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Duce's Wild: Will service to the elderly be a casualty of decreased religiosity?

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

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I’ve been haunted by statistics I read recently in a Deseret News article about the growing number of Americans who say they are not affiliated with any faith.

My concerns are not that everyone should sit in a pew somewhere every Sabbath, or even that they read the Bible or Book of Mormon before bedtime.

I worry most that if people are not part of a church congregation, our elderly and homebound neighbors will be neglected.

The Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aids in caring for women of all ages and circumstances through a system of assigned friendships called “visiting teaching.” Currently, my visiting teaching partner is 92 years old. We visit four sisters together as often as her health allows.

My partner is somewhat of a living legend in our community. Her father was one of the first members of the LDS Church in our town and served for decades as a Sunday School president — teaching, serving and cleaning the upper dance floor of the IOOF building after weekend parties in order for the Saints to have somewhere to meet. She continues his legacy of faithfulness and service.

She still lives at home thanks to her dedicated children, and her favorite place in the world is a little round deck where she’s surrounded by flowering pots and can gaze at mountain vistas.

Not long ago, her arm was in a splint and she didn’t feel well enough to join me in taking another homebound sister out for ice cream. So we brought a hot fudge milkshake to her. She was sitting on the deck and we surprised her with our cool treat on such a warm day.

I left knowing full well that I would not have made the time to regularly visit these wonderful, lonesome ladies unless I had the structure of my religion. In return, my own brand of lonesomeness amid the chaos of a busy life virtually disappeared.

Similarly, my teenage daughters would rarely make time for meaningful service without the structure of the LDS Young Women program. My 14-year-old twins have earned their Personal Progress Award and are now hoping for additional “Honor Bees” that recognize community service, among other noble tasks. Their lives are packed with prep sports, school clubs and honor classes, yet they spent last Saturday helping a woman with Parkinson’s disease and a disintegrating spine unpack in her new assisted-living apartment.

The woman is not of our faith, is too young to be homebound with a failing body and is as independent in spirit as one could get. But that didn’t change the fact that after six months, she was still living amid cardboard boxes because she lacked the energy or strength to make significant progress.

In six hours, my girls used their organizational skills to fill bookshelves, curio cabinets and linen closets with items from towering boxes. The work was fun as they unpacked beautiful surprises and received continuous compliments from the grateful woman.

I hope the experience was more than a one-time happiness high but fertilizer on their seedlings of service and religiosity.

The report released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and referenced in that Deseret News article, said young adults are the segment of the American population most significantly shedding religious affiliation. While young adults may not want the lifestyle of their parents or their religious community, I do hope they’ll reconsider belonging to a congregation for the simple, spiritual opportunity of mingling with our elderly and receiving their wisdom and unconditional love.

I think most would agree that young adulthood can be as lonely a stage of life as those golden years. So a service-oriented alliance formed through religious affiliation creates significant opportunities for them to serve each other and will result in a stronger America.

That way, when storms rage and windstorms topple our peace, we won’t just be thinking of ourselves. And those in uniform won’t be our only heroes. We can be heroes to each other in good times and bad.

Unsung service is the key.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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