Visiting Teaching has an interesting history. Sisters began visiting one another, on assignment, by 1843. You’ll be surprised to learn that it has gone through some substantial changes over the years. And, dare I say, maybe we’ve lost some important aspects of it.
As sisters flocked to join the Female Relief Society in Nauvoo, it was difficult for Emma to check up on everyone. In 1843, a few sisters were called as the “Necessity Committee”. These sisters were assigned to visit the sisters “to discover all instances of sickness and distress and report these findings to the president”. Once the Relief Society reorganized in the Salt Lake Valley, the visiting system evolved into more structure.
In 1916, the General Board introduced topics for discussion during visits. Dues were collected for many years, to insure membership in the Relief Society, and these visits enabled an organized and convenient collection. Most importantly, each visit carefully examined the state of the family, so needs could be taken care of.
By 1949, each teacher was given a Visiting Teacher Report Book that was to be used for the entire year. This book provided instructions on the duties of a Visiting Teacher. Each visit was recorded with the date and circumstances found, including any special remarks on welfare, or other needs of the family. Then each month the written report was detached from the book and turned in.
Back then it was discouraged to make any scheduled appointments. Most women were home during the daytime, so stopping by for a “friendly, short, and timed as opportunely as possible” visit was usually successful. However, if the sister was not at home, the visiting teachers could detach a little card from their Visiting Teacher Report Books and let the sister know they stopped by. This could count as the visit for the month and no other visit was required.
The purpose of Visiting Teaching is “to search out the poor and suffering”. All visiting teachers were required to be “women of prudence and wisdom, with broad and intelligent sympathy”. “In calling visiting teachers, the ward Relief Society president should interview each teacher individually, pointing out to her the importance of this special field of work, and fully informing her of the responsibilities and obligations of her calling.”
Visiting teaching meetings were held monthly to prepare visiting teachers to more effectively perform their duties and to provide opportunity for them to report their visits. This meeting was held on the first Tuesday of each month. Topics were discussed, ward presidents could give special instructions, and reports could be turned in. It was recommended that all visits be made as soon as possible after that first Tuesday. “In no case should the regular monthly visit be made on Sunday, and evening visits are discouraged. Relief Society visiting teachers should not make their visits in company with the ward [home] teachers.”
Visiting teachers were encouraged to establish a warm and friendly relationship with each sister. They should be trustworthy in delivering confidential information about the sister to the president. And if the sister needs any assistance, her visiting teachers should be ready to give it immediately. The visiting teacher was responsible for the entire family, not just the sister.
Each ward was divided into districts with two visiting teachers assigned to a district. “The number of families assigned to a district should be kept small. Four to eight families is regarded as a preferable number.” If the regular teachers were unable to visit that month, alternate teachers could be called to substitute. Back then, not everyone was a visiting teacher. There were actually sisters called as the alternates. I don’t think there were too many “Eleventh Hour” visits back then.
“Visiting teachers who do not consistently attend Relief Society meetings and visiting teacher meetings are to be relieved of their duties as visiting teachers.” You could actually be “fired” if you didn’t fulfill your responsibilities! “When a ward or branch Relief Society is reorganized, visiting teachers are released along with the officers and class leaders and should turn in to the secretary-treasurer their Visiting Teacher Report books.” Clearly, visiting teaching was a calling, where duties and responsibilities were taken seriously.
“Visits to the homes should be characterized by a sincere interest on the part of the visiting teacher in all of the families in the district to which she has been assigned. She should deliver the visiting teacher message as effectively as possible, and should carry hope and good cheer into the homes. All discussions in the homes should be uplifting and encouraging. The discussion of personal problems, the troubles of others, topics of a sensational nature, and the repetition of rumors should be avoided. A visiting teacher may comfort, encourage, and uplift, but should never seek to regulate a family nor to outline its church duties.”
Times have changed a little bit. Visiting teachers are rarely the ones who report to the president anymore. Typically, it is the other way around. With most every sister being a Visiting Teacher, it has somehow become more of a “job”, than a “calling”. And there is no training done anymore. Somehow, we’ve lost something along the way.
Information taken from: Relief Society Handbooks from 1931, 1949, and 1972