Guest blogger Geoff Thatcher, LDS assistant director of public affairs in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Guest blogger Geoff Thatcher, LDS assistant director of public affairs in Cincinnati, Ohio. (courtesy of Geoff Thatcher)

A guest post by Geoff Thatcher

Note: My friend Geoff Thatcher, who is the LDS assistant director of public affairs for the greater Cincinnati area where I live, responds here to my recent charge that Mormons don’t do enough service in the community. Not so, he says—and he gives compelling examples of how Mormons are providing community service all around us. — JKR

Jana wrote recently about her desire for more community service and outreach by local Mormon congregations in Cincinnati. Being involved in local faith-based public affairs, I get to hear about much of the community service that both individuals and congregations are doing in the area. So, perhaps it’s a good time to share a few examples as well as my perspective.

Working in public affairs involves constantly answering two questions:

When should we keep our good works quiet and when is it important to tell our story?

We have to balance two charges from Jesus Himself. First, we know that being good Christians involves doing our service quietly. The Lord specifically mentions the importance of doing “alms … in secret.” (Matt. 6:4). However, Jesus also told his disciples to not hide their good works under a bushel: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place.” (Luke 11:33).

At the congregational level, it’s both accurate and fair to say The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is reaching out to help others in the community as well as meeting the needs of its own members. Just last month congregations throughout Cincinnati and Ohio wrapped up their efforts on Feed Ohio. This statewide initiative was headed by Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich as a cooperative effort between the Governor’s Office, the Ohio Association of Food Banks, and faith groups such as Mormon congregations like ours in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Mormons work with donations at Be Concerned.

Cincinnati Mormons work with donations at Be Concerned. (courtesy of Geoff Thatcher)

Ten Cincinnati area congregations joined with others in the community to participate in Feed Ohio. These Mormons collected more than 15,000 pounds of food, donated thousands of dollars to food banks, and spent more than 1,800 hours working on Feed Ohio over a two-month period. And all of this was done as outreach in the communities where we live and worship. We worked with groups such as the Lakota Outreach Food Pantry, Bethel AME Church in Oxford, Mason Food Pantry, L.I.F.E Food Pantry, Our Father’s Kitchen, CAIN (Churches Active in Northside), Milford Miami Ministry, the Faith Community Food Bank, and others.

Mormons across the state of Ohio joined these local Cincinnati congregations to collect and donate over 35,000 pounds of food and more than $50,000. In Akron, it was another 10,300 pounds of food; in Toledo, 4,800 pounds. You get the picture. Just as in Cincinnati, all these donations involved a lot more than just delivering food. Members in local congregations worked closely with community groups, including other faith groups. And all of it was done above and beyond the monthly program where members fast the first Sunday of the month and donate the money usually spent on food to support those in need.

Could we and should we do more community outreach and service?

I think any good Christian would always answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” As followers of Jesus, we rejoice in the opportunity to join others in the community to (in the words of Mormon scripture) “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

In fact, much more is being done both on the individual and congregational level, though not necessarily always in the public eye:

  • The Relief Society, a Mormon women’s organization, in Liberty Township hosted a baby shower last week for the Elizabeth New Life Center in Sharonville. This faith-based charity helps support pregnant women to choose life over abortion.
  • There are congregations hosting emergency preparedness fairs for their communities.
  • Mormon ward members are pulling weeds, painting park benches, and cleaning cemeteries.
  • One enterprising Boy Scout even helped make the outdoor garden at the battered women’s shelter in Hamilton, Ohio more beautiful with the help of his Mormon congregation.
  • Several congregations helped clean up after a tornado struck Northern Kentucky in 2012.
Beautifying a public park in Mason, Ohio.

Beautifying a public park in Mason, Ohio. (courtesy of Geoff Thatcher)

However, when it comes to public affairs, you have to realize that service isn’t usually very newsworthy. Yes, a TV crew did cover our young men and women cleaning up a cemetery, but in general, good deeds don’t make headlines.

In the presidential election year of 2012, reporters were more interested in the so-called Mormon Moment, and we helped cut through the politics by showing them who we are. The Cincinnati Enquirer even attended a church service and reported that we really aren’t that much of a mystery and that we really do believe in Jesus Christ.

