Sunday, February 27, 2022


Prior to our conversion to the Church, my family did not attend religious services very frequently. At the time, I figured “going to church” was just something that you do occasionally, even when you lived pretty much across the street from it. I also observed that when we did attend, it was always really crowded. So, I assumed that was another reason not to go as often. A reason that I can still empathize with. It wasn’t until years later that it became clear to me that it may have had more to do with the fact that we were Catholic and the infrequent and crowded Masses that we attended were only on Christmas and Easter. Not an isolated example, I would come to learn.

In General Conference, Dalin H. Oaks spoke about declining attendance in “Churches."

I always find President Oaks’ talks interesting because his use of language comes across to me as very precise and the words that he uses are always chosen very carefully. I credit this to his professional background as an attorney, which requires that ideas and concepts be clearly expressed. When speaking of his use of the word “churches,” he said, “I include synagogues, mosques, or other religious organizations…” 

He mentioned some of the reasons that people have used for no longer attending church, like saying “…that attending church meetings is not helping them.” Or that “Some say, ‘I didn’t learn anything’… or ‘No one was friendly to me’ or ‘I was offended.’”

President Oaks then reminded us that “Personal disappointments should never keep us from the doctrine of Christ, who taught us to serve, not to be served.” (emphasis added)

It’s the principle of “Service” that I’ve been invited to speak about today.

(CC BY-SA 2.5) Ricardo630
Historically the focal points of service in communities have often centered on churches of all faiths. Efforts to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless are causes that are often spearheaded by churches, locally and internationally.

We are blessed to live so close to an incredible example of faith-based service in Welfare Square. My family is very grateful for the assistance that the Church is able to provide for those in need simply because we’ve found ourselves in the position of needing such assistance.

It’s not uncommon for people to find it difficult to ask for help, especially when we’re brought up in a culture that places so much emphasis on “individualism.” Our own church offers educational programs on self-reliance, addressing a variety of topics from emotional resilience, to personal finance, and even professional development; but these “self-reliance” courses place emphasis on having faith NOT in one’s self, but in the Savior. Superficially, it might appear to some that placing such emphasis on “self-reliance” might conflict with asking for help to meet our temporal needs, but this is not the case.

“Self-reliance” is not about doing things by yourself. It’s about better understanding your strengths and your weaknesses; knowing what you are able to do with the Lord’s help, acknowledging your limitations, and being able to recognize when to ask for help from others. More importantly, being self-reliant is not an end unto itself, it is a means to enable us to better serve others.

There was a time when I was single, that I had just moved into a new apartment but I had no bed. I was trying to sleep on a thin, portable mat that I had borrowed from a friend. I was not in a financial position to just go out and buy new bedroom furniture—and mattresses are not the sort of thing one should be eager to seek out under the “Free” listings in the classifieds. But I knew that I could tell my Bishop about my situation and he was happy to help me to obtain a brand new bed, as well as some other gently used furniture and clothing through Deseret Industries.

When my wife, Danica, was completing her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, she was required to do some student teaching. I found it kind of odd that not only are student teachers not paid to teach but they have to pay tuition in order to be able to complete this unpaid work. Financially, this was going to be a difficult time for us but along with some careful budgeting, knowing that help was available from the Church, and—more importantly—understanding that such help exists precisely for such times, we were able to get assistance with paying some of our essential bills and to have food in our pantry from the Bishop’s storehouse.

I remember going to the storehouse on another occasion to help a friend pick up some groceries. While we were there, I saw a woman being helped with her own food order. She stood out to me because she was wearing an hijab—a head covering that is worn by some women in the Muslim faith. At the time, I was surprised. It’s so easy to think that these resources exist for Church members—simply because you have to go through local Church leaders to use them.

In reality, the Church makes these resources available to the entire community, regardless of one’s faith or personal beliefs. Our Bishop is not just the bishop of our congregation. He's the bishop for everyone who lives within the ward boundaries, members and non-members alike.

Consider our practice of addressing each other as “brother” and “sister.” We don’t do that just because we're all members of the same church, but because we're all children of our Heavenly Father. I didn’t just see a woman wearing an hijab at the storehouse. I saw my Muslim sister there. And I was grateful to see her there. Looking back at that moment, I’m reminded that her blessings are no different from my blessings. They are the result of our faith, not only in the God that we both worship—albeit in different ways—but the faith that we place in our neighbors during our times of need. I’m also inclined to consider the blessing that she has, in not only having an imam that she can turn to for help but also having a Bishop to whom she can reach out.

We need to remember that we are surrounded at all times by our brothers and sisters. They are our friends and neighbors, regardless of whether or not we share the same beliefs, or if we see each other every day, once a week, or only on Christmas and Easter. And they are all worthy of love. Because, ultimately, service is an act of love.

In recent years, I’ve felt impressed to consider that all of God’s commandments are extensions of the greatest commandment.

When asked, “which is the great commandment?” Christ said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…” (Matthew 22:36–40)

When considering President Oaks’ remarks about “personal disappointments” that can result in someone no longer attending church, I am reminded of the personal disappointments that I have experienced at Church. I think we have all had similar experiences with our fellow flawed members at one time or another and there have certainly been times when those interactions have made me feel unwelcome. It’s important to also remember that inaction can impact others just as our actions do. Being ignored can be just as painful as being ridiculed—sometimes even more so.

Such reflections compel me to look at my own attitude and behavior. Times, when something that I said or did, may have resulted in disappointing someone else, perhaps even to the point where they stopped attending church or sought fellowship elsewhere. I cannot discount that possibility. I think it would be fair to describe such situations as a failure to serve.

To serve others IS to serve the Lord. Again, service is an act of love.

If we ever find ourselves measuring our service in terms of time, effort, or a portion of our increase; if we are thinking about results, right-offs, and itemized deductions, then we are not truly serving. We are only acting for ourselves and not acting out of love.

Christ made it abundantly clear that He makes no distinction between the love we show for others and that which we show for him, saying, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…[and] Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:40,45 emphasis added)

I wish to implore you to be open to opportunities to serve others. To remember that the impact that one can have is not always proportional to the service that’s rendered and to be mindful of why we serve.

No one individual can be expected to change the world, or to have a profound impact on someone else's life. While service is often performed with certain goals and objectives in mind, we need to remember that it is in serving that our love for our neighbors and God is shown, not in the temporally quantifiable results of that service.

It should be clear to anyone’s perception that there is a direct connection between the “first and great commandment” and everything that we do. As members of our faith and as members of our community. From the service that we render in our callings to the contributions that we make in our professions. In the way that we treat all of God’s children, from our families, friends, and acquaintances, to those we might consider complete strangers.