I may choose to ignore anonymous comments. I consider this type of anonymity dishonest. Also, I don't post regularly. I post when I have something worth writing and something worth reading. I explain all this in: Don't Let Telling Tales Trip Up Your Truthfulness.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visalia Shooting: Can Mormons Respond as the Amish Did After the Nickel Mines School Shooting?

I held off posting anything about the Visalia shooter because I wanted to read more about the shooter's life and circumstances. My research showed he was a husband and father. News media reports have now confirmed this.

Kenneth James Ward walked into an L.D.S. church in Visalia, CA and gunned down Bishop Clay Sanner. Sanner was a husband and father of six boys, the youngest only months old.

The picture emerging of Mr. Ward is that he was mentally ill and deeply disturbed after his military service. I'm reminded of the Nickel Mines shooting where a man gunned down several Amish school girls and then killed himself.

The Amish community rallied to the support of the shooter's widow and children. They visited them, comforted them and attended the shooter's funeral. This example of Christlike forgiveness and love touched the world.

Can Mormons' now do the same for the family of Mr. Ward?

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Ancestor Can Beat Up Your Ancestor

Few Mormons have as illustrious, stellar, pioneer heritage as I do.

I'm a 7th generation Utah Mormon. My great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Bullock was part of the first wagon train into the Salt Lake valley. Bullock, amongst other things, wrote some portions of The History of the Church, served as clerk to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, The Quorum of the 12, territorial legislatures, chronicled the Mormon pioneer trek west, served as Clerk for the Perpetual Emigration Fund and many other things. His records of the King Follett discourse are considered the most accurate and complete transcribed at the time. He supposedly transcribed the Joseph Smith III blessing later proved to be forged by Mark Hofmann.

I used to claim I was just a 5th generation Mormon. At some point, someone who heard me make this claim will probably call me a liar. In fact, I'm in possession of more facts. I had not been counting myself as a generation. A professional genealogist told me I needed to. That made the 6th. Then, I discovered Thomas Bullock's father was actually the original church member. That made the 7th.

Bullock was also a polygamist. He had three wives. I descend from the first, the one he brought over from England. My sister had a roommate at BYU that descended from his second wife. My polygamous heritage made for great shock effect when discussing religious freedom in my American government courses. Nearly every American government college textbook references Mormon polygamy, Native Americans and peyote and Satanism in its Civil Liberties' chapter.

It is nice having such a famous ancestor. But, what does it have to do with me? Nothing really. I once heard a saying that people that worship their ancestors are like carrots, the best part of them is underground . . .

If Bullock was a great guy, then the honor is his, not mine. There is nothing that I have access to that isn't available to every other member of the Church. The foundation the pioneers laid was laid for all who came after them, not just their descendants. As soon as people join the Church all the blessings that I enjoy come to them as well.

A youth speaker in Sacrament meeting gave a talk on our pioneer heritage. He made the crucial point and put my pioneer heritage into perspective. I wish I could remember his name so I could give him credit. He said that because of what they (Mormon pioneers) did, it allowed us to have the blessings of Church membership for our entire lives and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mistakes in News Reports Concerning Mormons, Tithing vs. The Collection Plate

We Mormons are practically in despair over inaccurate reporting in the news media, any news media. Some is intentional distortion but other mistakes occur because of inaccurate assumptions. Inaccurate assumptions are easier to overlook but often just as damaging.

Today's post concerns an inaccurate assumption made by a reporter, Stephanie Mencimer for Mother Jones Magazine in an article entitled, "Glenn Beck: Televangelist." As I have made clear on this blog (
03/15/10 and 10/25/09),  I am no Beck fan but the reporter made a serious mistake.
Beck talked wistfully about the spiritual transformation he underwent after he embraced tithing, which is heavily encouraged by his Mormon church. He said at first he was resistant, happy to show off the $20 he put in the plate on Sunday morning, but not much else. But now, he said earnestly, "It is my joy and my honor to tithe 10 percent."
We don't use a collection plate, never have and never will. Tithing is handled much differently than this reporter assumed.

Tithing is a basic concept in our religion. It is explained thoroughly in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the Church's official web page and our Bible Dictionary.

The manner in which we pay tithing is different from any other religion of which I have knowledge.