In 2013, the news media have wanted to follow up to see what the growth of the church is like one year later. Here in Cincinnati, they were also curious about the new mission that has just been created and all of the new missionaries they were seeing arriving at the airport. One news station even showed up at CVG to capture 30 new missionaries arriving on Pioneer Day, July 24.

In 2014, they will no doubt be interested in a certain musical that’s coming to town. We are already preparing to give them a more local view by finding a few unique stories featuring people who can talk passionately about how The Book of Mormon, as a book of scripture, brought them closer to Jesus Christ.

The Mormon public affairs approach in Cincinnati is all about telling great stories. We balance those dual charges from the Savior about the importance of good works by focusing on those stories that will foster an increased understanding that we believe in Jesus Christ and are striving to be more like Him. Hopefully, these stories will then lead to even more good works both in our congregations and in our communities.

 

Geoff Thatcher is the volunteer assistant director of public affairs in the Greater Cincinnati area where there are about 22 congregations and almost 10,000 members. While he’s not an official spokesperson, he is responsible for working with major news outlets such as The Cincinnati Enquirer and WCPO. He also helps train and coordinate public affairs with local leaders and smaller regional news outlets while also encouraging every Mormon in the area to use social media to share their belief in Jesus Christ. Twitter: @geoffthatcher

Note: As payment for this guest post, a donation has been made to Feed Ohio, the charity of the guest blogger’s choice.

18 Comments

  1. Howdy, Daily Universe colleague! Didn’t know you and Jana Riess know each other. Thanks for sharing the community service efforts happening in Ohio, Geoff.

  2. gilbert gripe

    I’m glad that the LDS church did something good. From the press release and bright yellow vests I see the church is claiming bragging rights.

    But I still hope that someday all non profits, including religious ones, will be required to make a public accounting of what they do with their donations and business profits.

    It’s always good advice to never give money to people who are not accountable. There is no legal requirement that the LDS church must be secretive, it just chooses to be.

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-07-10/how-the-mormons-make-money

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      None of the top leaders of the LDS church obtained multi-million dollar homes from their church work, unlike Obama’s former memtor, Reverend Wright. Apart from a hundred full time leaders, LDS church leaders are unpaid and don’t personally receive any of the funds donated to the church. In fact, they donate as much or more than anyone.

      Unlike some churches, in the LDS Church donations are made on checks in opaque envelopes that are quietly turned over to the bishop on Sunday. Immediately after meetings end, the donations are counted and credited to each member, and the checks are deposited in a bank account that belongs to the central church, not the local congregation. The funds are used to pay to build and maintain and light and heat meetinghouses and temples; to operate BYU’s three campuses and the Seminary and Institute education programs at high schools and universities; to send missionaries around the world; to operate the food production and distribution system that feeds the needy in the church and in disaster areas; to provide religious curriculum needs for education of children and adults. Because most positions are staffed by volunteers, overhead costs in LDS Church programs are minimal. I have served in local congregations and at the stake level, and never saw profligacy with expenditure of Church funds. Because the funds are used carefully, members do not have to make extra donations or conduct fund raising bake sales to cover the costs of new church construction, which amounts to a new building almost every day of the year somewhere in the world. We get the most use of our buildings by sharing them between and three or four congregations on Sundays. Ward meetinghouses are pretty plain vanilla in their furnishings. We get criticized by people who think Mormons should spend more money on fancy architecture or stained glass windows. We reserve that for the temples.

      I have far less concern about how my donations to the LDS Church are managed than I do with how the Federal and State governments use the money they extract from me at levels five times as high, without any choice on my part, giving corporate charity to favored companies at my expense.

    • Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. there is no pleasing some people, they are just born to be haters. If we say nothing about all the contributions that are made then we aren’t doing enough to contribute to society – if we point out the contributions we are “claiming bragging rights” (or something). Your online name is very apt.

  3. Duane W. Jorgensen

    Mitt Romney probably did more good by running for president than any other LDS member. People were able to see the negative aspects of his platform; 1) out of touch, very wealthy, 2) secretive, offshore accounts, 3) extremist, choosing Ryan, and 4) elitist, 47% comment. The LDS Church simply needs to be more transparent in its dealings, with not only its own members but the general public as well.

