierarchy would be happy to hear that someone is doing their visits and less worried about how the visits are being done.

  95. I hate it.

    I hate calling up a SAHM and asking if I can come on an evening or a Sunday — and knowing that she’s cringing because that’s the only time she has with her husband.

    I hate the chit chat about kids — especially with sisters who have kids my age, who love to lecture me about life.

    I hate the awkwardness.

    MOST of all – I hate the threatening emails I get WEEKLY asking me if I”ve gone. Ugh.

    (i’m not bitter or anything. nooo)

  96. Anyway ya’ll,

    I’ve got lots of stuff I’ve got to do today, so I’m gonna be out of this for a while. At this point, my takeaway is that there does need to be some organized reporting system to make sure that all of our members are accounted for and we (or the leadership) have a sense of what’s happening around us. That seems to be the general feel of the good people find in the program.

    I can agree that that is a good thing in our self-centered, busy, imperfect lives. I like transparency, so if someone came to me and told me they were there for that purpose and we could make that happen any way I felt comfortable, well, then I’d feel comfortable. I still would most likely not want a monthly visit. I wouldn’t mind a phone call once or twice a month. And I’d probably prefer that we both knew she was calling to check in and do her job. For me, that relieves a ton of awkwardness bred of assumed intimacy. Not that we can’t chit chat (and even end up being friends if that works out), but let’s not pretend she would have called me if it weren’t an assignment.

    As it stands, I’m not feeling like VT is the way I would prefer to go about serving and making myself available to those around me. It feels like a lot of hoop jumping to get to the crux of things, to say, “Hey, I’m here. I’ve noticed you. How can I be a support to you?”. But that’s me, and I recognize others see it differently. And I certainly don’t anyone is wrong for participating in VT or that they can’t love those whom they serve.

    A few of you have been kind enough to point out that this is simply a problem with me. Okay. I’m willing to give that some real weight. Here’s a little something to consider in the meantime: Simply telling someone they’re dead wrong about something they genuinely feel doesn’t usually lend to much convincing. I have to say, my RSP has handled this beautifully and I don’t feel a withdrawal of love or respect from her at all. She has held her ground without needing to shove me off of mine. We have found a way to work together on this and I love her for it.

  97. Norbert says:

    Sunny, it’s not the program or its flexibility. It’s the unsustainability of a middle class culture that drives us ever harder for individual success, squeezing community to the point that we resent its intrusion in our lives when we cannot identify its direct utility. The greatest problem with the programs is that we have had to create individual incentives of statistical pressure to drive some of us to do it. The problem is not that the church asks us to visit some people every month or so — the problem is that the only way that too many people will be engaged in it is by appealing to their middle class competitiveness and status awareness to do so — the steward’s individual status as a good steward becomes the goal and and the communalism that lies behind it becomes lost.

    Heh. Look who’s been reading Marxist criticism.

  98. Karen M. says:

    The wards I’ve been in have no problem with phone visits. They only ask that we have face to face contact (if possible) once every 3 or 4 months. In my last ward we had a great visitng teaching conference where the VT supervisor asked us to please take into account the actual needs of the sisters we were visiting. If someone was really busy, just give them a quick phone call to make sure everything was ok. No forcing our visits on others and using up lots of time. We were also encouraged to let our own VT know when a visit would be appropriate or not. I don’t think VT’ing really has to be a such a big deal, but I think throwing it away completely might be a bad idea. If the way you’ve been carrying it out isn’t working for you, change the way you’re doing it. I really think there’s a lot more flexibility there than you may be allowing for.

  99. I see VT and HT (and the priesthood) as being designed to help us become better people, as well as fulfilling real needs. The call to regularly serve, and to be served, helps us to get out of ourselves and get over ourselves. The expectation (adaptable to circumstances, of course) that we talk about gospel principles with others is profoundly valuable: how can we be a realy community of saints if we never speak of the Gospel with others? Likewise, how can we expect to share the gospel with others who have never heard it if merely talking to those we know, and whom we already share a belief in gospel principles with, is awkward for us? For those with young children, what better practice for explaining the things of the gospel as they grow up than the practice afforded by VT/HT? How can it be awkward to share our love of God, or articulate his love for his Children, in a meaningful way once a month?

    Last, I have no patience for those who decry ‘statistics.’ I simply do not understand this “number-phobia.” Those statistics reflect real people. Collecting information is a way of seeing where there are needs being met and un-met. And frankly, most of the time, the numbers suggest that there are an awful lot being unmet. Alternatively, is it a problem with accountability? With the fact of being observed doing one’s duty or not?

  100. An alternative to statistics, of course, could just be making public what the ward leaders already see–the raw materials of the VT/HT stats: a list of those people in the ward who have not been visited, and how many months its been. Maybe people would be more moved by that than just hearing the %. In the name of full transparency, maybe put the names of the assigned teachers/companionships up, to? (Of course, this could be done in such a way that the ‘do not visit’ people could be omitted.)

  101. In case it wasn’t clear, my # 100 has a swiftian character about it, and should not be taken as a serious proposal, modest though it may be.

  102. Sunny:

    There was a time that I made myself very difficult to visit. I just made sure my schedule never matched up with anyone else. I made myself as difficult as possible and then waited to see who was up to the challenge that I had set out for them.

    Looking back, I cannot say that my behavior was rational nor therapeutic.

    Then, I moved into a “I’m Fine, and the Family Is Fine. Don’t Bother To Visit” phase. That just promotes social isolation.

    I realized that I resented people who showed up in an official calling as my VT and they then did a half baked job. If God truly works through us — Was THAT the best that He could do????

    I eventually changed my attitude. Did I grow up? Did I become more spiritually aware? Did I pray more?

    I dunno ..

    But I changed.

    I heard a RSP state that if HT visits and VT visits were really happening, everything else took care of itself because people were connected to each other and their needs were met.

    I started out with a decision to use the program to get to know — really know — people. Then I found that when VT and HT is done, it really does increase the sense of community.

    I think I am a pretty good VT now.

    No .. I am a GREAT VT.

    I show up early most months. We do a lesson and a prayer. I try to touch base with my ladies a few times during the month .. a batch of cookies, a few tomato plants when I buy too many. Nothing invasive .. Just a quick drop off of something.