First we obtain a tithing slip and envelope. They are available somewhere in our local meetinghouses, usually in a small holder close to our local leaders' offices. We compute our tithing ourselves and fill out a tithing slip. There are many different funds we can contribute to in addition to tithing.  The tithing slip has two sheets, one of which is a carbon. The carbon becomes our initial "receipt." See the image below:

We place our money and the top sheet of the tithing slip into the provided envelope and seal it. In the image below, notice that there is a full address for the local leader of our congregation. There are lines for a return address and a box for a postage stamp.
Usually, we bring our completed envelopes to our three hour block of Sunday meetings and hand it to one of three designated leaders during the course of the day. This confidential hand off can occur anywhere or anytime though. It can also be mailed through the post office.
The envelopes are usually opened after our regular Sunday worship services are over. Church leaders have standardized procedures that they must go through in opening the envelopes, recording the money, depositing the money, etc. These are strict and standard accounting controls including who and how many leaders must be present when the envelopes are open and the money is counted and recorded.

At the end of a calendar year, members voluntarily go to "tithing settlement" where official church  records are compared against the member's own records and any reconciliation takes place. The member also tells church leaders whether the tithing is full or partial. Paying a full tithing means a member pays ten percent of gross income. This declaration is made on the honor system. The local leader takes the members word for it.

As you can see, there is nothing even remotely resembling a "collection plate." I hope this reporter, and others, will take more care in what they write.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Prison, Family History and Indexing: Inmates at the Utah State Prison

Today's Church News has an article about a Family History Center located just off of the prison chapel at the Utah State Prison. The article is entitled, "A rescue from bondage: Family history center at Utah State Prison thrives."

The Church News article refers to Family Search Indexing. This is a volunteer program where people index records so that they can be included in the Family Search resources.

Here are some marvelous quotes and comments from the article:

Joseph Smith called for prisons to be "turned into seminaries of learning." He said, "Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to reform the propensities of man as reason and friendship."
Without benefit of Internet access, a privilege denied the prison inmates, the center's patrons last month extracted some 146,000 names as part of the FamilySearch indexing project whereby volunteers around the world digitize microfilmed records to make them accessible to enthusiasts researching their genealogical information via personal computers. 
"But to me, the more important number is the close to 10,000 total hours a month spent here in the center by the inmates," Elder Lunt said. "That's time they weren't up on the cell blocks, time when they were in an environment that was constructive. And frankly, it's an environment where the Spirit is, and they can feel that. Some of them don't know what it is; they just say, 'We feel good down here.' "
Much of the success of the center is due to the volunteers who come and interact with the inmates, Elder Lunt said. The center is open seven days a week in three shifts, the first one beginning at 8 a.m. and the last one ending at 8 in the evening. But the number of inmates who may use the center is limited by the number of volunteers who come.
In 2000, he [inmate William Thomas] was involved in the Freedman's Bank Project, a service provided by inmates at the prison to help compile what is now one of the richest databases for African-American research. A plaque on the wall at the family history center commemorates the work they performed. [See more information on African-American Family History Resources]
"That is exactly what this great work is all about, search and rescue," . . . . And in the process, some inmates are finding they, too, are among the rescued.

Last month, the Church published an article in the August Ensign entitled, "Remembering Those in Prison." It is available in the following formats: html, full pdf, article pdf, new beta html, new printer-friendly html and mp3. The new beta html includes a photo gallery from the article.

This is just a brief introduction to all the resources and programs the Church provides for those in correctional institutions. There are guidelines specifically for leaders as well.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Children, Youth, Single Adults -- Not Second Class Citizens or Members

Yesterday's posting dealt with giving youth the attention they need. In today's post I want to talk a little bit more about how we tend to treat young people in society and how that bleeds into our church culture.

Think about your own attendance in Church. Do you walk down the halls and acknowledge everyone you pass in some way or just the adults? Do you tend to consider children as just extensions of their parents? I hope not.

The example we have from Christ is clear. He valued children. He did not allow them to be marginalized or minimized in any way.

Children and youth are not second-class members. Their worth as children of God is the same as adults. In some church's their services are segregated. Young people are confined to a particular area, the balcony for example. Very young children are sometimes not allowed in the regular worship service until they reach a specific age.

