Home teachers called to strengthen those in their watchcare

How enthusiastically does your family anticipate the monthly visit from the home teachers? Consider the experience of Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., director of the Melchizedek Priesthood Department.

"While living in California, we had a home teacher who was so diligent; he never missed," Brother Brewster recalled. "He was always inquiring after our well-being. He would not just come and deliver a message. He was a real home teacher."The home teacher was so loved by the children that one of the Brewster daughters named her doll "Brother Skaggs" after him.

"He was looked upon with enthusiasm by the family," Brother Brewster commented.

While it takes some effort and perhaps some time, every home teacher can foster that kind of relationship with the families he home teaches, he said.

"Part of that can come with the way the call is issued," he added. "Rather than just handing the home teacher a slip of paper in the hallway at Church with the names of his families on it, if the priesthood leader would sit down with the home teachers and say, `Here are the families we are placing in your care; here are their names, addresses, birthdates and all we know about them,' I think that would make a difference right then."

Such an approach communicates the concept that the home teachers' stewardship is to look after the families, to "watch over and strengthen them," in the spirit of D&C 20:53, Brother Brewster explained.

Issuing the call effectively depends upon what transpires even before the call is issued, he noted. The elders quorum president or high priests group leader prayerfully should consider and consult about which home teaching partnership should be assigned to a given household.

Of course, the home teachers themselves are responsible for carrying out the calling effectively.

"If they will call in advance, introduce themselves, say they have been asked by the bishop and quorum president or group leader to be the family's home teacher and ask when it would be convenient for them to come by and get acquainted, if the family members see the home teachers as wanting to help them, then the doors will likely open a little wider," Brother Brewster said.

After making the appointment, the home teachers ought to ponder and pray about the needs of the family, both individually and as a companionship, he advised.

He cited 2 Ne. 32:9: "But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee . . . ."

"That, to me, is a great mandate," he said, "I need to be praying about the family before I go into the home."

He suggested that home teachers when they go on visits might consider beginning and ending the evening with prayer, as is done in priesthood and sacrament meetings.

"The Lord will not leave anyone adrift who is faithful and prayerful," he said.

By prayerfully seeking inspiration, and by faithfully visiting the homes assigned, the home teaching companionship can discern what message to present during the visits and an effective way to present it.

In that regard, it was not intended that the home teachers be tied to the First Presidency message printed each month in the Ensign magazine, Brother Brewster said. "The First Presidency message is there as a suggested topic to take into the homes. But the home teacher should determine the message based upon his prior counsel with the father and mother. If there are small children in the home, the message could be geared to them."

Through prayer and faithfulness, he said, home teachers can be inspired as to what contacts should be made beyond the regular monthly visit and what help should be offered, following the counsel in D&C 20:53 to "watch over the church always and be with and strengthen them."

Extra contacts, he suggested, could take the form of a telephone call or, in some areas, a letter.

"A birthday greeting is a must," he said. "It could be either a card or a phone call. It's a nice surprise to be greeted on your birthday by your home teacher."

Home teachers should monitor local news items and be aware when a member of the family has done something that should be recognized, Brother Brewster said.

"In cases where we home teach single parents, the elderly or those who have physical limitations, we want to make sure their physical needs are taken care of in terms of yard work, home repairs and other things. That's where the quorum committee concept comes into practice, with specialists providing help where needs arise."

The Melchizedek Priesthood Leadership Handbook contains this guideline: "Bishoprics and quorum leaders should concentrate home teaching efforts on those who need them most. These people may include new converts, less-active members, single parents with children at home, widows and widowers, and others. The most effective home teachers in the ward are called to serve these members. These home teachers may need to have more limited home teaching assignments than normal." (page 5.)

What does one do if on the initial contact, the family or individual assigned to the home teacher is less than receptive or is reluctant to make an appointment?

"You may have to become familiar enough with the family's schedule to drive by when they are home just to say `hi' and perhaps take homemade bread, cookies, or a flower, whatever is most appropriate," Brother Brewster suggested.

"It often takes a while to build a relationship, and patience is one of the key virtues in a priesthood bearer."

Citing similar scriptural passages in Luke 21:19 and D&C 101:38, that "in your patience possess ye your souls," Brother Brewster said that idea perhaps could be expanded to apply to the souls of others.

He drew an analogy from the child's game "Mother May I," in which participants are permitted to advance a given length and number of steps depending on whether they ask, "Mother, may I?"

In fostering a home teaching relationship, the home teachers advance as far and as fast as the family will let them, Brother Brewster explained. "As in the game `Mother May I,' each step you take, whether a baby step or a giant step, is in the right direction and is on target.

While those who need home teaching efforts the most are cared for, active families and individuals should not be neglected, Brother Brewster cautioned. "The active people need to feel needed too, and everyone's needs are different."

He suggested that all home teachers have at least one strong family to home teach so that the home teachers are ensured of having a positive experience from home teaching.

In particular, care should be taken that Aaronic Priesthood bearers who are home teachers receive proper training and a good experience from their home teaching assignment, Brother Brewster said.

"They ought to have an active part in the home teaching visit, not just tag along," he said. "Once the relationship has been established, it would be very appropriate for the Aaronic Priesthood boy to call and make the appointments. He surely ought to be involved in giving part of the message to the family. If there are young children in the family, he might give the message to the young children. I have my son select a scripture. I don't give him a subject. He selects the scripture to share with the family and tells something about the scripture.

"If you can get the young Aaronic Priesthood boys or new members of the Church to get a good feeling for home teaching, you're establishing a strong home teacher for the future who will want to go out and do it."

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