    I have become very close to some people that I initially didn’t think I had anything in common with.

    And now when people are taken off my route, they stay friends and the visits to their homes continue on an informal basis. A new route gives me the opportunity to add another friend.

    I cannot tell you when my VT resentment started and when it ended. But it did. And it made a difference.

  103. C Jones says:

    Sunny, what is your reaction to what Stephanie said in #74:

    “Even with the VT program in place, do you know what happens a lot of the time? The same few people/families pick up a lot of the slack for the ward.”
    “I occasionally do like my husband in his own home ministering to his own family.”

    In my experience, most wards have those families who are fulfilling their callings and assignments and also constantly reaching out to those who they aren’t directly assigned to watch out for, those families who are needy for whatever reason and who take up the lion’s share of service given, and those who fall somewhere in between. VT has a purpose for all of these.

    If I were to feel like I have moved beyond VT to some kind of “higher law” of service given without compulsion, well that’s all fine and good, but I guess I still don’t see any justification for opting out of VT. I may well be (perhaps unknowingly, but still) adding to the burden of the already overburdened, missing out on opportunities for assigned service when it needs to be spread around, and failing in unity– the commandment to “be one” with my ward family.

  104. 102,

    I guess if I felt socially isolated your story would feel like it applies to me more (since you directed it toward me I’m trying to find the application). As it is, I’m active in social circles and feel like I’m friends (to varying degrees) with just about everybody. I’m not anti-social, nor do I expect that God should provide better VT’s for me. I honestly don’t feel the need to have them.

    That said, I’m glad you’ve had a positive experience with VT and made many lasting friendships. I feel I have gotten the same thing through other means. I’m not saying VT has always been hell and drudgery either. I like people, so an opportunity to find out about them is fun for me. I just don’t like the system. And I’m still not quite sure why it seems to be so bothersome for some that I just don’t jive with the program.

    I feel like a lot of effort (in this thread) has gone into a knee-jerk defense of a program, but for me it boils down to this:

    -If VT is simply about organized information and reporting, I think I could actually be on board.
    -If VT is about really getting to know those around me and being mindful of them, I’m not sure I need a program in order to do that. And it hasn’t been my experience thus far.

    Back to making bread and cleaning…

  105. 103-

    I never said I wouldn’t participate in service, even assigned service (someone needs a meal, childcare, etc.). Even with the program in place, plenty of needs are not met and there are those that take on the lion’s share of serving, so it’s not like it’s a catch-all. My post was simply a question as to whether a system of assigned service somehow adds to a feeling of complacency because we feel like we’re already doing our part. My opting out is because the program does not really make sense to me, at least the way it has been presented time and again. Read my last comment for clarification, I guess.

  106. Oh, and part of the reason I’m not a good HT is that I don’t think I need to be HT regularly. My kids really enojy it, however, and I am grateful for really good HT’s – who drive quite a distance to visit us each month and leave wives and young children to do so. Their lessons end up being about 90 seconds long, while most of the time is spent listening to the craziness that is my family.

    In summary, I just don’t see it as being about me (as either a HTer or HTee). I still am not a very good HT, but at least I recognize my hypocrisy.

  107. C Jones says:

    Sunny- I don’t get the impression that it’s bothersome to any commenter that you’ve opted out. Most just seem to be just trying to present their perspective, the same as you are.

    My comment comes from my own struggle with the same questions and if it sounds like I’m attacking you, I apologize. I find it really hard to ditch the “mom voice”. :-)

  108. Sunny, in 102 you said, “-If VT is about really getting to know those around me and being mindful of them, I’m not sure I need a program in order to do that. And it hasn’t been my experience thus far,” and then reiterated it in 105. This reflects your argumentative rationale, stated in the original post,

    “We need to stop feeling like we’ve done our duty by visiting (or not) those simply assigned to us and instead assign ourselves to our ward family as a whole.”

    That is to say, you argue against VT/HT on the grounds that the program is disfunctional, that it is not helping you (or “us”) to “really get to know those around [you]” and “be mindful of them.” Generally, I avoid discussion of others’ personal character and righteousness, however, it seems central to your argument, and you have reiterated them repeatedly. When your own statements taken into consideration, your argument fails.

    If you were really at a place where you had “assigned yourself the ward family as a whole,” then attending to a few VT visits would be nothing at all, a truly small part in your efforts, one which you would do with joy. It would not be an onerous obligation, which is how you present it.

    Likewise, it seems hard for me to believe that you really have, or are indeed trying to “really get to know those around you” given that you say that “as kind and wonderful as many of my VT’s have been, there ain’t no way I’m spilling the contents of my heart to them during our monthly chit chat.” It would not seem that you love and trust them, as fellow followers of Christ, enough to open up to them, nor are you interested in forming that kind of intimate relationship with them.

    An argument based on disfunctionality has credibility when there is a clear alternative path which is working better. But what you present as a better path is not, according to your words, working better for you at the stated goals. Now, perhaps you don’t value those goals. But that’s something else entirely.

  109. It's Not Me says:

    I’m generally in favor of the program, though I relate to the frustrations expressed by others here.

    I HT 4 families, all of them elderly (or somewhat–upper 60s to upper 70s). One of them had been inactive for 15 years, and through consistent visits (during which we never bugged them about coming back) they came back. Two other families had horrible HTs, so I think they like having one come most months. With those 3 families we always have enjoyable visits, and it can sometimes be difficult to cut things off. The fourth one is a widow. She doesn’t like the formal visits. She calls my wife and me (wife is VT) to come fix sprinklers, garage door, flood in basement, etc. There’s no guilt over not visiting each month, though we do occasionally “visit.” She always brags about what great HT/VT she has because we really help (I’m not bragging).

    Having said that, we had a disaster in our family a few years ago (we’ve been in the ward over 15 years) and got nothing from HT or ward members or leaders. I was a priesthood leader in the ward at the time, and wife had been RSP. Wife is always helping people out, VT assignment or not. A week after getting displaced from our home we found a place to live. I informed the ward council of that fact the next day. Crickets.

    We were hurt. Over time I came to the conclusion that everybody, including leaders, just assumed that because we’re so strong and self-reliant that all our needs were being met. We were in a home 2 blocks away, but had nothing. Nothing to cook on, nothing to eat on, nothing to sleep on. Could we have used some meals? Absolutely. Sometime later we did receive a call from RSP who said, “Now that you’re all moved in, how about some meals?”