As Mormons, there is no segregation in our main worship service -- Sacrament MeetingThis can make for a somewhat chaotic and noisy Sacrament Meeting sometimes. We're used to it though. The other two meetings in our 3-hour block of services do divide up members according to age and gender so that programs can be specifically tailored to their needs.

What concerns me is that generation gaps and norms that still exist in society influence our Church activity, sometimes in unhealthy ways.

I think we need to know the children's name as well as adults. We ought to acknowledge them when we encounter them in the halls, the same as we do adults. There is no reason children cannot receive a printed program of events in their own right.

So many times my siblings and I attended Church without my Mother and we were not given a program because it was only given to parents and adults. This left us badly out of the loop and feeling more lonely and isolated after my Father died.

In a small town I lived in recently a group of youth came to the door requesting donations for a good cause. Being new, I wanted to meet people and get acquainted. I asked them who they were. Not one of the kids gave me their name. They identified their parents and themselves as "John and Mary's kid." I didn't ask who their parents were. I wanted to know who they were.

I've always liked serving in Nursery, Primary or Mutual because I get to know youth as individuals and have little difficulty learning their names. Without serving in these positions I still seek to learn their names but it is more of a challenge. The Church's unit web sites make it even easier.

When I served as my unit's Web Site Administrator I tried to include pictures of everyone. Instead of taking one family picture, I took individual head shots of all family members and merged them into one photo. You can probably imagine how the adult's reacted to having their picture taken. It was the youth reaction that touched me. My approaching them for pictures seemed to have significant meaning to them. I singled them out as individuals and this gave them importance. Knowing their names and addressing them by name also made a huge difference.

Then, they served as important recruiters for me. If I asked them where a sibling or friend was they would hunt them down and retrieve them emphasizing, "Sister Cook is taking pictures."

As a youth, I felt I suffered from stigma attached to my Mother. I was assumed to be like her. What was worse, when my Dad died, I appeared to have no identity at all. I feel I got left out of some things because kids were selected for something exclusive because their father was currently serving in an influential leadership calling. Having no father, I had not identity. No one knew of my personal spiritual commitment or strength. This made me anxious to judge youth in their own right and not because of their parents.

Okay, now young adults. This is an issue near and dear to my heart because I'm so familiar with this age group having been in, and taught, college for so long. In fact, I may be better equipped to understand it than parents. When they leave home for college, I got 'em.

Just a few months after Greg and I got married we had a situation with my oldest step-daughter. I decided to stay out of it entirely because I figured my husband and his ex-wife knew the girl much better than I did and their handling would be more appropriate. They did not need input from me. Privately, I remember thinking, "I don't think that tactic is going to work on a kid that age." Well, it didn't, it backfired badly and what I thought would happen did happen. This and other events helped convince me that I had insights into this age that perhaps they did not. I exerted myself a bit more after that.

As soon as kids hits 18 I think they ought to be treated as adults for all church intents and purposes. I don't think people ought to try and communicate with them through their parents. For example, if you need to interact with a young adult don't ask their parents to have them contact you. Contact them directly yourself. This validates them as an adult, and they are adults for both legal and church purposes. Eighteen year olds are full members in Relief Society and Priesthood. Age designations in the Church largely end at that point.

Let's make certain we don't carry on antiquated generation gaps into informal interactions.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Grandpa, Are You In There?" -- Giving Youth the Attention They Need

One of my favorite clips from General Conference was this story by Elder Hales. Although I do not have children, I try and follow the guidance of Jesus Christ is how I treat them and interact with them.

Christ was never condescending to them. He did not treat them as second-class citizens. It is clear from the scriptures how much he valued them. We should follow His example.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Web Site for the New Phoenix Arizona Temple

Okay, being a life long, presumably savvy, digitally adept, Mormon I still end up getting surprised every now and then. I'm surprised.

I had no idea the Church had established a separate web site for the Phoenix, Arizona temple. I found it off a news article. I can find nothing on the Church pages announcing its existence. I don't think they have ever established a separate web site for a temple except this one.

And this one seems geared toward informing the public about the temple redesign. It certainly answers questions and quells fears. They did a wonderful job.

