For many years, Church leaders have encouraged us to serve in our communities. To explore this topic and obtain suggestions about how to get involved, the Ensign spoke with , director of community relations for the Church Public Communications Department.
Q: Why is it so important that Latter-day Saints be involved in their communities?
A: Lives are blessed when Latter-day Saints are involved in their communities. The Savior is our best role model in showing how this is done. Jesus gave freely and frequently to those outside “the household of faith.” He extended his personal caring to the despised, the outcast, and the nonbeliever.
The First Presidency has encouraged us as citizens to involve ourselves in solving problems that face our communities, even if these problems are particularly challenging. They have likewise encouraged us to join with others not of our faith in solving problems that call for cooperative action.
Latter-day Saints can be extraordinarily effective at solving problems, but too often their efforts have been directed solely toward Church members. As members “let their lights shine” (see Matt. 5:16) more brightly through thoughtful community involvement, more people will come to see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.
The Church itself has found that participating with others can generate much good and goodwill. Joining with other churches in the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (VISN), the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP), the American Council on Alcohol Problems (ACAP), and other worthy causes has been very fruitful, accomplishing much good. And even though some in these organizations initially greeted our involvement with skepticism and even opposition, most now appreciate and support our participation as they have come to see that we, as they, are committed to worthy causes and are willing to do our share and more.
It’s also interesting that this increased emphasis by the Church on community involvement comes at a time when Church programs are being simplified with one goal of freeing more time for family and community.
Q: There are many causes we can support. How do we know where to begin?
A: The key is finding worthwhile activities that are compatible with gospel standards. Most find it’s best to begin in their own neighborhoods and communities. Members can search out service opportunities and select those that fill a need or that match up with their own interests, talents, or hobbies. People tend to have a good experience in activities that are community-oriented, like helping in the schools, supporting the arts, and improving the environment, or serving the handicapped, the elderly, or the disadvantaged.
For example, our staff decided that if we were going to talk about community service, we needed to be more involved in it—together. So, on a regular basis, we go to a soup kitchen and spend our lunch hour serving a meal to homeless people. We come away feeling good and have the pleasure of serving with others of different backgrounds and beliefs.
Q: Can you tell us some success stories of other Church members who have become involved in community service?
A: Latter-day Saint youth in Sydney, Australia, have served warm drinks and sandwiches to the homeless who congregate in subway stations.
Youth near Frankfurt, Germany, “adopted” a neighborhood to clean and maintain.
At a national convention for the blind in Las Vegas, several hundred Latter-day Saint volunteers spent a week helping delegates. At the end of the convention, the delegates gave them a standing ovation.
Latter-day Saints in Arizona sponsored a barbecue to help a Presbyterian group raise money to build a church. These Church members later spent hundreds of hours helping landscape the grounds.
In California, a member of the Church noticed a stalled truck on the freeway and felt prompted to stop. He found a young couple, the wife pregnant, who had been there for three days. Through the dedicated efforts of this member, the couple got immediate food and medical care and found work, a place to rent, and another truck.
We hear similar stories from all over the world—from both individuals and groups of Church members. Individual members give generously of their time and talents by serving in activities in local schools, volunteering in nursing homes, reading for the blind, manning crisis hot lines, staffing volunteer fire departments, and serving as members of a myriad of worthwhile organizations.
Q: What about involvement in political issues?
A: The Church doesn’t normally participate in issues that involve specific legislative proposals.
Q: Why is that?
A: It could divert the Church from its unique mission and turn it into a political-action committee, of sorts. Within any ward, you might find a variety of opinions on a political issue—and that is only right. It’s up to individual members to make this kind of decision and then act on their own decisions.
If the Church ever does become involved in legislative issues—and this is exceedingly rare—it will communicate its position through official channels.
Q: How can people find opportunities for service?
A: One way is to make a conscious effort to look for them. Members find community involvement opportunities by reading their local newspapers and keeping up with local happenings. Members can attend their city or town council meetings and voice their opinion on important issues or volunteer to help. Many communities have offices one can call for suggestions. And each ward, stake, and region public communications director should be aware of available community service opportunities so that Church leaders and members can call on them for suggestions.
One thing I want to stress is that people shouldn’t feel guilty if they aren’t able to be involved in their communities right now as much as they would like because they hold demanding Church callings, have young children, or whatever. There are periods in our lives when we have more time and energy to serve in the community than at others. If we don’t have those opportunities now, they may come later.
But no matter at what stage we are in life, we have much to offer our communities, even if our time is very limited. We can be “anxiously engaged” in small or large ways, motivated by the love of the Savior. (See D&C 58:27–28.) We let others know we care when we pay attention to them and treat them with respect. We as Church members can make a difference beyond our numbers because we have been taught the joy of service.