    I nearly burst out laughing. “Now that we were all moved in” we didn’t need the meals. It took a while to get over it, but we did.

    If we did away with a formal HT/VT program, A LOT of people would fall through the cracks. People in our ward would be floored to learn that we fell through the cracks. (BTW, our HT was experiencing some difficulties of his own at the time)

  110. TMD,

    I had a little trouble following that. But I’ll answer where I can.

    I don’t mind visiting people. I like visiting people. I do visit people on my own. What I don’t like about assigned visits is that, to me, it places a wedge of obligation between people. There is a difference, to me, between showing up on one’s own and showing up on assignment. I don’t see it as the obligation as onerous. I stated in the OP I feel we should be/are bound to one another. What I do feel is that the *type* of obligation associated with the program often prohibits true sharing and relationship building.

    As for getting to know those around me, again, just because I really like someone doesn’t mean I’m going to share my innermost workings or heartaches with them. I’ve never had a VT I’ve disliked. I like a lot of people. It doesn’t mean I’m going to share everything with them.

    I’m not sure where I said I was failing in my stated goals (I’m not even sure to which goals you are referring). I have many open, caring friendships. Members, non-members, less-active members. I have people I feel I can turn to in a time of need and those I can share my heart with. I do make an effort to be aware of others and offer support and assistance in ways that make sense depending on individual situations. Again, I’m not going to go into “how I serve”. As I said earlier, caring for those around me is a very important principle for me. And, as I also said, the current program doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’m not sure what else I can explain to you at this point, but if it still doesn’t make sense, ask away.

  111. Just a question:

    For those who’ve talked about VT being a great opportunity to get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t have, why is that? Is it just a time thing (not enough time to reach out to everybody), social thing (shyness, self-conscious, etc.), you just honestly wouldn’t think of it, no opportunity? I’m sincerely curious about what prevents us from getting to know people we most likely would never know without assignment.

  112. “it places a wedge of obligation between people.”

    You keep repeating this like it matters. It doesn’t.

    When people are in need, they really don’t care why you’re there, just that you are. But if you don’t go visit people when they are not in need, then you won’t know when they are, and they won’t know you to ask. You act like it’s so easy to make these kinds of things happen without a program like VT and HT, but it doesn’t happen by osmosis or by magic. It takes commitment and consistency to develop the knowledge and relationships that make this kind of thing work. I believe in both programs because I have seen them work from both sides. I don’t see how you get the same results from just wishful thinking.

  113. MCQ, don’t be silly. Of course it matters. Dogmatically proclaiming that it doesn’t is a fine rhetorical strategy, but it ignores the reality that interpersonal relationships formed out of obligation and not bona fide personal motivation and friendship have a fragility and shallowness that is perceptible to all involved. Nobody is debating the necessity of a program like VT, but everybody can see that forcing people to be friends and care about each other just doesn’t work.

  114. I’m sincerely curious about what prevents us from getting to know people we most likely would never know without assignment.

    Misanthropy, mostly.

  115. Sunny, why do I feel such a kinship with you? Even reading your writing sounds like mine.

    I am not going to read through all 90-some comments here because I’ve spent enough time reading and commenting on blogs the past week to distract myself from stuff. So, this might be repetitive.

    I completely relate to your last paragraph in comment 96. Directly telling someone or insinuating that they’re wrong and stupid is not very helpful. It makes the person want to dig her heels in further.

    If you are not comfortable with VTing right now, if it grates on you because it feels phony and if you’re like me and you can’t stand doing or saying or being anything phony, then withdraw until you feel differently. It’s okay to not feel up to the task. It’s okay to not get it. It’s okay to be where you are.

    Like you, I have a real problem with this mindset:

    doesn’t matter what the reasons are behind it. doesn’t matter if i get irritated – i’ve been asked to do it, and i’m going to do it to show my commitment to this church, my RS, my fellow members and the Lord. case closed.”

    I don’t think we win a whole lot of points when we do things despite hating them. Some points, yes. But doing something for a long time with resentment only builds up more resentment. I think it’s probably easier to develop a soft heart about visiting teaching by giving yourself a break from the irritation you feel. I don’t think this is the case for everyone but if you have a rebellious spirit (and from what I know about you, you kind of sound like you do) (or maybe I’m just projecting my own personality onto you) a break from the have-tos can be good.

    I’m feeling like I’m having to sever my relationship with all the things I’ve felt like I HAVE to do and rebuild those relationships without fear being in the equation anymore. I need a break so that I can have some time and emotional space to look for my own reasons for doing things, real reasons that resonate with me.

    That’s my rushed answer. Not sure how much sense it makes. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it.

    I think of VT and HT programmes as being organised ways of taking care of each other. The sentiment is noble. I try to make the whole procedure as natural as possible. I like to ask the people I “teach” what they think on the topic and then share my feelings, rather than read the words they’ve already read (if they’ve done their own teaching) and sound preachy. I don’t feel compelled to go every month.

  116. Scott (114),

    Nothing brings the spirit like a good dose of honesty. Plus, you’ve uncovered my real reason for not wanting to go visiting teaching.

  117. Natasha,

    Thanks. That made a lot of sense to me. And I’m open to participating in the future too if I feel like I can make it mesh. I’m so thankful my RSP understands and I feel way more open to considering it again down the road specifically because I don’t feel pushed or condemned. Nope, no stubbornness or rebellion here.

  118. Kristine says:

    Sunny, I really relate to this post. I’ve had a lot of visiting teaching relationships over the years that have felt stilted and artificial and obligatory. But lately I’ve come to believe that, as much as we’d like to think we’re complex and sophisticated creatures who value authenticity, we are also, to an extent we regularly deny, simply creatures–we need predictability, simplicity, routine, habit. It turns out, in fact, that someone coming to visit me once a month, no matter how perfunctorily at first, and no matter how much genuine affection is or isn’t there, starts to matter to me. When the pattern is established and I know I can count on someone to be there, even merely dutifully, I begin to trust her, believe that I could rely on her for help. (Interestingly, psychotherapy works on this principle, as well–a huge part of why it works is that there’s a formal, explicit set of mutual obligations that create trust through the performance of the most rudimentary acts of dependence and dependability). In the end, the fact that someone is willing to set aside an hour out of her schedule for me on a regular basis helps me to trust that she will be available even more than authentic emotional connection or affection does.

