My father would have been 98 on Monday (22 October). It happened that I was assigned to give a message for the office devotional that day. In tribute to dad and to follow up on General Conference, I shared some thoughts from a talk I gave in Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting in 1999 called “The Church as an Auxiliary to the Family.” Here is the talk, reconstructed from old notes. Happy birthday dad! You would be pleased to know that the Prophet is emphasizing a “home-centered and Church-supported plan to learn doctrine.”
The Church as an Auxiliary to the Family
(19 September 1999)
We think of the Church as containing auxiliaries: the Sunday School, Relief Society, and Primary. Young Women, and Young Men. But in another sense, the Church is itself an auxiliary (or “help”) to the family. It helps parents fulfill their responsibility to bring their families home.
The scriptural theme the Stake Presidency chose for this meeting is:
“Wherefore, let them bring their families to this land, as they shall counsel between themselves and me. For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things.” (D&C 58:25-26)
Brethren, as fathers we have the primary responsibility to bring our families to our heavenly home. God will not command us in all things as to how, but He will hold us accountable for the discharge of our sacred duty as fathers to help our family return to Him. The Church can and does help us, but we cannot fob off to others our fundamental responsibility to teach the gospel to our family.
A recent letter from The First Presidency (11 Feb. 1999) says: “The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential function in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.” Do you suppose that the Church itself is one of those instrumentalities that cannot replace home and parents? The First Presidency implies so in their letter, advising Church leaders not to let Church programs become so time-consuming that they get in way of parents raising their children “in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).
This counsel is not new. President Kimball taught: “It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children. The Sunday School, Primary, MIA and other organizations of the Church play a secondary role” (Teachings, p. 332).
Let me illustrate how we as fathers can take the initiative to teach the gospel in our homes such that the Church becomes an auxiliary to the family. I will focus on the father I know best, my own father. Not because he was a perfect father. He was not. But because he was a patriarch who did many things of his own free will to bring to pass righteousness in his home. He and my mother made the home the center of gospel living and teaching for their children. The Church played a huge role in our family life; it provided essential ordinances and abundant opportunities to serve. But in terms of my spiritual development, the Church was an auxiliary to my family. My parents were my best and most influential teachers, choristers, advisers, activity leaders, and so forth. Their teachings, their prayers, their testimonies were far and away the most decisive influences on me. Let me illustrate:
- My Parents as Song Leaders: My dad was not musical, and mom was only a little more so, but they were the most important music leaders in my spiritual life. Far more influential than Primary or ward choristers, or the conductor of the Tabernacle Choir. I cherish sweet memories of mom and dad singing hymns together as we drove in the night through the desert on family vacations to Utah. Mom would sing harmony to dad’s melody and I would listen or join in from the back seat. These tender musical moments live in the memory more than any ward choir I’ve been in.
My father was also, in his inimitable way, the most important chorister for our family. Dad would march us in a line around house singing together “Count Your Many Blessings.” He emade sure that the saints in his household went marching into the future with faith and optimism.
B. My Parents as Activity Leaders: Mom and dad were family activity leaders. They would take us to the park for early morning breakfasts. They would play old-fashioned games with us like “No Bears Are Out Tonight” and “Kick the Can.” I played a lot of school and church ball in my youth. Dad never coached any team I played on, but he taught me to “keep my eye on the ball”—not a bad lesson for life as well as sports! And he was our cheerleader in the stands in ways that sometimes embarrassed us. Dad wanted us to win, but most of all my parents taught us how to win and lose with grace.
C. My Parents as Public Speaking Specialists: Dad and mom were also our family public speaking specialists, especially dad. He taught us never to read a talk but to look the audience in the eye and speak with enthusiasm from the heart. He encouraged us to use scriptures and to bear testimony. I learned by precept and example from dad and mom how to give talks and pray. The Church provided a setting where I used speaking and teaching skills I learned from my parents. It was auxiliary to the family.
D. My Parents as Teachers: Mom and dad were my principle gospel doctrine teachers. I don’t recall learning any doctrine at church that I hadn’t already learned at home. (Well, at least true doctrine.) They did not just teach us in formal settings, like family home evenings. I remember many spontaneous gospel conversations with children flopped on my parents’ bed or sitting around the dinner table. Family gospel conversations especially centered on the plan of salvation. Sometimes dad even got out the flannel board he used as a stake missionary to help us visualize the plan. In our family, the commandments were not isolated do’s and don’ts but firmly nested in God’s plan of happiness. (Read Alma 12:32).
