Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormons Do Plenty of Community Service

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.

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

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 [tweetable] compelling examples of how Mormons are providing community service all around us.[/tweetable] — 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.

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.

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.

[tweetable]The Mormon public affairs approach in Cincinnati is all about telling great stories.[/tweetable] 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.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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