    Do you remember the section in The Little Prince, where the rose “tames” the fox by insisting that he arrive for a daily appointment? I think that’s what visiting teaching is–we tame each other simply by spending time and creating rituals together.

    http://www.spiritual.com.au/articles/prince/PrinceCh21.htm

    (I still don’t _like_ it a lot of the time, but I feel better about trying to!)

  119. Jennifer says:

    Sunny–Did you serve as the RS Pres in a BYU Student Ward (with Bishop Meyers south of center street in Provo) sometime around the year 2000? If so I was one of your counselors.

    As with all things in the gospel, I believe that with diligent effort and a desire we can gain a testimony about any gospel principle. Sometimes it takes years and years of effort and action just to gain a little at a time (fasting for me is my biggest struggle). But I know that if we want to understand something we are asked to do, action and sincere seeking is the only way to increase our testimony of that thing.

    I definitely know that you are not alone in your feelings about Visiting Teaching, I have known MANY people who feel the same as you do. Personally I have felt that way in the past and served out of duty. I, however, have had so many positive experiences (not constantly mind you) throughout the years that even when I feel that I’m in a lull I hang on to those good experiences and remember that they happened unexpectedly and wouldn’t have happened if I had chosen not to serve diligently.

    I have found that my needs with my visiting teachers have changed throughout the years and I have learned to adjust. When I had children at home, I craved visiting teaching so I had someone to talk to. Now that I don’t have children home during the day, I really don’t want my VTers to come for long. Different schedules can become irritating. I have known a busy sister who after 15 minutes kindly says, “Well thank you both so much for coming, I want to get you back to your families now,” because that is all that she needs from her Visiting Teachers–a quick pop-in to check on her, and a quick message.

    Personally, I don’t understand this “assigned friend” business. So many people say that, but I just don’t see visiting teaching as friendship. Sometimes a friendship forms and sometimes just a mutual respect for each other forms. I have never viewed my visiting teachers as though they were assigned to be my friend. I have friends and I usually can get my own. Instead I see them as someone who is assigned to keep an eye out for me in case I have a need.

    I have found that when I have sisters on my route who are more needy, testimony wise, I enjoy visiting teaching more because I feel that I am doing more good. It IS more difficult to visit sisters who seem to have everything under control because you don’t feel like you are of any help, but being diligent anyway is when the opportunities have come to really serve. Maybe you should try and ask to be assigned to one sister who needs to be strengthened in the gospel and make that your goal, to help teach her the gospel.

    Just because you are assigned to visit certain people does not mean that your service to others should end there. It’s not like if you reach out to another sister in love, you are invading another VT sister’s territory of service. I agree that the focus should be on caring and serving, not checking off that VT box on your list each month. If that is how you view VTing, than you need to reevaluate your priorities.

    Currently I am a counselor in a RS presidency and I cannot tell you how many sisters struggle, even sisters who seem to have everything under control. The visiting teaching program is our (RS Pres.) lifeline. I cannot imagine being in this organization without it.

    Personally I hope you find a way to let this program work for you. Serving and being served in this capacity has truly blessed my life.

  120. Jennifer says:

    Sunny- #47 My experience is that those who have a strong testimony of Visiting Teaching are those who reach out the most to others and are also those who, as a RS Pres, we can call upon at any moment and know that they will not only get the job done, but will do it with the utmost care and compassion. These sisters don’t just serve those they are assigned to but are also the ones we find out who are reaching out in genuine love to others in need in the ward–unassigned.

  121. #111 Sunny,
    Usually I wouldn’t get to know them because our paths wouldn’t cross much. In one ward one sister that was assigned to me was in the primary–and so I never saw her. We didn’t live by one another and our kids went to different schools. Our ward boundaries tend to be bigger than say, Idaho.
    Sometimes there are less active sisters I wouldn’t get to know because, well, I wouldn’t even know they existed unless I was assigned to them. Other times it’s not that I wouldn’t get to know them, but wouldn’t get to know them well. Someone I visit now I know will be a close friend–but she isn’t at church much because she is an ER nurse, so VT really made that friendship, and it’s a friendship I need.

    One of the biggest blessings to me has been having people I don’t mix well with in VT–it makes me dig deeper and learn more charity.

    On another note, I’ve realized that when I live in a place where numbers are pounded I tend to be more skeptical of VT, than when we are taught to VT in a ward where leaders care so that others are cared for, I serve better. I realize that is my juvenile problem, not the leaders’ problem.

  122. Personally, I don’t understand this “assigned friend” business. So many people say that, but I just don’t see visiting teaching as friendship. Sometimes a friendship forms and sometimes just a mutual respect for each other forms. I have never viewed my visiting teachers as though they were assigned to be my friend. I have friends and I usually can get my own. Instead I see them as someone who is assigned to keep an eye out for me in case I have a need.

    As I think Sunny said somewhere above, perhaps it’s better to view VTing with this degree of detachment. I’ve certainly sometimes thought so. But over the long haul I think such detachment is very hard to sustain. Precisely in those regular home visits and gospel messages we’re enjoined to make and deliver, VTing uses the tropes of friendship and intimacy. (Other than my VTers, no one comes into my house and discusses religion with me who _isn’t_ my friend–at least on some minimal level.)

    And I think that’s where VTing has the potential to become either so sustaining and satisfying, or so empty and awkward, or so hurtful. We’ve all known people who were really wounded by VTers who seemed like friends until their assignments changed, and suddenly they weren’t friends after all, it turned out. That hasn’t happened to me personally, but it has to people I care about.

  123. Jennifer,
    Sunny won’t tout herself, or divulge the contents of her full conversation with the RS president–but I know enough to say that she is exactly one of those people the RS will call on to get things done–and is very attune to the needs of those around her and serves them at least as well as the very best VT would.

  124. Jennifer says:

    Sunny said:

    “Hi. I’ve been assigned to you as your VT. This means I’m here for you anytime. If I can’t help with what you need, I’ll help get you in touch with people in the ward who have the skills you need. I’d like to have regular contact with you, find out about you, know how things are going, etc. I’ll probably be inviting you to things I like to go do, but if you’re not interested in those things, no hard feelings. I’d like to be around as much as you’d like, but not overstep. What kind of Visiting Teaching do you feel comfortable with? Monthly visit? Spiritual message? A companion to attend functions with? Someone to help you get to know the ward? Phone calls? Or just someone you know you can call in a pinch and leave it at that?”

