What’s your take on fast offerings and being on the receiving end of them from the church? I have been in different Stakes and Districts and noticed a difference in the opinions of the leaders.
One Sunday after giving a talk about the Word of Wisdom, President Joseph Fielding Smith was approached by a member of the congregation. “Brother Smith,” he said, “that is the first discourse on the Word of Wisdom that I ever liked.” When pressed, the man clarified “Well, you see, I’m keeping the Word of Wisdom now.” (see Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, ch 18, Living by Every Word that Proceeds from the Mouth of God). It’s understandable that when a person is struggling to live the principles of self-reliance that it feels like every sermon emphasizes their failings. This is not so. The same principles come into play whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the Church’s welfare programs.
The principles of provident living focus on self-reliance and work, giving and generosity, and preparing for the future. If a family cannot make ends meet, these principles are not ignored – rather they are placed front and center to lift the family to a more stable condition. Any income that comes in continues to be tithed (strikingly generous), if only as an acknowledgement that God provides for us. It serves as a testimony that despite challenging circumstances, the family is both a blessing and blessed.
What then of self-reliance and work? How is the family self-reliant while it is the generosity of others sustaining them? The principle here is that of work. In an address given by Bishop H. David Burton (and repeated in the pamphlet Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-reliance (a must-read for anyone involved in the Church’s welfare programs) bishops are encouraged to find opportunities for work or service for those receiving from the Church.
“One of the most important basic principles [of the Church’s welfare program] includes providing work and service opportunities. For individuals to retain their dignity during a time of personal distress, opportunities for service and work commensurate with the recipients’ circumstances should be found. The value of the work or service need not be equal to the assistance received but rather sufficient to avoid the evils of the dole and the fostering of an entitlement mentality.”
Going to the bishop’s storehouse should not feel shameful or embarrassing. If such feelings attack you or someone you know, schedule a meeting with either your Bishop or Relief Society president (both are over welfare in the ward). Tell them how you feel and give them the opportunity to either tell you the ways that you are currently serving (and how much it’s appreciated) or what you can do so that you still feel like a contributing human being. Admittedly, the family is not fully self-reliant at this point, but the principle of work restores dignity and empowers the next principle.
Preparing for the future also sounds like a dormant principle while the family is struggling to survive the here-and-now but it is still fully active. The family is in an unstable and unsustainable position and needs long-term solutions. The local church can here assist as well. Many congregations have an employment specialist who aids job-seekers with resume updates, networking, and interview practice. Additionally, if basic skills or experience are first needed, the Bishop may coordinate with the local Deseret Industries (if one is near) as a stepping stone towards more long-term employment. Once again, dignity and self-worth are restored because the need for help becomes short-term as a long-term plan is worked out.
When the crisis has passed, these same principles play out in other ways to ensure long-term stability including adding fast offerings and other offerings to their budget, lifting and serving others (giving and generosity), career-building and self improvement (self-sufficiency and work), and saving for a rainy day financially and with food storage (preparing for the future).
I have found that throughout this experience, the emotional side of things is taken care of. The family members are interfacing frequently with a support group who cheers them on. They’ll meet with the Relief Society president, the Bishop, employment specialist (as needed) quorum or class leaders (again, as needed), fellow saints working at the storehouse, and many others along the way. A statement in the bishops’ storehouse guidebook reflects the mindset of those helping. “The following principles are used to help measure the success of the storehouse: Patrons and volunteers feel uplifted by their experiences in the storehouse.”
My experience working in the bishops storehouse has been uplifting and edifying. I recommend that Bishops and Relief Society presidents take off one day a year and volunteer in one (where available). It serves as an excellent reminder of the dignity found in work. It serves as an equalizer, as I couldn’t tell you which workers were in need and which weren’t. It serves as an active reminder of King Benjamin’s rhetorical questions: “Are not we all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:19).
So I find no shame in living the principles of provident living even when your life is less than provident. I find no cause to be embarrassed if you are on the receiving end of Christian love “that the works of God should be made manifest” (John 9:3). If there has been cause for shame, embarrassment, or guilt in these matters, I think it lies in forgetting to thank the Lord for your daily bread when it comes so readily.