Check it out:  http://www.phoenixmormontemple.com/index.html

Other blog postings: 1/3/10 and 1/19/11

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perpetual Emigration Fund -- Perpetual Education Fund -- Sound Models Despite Possible Abuse

I often examine new databases, archives and other resources. Some time back, I encountered a news clip about old Utah newspapers going online. I logged on to check it out. The newspaper name and other details I don't remember. The newspapers were from the 1800s.

I was primarily interested in the search interface and how things were set up. This is something librarians' find fascinating.  I brought up a random newspaper front page to see how viewable it was. A small article caught my eye.

The article was a criticism of people who had abused the Perpetual Emigration Fund.

Wagon breakdowns on the trail had revealed valuables that, if sold, could have paid for the trip out west instead of using P.E.F.  funds. Or, valuables suddenly emerged after arrival in the Salt Lake Valley that clearly existed before the trek was made, proving the owners did have means to fund their their own journey

Although initially surprised, further reflection suggests I shouldn't have been. Human nature being what it is, these sorts of abuses were just as likely then as they are now.

Is it sufficient to condemn the program? Of course not. Undoubtedly there will be abuses of our modern day Perpetual Education Fund just as there were abuses of the old Perpetual Emigration Fund. I hope leaders will err on the side of caution and fund some questionable cases rather than deny them and risk committing an injustice.

My father's track scholarship pulled my family out of poverty as well as future generations. It resulted in five Bachelor's degrees, three Master's degrees and one Ph.d. amongst my siblings and myself. I understand the importance of funding education. Whatever, Idaho State University spent on my father has reaped numerous dividends.

A small minority of people will abuse the best of programs. Of all the grants, loans, scholarships and other funding schemes for higher education I'm aware of I cannot imagine anything structured better than The Perpetual Education Fund.

I say, live long and prosper.

Read this article about the program's recent milestones.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arizona, Illegals and Mormons

I've held off commenting on the illegal immigration controversy fueled by Arizona's legislation. I wanted to let my thoughts percolate. I also wanted to amass facts rather than supposition.
The Arizona Representative that crafted the law is Mormon. A similar law has been proposed by a Mormon representative in Utah. In short, we've been drawn into the controversy. So, here goes . . .

First off, I want to relate a story from my own experience: My husband managed the North American operations for a European company. He had to service customers just across the border in Mexico. I went with him. This was 1999. He learned that his customer company's were only allowed to do a handful of things for its Mexican workers.
- Pay them $5 a day.
- Provide them with a uniform.
- Launder the uniform for them.
- Feed them three meals a day.

This is what the Mexican government allowed the company to do. The company couldn't pay them more even if it wanted to. We are used to thinking that companies in Mexico want to exploit their workers. I was stunned to discover the Mexican government bore responsibility as well. When asked the government's rationale, he was told that otherwise the Mexican economy would implode and every Mexican citizen would head to the border area for work. Hmm.

The Facts:

-       The best guess is that we have 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the country, but the inflow of immigrants may be decreasing. (Page 1).
-       About half have entered through inspection and half have not. In other words, half go through the inspection process with temporary papers, forged papers etc. Only about half cross the border illegally. (Page 2).

-       About 60 percent of illegal aliens are Mexican. (Page 3).

-       Nine states have about 70 percent of all illegals – CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, GA, AZ, NC, NJ, (Page 9).

-       Most illegals are working age, 18-44. and most live within families. (Page 5)

-       Illegals are concentrated in low skill occupations such as farm workers, building groundskeeping/maintenance and construction.

-       Deportations have gone up. (Page 12)

The Wall Street Journal claims that illegal immigrant mothers are contributing to a high birth rate. Their children, under law, will be legal. The PEW Hispanic Center supports this view.

From the Introduction:

Congress defined our nation’s immigration laws in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which contains both criminal and civil enforcement measures. Historically, the authority for state and local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law has been construed to be limited to certain criminal provisions of the INA that also fall under state and local jurisdictions; by contrast, the enforcement of the civil provisions, which includes apprehension and removal of deportable aliens, has strictly been viewed as a federal responsibility, with states playing an incidental supporting role. In previous Congresses, several proposals had been set forth that would appear to expand the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in the civil enforcement aspects of the INA.

Congress, through various amendments to the INA, has gradually broadened the authority for state and local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law, and some recent statutes have begun to carve out possible state roles in the enforcement of civil matters.

