When saw we thee a minister, and let thee in?

I’ve been thinking a lot about ministering lately, or maybe I should call it “the ministering program formerly known as visiting/home teaching.” Until a couple years ago, I was a visiting teaching supervisor for about twelve years. I noticed that a lot of women didn’t believe they had done their visiting teaching unless they’d done a home visit and delivered the monthly message as printed in the Ensign. This was why our Relief Society president asked us supervisors to change the way we asked the women in our districts about visiting teaching to “what sort of contact (or attempted contact) did you have with your ladies this month?” It didn’t seem to relieve any sisters of their guilt about not doing their visiting teaching the “proper” way. So I welcomed the changes to the program. I even approved of the awkward new label, “ministering,” because it clarified that you were there to meet the individual’s needs, not to teach them a lesson (or to deliver a message from headquarters, as it were). I especially liked the part where VT supervisors became obsolete, as I’d been ready for that since forever.

I always felt that visiting teaching was made for the sisters, not the sisters for visiting teaching. If a sister liked being visited, you should visit her. If she didn’t want you to visit (for whatever reason—there are a multitude of good ones), you should not visit her against her will. You should fellowship the sister the way she wanted to be fellowshipped, in the ways she was comfortable with. To me, that was all that ministering was: imagine what you would do for people if you actually cared about their needs, and then do that. QED. And now we wouldn’t even need to worry about statistics! (Math is hard.) Who could ask for anything more?

Unfortunately, “ministering” isn’t different enough from the old visiting/home teaching program to avoid what has always been the problem with visiting and home teaching: the artificiality of the relationships. Obviously, some people are genuine friends with the people they are assigned to minister to, and vice versa. My mother’s best friends were her visiting teachers. Just as obviously, not all of these assigned relationships work out so well. Some are just bad fits. But some people just don’t like being an assignment, regardless of the good intentions behind the assignment. They find the whole business fake and kind of gross.

To an extent I understand that sentiment. No one wants to feel like a project. Well, I guess most people don’t. There have been times in my life when I would gladly have been someone’s project. (Alas, I was not.) More to the point, no one appreciates being under the impression that one has a genuine friendship with another person, a relationship of equals, only to find out later that you are merely that person’s project, that they are only being friendly to you because someone asked them to. Or maybe they just pitied you and decided on their own to take you under their wing. That’s got to hurt. (Although, I have to say, there have been times I would have gotten over it pretty quickly, depending on how much I was benefiting from someone’s pity. I don’t know. I don’t seem to be the type to inspire that degree of pity in the right people.)

Moreover, if you are less active (or, pardon my language, just plain inactive) in the church, the knowledge that your “friend” has been tasked with reporting on your well-being to the powers that be can be very off-putting. I can see that. I mean, I have seen it. Myself, if I were to become inactive (since I would just go ahead and call myself that), I would rather have someone I knew assigned to watch over me rather than someone I didn’t know from Adam (or Eve). If I felt like that person was spying on me, I’d be circumspect about what I shared with them, but I’d just as soon have the spy I knew over a complete stranger (with whom I’d be no more inclined to confide). But that’s just me. Some people prefer strangers to fakey-friends, i.e. friends who’ve been turned into church operatives. (And obviously in some cases a stranger is the only choice, if the less-active person in question knows no one in that area.)

All of this makes me wonder what the point of ministering is. What I previously thought was kind of obvious has become less so, now that I think about how different people have different expectations. Some people think that the whole business of having assignments is creepy and, I dunno, inauthentically Christian? Personally, I am 100% in favor of having assignments, for the simple reason that we are not capable of ministering to every individual in a ward without some kind of formal organization. Mormons are pretty good at providing short-term service to other people when they are aware of people’s needs. We’re less good at providing support to people with chronic needs, and we’re pretty bad at providing support to people who keep a low profile and don’t easily fit with the larger group—unless, of course, we have been assigned to look after those people. [1] Every ward has people who fall through the cracks and people who would fall through the cracks if they weren’t someone’s assignment. It’s all well and good to let relationships form organically, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Do you know all the individuals and families in your ward intimately? (Well, I don’t.)

Of course, being assigned in no way guarantees that one’s needs will be met. That’s a whole other level of ministering. But at least the current structure acknowledges the limitations of organically-formed friendships.

But again, what is the purpose of ministering? Is it just a convenient phone tree system in the event of emergency or other unusual circumstance? (It’s a pretty good phone tree system.) Then maybe we shouldn’t overthink it. Don’t expect assignments to be friendships. Don’t get bent out of shape over being an assignment. It’s not personal. (You’re just a branch on the phone tree, man.)

