Friday, July 10, 2009

Stumbling into an answer to prayer

A pondering of mine from the last few months is on the topic of social programs offered by the LDS Church. My scholastic and religious education and work experience have instilled in me a belief in social programs. Growing up outside of the LDS Church, I was very familiar with churches which offered social services to their communities. I speculate that one of the reasons for these services was to attract people to learn about and hopefully become members of their churches.

In my home stake, I saw a similar program instituted: the Tell Me About Your Family Program that was piloted in Northern California. It was a service that was offered to all members of the community. People would fill out a card with birth and death date information for their parents and grandparents and LDS volunteers and family history researchers would compile whatever genealogical information they could find for that individual in a span of 6 hours.

While a Marriage, Family and Human Development Major at BYU, I was a research assistant for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. BYU was one of the grantee institutions for the center and it was our job to synthesize academic research regarding marriage and family functioning into easy to read briefs which were then posted onto the resource center website as a public service.

My first "real" job out of college was working for a non-profit where my grant required me to provide workshops and trainings to child care providers in my community in an attempt to improve care and early learning experiences and promote school readiness for young children.

In my graduate studies, I learned about the many (surprisingly many!) publicly funded social services programs that can be found in communities around the country. I was most familiar with those funded by the Healthy Marriage Initiative which granted churches, community based organizations, and schools money to provide marriage education and promotion services to communities.

My thoughts of course immediately turned to the LDS church. Couldn't a stake or ward seek after a grant (or use tithing money) to provide marriage and family life education programs to community members? The LDS Church already teaches the Marriage and Family Relations Class to members of the church during Sunday School. But I was thinking of adapting that curriculum to teach it to non-members of the church. The LDS beliefs and teaching about marriage, parenting and families would be incorporated into that so non-members would have the opportunity to learn about LDS doctrines. It could be used as a missionary tool.

I have wondered why the church doesn't engage in this sort of activity. Has it been because no one has tried? Is it because it wouldn't be approved? So far, I've just complained about what I perceive of as a lack and felt discouraged by any (very weak) attempts I've made to inquire about the possibility of it.

Then one night last week, I ran into something that addressed some of my questions. If I had sought out the answers on my own, I wouldn't have come across this document because the search terms I would have thought of and used wouldn't have brought it up. I was actually searching for church published material on spanking in my gospel study of parenting practices. What I found was this article: I Have A Question Sep. 1982.

I love how the article basically says in response to the question, "Why doesn’t the Church launch campaigns to end world hunger and ease the sufferings of the needy?" We do. And you should. And the gospel has the power to solve every social ill. So people should join the church and much suffering will be relieved.

I find encouraging the application of the scripture: "be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). When discussing this idea with my Relief Society president, I was counseled to do this outside of my membership of the church and as a community member, that it was not within the role of the local church unit to forge relationships with other entities to provide services of any sort (outside the humanitarian efforts). In my personal life, I have been deeply involved with a couple of volunteer organizations so I feel that I'm doing as she counseled, but I have felt a draw (I don't know by which spirit) to engage the church and my ward in something that provides a service and attracts people to the church.

So finding that article was an answer to prayer that I didn't expect to find and wasn't looking for at the time, but it has spoken to some of my feelings and thoughts of the last few months. As I have continued to ponder, I have more to pray over; particularly how I can be involved in services that would help strengthen families and communities by putting my education and training to use; and whether it is through involvement with the church or professionally.

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