It was a time when the stock market saw huge losses. Banks and other financial institutions failed. Unemployment soared. People were losing their homes. Governments intervened with expensive programs to try to reverse downward trends. More and more people were forced to turn to public institutions for food and other necessities.
This description of the 1930s could also apply to more recent times. Then—as well as now—the Church’s welfare plan has been available to “help the people to help themselves,” 1 in times of disaster, in widespread economic depressions and recessions, and in the smaller, more personal challenges families and individuals can face at any time.
Although the welfare plan we know today wasn’t introduced until 1936, Saints in every dispensation have practiced principles of provident living because the Savior Jesus Christ is the architect of the welfare plan. President Thomas S. Monson has said: “The Lord provided the way when he declared, ‘And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor.’ (D&C 83:6.) Then the reminder, ‘But it must needs be done in mine own way.’ (D&C 104:16).” 2
To provide in the Lord’s way, we must develop our own self-reliance and then seek to help others become self-reliant. “Devoted men and women help to operate this vast and inspired program,” said President Monson. “In reality, the plan would never succeed on effort alone, for this program operates through faith after the way of the Lord.” 3
The 75th anniversary of the welfare plan—commemorated this year—gives Latter-day Saints the opportunity to reflect on basic principles such as becoming self-reliant, caring for the poor and needy, and serving others. When we live these principles, we are better able to alleviate suffering, build character, and foster unity.
“The real long term objective of the welfare plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church.”
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961), First Counselor in the First Presidency, in Glen L. Rudd, Pure Religion: The Story of Church Welfare Since 1930 (1995), 301.
Detail from Pool of Bethesda, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of Brigham Young University Museum of Art