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      Mitt Romney earned a lot of money for himself, but he also earned money for his clients, including the major public employee pension funds of the United States and Canada, which is supporting retired school teachers and state and local government workers. As to the minor amouont of his wealth that is invested outside the US, it is not really your business, just as you wouldn’t want someone pocking into your own financial records. When almost half the people in the US voted for you, how “extrmeist” can you be? Romney is not an “elitist”; as related in her new cookbook, Ann Romney cooked for her family, Mitt washed the dishes, and they raised their five sons without nannies. as a church leader, Romney donated 20 to 30 hours a week to unpaid service to members of his church, including giving financial aid to those in poverty (including Haitian immigrants and Cambodian refugees), helping clean the yards and homes of elderly members of his church, as well as personally counseling people going through traumatic times such as major illnesses. If Romney had continued in business instead of resigning in 1999, he could easily have been a billionaire by now. Instead, he has dedicated himself to public service. The fact that someone could be such an achiever and so selfless and still be hated by you tells us more about you than it does about Mr. Romney.

      • Is there an expression yet for the legion of LDS apologists who pop up online whenever someone criticizes the church and its leadership?

        Romney and Ryan did several phony charity events just prior to the election. Nothing says dishonest piece of garbage like pretending to give to charity for PR purposes.
        http://www.democraticunderground.com/10021675978
        http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17612-romney-s-hurricane-relief-effort-was-as-fake-as-ryan-s-soup-kitchen-photo-op

        “it is not really your business, just as you wouldn’t want someone pocking into your own financial records.”

        If you are running for the highest office of the land it is all of our business. We make a point of it, especially after at least one president used his position for financial gain (Warren Harding).

  4. I would ask Jana if she knew about these projects? If so, why not mention them in the previous article? If not, then there is a significant failure to communicate within our wards and branches. Speaking only of my particular ward I can say that we do virtually nothing to reach out to the community. We did a YM/YW activity at the Ronald McDonald House in July and we are hoping to do something to provide food for some group of people on Thanksgiving (we are trying to find a location as of the last report I heard). So that fits right in with Jana’s claim that we go in and do one big thing then aren’t heard from for a year.

    How active are we, as wards, within our communities? Do we reach out to other churches, run multi-denominational youth camps or activities? Do we reach into schools, work to tutor kids? Do we do work in the minority/low income neighborhoods in our cities? I’ve lived in 4 wards in the past 6 years in 3 different states. As far as I’ve ever known (admitting I may have missed something) I believe the answer to those questions is NO in all 4 wards.

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      John, no one individual or organization can by itself address all of the needs of a community. We have responsibilities to support our own families and within the LDS Church we have specific responsibilities for several other families, and then in particular callings we are involved in providing focused aid to people undergoing unemployment, illness, and other acute needs. There is no reason YOU cannot volunteer your time and money, within the limits of your abilities, to aid any or all of the worthy causes you mentioned, and you can also invite other members of your ward to do the same.

      The University of Pennsylvania study last year reported that, in addition to the donations of time and money that Mormons make within the Church and to other Church members, and AS the Church participating in joint efforts in our communities, we also donate personal resources to charitable organizations in our communities at a level comparable to other people.

      I know Mormons who have donated significantly through programs at their workplace or their priofessional organization. That includes attorneys donating pro bono legal services, and doctors and other health care specialists donating their services. I may not donate to or participate in your favorite charity, but you may not participate in mine, either. Everyone has constraints on what they can give, whether it is financial or the obligations of family care, or having to work two jobs. You might exercise a little charity by withholding judgment on the amount of charity given by others.

    • So, John – what have YOU done to help out? Have you approached your Bishop and volunteered to head up a project or even offered an idea of a project that would be worthwhile? The church is God’s church but He works through us – whether your ward is good or bad is up to you. Its very easy to snipe from the gutter. Getting out and doing something about it is the hard work.

    • Mormons doing charity for poor people? Oh that’s hilarious. Mormons only do charity for rich folks and the higher-ups in the ward. The entire twenty-two years I was a Mormon, I saw the following service projects:
      1. Cleaning sand out from under the bishop’s vacation home after a hurricane (nothing for any of the regular members of the ward who wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay a crew to do it as the wealthy bishop was)
      2. While at BYU, my ward did a “service” that included going up to someone’s Sundance mansion and raking up leaves.

      Yeah. Mormons don’t give two craps about helping anyone who isn’t the elite and wealthy, because that’s what they worship.

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