What Crafting-as-Ministering Can Miss
There’s a joke among Mormons about shoving a cookie through another Mormon’s mail slot on the last day of the month. Actually, I’m not entirely sure it’s a joke. I grew up with my family getting regular visits from ‘home teachers,’ men assigned to my family to check in monthly and offer spiritual lessons. My mother had ‘visiting teachers,’ two women assigned to her. I did too, when I went off to college. (And we ourselves were assigned other women to visit.) Stories abound about gung-ho Mormons scrambling to meet their obligation before they turn the page of their calendars.
But until recently, I had never known about the crafty exuberance this duty brings out. (Thank you, internet.) “You have only 2.5 days to go see your sweet sisters,” one blog warns, offering instructions to attach a decorative Bible verse to a pack of Lifesavers to coordinate with the month’s message. (“Charity never faileth.” Corinthians 13:8.) Other crafters suggest other projects:
- potpourri gift tags with the note, “Pondering messages from the General Conference just makes SCENTS”
- a sticker and card set attached to a Hostess Cupcake “Find the goodness inside” (white and gummy?)
- mini M&Ms with messages like “our Mission is to Minister,”
- cute insects on a golden card attached to a honey bear ask sisters to “BEE-lieve in o-BEE-dience”
The faithful themselves acknowledge that the restored Gospel has brought out the craft instinct. Bonnie Oscarson, president of the Church’s Young Women’s Organization until 2018, has a Pinterest page that extends the 13th article of faith: “ ‘If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’ And may I add just downright cute to the list?” If this piques your interest, a group of over a dozen LDS crafters have an offer: they’ll send a packet of their reflections on craft and faith, along with a copy of the Book of Mormon.
A couple articles ponder why so many crafters are LDS. In one, scholar Patrick Mason ascribes it to the pioneer days. He explains that Prophet Brigham Young discouraged Mormons from trade with nonmembers, which inculcated a culture of making things. In that same article, interviewees at a craft show ascribe it to skills taught in the Church Young Women’s Program and ‘Super-Saturdays’ hosted by Relief Society, where women get together to craft. (Confession: I made it to adulthood without learning to knit, sew, or can fruit, though certainly not for lack of opportunity.) Also, those turning it into an enterprise can avoid working outside the home. One crafter refers to herself as a “mompreneur.”
I suspect other, less-discussed reasons why crafting and Mormonism go hand-in-hand, and that’s why I’m a little creeped out to see this cornucopia of visiting teaching gift ideas. (NB: I stumbled onto all this reviewing old visiting teaching messages. The name of the practice was changed from “visiting teaching” to “ministering” in 2018 to promote more flexibility. I hope that’s happened, but it looks to me like a name change.)
I can’t help but notice that crafting allows creativity without risk. Energy flows toward demonstrating faith, not challenging it. And I’m not the first to conclude that the Church encourages activity over thought. (I’d wager the label “active member” is more common and meaningful than “faithful” member.) As one crafter explains, Mormons are “people who like to do things.”
What I see on Pinterest is more about performance than service. Printables and gifts emphasize the cuteness and cleverness of product and producer, not the needs of the recipient. Certainly there is nothing wrong with making cute things and giving them away; I am not questioning the faith or sincerity of individual crafters. But I can’t help but wonder if crafting is yet another way to gain compliments and feel productive while avoiding tough conversations, such as exactly why the sweet sister assigned to you has no interest in attending Sacrament meeting.
It is all too easy to focus on cutting and coloring and forget that a simple visit, a question about what’s been going on in someone’s life, might mean much more than a bag of candy tied up with a pun and ribbon.
Image credit: CHanson