Thursday, March 02, 2006

I miss home teaching. Or the real reasons to home/visit teach.

I just read someone's confession of hating visiting-teaching, and was reminded that I miss home teaching.

I remember a bishop who said years ago, something to the effect that "When home teaching goes right, everying else in the ward falls into place." He placed home teaching second behind the youth programs in importance.

I've always known I'm a bit different from everyone else. Though I didn't realize the magnitude of those differences, or how weird I was until I was in my early 40's. I'm not someone who normally attracts friends. I've always seen hometeaching, both as a home teacher and as a recipient of home teachers, as a way to socialize with others.

At least from the selfish point of view one could use the home teaching or visiting teaching program, whether as teacher/visitor or a recipient of them as a ready-made source of friends. Sort of an "Aha! You have to be my friend!" kind of thing. And that is acceptable within reasonable limits. After all, the church does encourage members to go to their home teacher or visiting teacher for handling needs that are within their purview. And I think socializing is within that purview.

Yes, I usually did the perfunctory visit and lesson, but once I caught a vision of what home teaching could be, I strove for what I thought was the higher goal of being a friend and being involved, or at least offering that opportunity with invitations and regular contact.

I see home/visiting teaching as a way to implement the gospel's (and specifically the priesthood's) requirement to be a friend to all.

And there's the rub. You're an assigned friend. Here's what I wrote over at Millennial Star in November 2005:

If the fellowshipping and nurturing of HT/VT was left up to spontaneous efforts, most people (especially the obnoxious jerks like me) would fall through the cracks and not be fellowshipped.

Organization and planning helps prevent people from falling through the cracks. But the flip side is that you as HT/VT-er, and the [active/inactive/semi-active] person receiving you, both know up front that you wouldn't be there if you hadn't been assigned. The challenge is to overcome that initial premise, develop genuine love for the person you're visiting, and convey it.

Yet spontaneous fellowshipping has it's place too. Sitting next to the person in sacrament/SS/priesthood/RS who is sitting by themself. Making the second phone call or visit during a month. Inviting people into your circle of social friends, or to activities.

Does it really matter to the investigator on the other side of the world whether the missionary teaching him eagerly volunteered for missionary service, or had to have his arm twisted by parents and bishop, and needed to be bribed with the promise of a new car upon his honorable return? His prime impetus when signing on the dotted line may still play a part in what his motives are the day he is teaching the investigator. But more important are his motives that day, and that hour in which he is teaching.

I posit that a home teacher can be like a missionary who goes on his mission grudgingly, but later catches the vision of what it's about.

I also posit that the vision is not implemented by the home teacher, or conveyed to the person receiving the home teachers, until that extra mile is traveled, via a second visit, or second phone call, or inviting the inactive member to the ward dinner, or a singles activity.

When a ward is split or boundaries change, do you drop people like a hot potato, or do you keep in contact, at least by phone, until the new ward picks up the ball?

As an ex-member I can attend Elders' Quorum meetings and events, but I'm essentially a visitor or observer, not a real participant.

However, I have made friends and acquaintances in this ward. And if one of them, or any other ward member is sick or in the hospital, there's nothing that says I can't visit or call them as a friend or acquaintance.

Here's an example of the power of doing something you don't have to.

There was one cheery lady, the non-member mother of an active sister, who regularly attended with her daughter. She seemed to have a permanent but genuine smile on her face. When she stopped attending, I missed that smile and I asked her daughter about her. She had broke her hip or leg and was in a nursing home/rehab center. I asked which one in hopes of visiting her some time.

I got around to visiting her, and her daughter was there that day. The daughter asked why I was there, though not in an accusatory way, and if the bishop had sent me. It took her a while to conceive and accept the idea that someone could do something in the church without being assigned. But the fact that I was there, on my own volition, without being assigned, meant a lot more to that sister (and to her mother) than if I had merely fulfilled a request.

The people you home/visit teach, whether active or inactive, know that you're assigned, and know that you're supposed to visit once a month and present a short lesson. But the magic begins when you do a little more.

I used to wonder why there wasn't a handbook that gave ideas on things to do as a home teacher or visiting teacher besides the perfunctory visit and lesson. I then realized that it's actually easier without a list of suggestions because anything then becomes the "second mile." By lowering the bar to anything, the second mile is easier to achieve.

So I'm not a home teacher at present. But nobody has kicked me out of their hospital room.


At 3/02/2006 04:26:00 PM, Blogger john f. said...

Great attitude. A lesson for all of us. Thanks.

At 3/03/2006 12:10:00 AM, Anonymous Mark IV said...

I love home teaching, for most of the reasons you cite.

Wouldn't you agree that the Lord's church should have some kind of a systematic way to keep track of the flock? Of course, our performance falls far short, but I admire the church for making the effort.

You're an inspiration to me. Keep your chin up.

At 3/03/2006 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thank you for posting on this. It is the way to pure religion for many of us.

At 3/03/2006 05:43:00 PM, Blogger RoAnn said...

Wonderful post. I feel the same way about visiting teaching. Being rather reserved by nature, and having moved around a lot, my new VT companion often became my first friend in a new ward; and many of those I visited also became good friends.
Some may bristle at the thought of "forced" friendships, but IMO blessings come as we grow to love someone we might never have gotten to know well without that assignment to visit from the Bishop or RS president.


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