In the run-up to, and analysis of the recent Worldwide Training Broadcast “Hastening the Work of Salvation“, a wish was expressed by various bloggers and commenters for missionaries to have a greater involvement in service in the community. There was a general feeling that the LDS church, unlike others, is not as involved in serving the needy in our local communities as we might wish. This post will give a British perspective, but I’d love to hear how it is for all of you out there too.

Every couple of months we receive our local neighbourhood magazine. As well as the usual advertisements, there is information about community events, and nearly two pages devoted to meeting times and other activities held at the various local churches. The LDS church is not included in this list. Our building is right over the other side of the city (in the other ward boundary), and therefore not seen as part of this local neighbourhood, for one thing. As a member of the LDS church, I do feel that separation, that because our membership are more thinly spread, we aren’t as a church automatically viewed as a part of the local community.

However, the LDS church does maintain charitable status in Britain. And for this to be the case they need to show there is Public Benefit. There are also specific guidelines for Public Benefit as applied to religions. The summary report submitted annually to the Charity Commission for the year 2011, under question “Who benefits?” lists the following:

“Anyone who attends worship services held by the Church benefit from the teachings presented there.

People who come into contact in society with missionaries or members of the Church may also benefit from doing so.

Members and non-members of the Church in need of religious assistance or in condition of need, hardship, sickness or distress.

Those who use its buildings and other facilities for family history research.

The Charity also organises local community projects.”

It’s an interesting document required to go into objectives and strategies. Take a look. Much of the non-member public benefit in this country would appear to derive from our Family History Centres, record indexing and other genealogical work. More traditional community service, in connection with the 4th mission of the church, is a much smaller element. A look through the submitted accounts for that year list 70% of patrons at Family History Centres as non-members, and costs for genealogical work certainly outstrips costs for community projects. I’m not an accountant, so I won’t attempt a further breakdown of what the numbers might mean.

So to take a look at why we are so under-represented when it comes to more traditional community service. These are points that have occurred to me in discussion with others. Feel free to add your own, or to take issue with mine.

  1. We have a lay clergy who have other employment during the working week, it is far harder for us to find the time to reach out to our local communities, in the ways that a full-time vicar, priest or pastor would be able to do.
  2. With small wards and branches, most members are kept incredibly busy with their church callings, their own home and visiting teaching assignments, and general pastoral care of ward or branch members. Very often there is little or no time left for additional in-the-community voluntary service as a church.
  3. Because a calling is held strictly on a temporary basis, where one person serving may have both the time and energy to get their ward/ quorum/ relief society/ youth involved in a long-term project, there is a disincentive to do so: we don’t know how long we will be serving in that role, and if our successor is unable to meet that commitment, that could be more damaging in the long-term.
  4. An inherent reluctance to create formal links with organisations where standards may differ, and whether or not, and from whom permission should be sought.

So I have a lot of sympathy for the view, that here we have full-time missionaries essentially wasting much of the day with no-one to teach, and why not put them into those serving-the-community roles that could give the church a much-needed face in the community as a whole. Nonetheless, I read one comment I can no longer locate (apologies to that commenter), where initial disappointment was expressed about there being no great change to service opportunities for missionaries was followed by a remark that they had then felt that this was something they should be doing themselves, not an expectation for the missionaries.

It has been my observation that each stake, ward and branch differs enormously in how they serve the local community, and individual members do much on their own. We have the opportunity, along with the rest of the population, where appropriate, to serve as school governors, local magistrates, as part of a neighbourhood or community association, or for a variety of charities requiring volunteers.

In my own ward, our Relief Society has worked as a one off to provide, hygiene and children’s kits for a local women’s refuge. We are not the only ward to have done this. Other ward Relief Societies have served local charitable institutions by baking for a party, and knitting or sewing. All of this has been done on a project by project basis.

At a stake level there is the annual ‘Helping Hands’ day. Personally I have an aversion to being required to wear an identifying tabard, but there’s no doubt it creates visibility. One report describes a project which illustrates how a ‘Helping Hands’ project can develop from a member’s individual voluntary service. At a multi-stake level, we have in the past prepared school kits, making and filling bags, for school children in parts of Africa. Last year members and missionaries in various stakes participated in the annual Poppy appeal for the Royal British Legion, manning collection tins. I have been a member of and am also aware of several wards and stakes that have been involved over several years, along with local schools and churches, in providing filled shoe-boxes for the annual Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

Perhaps, just as members are called to work in our Family History Centres, we need to look at a calling for someone to serve as a local community charity liaison officer. Over time, given our apparent aversion to developing formal ties with outside agencies, we can perhaps come to be seen as an organisation that can be turned to for assistance with one-off projects.

  • Should we concentrate our efforts on the things we do well, like our Family History Centres, and leave serving the poor and needy in the local community to all those other religious communities who are doing that so well already?
  • How is community service working in your ward or branch and stake?
  • Do you feel it’s enough?
  • Would a charity liaison officer help or hinder with the 4th mission of the church?

Discuss.