This is packed with legal good stuff but in essence it says that immigration laws and enforcement are federal responsibilities unless it gives the states some responsibility.

States can’t just decide to make immigration laws on their own.

The Arizona law hinges on how it is implemented. It seems to usurp federal authority but that is an issue for the courts. It could also frustrate and fragment federal efforts.  That is also an issue for the courts. (Pages 23-24).

Perhaps the single biggest reason this law is so controversial is that immigration – like, say, foreign policy – always has been the purview of the federal government. The feds’ authority is rooted in Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to "establish a uniform rule of naturalization."

States cannot make immigration laws. Only the federal government can. So, the Arizona law may be out of line, possibly even unconstitutional.

From the initial legal challenge thus far, some aspects of the law have been invalidated.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the law could be a sticky wicket for local law enforcement because only the federal government can deport illegals. State and local law enforcement will have to either cooperate with the feds or let the illegals go free.

My Observations:

1. The only reason employers hire illegals is to evade taxes and other laws. There does not appear to be any other compelling reasons to hire them. Doesn't it make more sense to go after the employers rather than the illegals themselves? I think the employers have more reprehensible motives, under the circumstances, than the illegals do.

2. Going after illegal immigrants themselves rather than their employers is akin to going after prostitutes rather than their pimps. I don't like it. It totally ignores the reason they are here in the first place. A common reason is wanting to experience benefits and freedoms denied them in their own country. Simply stated, to build a better life for their family. Yes, there are illegals here to conduct illegal activities. But, reasons can vary widely for the illegals. The motives don't vary for their employers.

3. Because of lax law enforcement, some illegals have existed in this country for decades and generations. Don't we bear some responsibility for the current problem, given our inaction? I think we do. For example, if you allowed your child to break family rules for eons and then all of sudden crack down on them, wouldn't that be viewed as unfair? Any solution to illegal immigration has to take into account our country's prior inaction.

4. It makes no sense to deport anybody other than criminals, because we want them to stay out permanently. This is purely an administrative view. Can you imagine all the resources wasted on deportation? The law enforcement man hours, security, wages etc. It is an administrative nightmare. It isn't rational. What may have been an option when illegal immigration was a small problem is not longer fit to be considered now because the problem is too big.

5. On a purely mercenary level, we need 'em. Our population is graying. The Baby Boomers are retiring and we will not have sufficient workers to support them in their Social Security retirement. This is one of the best reasons for allowing illegals to stay. In fact, it is one of the best reasons for increasing LEGAL immigration for anybody.

6. Okay, we don't want to reward them for coming here illegally. Can't we craft a solution where there are incentives to establish legal residency, but harder if they are already here illegally? It can't be that hard. This would reward people who do it right from the start.

I don’t want to get into technical administrative details but they are complex. Here’s a resource for it if you are interested.

7. State and local law enforcement has its hands full dealing with actual criminals – those that are purveyors of violence, cheap Mexican drugs and other illegal activities. Current news headlines are enough to convince anyone, even the most skeptical, that life in Mexico is dangerous for law abiding Mexican nationals. Can we blame them for wanting to escape it? In fact, it’s dangerous for the criminals but I have less sympathy for them.

8. Mexican drug cartel violence and lawlessness is expanding into the United States. MS-13 intentionally targets and kills U.S. law enforcement. I would prefer law enforcement efforts focus on these issues rather than otherwise law abiding illegal aliens. The Arizona legislation shifts emphasis away from criminals to those who reside in this country illegally. In a world of limited resources, this shift does not make sense.

The Mormon Issues:

There are illegals in Utah, but the facts we have don’t merit some of the claims being made as this Deseret News article proves. Illegals are not the source of most crime, for example.

I don’t think any of the references to Utah’s Mormon immigrant past are relevant to today’s discussion.

People are clamoring for the Church to take some sort of position on this issue. It has, and I think it is the right one.

The complex issues surrounding immigration are a matter of increasing concern and debate for all in this country.

Elected individuals have the primary responsibility to find solutions in the best interests of all whose lives will be impacted by their actions.

We repeat our appeal for careful reflection and civil discourse when addressing immigration issues. Finding a successful resolution will require the best thinking and goodwill of all across the political spectrum, the highest levels of statesmanship, and the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God’s children.*

*This is the most recent statement issued by the Church on this issue.

