In many denominations the term “minister” refers to an ecclesiastical role analogous to the Bishop in our church. To me, the idea that Latter-Day Saint women are ministers (albeit in a different sense) is one stop toward acknowledging both in language and in deed the vital role that women play in the Gospel. My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and I am a Mormon minister. It is both a plan of action and a title that reflects a spirit of service.
The suggested materials include a quote from President Linda K. Burton, who said:
“With practice, each of us can become more like the Savior as we serve God’s children. To help us better [minister to] one another, I would like to suggest four words to remember: ‘First observe, then serve.’ … As we do so, we are keeping covenants, and our service, like President Monson’s , will be evidence of our discipleship.”
The first thing that came to my mind as I read this was my belief that visiting teaching should always be about the needs of the person you’re visiting, and not your own. What I mean by that is that my need for a satisfying checkmark and happy report to my supervisor is not more important than my teachee’s need to have a month off, or her preference for only receiving texts, or her dislike of guests coming to her home. In the spirit of “first observe, then serve” this might be a good month to have an honest conversation with those you visit teach and if necessary the coordinator to make sure that you are visiting the way the teachee wants to be visited. Some questions to ask, or consider:
- Do you like to receive a message?
- Would you prefer to have a conversation and no message?
- Is it good when I bring treats, or is that making your life harder?
- Would it be easier for you if we met outside your home?
- How long would you like your visit to be, in general?
- Does the time (days/evenings/weekends) work well for you?
I believe that visiting teaching only works when you’re building trust and friendship. If you’re inadvertently inconveniencing or hurting the sister, even if you’re filling the textbook version of visiting teaching with the best will possible, then you’re not really doing it well. Conversely, it may be the right time to try to communicate with your visiting teachers that some changes would really help.
The message mentions a story from the early days of the church, in which Brigham Young requested supplies for handcart pioneers. Lucy Meserve Smith wrote that women
“stripped off their petticoats, stockings, and every thing they could spare, right there in the Tabernacle, and piled them into the wagons.” As the rescued pioneers began to arrive in Salt Lake City, Lucy wrote, “I never took more pleasure in any labor I ever performed in my life, such as a unanimity of feeling prevailed.”
What I love about this story is the mental image. Standing in the tabernacle, a place we consider sacred, these women took off any clothes they could spare right then and there to offer. The idea of taking your socks off and sending them to someone in need is jarring. It is certainly not one of the ways we’d think of serving others if we were listing things off in class. Stepping away from our well-trod paths of service that have become cliché (cookies, casseroles, babysitting, yard work etc.) what ways might we be able to meet the needs of others?
Have you ever found yourself in the position of giving or receiving unusual acts of service?