But I’ve always been under the impression that ministering was also a system for making sure we notice when someone has fallen and can’t get up (literally or metaphorically). They used to call visiting teaching a “system of watch-care.” Which sounds kind of nice or kind of sinister, depending on your point of view. If someone doesn’t want any contact with the church, I feel that preference should be respected. If someone regularly attends church but doesn’t particularly want contact with other members outside of Sunday meetings, that preference should also be respected. Everyone’s preferences that aren’t illegal should be respected! But there are plenty of people who would happily accept contact outside of Sunday meetings, who don’t necessarily need ministering sisters/brothers to be their BFFs, but would appreciate having someone they know they can call on if a need arises.

Some situations—such as when minister and minister-ee don’t know each other—require a very awkward conversation. “Hello, I’m So and So from the Such and Such Ward and I’m your ministering sister. In case you don’t know what that is, it used to be visiting teacher—it’s kind of the same thing, only not exactly, except mostly it is—never mind, let me start over: I’m So and So from the ward and I’m…well, I’m your ministering sister…I dunno, do you have any questions? Are you still there? Hello?”

In the words of puppy-dog-eyes Jesus, I never said it would be easy, I only said you had to do it anyway.

Currently I’m assigned to minister to a woman I’ve known (and been assigned to) for more than ten years, whom I see at least twice a week whether I want to or not. (Just kidding. We’re friends.) I’ve also recently been assigned to minister to a woman I don’t know well, who has other friends in the ward (and maybe elsewhere, for all I know) in her age and stage-of-life cohort (which I am not), whom she’d be much more likely to call on if a need should arise. Without the formal visiting teaching structure acting as a sort of social lubricant (hey, we’re all in the same boat—gotta visit, gotta be visited), not to mention moral inducement, I’m finding it a challenge to get to know her better. I’ve made overtures, but I can’t help feeling sort of like a nuisance. Fortunately, I’m sure she knows I’m a well-intentioned nuisance. But maybe she doesn’t want to be my assignment.

One change I can say I’m really not a fan of is assigning young women to be ministering partners with their mothers (or some other Relief Society sister). I realize this was done as a sort of leadership training parallel to the young men, who have had home teaching assignments for years. But visiting teaching was always different from home teaching in that women were assigned to minister to individual women, whereas men were assigned to minister to families. When the responsibility is to go into a home and teach a lesson, this set-up makes some sense. When the responsibility is to meet people’s individual needs, it makes less sense. My ministering sisters are a mother and daughter pair. I like both of them very much, but I’m not going to ask the daughter to do the sort of favors I’ve historically asked of visiting teachers, nor am I going to talk to her about any problems I might be having. I can’t imagine what she’s supposed to be getting out of the experience. [2] Young women and adult women should have more opportunities to serve together. Just maybe not in this particular way.

My other thought is that the home teaching program wasn’t working so well even before they dropped the requirement to do monthly home visits. I’m no expert, having never been a home teacher or a man, but my observation is that the church doesn’t consider men as individuals with individual needs but as heads of households with responsibilities. Which is not to say that the home teaching program hasn’t done marvelous things for many people over the years. But the program wasn’t designed to meet the individual needs of men; there was never a male equivalent of visiting teaching. As I said, I’m no expert—I’m just a housewife with a free blog—but I think men need individual ministering too. It might even be a better way to meet the needs of men’s families.

This post is sort of all over the place (and I haven’t even addressed the problem of how to keeping ministering interviews from becoming gossip sessions), but fortunately this is a blog post, so a little meandering is forgivable. Unfortunately, it means I don’t know how to tie these thoughts off neatly in a little bow. I’ll just say this: ministering, like math, is hard.

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[1] I have several different people in mind as I type this—people who tend to stay on the margins of a ward for various and sundry reasons: single women, single men, single parents, married people without children, people who have to work on Sundays, people with chronic health problems, people whose backgrounds and experiences are foreign to the predominant ward culture. There are more categories than these, of course, but you get the idea.

[2] I’ve long thought that young women should be assigned to minister to other young women. I even put it in a blog post once (although most of that blog post is completely irrelevant to this subject).

Comments

  1. Thanks for these thoughts and questions, Rebecca. I’ve been thinking, too. Tonight I helped my mom wash, dress, and prepare for bed. A good friend of my mother’s was there to sit with her, and she helped. I was glad, for this is women’s work. The washing echoed the biblical, which was most certainly an act of ministering at its most intimate level. Effective ministering involves a certain degree of vulnerability – the trust to make bare our most unclean parts, our darkest of fears, our blackest anger – and hope that healing hands would follow.

