The Church in the Community

July 4, 2013

In the run-up to, and analysis of the recent Worldwide Training Broadcast “Hastening the Work of Salvation“, a wish was expressed by various bloggers and commenters for missionaries to have a greater involvement in service in the community. There was a general feeling that the LDS church, unlike others, is not as involved in serving the needy in our local communities as we might wish. This post will give a British perspective, but I’d love to hear how it is for all of you out there too.

Every couple of months we receive our local neighbourhood magazine. As well as the usual advertisements, there is information about community events, and nearly two pages devoted to meeting times and other activities held at the various local churches. The LDS church is not included in this list. Our building is right over the other side of the city (in the other ward boundary), and therefore not seen as part of this local neighbourhood, for one thing. As a member of the LDS church, I do feel that separation, that because our membership are more thinly spread, we aren’t as a church automatically viewed as a part of the local community.

However, the LDS church does maintain charitable status in Britain. And for this to be the case they need to show there is Public Benefit. There are also specific guidelines for Public Benefit as applied to religions. The summary report submitted annually to the Charity Commission for the year 2011, under question “Who benefits?” lists the following:

“Anyone who attends worship services held by the Church benefit from the teachings presented there.

People who come into contact in society with missionaries or members of the Church may also benefit from doing so.

Members and non-members of the Church in need of religious assistance or in condition of need, hardship, sickness or distress.

Those who use its buildings and other facilities for family history research.

The Charity also organises local community projects.”

It’s an interesting document required to go into objectives and strategies. Take a look. Much of the non-member public benefit in this country would appear to derive from our Family History Centres, record indexing and other genealogical work. More traditional community service, in connection with the 4th mission of the church, is a much smaller element. A look through the submitted accounts for that year list 70% of patrons at Family History Centres as non-members, and costs for genealogical work certainly outstrips costs for community projects. I’m not an accountant, so I won’t attempt a further breakdown of what the numbers might mean.

So to take a look at why we are so under-represented when it comes to more traditional community service. These are points that have occurred to me in discussion with others. Feel free to add your own, or to take issue with mine.

  1. We have a lay clergy who have other employment during the working week, it is far harder for us to find the time to reach out to our local communities, in the ways that a full-time vicar, priest or pastor would be able to do.
  2. With small wards and branches, most members are kept incredibly busy with their church callings, their own home and visiting teaching assignments, and general pastoral care of ward or branch members. Very often there is little or no time left for additional in-the-community voluntary service as a church.
  3. Because a calling is held strictly on a temporary basis, where one person serving may have both the time and energy to get their ward/ quorum/ relief society/ youth involved in a long-term project, there is a disincentive to do so: we don’t know how long we will be serving in that role, and if our successor is unable to meet that commitment, that could be more damaging in the long-term.
  4. An inherent reluctance to create formal links with organisations where standards may differ, and whether or not, and from whom permission should be sought.

So I have a lot of sympathy for the view, that here we have full-time missionaries essentially wasting much of the day with no-one to teach, and why not put them into those serving-the-community roles that could give the church a much-needed face in the community as a whole. Nonetheless, I read one comment I can no longer locate (apologies to that commenter), where initial disappointment was expressed about there being no great change to service opportunities for missionaries was followed by a remark that they had then felt that this was something they should be doing themselves, not an expectation for the missionaries.

It has been my observation that each stake, ward and branch differs enormously in how they serve the local community, and individual members do much on their own. We have the opportunity, along with the rest of the population, where appropriate, to serve as school governors, local magistrates, as part of a neighbourhood or community association, or for a variety of charities requiring volunteers.

In my own ward, our Relief Society has worked as a one off to provide, hygiene and children’s kits for a local women’s refuge. We are not the only ward to have done this. Other ward Relief Societies have served local charitable institutions by baking for a party, and knitting or sewing. All of this has been done on a project by project basis.

At a stake level there is the annual ‘Helping Hands’ day. Personally I have an aversion to being required to wear an identifying tabard, but there’s no doubt it creates visibility. One report describes a project which illustrates how a ‘Helping Hands’ project can develop from a member’s individual voluntary service. At a multi-stake level, we have in the past prepared school kits, making and filling bags, for school children in parts of Africa. Last year members and missionaries in various stakes participated in the annual Poppy appeal for the Royal British Legion, manning collection tins. I have been a member of and am also aware of several wards and stakes that have been involved over several years, along with local schools and churches, in providing filled shoe-boxes for the annual Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

Perhaps, just as members are called to work in our Family History Centres, we need to look at a calling for someone to serve as a local community charity liaison officer. Over time, given our apparent aversion to developing formal ties with outside agencies, we can perhaps come to be seen as an organisation that can be turned to for assistance with one-off projects.

  • Should we concentrate our efforts on the things we do well, like our Family History Centres, and leave serving the poor and needy in the local community to all those other religious communities who are doing that so well already?
  • How is community service working in your ward or branch and stake?
  • Do you feel it’s enough?
  • Would a charity liaison officer help or hinder with the 4th mission of the church?

