“This New Program Called Special Interest,” Ensign, Mar. 1974, 17
A few months ago, former President Harold B. Lee received a letter from a faithful single sister in the Special Interest age group. There were not many in her circumstances who were active in her home ward, so although she was not a student, she had been attending one of the University of Utah branches where she found activities and lessons that were stimulating.
“Each time I went back to my home ward,” she said, “I found nothing.” She especially appreciated the insight and understanding that the branch president demonstrated concerning the situation of the adult single members.
When it was determined that those attending the University of Utah branches who were not students should attend their home wards, she expressed anxiety as to what she would be returning home to. Her closing comments were significant: “Please, I have been faithful to the Church all of my life. It would be nice to know my membership is wanted by making a place for me within the framework of the organization.”
Her letter was referred to the managing directors of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA. She was told that the many meaningful involvements in student branches “led the First Presidency, under the inspiration of the Lord, to seek to have nonstudent single members of all ages experience involvement, as far as possible, in their home wards and stakes.” It was further suggested that “it would be both inadvisable and impossible to have separate facilities and separate branches for the more than 650,000 adult single members of the Church. More important is to make all members, including the singles, feel that there is a place for them within the framework of the divine church.”
Building separate facilities and having separate activities can have a tendency to make singles feel different and separated from the rest of Christ’s church. It is hoped that the single adult members of the Church will be warmly folded into the mainstream of the Church. The inspiration of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, in establishing the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program of the Church, has already resulted in many conversions, reactivations, and service and activity projects toward that end.
Life and activity in the Church seemed to be a roller coaster ride for an over-30-year-old northern California freelance writer until he found the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program a few short months ago. He had been actively involved in the serviceman’s program in Korea. Later he served a mission and then was elders quorum president. But he soon slipped into inactivity.
Several months later, as the new Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program was being implemented, he became involved again. Since that time, his activity has increased and his circle of associates has changed almost totally. He is an outstanding young man and serves as a counselor to the president of a regional Special Interest committee and president of a stake Special Interest council.
A young sister from an Arizona stake, like many vibrant and active young ladies of her age, didn’t yet have an interest in the “family” orientation of Relief Society. Consequently, this young lady and many like her were inactive in that program. A short time ago the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA was implemented in the wards of her stake, and this beautiful single sister soon found herself attending a Sunday morning Relief Society meeting for single women of her own age. This sister joined in and is now serving as a committee chairman, helping with the program for older people in her stake. “This program is the best I have ever seen, because it involves people doing things instead of just sitting there,” she concluded.
Life was difficult for a middle-aged Arab who had recently lost his wife. He was lost, lonely, and discouraged. He had been a member of several singles groups when one day he met a young lady from a southern California stake. She introduced him to the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA Special Interest program, and he soon found a great warmth, a belonging, and a love in his association with the Special Interest members of the region. He soon learned of the gospel message; and through the patience, love, and understanding of his Special Interest companions, he was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said gratefully after his conversion, “Everything seems to be truth and love.”
Special people helping special people seems to be the theme of an Arizona stake. Stake Special Interest leaders enthusiastically mailed personnel profile forms to each Special Interest member of their stake. These leaders felt the personnel profile sheet would encourage attendance and activity at Special Interest functions.
But for one young divorced sister, the personnel profile drew a completely different reaction. This young sister was close to her family, and she felt that she was well adjusted in her own life and didn’t feel that she needed to be forced into a programmed association. She resented being told she had to associate with a certain group of people and she felt she was capable of running her own life.
In a meeting with leaders of the stake Special Interest program, it was explained to her that she had a great deal to offer. She could assist others to make the adjustment that she had and find the same satisfaction in life that she evidently felt. With a new understanding of her calling—special people helping other people—and realizing that she wasn’t being limited in her choices but was being asked to help others, she changed her attitude and is now helping in the program.
For another sister, life turned around when she found the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program. “It was just like the beginning of a new life,” she said, recalling her Special Interest activities in southern California. “For someone who is single and seeking people with the same moral standards and the same interests in life, the Church program was an answer to my prayers. I found, finally, that here I could meet not one person, but a whole group of people together in one place. I knew that it was here I belonged, where I could find myself, where I was happy and comfortable.”
She continued: “Here I found a satisfying combination of spirituality, social activity, and service opportunities.” She had been a registered nurse with high personal standards when the missionaries found her and taught her the lessons before her conversion. She began to attend one of the home evening groups. In addition to the weekly family home evening lessons, she participated in service projects, weekly Sunday evening firesides, and meetings on alternate Sundays for single women. But her success story was later shared by another person.
Some months before she joined the Church, a young man working as a school teacher in another area of California also joined the Church and became active in a home evening group. Their paths crossed as they met at one of the single adult functions and later they were married in the Los Angeles Temple.