  2. I’m pretty much a loner. Not being a natural at woman-type sociality, VT was never a joy for me, either to give or receive. Never really needed a VT per se. However, one time had car trouble in my [Utah highly LDS] neighborhood and hubby was away at work 45 minutes away. I discovered that it was a blessing to have a designated “helper” that I could call without feeling like I was bugging someone. She came and helped me out and it was all good. So, I finally knew why VT was a good program – to have that person that you know you are supposed to bug if you need something. I see Ministering as a vast improvement. The reports aren’t “I did it” but “this is what sister X says she would like me to do for/with her, and this is how she is doing.” I’m only a few months into being RS counselor and have had one round of those interviews, which are definitely NOT gossip sessions. Of the sisters I minister to, one very active sister prefers no visits (“say hi to me at church”), one not active and accepts some contact but not enthused-we are trying to serve her young family as needs arise, and one young married (no kids yet) who loves a nice social visit. Ministering is a vast improvement. However, so far the ministering brothers seems very much like previous home teaching.

  3. >>Mormons are pretty good at providing short-term service to other people when they are aware of people’s needs. We’re less good at providing support to people with chronic needs, and we’re pretty bad at providing support to people who keep a low profile and don’t easily fit with the larger group—unless, of course, we have been assigned to look after those people. [1] Every ward has people who fall through the cracks and people who would fall through the cracks if they weren’t someone’s assignment. <<

    This. I struggle with VT / ministering as much as the next person, and my ward culture roundly opposes it for reasons of artificiality and respecting privacy. But I can't help thinking that getting rid of it risks throwing exactly these people — the ones Christ would probably minister to first — out with the bathwater.

  4. As someone with perhaps sufficient experience at being a man, I agree there is no good way to meet, or even acknowledge, men’s individual needs. They’re supposed to be swallowed up in priesthood service, apparently. That’s not wholly (or even mostly) wrong: service is very fulfilling when done with sincere intent, and it does tend to make you forget your own needs. But it doesn’t remove them.

    I haven’t had ministering-type contact by any name for most of the decade+ I’ve lived in my ward, and I think it’s because I’m active. We tend to see active people as not having needs unless they’re visible ones. The real needy ones are those poor souls who don’t come to church! But even when we did have home teachers coming over, talking to them about a personal need would have been almost unthinkable, unless it was something like needing a blessing for sickness.

    Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had people like bishops notice our needs and do something about it, and I’m grateful for that. But again those are family needs. Personal ones – especially emotional needs – are kind of a taboo for men.

  5. Last Lemming says:

    If I had been in charge of the EQ when ministering was introduced, I would have asked permission to organize it rather differently. Specifically, I would have sat down with the RS president and together run through the ward roster one family at a time and identified the two brothers and two sisters who would be the most effective ministers for that family, exploiting existing friendships as much as possible. I would then create two ad hoc companionships for each family–same sex by default, but opposite sex (mostly married couples) when appropriate. Those companionships would not necessarily perform their ministering duties together, but would stay in contact so each would know what the other was doing. Interviews would be done at the individual level rather than the companionship level. The assignments might look very unbalanced at the expense of those who have lots of friends, but the workload would not be that burdensome because it would frequently involve doing things that are already being done. The hard part, as it has always been, would be ensuring that those without a lot of friends are assigned ministers who are both competent and not already overburdened.

  6. The most artificial part of ministering (visiting teaching) is the companionship. I would gladly cold-call a person I didn’t know and strike up a new friendship. This isn’t hard for me. But doing it along with someone else who I also don’t know very well becomes very awkward! If I could do my ministering with my husband, I would be a happy camper, for sure!

  7. Mark Brown says:

    “I never said it would be easy, I only said you had to do it anyway.”

    I am going to use this line in every future lesson and talk.

  8. Love your thoughts on this. I have struggled with how to “minister” to my families. One family is easy as they live across the street and we are friends as well and talk fairly regulary. The other I barely know, and had never had a conversation with until i was assigned to minister to them.

    The one beauty of the way that wards are set up geographically and assignments are made is that it forces us to get out of our comfort zone and associate with people that we probably normally wouldn’t otherwise. While it is often awkward and in many cases “forced” (I love your line “In the words of puppy-dog-eyes Jesus, I never said it would be easy, I only said you had to do it anyway.”), it does get to the heart of the gospel, and concept of “who is my neighbor”.

