LDS families soon may be housing missionaries

The Salt Lake Tribune/July 20, 2007
By Peggy Fletcher Stack

Some LDS families soon may find themselves sharing a kitchen with a pair of dark-suited 19-year-olds.

Under a new initiative launched this spring, U.S. and Canadian leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asking members to consider providing rent-free space to missionaries in their area.

The leaders are seeking "to identify, interview and propose retired couples and others who have been selected and carefully screened by their bishops to meet established missionary housing guidelines," church spokesman Scott Trotter said. Members will be given a modest reimbursement for increased utility costs and supplies.

The house must have a private bedroom with twin or bunk beds and a clothes closet, a study area with a table and two chairs, a private bathroom, the use of a kitchen for meals and some refrigerator and pantry shelf space, use of laundry facilities, and parking space for a car or two bicycles. The host family also must maintain an environment that "protects missionaries from watching TV and videos/DVDs, playing video games, listening to inappropriate music and using computers."

The new program, which has been introduced in Seattle, Denver, New York City, Boston and San Antonio, among other cities, is "built on the principle of sacrifice and consecration by members, and obedience and gratitude by missionaries," the guidelines state.

Missionaries often have lived with members outside the U.S. almost from the church's beginning, but some Mormons wonder about the practical implications to try it in this country.

"There are obviously privacy concerns," says Seattle attorney Steve Evans. "Plus, how do you divide the cupboards or the fridge? How do you keep the missionaries away from TV and Nintendo?"

Many church members have an idealized view of missionaries as "disciples of Christ."

"What do you do when you see the 'disciples of Christ' have left their dirty underwear out?" Evans wonders. "It demystifies missionaries, which might not be a good thing."

Missionaries absolutely "destroy the apartments they inhabit, elders [men] and sisters [women] alike," Evans wrote on a Mormon blog,

"Missionaries make lousy neighbors as well in some respects: up at the crack of dawn with noisy alarm clocks, blasting MoTab [Mormon Tabernacle Choir]. . . .Additionally, lease requirements vary from state to state and from landlord to landlord; often missions find it difficult to comply with all the covenants and obligations of renting."

Rusty Clifton of Brooklyn thinks cost is what is driving the new policy.

At a recent meeting of a handful of LDS congregations in his area, leaders told bishops and their counselors that the monthly fee missionaries pay to church headquarters does not cover expenses.

Every Mormon missionary who can is expected to contribute about $400 per month to the missionary fund. But the average cost is $425, which means the church has to subsidize $25 per missionary per month, Clifton says. "It's interesting that they are trying to cut costs before they raise the cost to families."

The leaders then asked each bishop what members in his congregation might be able to provide housing. Only one man said he could think of a home that might qualify.

"Housing two members in Brooklyn would probably save as much as eight missionaries in Omaha, but no one has that kind of space," Clifton says.

It might be more effective if the church bought apartments or homes that could be designated for missionary use, he says. That would signal an ongoing commitment to the area and likely save money in the long run.

In the meantime, some Mormons are likely to offer up their homes.

"We all make promises to the church in various ways," Evans says. "If the church wants someone to stay in my house or ask for the house itself, I'd probably say yes. That's what consecration means."

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