A History of Living Providently

Although the Church welfare plan was not yet formalized, the early Saints recognized the importance of living a self-reliant life, caring for the poor and needy, and serving others. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” 1

Not long after the Church was established, small bishops’ storehouses and tithing offices were erected to help the needy. Joseph Smith instituted the gathering of fast offerings in Kirtland, Ohio, during the 1830s. 2 The principle of tithing was also introduced during this period (see D&C 119). Tithing and fast offerings were paid in the form of labor, produce, and other commodities. Bishops and branch presidents oversaw the distribution of these resources as they do today. 3

Many of the early Saints struggled to support themselves. To combat idleness, Church leaders and members united to find ways to create sustainable livelihoods. Some found work constructing Church buildings and completing public works projects. Others farmed and sold goods to provide for themselves and their families. As they labored together, the Saints were blessed with enough to meet their needs.

While the challenges of our time are different, Latter-day Saints continue to provide for themselves and care for the poor and needy by following the teachings of the Savior and the example set by previous generations.

“When we fast, … we feel hunger. And for a short time, we literally put ourselves in the position of the hungry and needy. As we do so, we have greater understanding of the deprivations they might feel. When we give to the bishop an offering to relieve the suffering of others, we not only do something sublime for others, but we do something wonderful for ourselves as well.”

—Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

Continue to the next pageCatching the Vision of Self-Reliance

Related Addresses


  1. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 330–31.
  2. See Howard W. Hunter, “Fast Day,” October 1985 general conference.
  3. See Glen L. Rudd, Pure Religion (1995), 2, 4.