    –Whoever said you can’t approach visiting teaching this way. That’s how I approach it. I don’t say it quite that way, but that is exactly what I think VTing is. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand all these people who say they feel awkward being “assigned as a friend.”

  125. Molly Bennion says:

    3/4 of our current stake is inactive, mostly Really in Hiding Inactive and highly mobile. I was once an RS President in a similar inner city ward. Crazy me, I set out to visit every sister; I didn’t finish. New people moved in and old people moved out faster than I could keep up. Without VT and HT (both altered to get to the needy or inactive by abandoning visits among the active, abandoning companionships, encouraging phone visits and cards where appropriate…), I would have been unaware of so many real needs. Heck, I’ve seen concerted efforts at VT/HT disclose that 100 names on a ward list aren’t at those addresses/phone numbers and can’t be located. VT/HT can feel burdensome and superficial in active wards, though even there good service and great friendships can result, but they are a necessity elsewhere. We just cannot count on members spontaneously caring for people with whom they will never come into contact.
    That said, I much prefer to visit alone, feel no obligation to present a formal lesson, never wear a skirt and feel no guilt about skipping in-person visits at the convenience of the teacher or teachee. I do like to hold VT visits in restaurants, museums and movie theaters, take fruit and veggies from my garden and hope to make a friend.

  126. Jennifer says:

    mmiles #123–My comment in no way was meant to say that Sunny isn’t one who is dependable when there is a need. Sunny’s comment in #47 said, “do you also feel that it, in a way, permits you to not watch over others because you are not assigned to them, or because you feel you have done what is required in caring for your assigned families?”

    Perhaps I should have quoted her before responding. I was only saying that it is my experience that those who HAVE a testimony of VTing do not have the attitude Sunny is asking about, but are the opposite, those who are dependable and serve whether they are asked to or not.

  127. Jennifer,

    I am one and the same. Those were good days, weren’t they. I don’t have time to respond in full to your comments at the moment (dinner beckons), but I just wanted to pop in and say “hey”. I’m glad you’ve joined the conversation. Good to “see” you again!

  128. I am, to put it mildly, a difficult person to visit teach. Mention by name a member of the first presidency or the quorum of the twelve apostles, followed by the word “says,” and my quills come to full attention. I rarely go to church and I don’t see that changing any time soon. My visiting teachers don’t know what to say to me, they are very busy people, and I make them uncomfortable. So they don’t come.

    I opted out of GOING visiting teaching when I was asked what I thought of the Book of Mormon and, caught off guard, I answered the question truthfully.

    But boy, when I was a believer, were the HT and VT programs a lifesaver for me. My one-time home teacher was a neighbor, a friend – he arranged to have the exterior of my house painted once; we just bought the paint (and helped). He put in my window air-conditioner. He gave the most awesome blessings. As a visiting teacher, back in the day, I thought of myself as engaged in the Lord’s work. A visiting teacher or home teacher coming to my house once a month was walking, talking, living breathing evidence that I mattered – that I wasn’t taken for granted; that my spiritual needs were important. Even the faithful – maybe even especially the faithful – can benefit from being regularly visited by someone who is there because God has called them to be.

    So yeah, if you’re a believer, you should go. All the rationalizations in the world about why it doesn’t work and what we should do instead are just that – rationalizations.

  129. Sunny in 111:

    There are so so many reasons, and I am curios t to know where you live, because it is hard for me to imagine someone who lives outside of the inter-mountain west and their neighborhood-based units even asking this. Here are a few:
    1–we serve in different auxiliaries
    2–one of us is new to the ward
    3–she is inactive and I wouldn’t even have known her name had it not been on my assignment slip
    4–my ward covers 3 counties and she lives in a different one from me
    5–she leaves right after Sacrament
    6–she or I is very very shy
    7–she or I work on Sundays
    8–there is more than a decade difference in our ages
    9–one of us has kids and the other doesn’t, so there is not much socialization outside Church meetings
    10–we speak different languages (my ward has 3 language-based EQs, 3 language-based RS meetings, and translation into at least 2 languages every week)
    11–she or I has a stake calling and isn’t normally at our ward meetings
    12–she or her husband serves in another unit in the stake in a leadership capacity and therefore attends their meetings
    13–she does not attend meetings because she has no transportation
    14–she hates RS and hangs out in the library
    15–we participate in very different RS interest groups

    etc, etc, etc. There are SO many reasons I can think of. I don’t know very many of the women in my ward, and VTing helps me learn about them. You are very blessed to not have this problem.

  130. “That said, I much prefer to visit alone, feel no obligation to present a formal lesson, never wear a skirt and feel no guilt about skipping in-person visits at the convenience of the teacher or teachee. I do like to hold VT visits in restaurants, museums and movie theaters, take fruit and veggies from my garden and hope to make a friend.”

    Amen, Molly.

  131. Every thing said here about VT also applies just as much to the Relief Society as a whole.

  132. ESO,

    Those are all good reasons, yet because of an assignment you find a way. Could it not be done without the assignment? Sure, the assignment gives you a reason, but couldn’t there be a reason besides the job?

    When we lived in the midwest our ward was spread out over 60 miles. Our stake center was almost 100 miles from our church building. My mom traveled long distances and spent many hours getting to know and care for sisters in our ward. Was she their visiting teacher? No. She asked her leaders who needed attention, help, love, etc., and made it her own assignment. Now, I’m not saying this system works for everyone, nor does everyone have that kind of time. The point is, differences and distance don’t necessarily preclude our ability to reach out simply because we want to.

  133. 131-
    Interesting.

  134. Sunny #132–in my current life (briefly described in comment #30) as single working mom with three small kids, yeah, an assignment makes a difference. I know the women I work with in my calling (none of whom are in my ward), the women I VT, and the women I have randomly sat beside at some RS meeting sometime in the last 3 years. Of the several hundred women who fit into one of the categories in my list (#129) in my ward, I try to know who I can, but I certainly cannot extend “watch-care” over more than a dozen extra people in a given year. Sorry if that does not suffice, but that is my current reality. When I was a SAHM, it was a different story, but that was an all too fleeting time in my life.