Discuss.

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15 Responses to The Church in the Community

  1. Wm on July 4, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    http://www.justserve.org/

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  2. ji on July 4, 2013 at 8:47 PM

    Let every man and woman be anxiously engaged in a good cause.

    There is no need for me to conscript my neighbor in my pet project. Let me do my good work, and let him or her do hers. If I need help, let me ask, not command. And if my neighbor needs help, let me offer help voluntarily and without command.

    Church members are not employees of the organization, and Church leaders are not supervisors.

    Those who want more “Church” involvement in community projects must realize the burden they want to put on other members.

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  3. Hawkgrrrl on July 4, 2013 at 9:17 PM

    This is an interesting difference on what constitutesa charitable (tax exempt) organisation, and I like it. It seems to me that in the US, as soon as someone cries “church” everyone backs away and grants them a blank check whether they contribute or not to society. The marker of societal benefit is a much better secular measure. Why else should they be tax exempt?

    I noted that our charitable giving results in Salt Lake City were the lowest in our company, despite the fact that the company matches dollar for dollar. This was because members who paid tithing used that as all their charitable giving. Truth be told, if that is included, they are paying more than the others. But given the lack of transparency, our company could not match it. If there was a church owned charity with specific societal benefit that would count toward tithing, the church could increase its revenues and the good we do through matching programs.

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  4. Jace on July 4, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    You know, there would be much more done to help others if we actually went out and did something instead of sitting around and talking about it. Dontcha think?

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  5. Hedgehog on July 5, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    #1 Wm, Looks like an interesting site. I was pleased to see that the Church is making a move to develop partnerships with other agencies at least in the US. It isn’t up and running in Britain at the moment, but perhaps it will in the future.

    #2 ji, #4 Jace I have a lot of sympathy with your views, and know many who do a lot on their own. But I can also understand the frustration of members who’d like to see the church more visibly involved in the local community.

    #3 hawkgrrrl, yes I probably should have made that clear – charitable status does confer tax advantages. Similarly for local tax advantages on buildings we are required to display meeting times, all welcome etc. You’d think that would be obvious anyway, that we’d want everyone to know our meeting times, but when I was small it often wasn’t the case, and I recall when all the signage went up in order to comply.

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  6. ji on July 5, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Hedgehog (no. 5) — Hopefully, those of whom you are referring will appreciate the counsel that the man or woman who must be commanded in everything matter is an unwise servant.

    I am not opposed to members doing good — I encourage such — but I really, really, really think it would be a mistake for every ward to start mandating that its members participate in particular community service projects. No, I’m happy with let every man and woman be engaged in his or her own good cause.

    Rather than seeing “the Church” being more involved in the local community, perhaps we would be better served if individual members who already serve would share with their fellow servants that they are Latter-day Saints. If we need a Public Relations boost, let’s highlight members who already serve. To me, asking for “the Church” to be more involved means more taskings and commands and demands and quotas and assignments and burdens, all for the purpose of publicity (as you said, “more visibly involved”).

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  7. Howard on July 5, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    The church is very involved providing service in my community. I’ve worked in the cannery, helped prevent mud slides and counted the homeless to help them qualify for county funding all through the church. They do a wonderful job of taking care of their own and disaster relief but my criticism is they look away allowing third world non-members die from malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease in spite of being almost uniquely situated to reverse those problems given their other humanitarian aid operations, their income and placement of missionaries in a couple hundred countries with language training. My other pet peeve is the TBM rationalizations offered to justify this callousness to their situation and their deaths.

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  8. Jace on July 5, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Hedgehog,

    We are the Church. If “the Church” isn’t visible enough/doing enough/whatever, then we, as the everyday members, need to fix it. We need to get out there and start making a difference. What ji said in #6 is absolutely correct about being unwise servants.

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  9. Howard on July 5, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    We are the church. It has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? But we are not the church in terms of how the church’s money is spent, how It’s resources are used nor do we have much say in it’s direction. So in the end “we are the church” in this context pretty much translates to “don’t criticize the church” doesn’t it?

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  10. Hedgehog on July 5, 2013 at 10:09 PM

    Ji #6 :”Hopefully, those of whom you are referring will appreciate the counsel that the man or woman who must be commanded in everything matter is an unwise servant.”
    I believe they do. There is significant overlap in the ‘those who do’ and ‘those who feel frustrated’ groups.
    “To me, asking for “the Church” to be more involved means more taskings and commands and demands and quotas and assignments and burdens, all for the purpose of publicity (as you said, “more visibly involved”).”
    Believe me, I appreciate all that. I especially dislike the ‘for the publicity’ angle, which is why I am uncomfortable with the whole tabard-wearing Helping Hands events, albeit they are once a year. After reading the Charity Commission submission it feels even more like a check box exercise, something the church can point to and say provides public benefit. I think there is a difference between the hype and publicity surrounding a one-off event of that sort, and the kind of permanent, quiet, visible presence in the community most would like to see. At the moment, unless you are a part of the population interested in genealogy or happen to know a member (and we are thinly spread), in this country the visible presence is tracting missionaries (not perceived as a positive). And it looks like missionaries on the street are going to decrease. Otherwise, out there in the local communities, we are mostly invisible in a way that the other churches are not.
    Mind you, it probably doesn’t help that the one building we have in the city is hidden away in a corner behind houses at the end of a cul-de-sac that no-one is ever going to pass on the way to anywhere.

