“Relief Society sisters exemplify pure religion …. As they visit the fatherless and widow in their afflictions …”
This chapter is all about Visiting Teaching: its history and its components today – and full of stories about women visiting and serving each other in miraculous and powerful ways. These stories are both the strength and weakness of the chapter: strength because there are many (and varied) stories to draw from in discussion, but weakness because they are extraordinary stories rather than ordinary, making them somewhat un-relatable.
The lesson opens strongly with Jesus Christ, our great example of love and kindness. “He showed us how to minister – how to watch over and strengthen one another. His was a ministry to individuals, on by one.” The word “watchcare” is new, but I like because it captures the ideas of loving, knowing, caring, and serving – in the Saviors name.
It is a little-known and interesting fact that at its genesis (1843), Visiting Teaching involved assessing temporal needs and collect donations. These donations were gathered locally and carried individually, basket to basket – providing aid and relief for the needy.
In 1944, eight years after the implementation of the Church’s welfare plan, Visiting Teaching changed to focus on service and spirituality. General Relief Society President Amy Lyman questioned the Relief Society’s role in collecting donations – and it was decided that the Presiding Bishopric would take on welfare responsibilities. The Brethern then dictated a new role for the Relief Society: “You will be a service organization, not a financing organization of charity relief.” Some women thought this would be the end of Visiting Teaching, but the Relief Society Presidency saw it as a rebirth
We may wonder today as we look back on this change if the Relief Society gave up autonomy to its male counterpart in Priesthood leadership – or whether was a necessary step as the church grew and expanded.
Visiting Teaching Today
This part of the chapter discusses the continuing effort of Visiting and is broken in to five parts.
- Commitment / Dedication
This section discusses the ongoing effort to reach, love, and serve the women we are assigned through Visiting Teaching; “An ongoing assignment; it is never really completed.”
- Seeking Spiritual Guidance
Here we understand that Visiting Teaching is a spiritual ministry, involving prayer and spiritual preparedness – a requirement to try to ascertain and meet spiritual needs of those we teach. President Spencer Kimball observed: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.”
- Teaching Truths / Bearing Testimony
A continuation of spiritual ministry highlighting that testimony is an effective medium to share the gospel and make others feel loved at church.
- Giving Temporal Help
Visiting Teachers can be first responders in time of need – including family deaths, births, moves, and other transitions. They can give temporal aid at these times and inform the Relief Society Presidency of ways in which ward members may be of service.
- Helping to Bear Burdens
“We cannot always lift the burden of one who is troubled, but we can lift her so she can bear it well.”
The chapter wraps up with a reminder that Visiting Teaching also blesses the Visiting Teacher. As she serves, she feel connected to other women in her ward – and her faith grows as she sees other examples of faith and goodness.
There are two side-bars in the lesson (page 115 and 123) which I think are worth reading and incorporating into lessons or discussions.
1. Questions Visiting Teachers Can Ask
These are thoughtful questions and are intended to lead to opportunities for visiting teachers to give comfort, share relevant gospel teachings, and provide meaningful service.
2. How Visiting Teachers Love, Watch Over, and Strengthen a Sister
Again, thoughtful suggestions that can lead to solid ministry, service, and watchcare.