My Dear Reader,
Never in my life has Family Home Evening (FHE) been such an issue as when I've been at college. While it's true that the LDS Church strongly encourages each family to dedicate every Monday night to being together, it gets kind of strange when you're a thousand miles away from your family, because the rule still applies. And when you're obligated to dedicate every Monday night to a family that's not present, the leaders of the Church do something that must look very strange to the outside world: they create a fake family made out of family-less people just for the sake of preserving FHE. And when we get to the point where a person is assigned to play the role of the father and another to be the mother, each only for a couple of hours on one day of the week, it becomes obvious that we are indeed a peculiar people.
For five years now, I've been put in these faux families, and for five years I've been wondering why we bother. I mean, really. It's not like it creates real families, unless you count the people who find their future spouses in these groups. But after a couple of years of meditation on the subject, I've come to realize that for the first time in my life, I really understand how important FHE really is to the Church, and perhaps I've gained a little insight into why we do it in the first place. Something that I continually notice about us Mormons is that we tend to have a group mentality, that we worry about other Mormons, whether we know them personally or not. This kind of group consciousness expresses itself in various ways, inspiring people to do such things as introduce themselves to a newcomer at church and evaluate how well famous Mormons represent us to the world. I think that a lot of this comes from the way that the Church is organized, from something as small as an FHE group to something bigger, such as a congregation. It works out that each person in the LDS Church belongs to several groups, based on where they live (wards and stakes), what gender they are (Elder's Quorum/Relief Society, etc.), and how old they are (Sunday school/Primary). In addition to that, each person is given a specific function within these groups, and is put into another group based on what his or her job happens to be.
While I'm sure that the way I've described it makes the entire system seem artificial, since the way people are organized tends to be based on somewhat biological qualities rather than accomplishments or worthiness, the effect is quite the opposite. Because of the way that we are all is organized, it becomes is clear to each person that he or she belongs somewhere, is needed, and has value, and this all end up occurring regardless of how close to God he or she happens to be at the time. In my twenty-two years of experience with Mormonism, I've come to see how often something that initially seems strange turns out to be a clever and effective way of letting each individual know that they have value. In fact, I'd venture to say that when these structures are taken seriously and used to the greatest advantage of those within them, a person has the opportunity to truly feel that they belong right where he or she is, and gets the chance to be loved by those around them. In the best of examples, this leads to a kind of unity that is unattainable by any other organization ever devised, and this unity begins to approach the kind of unity that I imagine exists where God is. And then, through this seemingly artificial and strange organization, a person starts to see what it's like to be loved by God. And while I know for a fact that there are many other ways to feel God's love, no matter what church a human being attends, I have also observed on a regular basis how the very careful way in which my church happens to be structured declares the love of God and the worth of souls to those who aren't inclined to hear the message any other way. And when I take all of the above into account, something as simple as FHE starts to look pretty important.
Last week, I was assigned to become one of these faux mothers. It's the third time in five years that I've served that function, but I think that in five years, this might be the first time that I've really understood how important my job could be. While I know that I can only do so much, I think that I've actually started to take FHE seriously, and that might turn out to be the first step in a completely unexpected journey, because now I have a mission, and now I know that I share this mission with everyone who loves God.
Regards, best wishes, and love,