In short, they are staying out of it and they should.

There is nothing the Church can do about illegal immigration. There is nothing the Church should do about illegal immigration.

Some have suggested the Church should turn illegals over to the government or at least deny them temple blessings. But, it can't. That would force it to become an enforcement arm of the state, something no religious organization should do.

It would also force it to prioritize sins. For example, being an illegal immigrant would have to be considered a more heinous sin than speeding on the Interstate or spanking one's child. We all know which sins warrant temple recommend refusal. Trying to rank the other sins would be a nightmare for Church leaders, an impossibility in fact, because of local jurisdiction that must consider context and remorse.

Which brings up the interesting question, "Does the Atonement cover illegal entry and habitation in this country?" The obvious answer is, "Of course!" The issue then is really restitution. Does restitution include leaving the country? Repentance is a clear concept in Mormondom but "restitution" is awfully murky.

McKay Coppins’ column in the Deseret News covers some of these same issues. I’ll end with his ending.

But all of these questions are irrelevant to whether we should show compassion to illegal immigrants. The fact is, our personal hardships (which may justify strong political views, but never justify hate) are nothing compared to most of the trials endured by most of these immigrants. They have escaped oppressive, corrupt and/or poverty-stricken countries, and the vast majority of them have no interest in stripping us of our rights or taking over the United States. Having met hundreds, if not thousands, of these undocumented immigrants, I can tell you that the majority of them are here to help their families.

And, regardless of our views on this complex issue, we all have to face the cold, hard fact that if we were in their shoes, we would undoubtedly hop a fence or overstay a visa if it meant delivering our children from the awful circumstances they were trapped in.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mormons and a Culture of "Niceness"

I've been dealing with the fallout from my series on Church Leadership Corruption -- a provocative title for some mainstream postings. Some feedback criticizes me for "not correcting or teaching in a loving manner." I do take an adversarial tone in my series. I don't deny it. I won't apologize for it either.

After reading an article in my BYU alumni magazine (I told them not to send it to me anymore, but unfortunately they still do), I'm ready to post a response to that criticism.

Nice Cultures and Building Zion
If the whole idea of addressing your tough issue makes you feel a bit squeamish, the VitalSmarts team says it might be because you are part of what they call a "nice culture."
Patterson says different "subcultures deal with potentially risky conversations very differently." In New York or Great Britain, for instance, it's not uncommon for people to speak their minds—often bluntly. But they say that in places like Asia, Minnesota, Georgia, and Utah—where nice cultures rule—people are much less likely to express concerns or seek resolutions to difficult problems. In a nice culture, "if I express my opinion and it's not a favorable opinion or it's a differing opinion, I'm being rude," says Patterson.
"We mistake politeness for respect," McMillan adds. "Sometimes the most respectful thing is to tell you what you need to hear even if it's hard to hear."
Utah is a "nice" culture and unfortunately that means Mormondom. I can't imagine anyone chastising Samuel the Lamanite or Abinadi for "not correcting or teaching in a loving manner."

When I matured sufficiently,  I looked back on my life and reflected on what I was taught in Mutual as a teen. I wished someone had confronted me more directly with certain things. It took a lot longer to learn some things and change some behaviors because I was not taught with the directness I think I should have been. I wish my leaders had been less concerned about being "nice" and more concerned with telling me what I needed to hear.

I wrote my series the way I did because I thought it was what people needed to hear. It certainly wasn't what people wanted to hear.

In case you missed it. Here are the links:

Giving Effective Talks in Church: A Personal Story

Some years ago I was asked to give a talk in Stake Conference. I had two and a half months to prepare. This is an unusual amount of time, but Stake Conference occurs only twice a year. I had to fill ten minutes.

The topics were also unusual. I say topics because there were three of them.

1. Faithful church attendance,
2. Viewed as "service"
3. From a single person's point of view.

As soon as I received my assignment I was perplexed. There was nothing specific that addressed all three topics at once. I felt comfortable with all three topics separately, just not together. I had no idea how to combine them into one message.

I started looking up references to church attendance, service and single's separately in each year's index in the December Ensign. I simply read, took notes and pondered.