  135. I’m not judging as to whether that suffices. I’m just pointing out that if an assignment can help us seek out even one amidst the trouble of schedules and such, maybe we can do it generally.

  136. So you are suggesting I ask the RS president for a list of women I don’t know and would not cross paths with so I can make friends with them? Sounds a lot like Visiting Teaching.

  137. Nope. I’m merely responding to this:
    I asked what keeps people from reaching out to people they normally wouldn’t.
    You gave a list of reasons, but state that you find a way anyway.
    I pointed out one example of someone finding a way.
    I’m just wondering if the same can be done in other ways without assignment.

    That’s all. How you choose to serve is up to you. But hey, feel free to really dislike what I choose, mmkay?

  138. Stephanie says:

    Sunny 111, time constraints.

    Those are all good reasons, yet because of an assignment you find a way. Could it not be done without the assignment? Sure, the assignment gives you a reason, but couldn’t there be a reason besides the job?

    Who would I start with? How would I choose? If I pick 1 or 2 people to get to know (because I don’t have time to get to know everyone), and everyone else picks 1 or 2 people, we’d have the same problem mentioned earlier: people would fall through the cracks as most everyone in the “popular” circles got to know each other. I think mmiles said it well:

    Sometimes there are less active sisters I wouldn’t get to know because, well, I wouldn’t even know they existed unless I was assigned to them.

  139. Stephanie says:

    When I was a SAHM, it was a different story, but that was an all too fleeting time in my life.

    As a SAHM, I don’t have time to friendship the entire RS either.

  140. 137–my list was a response to your question in 111

    “For those who’ve talked about VT being a great opportunity to get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t have, why is that?”

    As Stephanie points out in 138, I could spend upwards of 20 hours a week serving the people I know, and another 20 getting to know women I don’t, but that would still leave much of my ward without anyone watching over them because no one knows they exist.

  141. I’m having a hard time understanding what’s so bad about assigned friendship, or a wedge of obligation, or whatever.

    I’ve never expected my VTs to be my friends. I’ve never looked at them coming over as anything other than them fulfilling an obligation. Do other people expect more than that? Seems weird to me. Do people really expect their VTs to be their friends?

    Maybe I’m weird–well I know for sure I am. And maybe it’s just that I’ve never expected to find friends at church. I’m just not your typical Mormon, and I’m waaaaay out of place in our ward, but who cares?

  142. Stephanie,

    You’re probably right (138). I have ideas about doing it/thinking of it differently, but I’m too ambivalent at this point to discuss it further.

    Also (139), it depends on what you mean by “friendshipping the entire RS”. I don’t think I said you need to personally visit them all every month.

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure the discussion portion is over now.

  143. Now it’s time for the short film portion.

  144. Members are shiftless and lazy and usually only hang out with their own kind. VT/HT is a way of compelling us to break out of our sphere. That said, I’m indifferent as to whether or not I receive a visit each month.

  145. Stephanie says:

    Sunny 142, maybe after the weariness from this discussion wears off, you could write another post outlining your ideas?

  146. I am a big, big believer in home and visit teaching. I’m usually assigned sisters I barely know, and it’s usually awkward and forced at first, but real concern and love usually develops. You can always request new teachers or new teachees if it doesn’t work out.

  147. 145- Most likely that will never happen. I’ll move on to something else and so will everyone else. I don’t want to post about the same thing multiple times. Of course, check back in a year or two and I’ll probably have eaten those words many times over. I don’t have too many post ideas rattling around in my head.

  148. Sunny:

    My feeling is the the VT program developed after some RSP tried to keep track of all the sisters in her ward and ran herself ragged. She decided to delegate the task.

    I guess I think of VT like any other Big Sister/Little Sister program in a women’s service organization.

    Rules developed as a result of someone doing something crass and/or stupid. Lessons developed to make sure the visits didn’t focus on gossip, slander, and weirdness.

    I remember two ladies going to VT with their combined hoard of 9 children. After a short visit, they talked their VTee into watching ALL 9 of the children while they went shopping for the day. After that story made the rounds, our RSP became emphatic that no one was to take ANY child to a VT appointment.

    The VT program allows me to meet women that I would otherwise not meet because:

    1. I work in a specialized field and tend to socialize within that profession. I am not being exclusive .. Just lazy.

    2. My life is busy. I love to be involved and DOING stuff. I am goal oriented. But I often don’t take the time to get to know sisters if they are not directly interacting with me in some way. More social laziness.

    3. Sometimes I assume I have no common ground with someone because our lives appear very different externally. Some sisters are shy. I am not.

    That being written, I think it is very important to claim your thoughts and emotions. It is a honest way to live your life. If VT doesn’t work for you right now, I am thrilled that you are honest enough to express that. You may change your mind in the future .. Or not. Either choice is okay.

  149. Steve, I must be missing something.

    “Nobody is debating the necessity of a program like VT”

    Yes they are. That’s exactly the point of this post. Saying you don’t want visiting teachers and you don’t want to visit teach is exactly the same as saying they are not necessary.

    “but everybody can see that forcing people to be friends and care about each other just doesn’t work.”

    Actually, the point of my comment is that it does work, and I have seen it work many, many times. People may not like doing it, but yes, it does work if you do it.

  150. Wow, that video is so Mormon. Even if it wasn’t about VT it would be so Mormon.

  151. You know, I just read somewhere that they have a vaccination for VT now. I guess we can all stop worrying about it.

  152. When asked what’s my favourite joke, I always reply: “home teaching”. I know there are some wonderful experiences from some people, but to me it feels prescribed, artificial and superficial. Even when I didn’t receive my home teachers, I would have gone out to help people. However after a while it became stale as people would just rather have you give the message and leave them hastily.

    @149: done it and no, it doesn’t work. But hey, maybe I’ll keep reading all those sugary stories from the Ensign.

  153. Peter LLC says:

    I’m pretty sure the discussion portion is over now.

    Right. On to the diagnosis.

    After consulting with Messrs. Jones, Matlock, Lydon, and Cook, I’ve concluded that you got a problem and the problem is you. What you gonna do?

  154. Peter LLC says:

    done it and no, it doesn’t work.

