Let me guess: You surfed onto this site looking for a way to make this month’s Visiting Teaching message interesting.
Now, I don’t mean to be disrespectful towards family history temple work. But it is a topic that comes up rather often, (I have written about here and here , oy!). So- either I get hit with the family history thing way too often in the Lesson Plan lottery, or the spirit is trying to get me to do work. Either way, looking up my family tree is not new. And clearly the topic can be hard to address and re-address, especially because it is a topic that so often hits news headlines.
Out of interest, Mormons are not alone in proxy work. There is evidence that the Coptic Church practiced baptisms for the dead in the 3rd Century C.E., but ended as it was decided that those who are deceased are not privy to receiving Eucharist ordinances. (1) Mandaeans also practice proxy baptism, but only on a small scale. (2) But, by and large, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the primary group that performs proxy ordinances, likely because it is taught to us so very often as a part of applied and real, church piety. There is some evidence that the LDS church members practiced proxy work for the living in the early days of the church- likely for other church members or relatives that were unable to migrate to Nauvoo (3) But because there is also evidence that not everyone enjoyed being proxy-baptised into another church, the practices was changed for the dead. It seems to me that the long lists of unrelated proxy temple work that were completed and created controversy furthered this practice to focus only on family history. Perhaps that is why there is such an emphasis in the church today; because if we do the work of our ancestors who have dead, we offend fewer of the living.
But on to the formal message! In the history section of this message, we have the typical reasoning and purpose behind temple proxy work:
Sally Randall of Nauvoo, Illinois, whose 14-year-old son died, found great comfort in the promise of eternal families. After her husband was baptized for their son, she wrote to her relatives: “What a glorious thing it is that we … can be baptized for all of our dead [ancestors] and save them as far back as we can get any knowledge of them.” Then she asked her relatives to send her information on their ancestors, saying, “I intend to do what I can to save [our family].”
Clearly the intention is the “save souls.” This is beautiful, is it not? Ah, yes it is. And yet…. when we consider Alisa’s well-written reticence, we see that sometimes, proxy family choices are not so clear, so obvious, so saving. So, how can those of us, who are hesitant to encourage family history for whatever reason, share the message for this month?
Well, you know me. So- I decided to focus this message on word used in the topic: Joy. Yep. There must be an inspired reason why the ter term “joy” is the first word in the title, but no where else in the message. So I am going to focus on that. Joy, because in broad terms, it seem to me to suit a wider audience that might not be comfortable, able, or willing to do family history work.
“I am the only one who can determine how much joy I experience and that depends on how I manage my perceptions of what is real and what is good.” – Shelly Swain, Clark and Thatcher, eds., A Singular Life: Perspective for the Single Woman, 1974, Deseret Book, 136.
What is joy in your life? How can you express this joy to the women you visit teach? What brings joy to the women you visit teach?
“Good can come from trouble. Trauma can enliven the heart and enrich the soul. Clouds do have silver linings, and the leaf will burst again on the dry branch. “Weeping may endure for [the] night,” sang the psalmist, “but joy cometh in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5.) My dear sisters, the daily work of the Lord involves changing hopeless to hopeful—for all of us. And it is for us to find at last that in the midst of winter we have within us an invincible summer. In a world filled with adversity we can reach for joy.” –Elaine Cannon, Reach For Joy, April 1982
How can we reach for joy when we are in the midst of a trial?
And, in consideration of family history, if you are inclined to couple joy with family history when you share your message:
I have never been afraid to tackle new or challenging projects. I believe it is because of my heritage. My parents taught me early that I was a very unique person descended from great ancestors who had challenged and tamed the wilderness to fulfil their promises to God. – Jaynanne Payne, To Fulfil Her Promise, Liberty Publishing, 1975, 2.
This is not necessarily applied to doing family history work, but in finding power in yourself and your unique heritage. From the woman who is adopted to the woman who is a convert, to the women who is a 6th generation church member… we all have a heritage of brave choices, strange bedfellows, opportunities, challenges and utter miracles. If nothing else, recognise this amazingness in yourself and the women you visit teach. Better yet, write and submit your own personal history to be remembered for generations of Mormon women to come. (A little more information is also here) Your grand-daughters and their friends will be eternally grateful.
“We all… carry the fragrances of other lands, the mysterious heritage of a past that is not our own, but had been bequeathed to us. To understand the importance of this eternal link between past and future is to understand ourselves better.” – Jaroldeen Edwards, Things I’d Wish I’d Known Sooner, Simon& Schuster, 1991, 92.
How can you help the women you visit teach to find joy, and therefore, find themselves better and closer in relationship to Christ?
If you do family history work, what positive experiences have you felt?
(1) John A. Tvedtnes, “Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale,” Special Papers of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, No. 2, September 1989.
(3) Gavin, Independant Comopanion, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 31, No. 1 2010.