Fast offerings

Who among us is not moved by the suffering of others? Who does not weep or feel compassion for the plight of hungry or sick children; destitute or homeless families; victims of flood, famine, drought or other natural calamities? If we had it within our means, wouldn't we contribute to giving financial aid or providing commodities to the poor and needy?

The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and through His boundless love for all His children, instituted His own financial law for helping the poor, whether they are neighbors down the street or strangers on the other side of the world. Taught by inspired prophets of the latter days, that plan is known in the Church as the fast offering fund.Shortly after the Kirtland Temple was dedicated in Ohio in 1837, fast and testimony meetings were begun, being held on the first Thursday of the month in the temple. The practice was followed as circumstances permitted through the years. In 1896, to better accommodate those who had to work, the First Presidency of the Church changed the fast and testimony meeting to the first Sunday of the month, a practice that continues to the present.

In the early days, the Saints were asked to help care for the poor. In 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve sent a general letter to the Church instructing members to contribute food that might have been eaten during the regular fast day, or to make donations of money that would be the equivalent of two meals or more "as those who are liberally inclined and have the means may feel disposed to give." (Messages of the First Presidency 3:282.)

Generally, we have followed this practice in the Church until the present. We recognize that there are many appropriate purposes for fasting, including preparing ourselves to communicate with the Lord, becoming more humble and attuned to the promptings of the Spirit, and to gain strength in overcoming temptations. However, for the moment, let's focus on one significant other reason for fasting: To assist the poor and the needy.

When the fast offering was implemented to assist the poor in Kirtland, many people gave the actual food that would have been on their tables for two meals. Poultry or other meats, eggs, milk, bread or flour to make bread, and produce from the fields, gardens or orchards were common fast-day offerings taken to the bishop's storehouse for distribution to those in need. Later in Church history, it became generally accepted that a contribution of the equivalent amount in cash would be sufficient.

While that amount might still be a suitable contribution for some members of the Church who have limited incomes, most of us can afford to make much greater contributions. Indeed, the majority of us are expected to make more sizeable contributions. President Spencer W. Kimball encouraged members to be more generous in their offerings to the Lord:

"Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous.

"I think we should be very generous and give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more - ten times more where we are in a position to do it.

"Fast offerings have long constituted the means from which the needs of the Lord's poor have been provided. It has been, and now is, the desire and objective of the Church to obtain from fast offerings the necessary funds to meet the cash needs of the welfare program; and to obtain from welfare production projects the commodity needs. If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally." (October 1977 Conference Report or Ensign, November 1977, pp. 78-79; see also April 1974 Conference Report, p. 184, or Ensign, May 1974.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley, in speaking of Church-generated humanitarian relief provided to people in many nations of the world, said: "Funds for these works of mercy have come largely from fast offerings. . . .

"It is not a burden to refrain from two meals a month and give the value thereof to assist in caring for the poor. It is, rather, a blessing. Not only will physical benefits flow from the observance of this principle, but spiritual values also. Our program of the fast day and the fast offering is so simple and so beautiful that I cannot understand why people everywhere do not take it up. . . . " (October 1985 Conference Report, p. 110 or Ensign, November 1985, p. 85.)

How important is it for us to contribute to the fast offering fund? Here are the Lord's own words: "Inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors. . . . Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy." (D&C 42:30-31.)

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