    Really? A cheery, selfless guy like yourself fails to meet the needs of others?

  155. The problem with most HT/VT is we look at it as a mandatory lesson on something the person/family has already read in the Ensign.
    For years I’ve heard leaders say they weren’t interested in statistics, but then if your numbers were down, they would talk to you about getting the numbers back up.

    Our stake is now focusing on how it should really work. Elder Christofferson taught the stake presidencies and bishops in Indiana for 4 hours in February on “ministering” rather than teaching. We are striving to focus on the individual and less on statistics. As high priest group leader, I am now focusing less on ensuring everyone is assigned a home teacher, and more focused on how we can more effectively reach those who are reachable, and help those needing care.

    Perhaps the problem is too many of us drop out of HT/VT, even if we are still technically assigned. That is not the answer. We should, instead, seek to fulfill our assignment in the best way possible, ministering to the family/sister, rather than just filling squares on a statistical page. If you aren’t making a difference in Visiting Teaching, is it because the program is broken, or is it because you are not stepping up and seeking the inspiration for your own personal calling. Quitting is taking the cowards way out. Looking deeply at oneself and determining what real changes YOU/WE can make in the assignment and differences in the people’s lives is where we should be going with this.

  156. Another thought, I was visiting with my High Counselor on priesthood issues. We were discussing how to better implement ministering in our ward HT/VT. I didn’t want to waste precious resources, but wanted to ensure we didn’t miss anyone. Some members have said they didn’t need home teachers, to make things easier. While I appreciate that, I just think of what would they do if they suddenly DID need them.
    My High Counselor said his wife was recovering from major surgery. During her 3 days in the hospital, not a single person from their ward visited her. Perhaps she didn’t normally need a VT visit, but she definitely did then.
    The problem is when the program loses focus. We should use it to minister. Some members may not need a monthly visit, but how about a phone call? For VT, that counts just as much. And for some of my active families who do not want a regular visit, a monthly phone call may just start counting for our statistics in my ward. Why? Because ministering means two things: you have to use your precious resources where they are most needed, and you have to have enough of a connection to be there when they need you.

  157. I don’t have time to read all the responses, so if this has been said, oh, well. :-)

    Sunny – you are not alone in your feelings. One of the most kind, giving, loving people I know refused to be a VT when I was RS president for pretty much the same reasons you have stated. I respected her wishes although I had a friend of hers volunteer to be her VT unofficially, which was fine. She has slowly gone completely inactive, but she’s still a wonderful, kind, loving person. So be careful that you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I don’t know what to tell you other than to pray about it. Pray to know if you should opt back into the VT program. And if you do, pray to know how to be a visiting teacher that fits with your needs and expectations and pray that you can be a visiting teacher that meets others needs.

    I love these videos that the church has put out recently about visiting teaching. I think they capture the “spirit” of VT marvelously:

    http://www.lds.org/pa/rs/home/rsvideo.html?xml=rsvideo_8776c.xml

    http://www.lds.org/pa/rs/home/rsvideo.html?xml=rsvideo_8776a.xml

    I don’t know what I would do as RS president without visiting teachers. It’s overwhelming to even think about. There are just so many great things that happen because of VT/HT, that it’s worth it to struggle through the uncomfortable periods and challenges we face as VT’s, imo.

  158. I’ve thought about it and I think the trick to removing that “wedge of obligation” is to ask to be assigned to sisters you’re already friends with and naturally visit and do things for/ask favors from anyway. That way you never have to feel awkward about doing your VT because it gets done without you even having to think about it. Then you are free to pursue other sincere relationships on your own terms.

    My father once lived in a ward where the HT statistics were so abysmal that the bishop decided that everyone should just be their own home teacher. At the time my father, still young and idealistic, thought that was just horrible, but he said as he got older, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. My father was just being cynical, but another way to look at it is that by dissolving these artificial ties to others, it was freeing everyone to live the higher law.

  159. 158- But then, why not just continue to do what I’m doing? Why the need for it to be assigned? Just so I can be a part of the program? Doesn’t make sense to me.

  160. Sunny, you are exceptional. The program is for those like me who are not. (and that is not meant to be sarcastic in any way)

    Opt out if you want to do so. Just let the system stay in place for members like me.

  161. 159 – The point of being assigned is to satisfy the bureaucracy.

  162. Obviously, this solution is only necessary if one wants to be part of the program. I was just thinking about how the program could be improved. If the program is going to be abandoned (not by the church, but by individuals who don’t feel it meets their needs), then it is a moot point.

  163. For those who say that home teaching or visiting teaching “doesn’t work,” I’m curious as to how you are defining that phrase. Is it not working because you aren’t enjoying it, or because you don’t feel fulfilled, or because you don’t feel you are making a difference, or becoming good friends or what? For me, the test of whether it’s working belongs entirely to the person you are visiting. If the person or family feel they have someone they can (emphasis on “can,” the option is theirs) turn to if and when they need someone’s help, advice, counsel or just presence, then it works. If you are defining that phrase differently, I’d like to know.

  164. McQ #163 makes an excellent point. Case in point: my b-i-l called me to help him give a blessing to a man he home teaches who went into the hospital. This is a very inactive family that is highly unlikely to return any time soon to activity. Yet the first person the wife called was the home teacher.

    Some day the events may be in place to bring such people all the way into activity. For now, the fact that they trust their home teacher and know who to call is very important.

    The bureaucracy only gets in the way when we do things for the wrong reason. Ignore the statistics, and go bless people’s lives. As high priest group leader, I’ve been assigned to care for people. Is that any different than home teaching? Of course not. The danger with just taking care of our friends is that many people would be missed in the equation – most of the less actives, and most of the actives who are not popular. That is not charity, to only think about your best friends. The Good Samaritan went out of his way for a stranger. Perhaps the first change must be our own attitudes, and then maybe God can reveal to us how better to serve?

  165. 164- who is promoting only taking care of friends? Yes, that happens (currently), but, originally, my point was that assigned service may lead to an attitude of mainly looking out for those to whom we are already connected. I’m wondering if a shift in our attitude will really happen through more assigning.

  166. Sunny, comment 158 suggested assigning people to visit those with whom they are already friends, in order to avoid the idea that we are there only out of obligation.