Mom and dad loved the scriptures. Their well-marked scriptures were on the night stands by my parents’ bed. I once asked my Seminary teacher an obscure gospel question. He replied, wisely, “Go, ask your dad. I did and dad answered my question from the scriptures.
Likewise, Mom introduced us to the Book of Mormon by telling us its stories. She had special disdain for the devious Amalickiah. Whenever she said his name, she would mutter “that old snake in the grass.” To this day, for me the full name of this Book of Mormon villain is “Amalickiah, that old snake in the grass.”
Mom and dad frequently bore their testimonies. They did this not only in testimony meetings at Church, but in our home. We knew what they believed and that they believed. They were open and intentional about teaching the gospel to their family. Like Nephi, I had goodly parents who taught me.
E. My Parents as Advisers: We have many advisers in Church, including devoted Priesthood, Scouting, and auxiliary leaders, whom we go to for counsel. I am grateful for my advisers, but my parents were my best gospel advisers and counselors. I went to them with the concerns of my heart. It is also true that in my later teen years, I would sometimes argue with dad and mom about politics, war, and current events. It was the 60’s! But he and mom kept the channels of communication open. I knew that they loved me even when we disagreed.
F. My Parents as Matriarch and Patriarch: Above all, mom and dad were the most important matriarch and patriarch in my life. Here is an envelope that I keep by my bedside. It contains patriarchal blessings. Only one is the blessing I received from an ordained Church patriarch—a blessing that has been a great help to me. The other “patriarchal blessings” in the envelope consist of transcripts and notes from blessings by my dad. One is a blessing he pronounced on each child in a letter home he wrote one when he was away for the summer from the family. I was only two. Another is a blessing he gave me and each of his children when I was fourteen. Another is a blessing he gave me when I got married. These father’s blessings have been just as important spiritual guides for my life as my patriarchal blessing. Indeed, the blessing I received from dad at fourteen has served as a sort of Sacred Grove experience for me. It has been an anchor during times of spiritual struggle because the spirit of revelation was so powerful in the room when I received it.
Likewise, I have been blessed by matriarchal testimonies. My mom has a particularly ardent, deep, and tender testimony of the Savior. She often chokes with emotion as she speaks of the Atonement. She wrote her testimony of the Savior so her posterity could have it. It is a cherished matriarchal document in my envelope of blessings. Mom’s love for the Savior has had a profound influence on me and on all her children.
These are some ways my parents have acted as patriarch and matriarch to their family. They are unsponsored activities. In these ways, my parents have used their agency to instill the gospel in their children and bring them home.
My parents have been explicit and intentional about this. For many years, they shared their desire to have “no empty chairs” in the Celestial room when their last child was married. Thus, when my youngest brother got married, the other twelve brothers and sisters with our spouses all trekked across the country to Chicago where my parents were serving as missionaries so that we could all be there for his temple wedding. There were no empty chairs.
Mom and dad continue to actively teach the gospel to their grandchildren just as they did to their children. Some grandchildren have strayed. Seeing this, dad and mom sought opportunities to re-instill testimony; they even taught their wayward grandchildren the missionary lessons in an effort to help them return to the fold of faith. Mom and dad do not rely on the Church alone to rescue their posterity—though we are all deeply grateful for the support of home teachers, visiting teachers, Priesthood and Auxiliary leaders. They go after their lost sheep themselves.
This is what patriarchs and matriarchs do: they rescue, give blessings, teach, testify, receive revelation. Dad often shares with us what he felt was a revelation that came to him in temple a few years ago. It is this: “In God’s divine plan all achievements will fade into oblivion except personal righteousness.” He wants this verity engraved not only on his tombstone but on our hearts.
In conclusion: Brethren, let us live up to our privileges to do much good of our own free will to bring about righteousness in our families! As fathers, we are privileged to be patriarchs, teachers, choristers, activity leaders, coaches, counselors, advisers, etc. for our families. We don’t need a Church calling for these assignments. They come with the calling of father. We are greatly blessed that God has restored His Church to administer the ordinances of salvation and to help us in the perfecting of his children. But it doesn’t take a ward to raise a child, though a ward can help. It takes parents. The Church is God’s auxiliary to the family. It exists to assist us in the great task of bringing His children home.