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Mormonism at its best: The sacrament of helping other people move

Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

Recently, my older sister and her son moved out of our basement and into their own home. She had spent a year with us following a difficult divorce after 30 years of marriage. She needed the time and space to figure out who she was again, find a job that could support her and her son (who is diabetic and has pretty high medical expenses), and deal with some mental health issues.

We had told her we were willing to take her in for three years, but she ended up only staying one. She had found a part-time job that allowed her to work at home four out of five days a week and still paid enough for her expenses. Her mood and mental health were much, much better, and things are looking good for both her and her son.

What does any of this have to do with Mormonism?

My sister had asked our family to be ready to help her move on a Saturday from noon to 2:00, but she hadn’t thought about calling anyone else to help. She had rented a truck and had spent the whole week making sure that she had time to box up her things. On Friday morning, a couple of women from the ward were helping her box and label things so that it would be obvious which room they went to on the other end, and how heavy they were, so that they could be put in the truck in the proper order. These women had simply volunteered to help; they weren’t assigned to be her visiting teachers. They came because someone needed them and because they believed that God would have wanted them to help.

Saturday morning, I called my sister’s home teacher, whom she had been reluctant to contact because he was receiving treatment for cancer. He had asked me several times at church if there was more he could do to help. He had had difficulty getting in touch with my sister because she was gone every other weekend due to custody issues, and also because, as it turned out, he didn’t have her cell phone number. He came and rounded up three other high priests to help load. My husband called the Elders Quorum president, and got another three men to help.

At exactly 12:00, the first Mormon mover arrived and was astonished to see how much my sister and the Relief Society sisters had already accomplished. It took only one hour with all these people to help to get everything into the truck. My husband, who suffers from a ruptured disk and scoliosis, was relieved not to have to do all the heavy lifting himself. We did have one injury from a pinched finger with the dolly use (The Elders Quorum President nearly fainted, but didn’t end up in the hospital).

moving boxesWatching and participating in this event was one of the most spiritual moments in my life. I felt on the edge of tears in the simple act of carrying boxes up the stairs. We had moved into this ward ourselves eleven years previously, and some of the same people were here, helping my sister move out. It was an act of service, but it also felt like a kind of ceremony, a rite of passage, moving from dependence to independence.

I thought of the temple and of crossing through the veil, and this felt very similar to me in so many ways. Here were men helping women, offering a hand even if we were not well known to each other. I thought of Christ’s sermon to his apostles about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned. Those who served my sister were surely serving Christ in her place.

Why do Mormons do this? It seems a strange way of distinguishing ourselves as a religion, this helping people to move in and out.

Though most often Mormons help other Mormons, it is not exclusive. I’ve seen my husband hurry over to help neighbors who have pulled up with a moving van, whether they were Mormon or not. And though it is more traditional for women to help by bringing over a hot meal and a Mormon sweet treat, women also help pack, load, and unpack. Yes, there are times when things are accidentally broken in transit, when someone is injured, and when there are hour-long discussions of how a couch is going to fit through a door.

But this is service in its raw form. We offer our backs to those who have done little more than ask for help. We offer time and we show love. It should always feel sacred. I am just glad I felt the sacred nature of this mundane task that day.


OTHER GUEST POSTS BY METTE HARRISON:


Mette Ivie Harrison, a monthly guest here at Flunking Sainthood, is a novelist whose whodunit The Bishop’s Wife has earned rave reviews since it was released late last year. She has a PhD from Princeton University and is a nationally ranked triathlete.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

18 Comments

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  • After the past week, with the Mormon issues and then the attack on Paris, your article feels like a spring breeze. Thank you for reminding us of how good Mormon people are and how good it feels to know there is kindness in the world.

  • Yes. This is a large part of why I stay, the community of saints.

    It’s like being Amish but with conventional clothing, engagement in the World and technology.

  • One of a hundred reasons why Mormons who feel bad about certain policies don’t “just leave.” My family’s move from Illinois to Colorado 28 years ago is another good example. I got very sick with food poisoning a few days before we were to leave, and I ended up sick and weak in bed on moving day, watching members of our DeKalb Ward–men, women, and young people–packing and loading up stuff for our young family of six. We had called the Bishop of the ward in the Boulder area where we hoped to live (we hadn’t found a place after two reconnaissance trips out). We pulled into the chapel parking lot with our U-haul and Ram van, and church guys we had never seen before showed up to help us unload most of our stuff into a storage unit. When we finally got into a house, they were there again, helping us move stuff from storage into our house. My husband, kids, and I have been on the giving end, too–scores of times. It’s a goodbye/hello ritual that I cherish!