    In spite of the program being in place for quite a while, i have yet to make a formal visit to either family, and just this year (Hey, it is Jan) finally had a conversation with the neighbor across the street about how I can best minister to their family. I like the concept of ministering to people the way that they want to be ministered to, much like the concept of the love language and loving the person the way they want to be loved.

  9. Meandering . . .
    If I had to run a program, it would look a lot like Last Lemming describes.
    Me being ministered to amounts to lunch with my best friend in the Ward, over which we talk politics (almost violently opposed), Adam-God theory (also opposed, but not violent), and who best to call if you fall off a ladder.
    I have thought ministering kind of silly or unnecessary for someone like me, who has so many family and friend connections all over the world. But one day at a Stake organized service project a man I just recognize from my Ward showed up late and when people asked him what he’s doing he said “I’m with him” pointing to me. It gave me a surprising warm feeling, to be recognized and _with_. There’s something important about a “Ward family” that I have been too quick to dismiss.

  10. I’ve been an adult member of this church for nearly 30 years and I can say the HT/VT program has never worked for me. As an introvert being assigned to forge relationships with total strangers is about the hardest thing that can be asked of me. And since we were a military family that moved often, it was ward after ward after ward of strangers. The change to ministering hasn’t been an improvement. I wouldn’t even know who to call if I needed their help.
    I think for ministering to work would require a cultural shift among the members. I was always so jealous of my protestant friends who were assigned to small bible study groups of five-ish couples who then developed strong spiritual, emotional, and social bonds.
    The only program in the church I feel more animosity to than ministering is the RS enrichment activity. Both have left me with raw, negative feelings.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Generally I’m a fan of the change. In theory, HTing was already supposed to be this way, where you could personalize your service to what people needed and wanted. But we were all too set in our ways such that nothing but an in-home visit and a reading of the 1P message was going to “count.” We were way too focused on what would and would not count. The only way to break that cycle was to call it something else, in this case “ministering,” to make it clear that we really mean it, do or don’t do what works best for the person/family. If it’s say “hi” at church, do that; if it’s an =occasional text to check in, do that. Get pragmatic about it; whatever works.

    Our ministering brother doesn’t particularly want to come over physically to visit us, and we really don’t anyone to come over physically to visit us[1], so it’s all good. He’s a friend, I talk to him every Sunday at church, and I kind of like knowing that if I need help with something I could send him a text and he’d come running. I haven’t actually needed that kind of help, but I like knowing in theory it’s covered should such a situation arise. But for me an in–home visit would be a total waste of time and effort.

    I have five families assigned to me. We made one in-home visit to a retired single sister, because she had thought about it and finally decided that is what she wanted. I gave one brother a blessing in the rehab center after having his knee replaced. I attended a high school madrigal dinner where a daughter in the family was part of the madrigals group. My companion had an older brother who prefers not to have people in his home over to his house for dinner. The other couple I happen to know do not want contact, so I purposefully haven’t contacted them. To me, this is sort of how HThing always should have worked. We should be pragmatic and focused on what the family or individual actually wants and respect their wishes, even if they just want to be left the hell alone.

    [1] In the past we have often been assigned the most dedicated HTers in the ward who would visit us like clockwork, when that was something we neither needed nor wanted. It was a bonkers allocation of a scarce resource.

  12. Our ministering interviews do not become gossip fests. I’ve yet to have one. How long have we had this program? I know we are on our second RS president since it started.

  13. Regarding the inclusion of Young Women in the ministering pool, I am absolutely in favor of it for Laurel age girls. Not too many years ago the Relief Society was focusing on ways to make the transition between YW and RS more attractive and fulfilling to the young adults who were feeling it was a meeting just for old ladies. Those 16 and 17 year olds need to see that much more is expected from women than what they see and hear on Sundays. It might not be a bad idea to explain to them that, at first, they might be asked to wait outside for a minute at the end of the visit in case the person being visited needs to share something they might be uncomfortable with a young person hearing. Many of our Branches and some Wards as well as short on able bodied people who can minister. Including the Young Women helps that as well.

  14. Katie McKay says:

    I find the idea that we could not take care of people in the ward without assignments strange, because it assumes that the hundreds of thousands of Christian churches without such an assignment system have failed to be able to take care of their congregants. But I know assuredly that some have, simply through organic relationships and service. I think the fact that we cannot imagine this happening is simply because we have been trained to only do this kind of service by assignment, so that we’ve kind of lost the ability to imagine the possibility, and to even have the capacity, to do it organically.

