A friend told me about an experiment she tried as president of her ward Relief Society. She wrote a letter on paper approximating official church letterhead and read a fabricated statement from the First Presidency stating that the visiting teaching program was being discontinued. The immediate reaction from the sisters in her ward was relief and joy. But as they discussed the implications, concerns were voiced:
Keeping in touch with less active sisters.
Being aware of the needs of sisters in the ward.
Meeting the needs of the aged and ill.
Just as my friend had hoped, the sisters in her ward concluded that while visiting teaching does take time from their busy lives, it fulfills a need. I forgot to ask my friend if anyone mentioned missing out on the lessons—for my money, the least valuable part of the visit.
The only part of visiting teaching I actually dislike is calling and setting up appointments when it’s my turn. I seldom attend Relief Society, so visiting teaching allows me to get acquainted with women with whom I likely wouldn’t have more than a nodding acquaintance. I find the VT messages trite at best, offensive at worse. Rather than reading quotes from general authorities about the topic, I initiate a conversation to let the sisters and my partner share their thoughts. Since I’m not invited into these women’s homes to present heresy, I refrain from comments that could be perceived as a teensy bit negative such as, “Elder So and So’s conference address was a load of crap.” Or even, “I don’t think we have to support our leaders when we think they’re wrong.” If I can’t find something constructive to say about the topic, I let my partner and our visitee do the discussing and confine my remarks to, “I’m glad you’ve had such comforting experiences with priesthood blessings.”
Receiving visiting teachers is a different situation. While I’m happy to meet with these sweet sisters, their conviction that my spotty church attendance means I am in need of conversion detracts from forming a friendship. After this month’s visit, when I was subjected to hearing the entire text of Boyd K. Packer’s conference address, I have decided to request that my VTs skip reading the lesson. “I’ve already read it. Why don’t you just tell me your own thoughts about it,” will hopefully not be offensive.
I know I’m not the only one who has problems with strictly following the visiting teaching program as it is set up. The answer, I believe, is to individually modify the program to fit our needs rather than to scrap it entirely. For me, the emphasis is on visiting—not teaching—and definitely not preaching.