I kept track of the time I spent on direct preparation like reading, note-taking and exclusive thinking but I was pondering throughout and little ideas would occur to me as time passed while I was engaged in other things. Direct preparation was about 35 hours over the two and a half months time period.

Finally, things just started to click. The ideas came and I felt like I KNEW how Heavenly Father wanted me to prepare the material. I knew how to combine my three topics into a coherent whole. This was inspiration at work.

The talk I gave did have a profound effect on people and it had a profound effect on me. That talk wasn't mine. I was the vehicle that presented it but it came through inspiration from Heavenly Father. I will never forget that experience and it will always be the example of how things are supposed to work.

Here is the content of the talk I gave:

Stake Conference
Roanoke, Virginia Stake
February 24, 1991

If you have ever gone home on Sunday thinking, "I didn't get anything out of Church today." then you are the one I want to talk to.

Brothers and Sisters, may I suggest that this attitude is selfish.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else?

Instead of saying, "I hope I get something out of Church today," why not say, "I hope I can contribute something."

I think Heavenly Father wants us to be in church, not so much to help ourselves, but because we can help others.

Brothers and sisters, I was born into the Church. My family have been Mormons for six generations. I grew up in the Church. I completed Primary, Mutual, four years of Seminary and fourteen required credit hours of religion classes at BYU. I hear very little in Church that I haven't heard before. I can recite virtually everything in the volumes of "Especially for Mormons" by memory. 

I may not get a great deal out of Church but perhaps my capacity to contribute is larger than for new or struggling members.

*Many of you are in my position. Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else?

The new and struggling members may not be able to contribute a great deal in terms of doctrine, but their simple trusting faith and sincere testimonies often shake me out of some super intellectual thought and back into the child like mentality I know is necessary to retain my testimony and increase my faith.

Their personal stories and deep felt convictions. so sincerely expressed, are most helpful to me. Those are things I haven't heard before.

There are so may who come to Church to be spiritually fed. Let's make sure they don't go home hungry.

Brothers and sisters, there are many ways to serve. People may need a spiritual casserole rather than a tangible one.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.
. . . learning to give others what they can truly use makes giving not only a blessing for [you], but a precious gift of true value.
There are people traveling spiritual Jericho Roads. Are you walking to the other side or are you, like the good Samaritan, helping?

I seriously doubt that at the conclusion of that parable when Jesus told his disciples to "Go, and do thou likewise" he was only talking about physical wounds.

President Kimball once said:
     God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.
*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.

Your comments in a Sacrament talk may be exactly what someone needs to hear.

Your help and comfort to a child in Primary may make a great deal of difference later on in that child's life.

Your testimony in fast and testimony meeting may be the answer to someone's prayer.

An energetic singer can do a great deal for a frustrated and distraught chorister.

Your thoughtful response in a Sunday school class may be of value to someone.

The elderly are in an ideal position to serve. Their wisdom and experience is often under-valued in society. But, that injustice should not extend into Church.

Those of us who are single often have a greater capacity to serve. We are spared the difficulty of a screaming two year old flinging Cheerios around the room.

Even a speaker needs an attentive smiling face in the audience to respond to and buoy up their courage.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen once made this comment in Conference.
     The merit of rendering faithful service, regardless of one’s position in the Church, was tenderly brought to my attention several years ago during the funeral service of a man who had done much good in his life without ever being recognized with a high church office. I was touched as I heard the deceased’s brother-in-law describe him as a man who had never served as an elders quorum president, as a bishop, or as a stake president, but who “had made a lot of them look awfully good.”
*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.

Our Church service should extend to those outside of the Church as well.

Bishop Glenn L. Pace commented:
     Our numbers are few. For every member of the Church in the world, there are approximately a thousand who are not. Our resources are limited, and the needs of the world are vast. We cannot do everything, but we must do everything we can. 
[Joy F. Evans:]

They will find friends somewhere; they will find comfort somewhere. [It] . . . is our failure if they find it elsewhere
 President Barbara Smith once said:

 . . .one of our most important personal needs is to serve. You know, when we serve, we begin to do away with greed, selfishness, hate, and envy—all those things that can destroy us. And we begin to feel the selflessness, love, and dedication that the Savior’s life exemplifies. A person cannot fulfill the truly important needs of life without those Christlike attributes.
Elder William R. Bradford once made a statement that you should always keep in mind. He said:
Many things are only interesting and enticing, while other things are important.