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  11. Hedgehog on July 5, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    ji #6 : “means more taskings and commands and demands and quotas and assignments and burdens”
    Jace #8: “We are the Church. If “the Church” isn’t visible enough/doing enough/whatever, then we, as the everyday members, need to fix it.”
    Howard #9: “But we are not the church in terms of how the church’s money is spent, how It’s resources are used nor do we have much say in it’s direction.”

    I want to tackle these points together because I think they are connected. If you take a look at the four points I listed in the OP, to me they indicate that Howard is in fact correct. The structure of the church, the programmes we are required to run, and the time they consume on an individual level have a significant effect on the time available to members to do other things. And the red-tape, bureaucratic stuff pretty much does the rest. To give some concrete examples:
    We have to a have a monthly ward activity, a monthly RS activity, weekly youth activities, and regular quorum activities. These are meant to be events to get to know each-other, invite friends, fellow-shipping etc. These are not bad aims. But they do tend to make us very inward-looking as a community, as though we are always focussing on ourselves, I feel. And mostly I don’t enjoy them. Really, truly, I have better things to do with my time than play silly games. And I’m no good at sitting around socialising, though I grant some people enjoy it. On the other hand, give me a service project to do, and I can be getting to know people whilst I am participating. (It has additionally been a recent aggravation of mine, that when RS have had some kind of service event planned, those are the few times I actually want to attend, I haven’t been able to take part because my husband has had to attend stake meetings). Similarly, my eldest teen dislikes youth activities, but will attend and get something out of a service project. We’re lucky that in our current ward, there are monthly service projects in the youth programme.
    We could take these set-aside activity times, and use them more constructively. There would be no more compulsion on members to do more as a church than is already the case, and it would make us more outward-looking, and we could still fellowship one with another, and invite non-members along.

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  12. Hedgehog on July 5, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Howard #7
    I’m so glad there’s that involvement in the community where you are.

    “but my criticism is they look away allowing third world non-members die from malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease in spite of being almost uniquely situated to reverse those problems given their other humanitarian aid operations, their income and placement of missionaries in a couple hundred countries with language training. My other pet peeve is the TBM rationalizations offered to justify this callousness to their situation and their deaths.”
    We do seem to be placed firmly in the first responder group for disasters, and not so much providing ongoing support of the sort you mention. Though I have read of church involvement in building wells, providing vaccines and the like, in partnership with on-the-ground organisations. I do think that partnership is a good thing. But still, looking at humanitarian aid donations in, and humanitarian aid spending out, I have to seriously wonder if the money is better donated directly to those partner organisations.
    And that conference talk comment was disturbing.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on July 6, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    I love the idea of ward activities being replaced (at ward discretion) with service projects. In our AZ ward, we have sometimes used an activity as a way to pull together service donations for homeless shelter kits or items requested by a local domestic abuse shelter. Our stake also had service projects pulled together for a ranch for families that had no homes (after the recession). Our current ward also pulls together service projects in place of many of the “activities.”

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  14. Jeff Spector on July 8, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    I think the Church organization does quite a bit to provide humanitarian aid, teach self-reliance and through the teaching and example of the Savior, teach charity and service to the members.

    You are always going to find those who will complain that the Church is not doing enough here or there or anywhere. But, it is we who need to learn Charity nd service and it is we who should be doing it.

    That is what Jesus taught.

    A week before the Black Forest Fire, the youth and some adults helped rake up the Church property of the pine needles and other debris from the area in the east and back of the Church. As a esult, they probably saved the Church and some other properties from burning down. The fire came up to the back of the brick storage building and burned around the edges of the building itself, bu not the building. The westside grove of trees is completely blackened where the work was not yet done. The parking lot probably stopped it from advancing. That service helped the Church but also helped some of the homeowners in the area.

    sSometimes charity begins at home.

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  15. Hedgehog on July 9, 2013 at 1:09 AM

    Hawkgrrrl #13, those sound like great projects.

    Jeff #14, ” it is we who need to learn Charity nd service and it is we who should be doing it.”
    Yes. And sometimes it’s nice to do it as a group. I find working together builds community feeling both amongst ourselves, but also develops a love and concern for those we’re serve.

    It’s wonderful that your ward members were able to work together in timely fashion, preventing fire damage.

    “Sometimes charity begins at home.”
    I agree.

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