    It reminds me of the fact of how my fellow Latter-Day Saints feel sure we need a system of top-down-issued callings, because otherwise people would not volunteer to serve. This again ignores the fact that in hundreds of thousands of other churches, people DO very routinely volunteer to serve in all kinds of positions; I even have friends who serve 20+ hours a week in their churches. (We tend to get so focused on other churches having a paid ministry, that we forget that while a few positions may be paid, everything else, from sound engineers, to childcare providers, to Sunday school teachers, are typically volunteers just like us). If we cannot imagine people volunteering in this way, it’s because our capacity to act in such a way has been atrophied by the assignment system.

  15. Bob Cooper says:

    Great post on ministering. Hopefully in the next hundred years we will get a program that might actually work instead of just being work.

    And sorry to be the bearer of bad news but there is no puppy-dog-eyes Jesus and this quote isn’t in the Scriptures. What Jesus did say in Matt. 11:30 is that “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    I think this quote is from Mae West.

  16. Last Lemming – I like your ideas. Why don’t they ever ask us what we think?

    Karen – As a fellow introvert, I relate to much of what you’ve said. I do much better without a companion. And I’ve had some lovely companions, so no offense to any of them, but talk about compounding social anxiety (not to mention compounding scheduling conflicts). (I can’t believe I didn’t get around to addressing the awkwardness of companionships. I guess I was just so focused on keeping it under 10,000 words.) The advantage of companionships is that there’s an additional “designated minister” if one minister isn’t available or able to help in a particular situation. But companionships don’t seem to be organized to maximize utility in that way. Actually, I have no idea how they’re organized. They seem pretty random to me. I wish we could get away from the expectation that companions will coordinate all their visits/ministering/whatever. Check in with each other, sure, but cultivating individual relationships with the minister-ee seems less awkward to me.

    I’m also not a fan of conducting ministering interviews at the companion level. I reckon it’s to save time, but if there’s a problem between the two companions, then the joint interview is sort of a waste of time, unless both are the confrontational type. I have often had very different ideas than my companion(s) about the needs of the sisters we visited. (And who’s going to honestly answer the question of how you’re getting on with your companion when she’s sitting right there?)

    Nora Ray – I appreciate your point, and I reckon there are situations where giving young women ministering assignments might be a good idea–everything depends on the situation, I guess–but I have yet to see it work well. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t working well where I can’t see it.

  17. I have very recently been put in a position to start conducting ministering interviews. This post brings up a lot of things I’m hoping to learn from these interviews. Would you rather do this in tandem with a companion? Would you rather have two people working independently and checking in with each other? Can we match up the people who just want a phone call with people who like to make phone calls? Can we connect the people who want a formal visit with the people who like to make formal visits? Can we get some of our young women visiting some of our older, home bound sisters who would find listening to every detail of the prom decorations a nice diversion? I’ll have to see how it goes.

  18. Katie McKay – It isn’t that other Christian churches don’t manage to minister to their congregants without assignments. Even *we* manage to minister to each other without assignments. We do it all the time. We fall all over ourselves to minister to the people we know (and like). But I don’t believe for a second that other Christian churches manage to meet the needs of *every single congregant* (including people who may not attend regularly but consider themselves members of a particular church), simply through organic relationships. I agree with you that our volunteering muscles have certainly atrophied–I have a whole other post in mind on this topic–but I just don’t see how relationships organically form between people who don’t have opportunities to interact. I’m not concerned that if there are no assignments, no one will visit or serve anyone. People will visit and serve each other, but it’s inevitable that some will fall through the cracks. I mean, some people *want* to fall through the cracks and can’t seem to, no matter how hard they try (e.g. people on the no-contact list who keep getting unwanted contact), but other people desperately need contact and service and aren’t able to get it because they don’t attend regularly, aren’t sociable enough, etc. I think sometimes we are able to keep ourselves super-busy doing things that aren’t needful and have blind spots we’re not even aware of. I think everyone does this. And assignments don’t solve the problem, but they can help compensate for people’s natural (and in many cases, understandable) thoughtlessness.

  19. Karen (again) – I was just wondering if these “informal study groups” the church just sanctioned in connection with the Come Follow Me curriculum could be like those small Bible study groups you mentioned.

