What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? (Luke 15:4)
Every ward has them: People who for one reason or another remain on the records of the Church but who pretty much want nothing whatsoever to do with it. They’re the folks who have not yet taken the ultimate step of demanding that their names be removed from the rolls, but they’re wishing we would, you know, take the hint. They’re not just lost lambs; they’re “get lost” lambs.
Meanwhile, the Bishop and the Elders Quorum President and who-knows-how-many members of the Relief Society are trying to “get in the door” so that they can bring these sheep back into the flock. We often send our very best people in an effort to win them over (or maybe wear them down), because we have all heard stories about the one guy who after 50 years of hiding behind the curtain finally opened the door and went on to become a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy. We know, deep down, that staying connected is our duty, but in the back of our minds we can’t help but wonder if in the process of tailing the one we’re sapping the willing of their enthusiasm or misallocating our finite human resources and squandering a chance to provide more fruitful service elsewhere. In fact, at this very moment, somewhere in this worldwide church, someone is sitting in a PEC meeting grappling with this very problem.
In the fall of 2000 I found myself in just such a meeting when someone—facetiously—suggested that we might all be better off if we could just home teach all of these “extremely less active” members in some more efficient manner: post a proclamation in the town square, perhaps, or submit a monthly message to the Personals section of the local paper. Then, as is often the case in such moments, facetiousness gave way to thoughtful discussion, and off-the-wall thinking was replaced by out-of-the-box solutions. The solution in this case was “home teaching by mail.”
Now before you report us all to Salt Lake, let me explain our reasoning. The only people eligible for this experiment were those who had resisted every previous approach by Home and Visiting Teachers. In some cases they had expressed open hostility to such visitors and in others they were reasonably nice but resolutely uncooperative. So we figured that if we couldn’t get through the door, we could maybe sneak in through the mailbox. In any case, we knew we couldn’t do any worse than we were doing already, and we might—just might—achieve some measure of success through an unconventional approach. Worst case, we figured, we would ensure that these prodigals knew the name and phone number of someone in the ward on the off-chance that they decided—finally—to take a few cautious steps toward home.
The next thing I knew I had volunteered to become the shepherd of these Get Lost Lambs. Every month I would write them a friendly letter: nothing very heavy-handed or preachy—just a neighborly “hello” complete with my name and contact info just in case. When I sent my first letter, my flock was just 18 wayfaring sheep. Since then, however, the list has grown to nearly 40, with occasional move-outs, deaths, and additions causing periodic fluctuations. Most of my “pen pals” have never responded in any way; but a few have sent me notes, called with questions, and even met me for lunch from time to time. What’s more, only two or three have asked me to stop writing. Not one of these good people has yet been called to the Third Quorum of the Seventy, but I have had enough correspondence with some to convince me that we have achieved our goal of reiterating our interest and availability while maintaining their connection—however tenuous—with the church to which they once gave their names.
This collection includes most of the letters I have written to my Get Lost Lambs. Some letters I have omitted because they were strictly informational: invitations to ward or stake activities, for example. A few of these notes have been edited slightly for clarity. But for the most part, the letters you see here appear as they did when I mailed them.
My intent as I write these letters is to befriend first and inspire second. As a result, what you’ll discover here are merely the musings of an everyday Mormon, snippets of real life tied to basic Gospel principles, spiritual thoughts at the tail-end of commentary on current events, and more than a few vignettes from the lives of my wife and children. My hope is that some will make you smile, others will make you think, and most will encourage you to stay in touch with the lambs who are in your care.
~ Peter Watkins
The Usual Disclaimer:
Where I share the writings of others, I try to provide appropriate attribution, but otherwise the thoughts and opinions in these entries are mine alone. In no way do I represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other entity.