  • I have to say, the comment “how good Mormon people are” struck me as odd. In my experience, Mormons aren’t much different from any other group. There’s good ones and bad ones. Also, I don’t see helping people move as a particularly Mormon thing. Everybody does it.

  • Of course, one of you Nazarene and nondenominational ninnies have to show up and try to put your dig in. Give it up. . . . . .the debate is between the CofJClds and the Catholic churches (who didn’t give you permission to leave).

  • It is so nice to know we can call and people come to help so willingly.

    When my son and I moved from one state to another, I can’t tell you how surprised I was that about 30 people from the ward showed up!!! It was like we had a mini ward party and I hadn’t felt that loved in ages n’ ages!! So grateful, very grateful.

  • What Mormons do with helping people move is unparalleled anywhere. I have not only helped non members move but helped in getting the word out. All of these non members told me they have never experienced such an organization of people just showing up to help people they don’t know. They could not even get friends to help… But the Mormons showed up.

  • The unfortunate side of helping people move are those that take advantage of it when they could easily handle the job themselves with family help. I have seen people sit on a chair in the shade drinking beer while good people do the work.
    The example given is the ideal, the reality is usually much different.

  • Well, you will not be seeing any Mormon moving party with beer. LOL. Also the reality of Mormon moves are we don’t care if the people moving help or not, we are just there and as a matter of fact, it’s all the better if the moving party doesn’t help much and just supervises, we’re just happy to be helping. That’s the reality I know.

  • I agree with John.

    As I commented above, I genuinely enjoy this aspect of the Mormon experience. And I’m proud of it. Usually, there is a joy of service and feeling of camaraderie with those working alongside.

    But, yes, it is abused. First, it’s not that expensive to pay movers. So it’s irksome when you’re called on to help people move from a 4,000 sq. foot home to even bigger house. More than once members of the elders’ quorum have whispered to each other about the brother moving “Cheap jerk. Does he think we don’t have anything better to do today?” Second, anticipating our help sometimes turns into an off-putting sense of entitlement that we’ll also box and clean.

  • We had lived in the same Ward for over 20 years and when we moved no one showed up to help! Everyone knew we were moving and had said good by the Sunday before. Only non-member friends showed up. At the last minute my visiting teacher showed up with a birthday cake for my daughter and she was furious that no one had come to help. We moved to another town about 50 miles away and knew several people in our new Ward. When we arrived at the house with our loaded vehicles and rental truck there was a note on our door with a name and phone number to call for help unloading. We didn’t know the man at all but after our call we had about 10 Priesthood holders there to help. Boy, did that impress my non-member friends! We were welcomed with such love and enthusiasm into our new Ward. A couple years later the Wards split and we moved on to a new Ward. Last year the Wards split again and we are back in our first Ward and were again welcomed with open arms. I love how we help eachother!

  • Howdy. I’ve been an LDS member since 1987. I moved a lot of families in 25+ years. Some take it for granted… however most are deeply appreciate for the service. I’ve always thanked the Lord for the opportunity. Thank you. ~ Alan

  • Mette Harrison’s recent article at Huffington Post (13 Ways to Protest the New Policy for Active Mormons) is appalling. I can’t any longer read articles like this one here without thinking of other articles such as that one. If you think about it, she is calling for protest activity against doctrine and policies promulgated for the Church by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, under the direction (as we believe) of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The question is, does Mette Harrison likewise believe that this is a Church led by an inspired priesthood. It strikes me that she is walking up to and maybe over the line crossed by Kate Kelly and others. It other words, it is fine and proper to express personal theological views and to express the thoughts of one’s conscience. It may be inconsistent with Church membership to organize protest activity against priesthood leadership and revealed doctrine.

  • I know you posted this 8 mos. ago, but I had to add that after reading your post and reading the Huffington Post article, I couldn’t agree more. And reading her other articles, well, as much as I could read, and perusing through her blog, etc., she just comes off as someone who looks for the “bad” in the church and looks for fault and it really taints the way she sees things. It’s a “blame the church first” type of attitude. This article about Mormon movers is sure an exception to what she usually writes.

    I am also leery of people whose second nature tendency it is to publicly post articles about how they feel about things. And she is quite prolific. And that’s not even counting her Twitter account. It just rubs me the wrong way. And she is always complaining about something.

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