    I agree with Rameumptom that doing so will likely not serve the needs of those who are most in need among us.

    The idea that “assigning” is the root of the problem with home and visiting teaching is a mystery to me. You don’t have to focus on the fact that you are there by assignment. These are your neighbors and can easily become your friends, so forget that you were assigned and pretend you are there because you want to be there. Soon, it will become the truth.

  167. At heart, we are all assigned to each other, and we all will be required to report on those assignments and numbers — insofar as they are a measure of activity — may very well be part of it. HT/VT is simply a way of systemizing things. And systems are endemic to the mortal condition.

  168. I love my Visiting Teachers. One of them has literally saved me hundreds of dollars on textbooks and several semesters of planning by helping me get into my major and sharing her stuff with me.

    And considering I’m the kind of person who literally cannot genuinely open up to people about my problems until after lots of exposure and a commandment or two, I am so glad the Church has Visiting Teaching.

    And if you think about it, Visiting Teaching gives specific sisters a certain level of right to revelation for you. I wouldn’t be comfortable with every sister in the ward being entitled to that.

    As much as Visiting Teaching lacks, I don’t think it’s a failure of the program. I think it’s a failure of the expectations we place on it.

  169. Naismith says:

    “And if you think about it, Visiting Teaching gives specific sisters a certain level of right to revelation for you. I wouldn’t be comfortable with every sister in the ward being entitled to that.”

    Thanks, I think that too and it was lovely to see it expressed so clearly.

  170. Hey,

    I think I’m just gonna close up shop here saying thanks for the participation. There have been some good things to think about. I see value in some places I didn’t before. I still have some hang ups, but I’m really, really done expressing those at this point. Suffice it to say, keep on keepin on for those of you that like, love, or simply obey the program of VT. I’m not hatin’ on ya for that. I’m glad for the good that people give/receive through it. Truly. I’m just gonna step away and do it a bit differently for a while and see how it shakes out.

    Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

  171. Sunny,

    So you are “opting out” of your own discussion on “opting out of VT”? ;)

  172. My husband and I have been in our ward for 3 months. We both have VT and HT assignments, but it appears no one is assigned to us.

    I personally like the program just because as a fearful newlywed, I find it hard to make friends with all the PhDs in sacrament meeting. On the other hand, since no one is coming to our house I’m quickly losing what I liked about the program.

    We could really use the help from other church members (like borrowing a vacuum to clean up all the dog hair, or a truck to haul away the old tile that’s contaminating our yard since the garbage truck won’t pick it up). Neither of us want to go to the bishop and say no one’s coming; but its getting quite frustrating. Hopefully whenever we move to a new ward things will go smoother.

    (Maybe that’s the advice all those non-VT/HT folks need. Move to a new ward and be slow at introducing yourself)

  173. Newly Housewife, don’t go to the Bishop. Go to the HP/EQ leader and RS Pres. It’s their responsibility, not the Bishop’s. (and I do mean it when I say talk with them if you want someone to visit)

  174. Ray,

    Thank you for the information, with my husband being a convert neither of us really know how to go about getting things done. Thank you for directing us to the appropriate folks.

  175. Newly housewife, I didn’t let you know how to get things done, necessarily. I only let you know how things are supposed to be done. Unfortunately, too often there is a difference between those two. :)

  176. The Lord says that his house is a house of order. VT and HT are a way to make sure everyone gets visited once a month. Can you imagine if nothing were organized and people just visited whomever? There probably would be lots of good visits, but unlikely that it would be clear who got visited, even by people acting in a highly charitable manner.

    Now that you have opted out, are you really visiting those in need? Every month? If you feel like your teachees are just assignments, you need to try to love them more.

  177. Stephanie says:

    I thought of this post today as I received another woman on my route and DH was told he was going to get a fifth family on his route. He said no.

  178. As a recent RS president, I agree with the sentiments your president expressed about watchcare. I also had a few sisters decline to teach/be taught, so I’m familiar with your concerns. I’ve struggled with VT for the same reasons you express, but decided that I could be the change which I would recommend you consider. Yes, some of the sisters that are assigned to me come only because of the assignment. But when I visit others, I strive to be their friend, talk to them at church, stop by at other times in the month if possible, etc. What each sister needs varies from situation to situation, but I have a testimony that you can receive revelation on how to be a friend and support to any sister. Like “praying until you feel like it”, I’ve found that “doing the assignment” is a hurdle whenever my assignment changes….but once I’m past that hurdle, I am able to serve, love, and enjoy a unique friendship I may have not otherwise had.

  179. I’m reading this from an archive in my Reader (sorry to be late in the discussion!). But, I just read up through the comments and realize Sunny might not be reading this anymore, but in response to Comment 159: It’s not an assignment, it’s a calling. So in that sense, you’re assigned to people in your respective calling….why do/don’t you serve there? Why should it be any different for VT? Also, I think in part it’s assigned to push us outside of our comfort zone (similar to a calling!) so we can grow and learn, and also because it simply wouldn’t get done otherwise. We (at least I) am lazy by nature and think while I’m at church, “oh yeah, I should help sister a, b, and c.” But by the next week at church I’ve completely forgotten. But, when it’s my VT I remember and feel a loving duty to serve them. So until we’re a perfect people and Zion-like in our relationships, VT/HT teach us to “serve the one”.

  180. Sarah makes some good points.

    Also, going through some Leadership refreshment training last week, we looked at Quality Backed Questions (QBQ). One of the key focuses of it is to put “I” in the middle of the question.

    Wrong: Why do we have such a useless program?
    Correct: How can I make the program work better?

    We cannot change others. But we can change ourselves and what we do with our little corner of the Church. I cannot change the entire Church bureaucracy, but I can change me and influence those around me.

  181. It awkward I don’t want visiting teachers I don’t go to the LDS, I have become Christian, but how can I say in a nice way leave me alone. I have nothing against them but do not want the message as I find some of the teachings offensive to my beliefs. I have friends that are LDS but I do not want assigned visiting teachers.

    At one time I was a visiting teaching co-ordinator and I must say there are lots of LDS women that find visiting teaching a burden! I don’t want to be anyones burden! At the same time I don’t want to insult anyone by saying, “Please stop visiting, and I don’t want your message.”

  182. zz, call the Bishop and ask him to put you on a no contact list.

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