A regional Special Interest president writes: “Take the case of Ann. She was, in her words, ‘a recluse.’ She had been a member of the Church for 13 years but active for only about five of those years. ‘I’d go home from work on Friday night,’ Ann would say, ‘and shut my front door, and no one would see me again until Monday morning.’ A persistent bishop got her to promise to start coming to church and then, in the next breath, asked if she would serve as Special Interest ward representative. She said it took about six months for her to get into the program but now she has ‘found a place in her church.’
“There is no priesthood in Ann’s home where she lives with her daughter, and the daughter, worried about her mom, used to stay home from her own activities to keep her mother company. Now Ann says, ‘I have an activity to attend and my daughter is able to be with her age group. I have a Special Interest family because I feel that close to the group in my stake.’ Ann believes the Lord calls people to positions to help one grow.”
The Savior said: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21.)
Service to others is the love of our Father in heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ. Service is one of the cornerstones upon which the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program is built.
Service in a midwestern stake was like starting a row of dominoes falling. A young divorcée with five children, ranging in age from 18 months to 10 years, had purchased some linoleum more than three years ago to be laid in a room of her home. But through a series of unfortunate circumstances and a great deal of pride in not wanting to ask for help, this sister had never had the linoleum laid. The stake Special Interest representative heard about the problem and called on some brethren in the stake who agreed to lay the linoleum.
The spirit of service became so infectious that, while they were on the project, the brethren fixed seven windows in her home, poured a concrete slab in what had been a mud hole leading into the home, and purchased and laid additional linoleum in the kitchen.
This divorced sister, also feeling the spirit of service, gathered her young family around her, and, with several sisters in the stake Special Interest program, made arrangements to pull weeds for another sister in the stake at the same time the linoleum was being laid in her home.
Concern for the individual appeared to be the foremost thought in the minds of a brother and sister in a Salt Lake City ward whose family had grown up and left them. They were called to serve as family home evening group leaders for a group of ten widows in their ward. At first, the meetings were attended by just two of the ten sisters. After prayerful thought and a lot of hard work, this couple now has a regular group that has included as many as 13 who look forward to having family home evening each week. One appreciative member of the group said about these meetings, “We have learned many wonderful things in your home that we don’t hear anywhere else.”
There is unlimited variation in Special Interest group activities. Here are some on a random basis throughout the Church:
The Glory of God Is Intelligence Night. Some members participated in activities and games emphasizing spiritual growth, gospel knowledge, secular knowledge, and other gospel subjects.
Talent Show. Members demonstrated their various talents: singing, reading skits, musical ensembles, displays in arts and crafts, and other instructive and informative displays.
Stake Fair. A stake Special Interest group conducted a fair, and each ward constructed a booth where a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Dinner was served and about 80 persons, including children of those widowed or divorced, attended.
Missionary Activity. Active members spent one day going out to meet with the inactive members and ended the day with a pizza party.
Institute Class. An institute class was held for the Special Interest members on Wednesday evenings, followed by a group social activity.
Art Festival. A Special Interest group displayed the handicrafts, paintings, and sculpturing of its members and presented musical performances and poetry readings.
Secret Pal Program. Members were assigned to be a “secret pal” to someone else. The “secret pal” sent birthday cards and showed in other ways that he cared.
Saturday Matinee. A stake held a Saturday afternoon matinee of “The Great Waltz” for shut-ins who could not get out in the evening.
Tutors for Lamanite Children. Members of a Special Interest group took a special interest in the Lamanite children in the wards and stakes of their area by tutoring those who could benefit by this service.
Specialty Dish Dinner. One member was assigned to coordinate the menu for this activity, and then the participating members told the coordinator which of their favorite dishes they would bring to the dinner.
Birthday Party. A birthday party was held to celebrate everyone’s birthday with “white elephant” gifts, a cake decorating contest, games, refreshments, and other activities.
White Glove Concert. This performance of classical, contemporary, and original music by 14 professional and amateur performers was presented to a Special Interest group in formal attire.
Bread Bake. Members between the ages of 30 and 35 got together and made bread to take to new families, new mothers, and shut-ins in the stake.
Outing with Orphans. A group got together with a number of orphans and played games and roasted hot dogs.
Tubing Party. A group collected innertubes and used them to slide down snow-covered hills. Later, they gathered at a home for refreshments, games, and singing.
Sacrament Meeting Program. Each month, a group went to each ward in their stake to present a sacrament meeting. Different individuals participated in different meetings.
Clearing Trails. This group helped clear the trails in a new state park. Each person had a sponsor who would pay a wage for doing the work. The money was then donated to the Kidney Association of Oregon. This same stake was involved in “Success Unlimited,” an annual area event involving workshops and service projects.
One Special Interest Leader summed up the new program in this manner: “I believe this program has been directly inspired by our Heavenly Father to bless our lives. We should work diligently to reach out and bring into the program all those who are not now active so that their lives may also be blessed and their testimonies will grow and we will all be prepared to return to our Heavenly Father. I have never been happier than I am right now working in this new program.”