Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Home Teaching And Community

When I lived in New Hampshire, I got a chance to meet some immigrants from Africa. Like most recent immigrants, they were poor and had social ties to other immigrants from the same country. But what really struck me about them was their deep sense of community. They told me about what life was like in Africa, and I could see how they had brought that value of community-forming with them to the US. They immediately formed a soccer team, regularly socialized at each other's apartments, and welcomed all who wished to participate.

By comparison, our culture here in the US lacks community as a value. Emphasis is placed on someone's racial or socioeconomic status. We value money, not for what it can do for others, but what it can do for us. We don't consider someone successful if they have nothing but a social network. We often feel lonely and isolated-- and often it's not just a feeling. I live in a ward (congregation) whose geographical boundaries are two blocks tall and four blocks wide, and yet there are people who live across the street that I have never met, even though I go to church with them. Social networks are absolutely vital to our existence. And they have an added benefit: people who are made to get to know someone different from them tend to learn a valuable lesson about judgmentalism.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The Lord, who in my experience always seems to know what He is doing, set up a program within the Church to make us develop a social network. In fact, he set up two: one for the men and one for the women (because men and women socialize differently). They are called Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching. I will refer throughout the rest of the post to home teaching (mostly because it's less awkwardly named) but everything I'm saying applies equally well to visiting teaching.

Some people, sadly, think that home teachers are really spies sent out by the Church to make sure all the sheeple get herded neatly into the fold. I think it's sad that some people are so paranoid, and even sadder that many home teachers have abused their opportunity to get to know people. I know that many home teachers "do their duty" and nothing else (and many just do "nothing else"). They never become friends with their charges; they just visit every month like they're supposed to, and report their statistics to the bean-counters. They think that if the statistics are looking good, that everything is fine. It's sad to see them pass up the opportunity to get to know their fellow-travelers in life.

Home teaching, when properly performed, is a calling of the highest order. It is the Lord introducing you to some of His other followers and asking you to make friends, often when you don't want to. When you are called to be a home teacher, you are being asked to build one of the most enduring things on Earth-- a friendship, an attitude of civility, a tolerance for others. Buildings may crumble and wars may come and go, but it is only our relationships with others that can endure through all things, even death. Being a home teacher is a greater calling than being an architect for a temple, because without the interpersonal ties being bound inside it, a temple is merely a pretty building full of empty chairs.