  20. Katie McKay says:

    @Rebecca

    I don’t believe other Christian churches successfully minister to every single congregant organically, but I don’t think we succeed in doing so even through our assignment system. I agree that most of our own service does actually happen organically, and that the ministering system is theoretically helpful for reaching those people who don’t interact with the church much or aren’t sociable (who yes, other Christian churches probably don’t do a good job of keeping tabs on). But I have found the number of these people who would get overlooked because they have little contact with the church, and who 1) actually do want contact, and 2) despite the minimal amount of contact they have, will ask a ministering sister to meet a need is miniscule. It surely happens, but these occasions are very rare in number. 95%+ of ward members’ needs are met through our organic “system” of keeping tabs on each other, and yet we have this fairly complicated system set up, that 100% are supposed to take part in, that is only really needed in the case of maybe (maybe) 5% of people. I think it would be much better to acknowledge and trust that 95% of needs could be met organically, and then to set up a system, maybe a little along the lines of what Last Lemming suggests, that would cover the 5% of cases where things wouldn’t happen organically. I think you could probably do away with the ministering system altogether, and simply have two couples whose calling was to check in on the less actives (who want a little contact).

  21. @Katie
    Well, my family attends both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (without my husband) and a Lutheran church (we all attend), and I can tell you that there is a difference. We have one couple we’re friends with in the Lutheran church, which is great, and they’re socially active in the church so they kind of keep us informed, but other than that we’re pretty much on our own. (Both my husband and I are not very sociable by nature.) In our church I am kind of forced to interact with people — because I have a calling, because I have a sister to minister to, because I have a ministering sister, because I have to clean the church — none of which I would do if I wasn’t asked specifically to do it. And partially as a result of this (there are of course other factors in play, like demographics and church culture) I have a much, much stronger bond with our church, socially speaking, than any of us do with my husband’s church. So… yeah… I guess it’s a good system for people like me, who are inclined to fly under the radar but aren’t allowed to :)

    (I still would not be opposed to doing away with cleaning the church, though.)

  22. Last Lemming and Karen bring up good points that I’ve noticed: since the change, with less actual visiting going on, my long established companion and I have become independent agents, each doing our own thing, if actually doing something, I’m not really sure some months. Might be easier and more effectively done as couples, unless/until blessings are needed.

  23. @Katie – I agree with you to a point, but I would put the meeting-needs-organically number much lower than 95%. I’m thinking of real life examples, and they are mostly not inactive members but active/semi-active members who are nonetheless not fully integrated into the ward socially. I think we’d need more than two couples to deal with the number of people who would otherwise fall through the cracks. They aren’t always who we’d expect. And I guess I’m outing myself as a person who would definitely not be aware of these cases were it not for my husband’s and my “assignments”–which in some cases turned into genuine friendships. I think it’s fair to criticize the mandatory nature of the minsistering program – maybe it should be more socially acceptable to opt in and out. That is something I struggle with because as an introvert who is also socially awkward, I am not naturally inclined to seek out relationships with people, period, let alone people I have (seemingly) nothing in common with. Yet I’ve benefited from participating in VT/HT on both ends. Maybe we need to be more thoughtful in our approach to assignments, but obviously I don’t have a solution. I agree that we’re not managing to meet everyone’s needs even with our top-down approach–and generally I am not a fan of top-down methods–but I appreciate that this particular top-down system attempts to address problems that an organic approach just can’t.

    @cahn – I still hope Woke President Nelson eventually hires some professional janitors to clean the meeting houses. It might be in my top 3 wish list items.

  24. I suppose I’m one of those who makes it very hard for ministering sistren and brethren. Nobody really knows me, even after 14 years in the ward what my ministering sister “knows” about me — she’s an utter stranger to me; I wouldn’t know her if we met on the street — things she assumes in email, are things she could only know from other people who don’t know me passing on to her. It’s hard to serve a stranger; it’s hard to be the stranger having to accept the wrong kind of help.

    I think the program would work better for everybody if ministerers would only ask ministerees what it is they want and need or could accept instead of trying to do generic things or doing things that are not wanted. But ministerers don’t ask because they want to do whatever it is they want to do, however inappropriate, and ministerees don’t tell because too often it would come across as “I don’t want what you’re offering.” How rude.

    So, who would like this $40 gift card to a store I can’t get to because I don’t drive? Or this $25 gift card to a goody shop I can’t patronize because of dietary restrictions?

  25. Regarding the young women being included in ministering, I think that it’s so important for young women who go on full-time missions to have this experience before they go out to the mission field. I had a couple of years of (sometimes awkward) visiting teaching experience before my mission at the age of 21, and I believe it helped me know how to interact with strangers in their homes. Now that the age has been lowered to 19, and more young women are choosing to serve, this ministering opportunity will be one of the only ways that they can learn some of these important skills which the young men have already been developing for years.

  26. Ardis, you touched on something so important. The simple question, “What do you want?” can be so hard to answer. The Book of Mormon teaches us to minister to others according to their wants. Christ asked others what they wanted. But so often, I can’t even verbalize what I really want. Even if I could, it would be measured against many real and imagined barriers, not the least of which is my ministering sister’s capacity to meet that want. By the time I pare down the list of what I perceive to be acceptable requests, I’m left with almost nothing.

