With Church Programs and Emphases

Personal Interview Procedure Strengthens Priesthood Home Teaching

“The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them.” (D&C 20:53.)

When an elders quorum in a California stake was reorganized a year ago, the new president was surprised to find in the quorum files a sizeable list of inactive ward members who had asked that the home teachers stop calling on them. Refusing to accept the failure imposed by this “Do Not Visit” list, the new presidency made personal visits to each individual or family on the list; as a result of these visits, several families once again began receiving home teachers.

In one of these families the father had had a problem with alcoholism for several years—a fact that the quorum president explained to the newly assigned home teachers during an initial personal priesthood interview.

These brethren considered their calling as priesthood home teachers to be a special stewardship. As the quorum president later reported, “Brother Peterson and Brother Schiefer stuck to that family closer than the family members stuck to each other.” In their regular visits they made no fuss about the father’s drinking problem, focusing instead on other aspects of gospel living. Spared this embarrassment, the father soon responded to their kindness and concern; he began to attend meetings sporadically. Brother Peterson occasionally picked up the little girls and took them to see the rabbits he was raising. They would come home excited and full of stories. Sister Peterson called the mother and made friends with her.

After a few months, the home teachers and their priesthood leader decided during a personal priesthood interview that the time had come to challenge this father to personally commit himself to the Church. This they did at their next visit, and the father accepted the challenge.

There followed a period of difficult weeks for the father, during which the home teachers met often with the quorum president and returned frequently to counsel with the father. Then, partly through the home teachers’ urging, the father decided to undergo an alcoholism cure at a veterans hospital. However, he had a siege of last-minute fright and wanted to back out of his promise. “Brother Schiefer simply wouldn’t let him. He drove him the 300 miles to the hospital himself.”

These faithful home teachers were more than rewarded recently when the father—with his family beside him—bore his testimony: “Of all the days of our lives, certainly one of the greatest would have to be the day when two gentlemen rang the doorbell and said, ‘Hello, I’m Brother Peterson, and this is Brother Schiefer. We’re your home teachers.’”

The above example illustrates two ways in which priesthood home teaching—the name we give to the divinely ordained responsibility of “watching over the Church”—functions in the Church today: (1) priesthood leaders and their representatives, the home teachers, have an obligation to assess and meet individual family needs; and (2) the personal priesthood interviews are an essential part of watching over the Church and take place as often as necessary and at any time during the month, except on Monday evenings.

Perhaps the distinguishing feature of priesthood home teaching today is that it is not a “monthly” activity. By this it is meant that it is not appropriate to think of or measure home teaching as simply a periodic visit to a family within a calendar month. Rather, home teaching is being accomplished when the family is encouraged to attend all its church and family duties. It is being accomplished when all the needs of the family are being met, and these needs, of course, simply do not arise on a “monthly” basis—they may arise at any time. Certainly no father would consider having “done his father’s duty” by visiting a child once a month; similarly, home teachers, under the direction of their priesthood leaders, plan their stewardship, assess the spiritual and temporal needs of their families, and then visit or otherwise work with them as often as necessary and do whatever must be done to meet those needs. In all of this, home teachers work with and through the father of the family.

Just as the home teachers’ contact with their families is not “monthly,” neither is their contact with their priesthood leaders through the personal priesthood interview—the process of reporting back to the priesthood leader, receiving direction and counsel, and going forth again to serve. In keeping with the spirit of the home teacher’s responsibility, the interview can, and probably should, be held any time during the month, not just at the end of a calendar month.

The personal priesthood interview is a time for reporting, reviewing, goal setting, coordination, inspiration, and prayer. If other members of the ward or stake are needed to help accomplish the goals established, arrangements are discussed at this time. Through the cooperation of ward and stake leaders in bringing to bear the resources of the Church, the spiritual and temporal needs of every family should be met.

Primary: Meeting the Needs of Handicapped Children

“The Primary Association is concerned with giving help and gospel training to handicapped boys and girls of the Church through the Primary program that has been adapted to their needs.” (Primaries for Handicapped Children, revised 1974, p. 1.)

He takes a late lunch once a week so he can teach Primary—not a regular primary, but one for mentally retarded children.

The Bountiful (Utah) Center Primary for the Handicapped draws from several stakes, and when the teacher moved away over a year ago, the presidency looked for a special person to take over half a dozen eight-year-old boys. They were delighted with Dr. Lawrence Gibb’s offer to teach. A pediatrician, he had heard their chorus sing at a missionary farewell in his ward and had offered his services. Through this experience, Dr. Gibb has found a new dimension in teaching, and the boys love him.

At a mother-son dinner party in the Oquirrh (Utah) Region Primary for the Handicapped, a teenage boy who is very quiet and almost nonverbal at school delighted his mother when he said, “Dance, Mama.” They had practiced the Virginia Reel for several weeks, and he “danced” beautifully. This party was preceded by an equally successful father-daughter party. The young people, delighted to attend their own social function in the early evening, had found a place where they “belonged.”

“There is heartbreak in not belonging,” says Sister Naomi W. Shumway, general president of the Primary. “Children sense when they do not fit into a group, and a Primary for handicapped children (or a special class in a regular Primary) is the answer to a child’s forlorn lament, ‘I wish I could go to Primary.’”

In the western United States there are 27 Primaries for handicapped children, and they give special children an opportunity to receive spiritual instruction, to learn to work with others, and to find companionship and new vistas of hope in an atmosphere void of ridicule.

A Primary for handicapped children must be initiated by a stake, region, or mission, but there are no ward, stake, or district boundary limitations in setting up this organization. The Primary president or presidents should contact the Primary priesthood advisers, and together they should determine the type of organization needed. A special class in a regular Primary can handle one to four children; where there are more, a special Primary may serve better. The children should be grouped as nearly as possible according to mental age levels, and, in addition to a teacher, it is helpful to have an assistant or aide. Officers and teachers may be called from any of the stakes or districts.

A Primary for handicapped children is adapted to meet their special needs. Extra time should be allowed for singing in opening exercises, because the children love music and respond well to rhythm and song. Classes should be short and should include a variety of activities. These children enjoy moving and doing, dramatizing, helping, and sharing. They love simple, uncluttered pictures and stories. Often those enrolled are much older than 12 years of age, and though the material is geared to their ability to comprehend, it must also be material that a teenager would discuss. Retarded children should not be treated forever as children, the Primary stresses. They do have potential.

Parents of the children are also benefited as they associate with other parents who have similar problems. They, too, need help and understanding. Nonmembers are welcome to affiliate.

“When the Savior said, ‘Feed my lambs,’ he meant all of his lambs,” Sister Shumway believes. “The Primary Association has a great challenge to seek out and teach all children, including those that have physical and mental handicaps.”