*Instead of coming to Church for yourself, why don't you come for the sake of someone else.

Elder Derek A. Cuthbert made this touching statement about service:

     Service changes people. It refines, purifies, gives a finer perspective, and brings out the best in each one of us. It gets us looking outward instead of inward. It prompts us to consider others’ needs ahead of our own.
All service takes on an added dimension when we consider the New Testament scripture:

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40.
I want to read a short story that conveys the ideas I've been talking about.

Mormon Journal,” Ensign, Jun 1987, 52–55
Rachel, My Sister
By Leah Chappell , as told to Marilynne Linford
Leah Chappell and Marilynne Linford, “Rachel, My Sister,” Ensign, June 1987, 52–53
“The bishop called to ask if he could come over tonight,” said my husband, Wayne, in his “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” voice.
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Yes, a new calling for you,” he said.
My mind raced from the nursery to the Relief Society, then bounced back to the Primary and through the library, wondering what the new calling would be. Then panic struck as I remembered. Sister Coke had been released as a counselor in our special Relief Society. “Oh, no,” I thought.
Within our ward boundaries is a large rest home. The wards in the stake take turns being responsible for the Church services there—including sacrament meeting and Relief Society. The rest home is a dependent branch, and it was our ward’s turn to provide the branch presidency and Relief Society presidency.
I had been in the rest home once before on a substitute visiting teaching assignment. That visit had depressed me so much that I had told the Relief Society president I could not go again.
That evening, as I met with the bishop, my fears were realized. “Sister Chappell,” he said, “Sister Marlene Recksiek, as president of the rest home Relief Society, has asked for you as her second counselor. Sister Clara Harrison will continue as the first counselor. We feel this is a special calling. Will you accept this call from the Lord?”
The bishop had the nicest way of saying the worst things.
“I’ll try,” I muttered.
As I met with the other two sisters in the presidency on Thursday for an orientation, I could scarcely believe what I heard.
“Oh, just wait, Leah,” said Marlene. “After you’ve been with us a week or two, you’ll love it.”
“The sisters are so special,” Clara said.
Marlene added, “I was called for one year. But when the year was up, I begged the bishop to let me keep this job longer. It’s been almost two years now.”
Sunday came. I arrived at the rest home an hour early, as we had planned in our presidency meeting. We had a prayer, and then each of us took a list of sisters we were to help get to the meeting. A few of the women, I learned, were able to come by themselves, but the majority needed help to get from their rooms to the recreation room where sacrament meeting was held. Since this was my first week, Marlene had given me a list of only five sisters to help.
I got the first four to the recreation room with remarkable ease. Each was eager to attend the meeting. Two of them were already in their wheelchairs waiting for me when I arrived. They directed me to the elevators and down the right halls to the recreation room. “I’m being blessed,” I thought. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”
The fifth name on my list was Rachel—room 207. I knocked softly on her door. She immediately opened it. “Oh, good,” I thought. “She can walk.”
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t go,” Rachel replied. “My sister is coming to visit me.”
“Oh, that will be nice,” I said. “Well, I’ll come for you again next week. I hope you can come then.”
During the next few weeks, I watched Rachel. I learned that in the ten years she had been in the rest home she had never had a visit from her family. She had never attended church while she had been in the rest home, though her records said that she was LDS. I learned that she often went outside on the sidewalk to watch for the sister who never came.
Each week I went to Rachel’s room to ask her to come. I prayed for her. I felt that we could take away at least a little of her loneliness if she would just come to the meetings.
On the sixth Sunday, I knocked on her door.
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t,” she replied as usual. “My sister is coming to see me.”
Then the inspiration I had been praying for came.
“Rachel,” I said, “My name is Leah. In the Bible, Leah and Rachel are sisters. I will be your sister.”
Confusion filled Rachel’s eyes. I repeated, “I am Leah. The Bible says Leah and Rachel are sisters.”
After a moment, Rachel looked up at me with a light I had never seen in her eyes before. She put her hand in my outstretched one. As we walked toward the recreation room, I gave her hand a little squeeze. “Sisters,” I said.
Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can live these principles and truly understand the Savior's counsel that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35