    I also can empathize with the commenter who reminded us how difficult this can be for me. Many of the men I know cycle in and out of callings and PPIs without anyone really reaching them emotionally and spiritually.

  27. When I made the effort to visit my families each month, it was actually good. I made a good friend, and another I-know-and-chat-to-you-at-church friend. I’m an introvert and can very happily not talk to anyone at church, but it wasn’t like home teaching was actually hard to do – you just do it. There is a certain artificiality to both the old and new program, but the point is to actually try and build a community, especially in a time when society is tending further and further away from community.
    If the old home teaching program failed, it was because:
    a) we’re lazy (as a whole)
    and b) we probably got blinded by the idea that we had to share an ensign message etc, where most people would’ve been happy with a chat and a quick scripture shared at the end. Us LDS do love being told what to do.
    Now it’s even easier – you really don’t have to do much at all – and we’re all still complaining. The whole reason that this change happened is because we were all too damn lazy to do home teaching. I do think that it highlights our failings as a church group, where, after supposedly having the actual *true gospel*, we still can’t even regularly visit people in our wards. It’s difficult to do, I get that. It’s not my natural environment, but if I could do it with semi-regularity (and all that was was a choice that I made) then anyone could have done it.

  28. By the time I pare down the list of what I perceive to be acceptable requests, I’m left with almost nothing

    Relatable.

  29. I’m not sure what to think about it all, to be honest. My personal experience so far as been less than stellar. We moved cross-country at the beginning of last year, and as a result of that move and the subsequent transitions with renting temporarily and then eventually buying a home, we were in four different wards during 2018. The first ward we were in after our moved was dissolved and merged with two other wards just four weeks after we moved in. ONE week after that merge, at conference, HT & VT were done away with and ministering began. The combination of those two things meant that our family was kind of lost in two major transitions. Because half the ward was “new”, few people, especially leadership, realized that we really were actually *new*. Because everyone was thrown for a loop with the new ministering program, it was several months before any sorts of assignments were made. We finally got assignments, and about that time, we changed wards again as we bought a home.

    In the most recent ward, I got a ministering assignment after a few months, but I still have no idea who is supposed to be ministering to me, if anyone. We’re a very active family, holding callings, jumping in to work in the ward, etc. So we’re the kind of family that appears to perhaps not need ministering to. And normally that might be mostly true. But we’ve endured an extremely difficult year dealing with a child who has serious mental health challenges. I am not particularly outgoing–I don’t make friends easily and haven’t found our most recent ward to be especially welcoming, and I feel like it would be really helpful to me right now to have ministering sisters come to me. I really need some help and support and have for months felt so alone in trying to handle things such as taking my child to the ER when she can’t calm down, figuring out how I can go to the temple or even out with my husband for a date when we can’t leave this child home alone with her siblings for fear of what will happen. I have no one to turn to. We have lived in this city now for almost a full year, and while I have some acquaintances and a few people who with whom I could strike up a conversation in the hall at church, there is no one that I feel close enough to to ask for help or just to talk about these challenges.

    I recognize that the ministering program might not be a perfect solution, but it is a start–and obviously people have to be doing their part in the program for that to work. I know some feel like a formal program is not needed as most people get help through their personal network of friends–but a lot of people, even people who are very active in the church, really don’t have a network of friends. It’s been years since I had a close friend in real life.

  30. I have two teens with MAJOR mental health issues which the EQP is aware of. However his secretary is not and called to get a report on my recent ministering efforts. I referred him back to his boss until I can get my own house in order.

    I hope a key goal is NOT teaching youth how to be comfortable with strangers – if anything, that would perpetuate the pervasive patronizing attitude of “us/them” in the church. We all should be equal in the eyes of God. It can also set up the young missionaries for a real letdown – I know it did for me when I served in France – I could not fathom that people were not lining up to hear the true and everlasting gospel. But I guess it has helped in that I now realize that our stake leaders are just regular schmucks like me. My bishop’s son just returned home early from his mission which proves my point that we ALL need ministering.

    I’m glad HT has gone away – my son is a Priest and was getting bombarded pre-ministering from zealous YM leaders who it seems were doing a home teaching lesson every week and challenging the boys to do their duties.

  31. @Lisa – I relate to so much of what you said. I have two children with developmental disorders, one of whom also has mental health issues on top of her disability, and even though we’ve been lucky enough to stay in one place for the last several years, our family situation has to some extent isolated us socially from the rest of the ward, even though we attend every week, hold callings, etc. My heart goes out to you. Sometimes the worst part about raising a child with disabilities or health issues (mental or otherwise) is the loneliness. Sometimes loneliness is the worst part about anything. I’ve always been active in my ward(s), but like you, I’ve gone for years without close friends in real life. It seems to be the epidemic of our times.

  32. If you go into your own directory entry in the LDS Tools app it should show all your household ministering assignments. It doesn’t give that same information on the LDS website for some reason. I just looked at our assignments and was touched to see that the people assigned to our household are people we could call any hour of the day or night and they’d be there to help. Fortunately we seem to be between crises (and hopefully it will continue to be the case) and we won’t need to do anything like that, but it’s still good to know they’re there.

  33. Melinda W says:

    The best VT experience I ever had was in a BYU ward. They assigned us “VT groups” of about eight sisters, and we all traded around and visit taught each other. So my visiting teacher was someone I visit taught, and all 8 of us were interlinked like that. A party in someone’s house with two minutes on the lesson and lots of treats took care of the statistical report for the month.

    What I liked about it so well is it got rid of the “I’m in charge of you” hierarchy. We were all looking after each other, so we were all equals. In the old VT program, I always got to be good friends with my companion because we were equals and working together. I generally liked the sisters we visited, but the dynamic of being assigned to them made them a project.

    I would like to be part of a small group of mutually ministering people.

  34. @Amy T – I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info! (I also didn’t know, until I looked at the app, who our ministering brothers actually were.)

    @Melinda W – I like that idea a lot! Should be only 70 more years or so until the church implements it.

  35. Amy T.: Thank you. I just did that, and according to LDS Tools, I don’t even have any ministering sisters. We have ministering brothers, as a family, but no sisters are assigned to me.

  36. Melinda W – I agree visiting teaching groups were wonderful! Sadly, the Church leadership specifically forbid groups. (It’s still on the church website under Relief Society and in the handbook) Unfortunate because it was great for many people.

  37. Some of the younger sisters here still do groups. That is, they’re divided into companionships, but since most of them visit each other in a circle anyway, they just all get together for a sports night or a hike or a baby play date or whatever. Since ministering is about meeting needs, and for them socializing is the need they want met, why not?

  38. Seanmhair says:

    I’m in a ministering sisters group. Between four and eight of us meet up in a local hostelry every month for cake and a wee drink. Good friends, good times. Cheers!

  39. Melinda W – you said it better than I did re: the “I’m in charge of you” hierarchy.

  40. nobody, really says:

    They will likely never approve ministry groups like that. They have also specifically said that study groups shouldn’t meet, or at least that priesthood leaders should not sanction study groups in member homes. There’s too much risk (in their minds) that one person can lead things astray, and then you’re faced with somebody claiming to be the “one mighty and strong” and forming their own church, or bringing back polygamy, or (even worse) starting up an MLM downline.

  41. “They have also specifically said that study groups shouldn’t meet, or at least that priesthood leaders should not sanction study groups in member homes.”

    Where have they said that in the new materials? Elder Cook recommended study groups, and I haven’t seen any limiting guidelines (I am aware of the older counsel to avoid study groups, of course).

  42. I think the line “I never said it would be easy” is from an old MormonAd poster. I don’t think Christ actually ever said that. I wish our culture would be more careful about that kind of thing.

  43. “I’m in charge of you so let me be patronizing instead of a true friend.”

    I would like to see “assignments” made for couples and/or teen children and scrap the assignment of companions who are not related to each other, although I don’t object to the independent agent approach.

  44. @Lisa If you have no sisters assigned, talk to your RS President. A less active sister I worked with found through the LDS Tools app that she had neither brothers or sisters assigned to her family. She has one disabled child and her husband is among the ‘offended ones’ which is why they no longer attend. I truly believe that ministering would help this family a lot. The RS President found that ward records still show former teachers assigned although they believe they were reassigned. Human failings will always cause some confusion even doing the Lord’s work.

  45. About teenagers visiting… cough… ministering: I’m a half less active who struggles a lot with my ward. The only reason I allow them to assign me ministering sisters, is because I have a mom/daughter team. The daughter brings baked goods, and prevents the conversation from going into the awkward realm of “Sooooo, why don’t you come to church any more?” We have short visits, and I’ve asked them directly not to ever say anything more to the RS presidency about me than “She’s fine.” at ministering interviews. I’m pretty independent, but homemade cupcakes once a quarter, and the knowledge that if I need something I have someone to call is perfect for me, and the daughter is the part of the group that makes the whole thing work.

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