Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Service or Sucker?

On Saturday Ed helped a family in our ward move - a middle-aged couple moving from an apartment they'd been in for 10 years to another apartment within the ward boundaries. Our family already had plans for the day, but we made some modifications to accommodate this act of service. Yes, today we are going to discuss "The Elders Quorum Move."

The plan was:
8:00-10 am Ed would help with the move, then come home and we would go to the ward primary activity at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden as a family.
1:00-3 pm We would come home and put the girls down for naps; he would return to help the move finish (supposedly the truck had to be returned by 3.)
3:30 pm He would come home to watch the girls while I went grocery shopping and stopped by our storage unit to pick up the air conditioner and some other things. (Saturday is the only day I can do the grocery shopping without the kids, so by Friday night we were out of EVERYTHING.)
5:00ish pm We would have dinner as a family and then...
6:30ish pm Head over to the evening session of stake conference, which for the first time was offering childcare, so I was really looking forward to the meeting.

What happened was:
8:00 am Ed left to help with the move.
10:00 am He called to tell me the family had a ton of stuff, the truck would have to make two trips, some stuff still wasn't packed, and much of the work force was taking off soon. The work force consisted of the already-spread-thin few guys from the Elders' Quorum who had been nice enough to volunteer.
12:00 pm Ed called to tell me the first truckload was at the new place being unloaded; he had stayed behind with a few guys to try to help get the rest of the packing done.
3:00 pm He called to tell me he was in our car, following the second truckload over to the new place. Barely containing my frustration, I asked if he'd eaten anything and he said no (= they hadn't provided food!) He was going to swing by Wendy's on his way and buy himself lunch. Only he and two other guys were left helping.
5:00-7 pm Nearing a boiling point, I called him several times between to check on his status, but later learned he had left the phone in the car. I even tracked down the cell phone # of the woman being moved, but she didn't answer. I found out later that the man being moved had thrown out his back and/or become too tired to keep helping. He had set up the TV at the new place and was hanging out on the couch watching TV while his wife and the three volunteers kept moving his stuff up two flights of stairs so he wouldn't be charged too much in late fees for the truck.
7:00 pm I reached Ed on his cell phone. He was on the way home, after 11 hours of thankless manual labor and an entire precious Saturday missed with his family. He was going to drop off the other two guys and be home soon.
8:00 pm I called him again to find out what was taking so long and of course he had spent the last half hour looking for a parking space, as happens in the evening around our place. He finally found a spot and...
8:30 pm Came home. We had a late family dinner and he helped put Hazel to bed. Ginger was already asleep. He took a shower and crashed, tired and sore.
9:30 pm I walked to the grocery store with a backpack (no point in driving - wouldn't find parking upon return) and bought the essentials we would need for the next few days, as much as I could carry.

I started the day feeling charitable and magnanimous, compromising our family's plans in the service of others. But sometime in the afternoon that feeling started to shift towards resentment. As the day wore on, the negative feelings escalated until I was incredibly angry at all the things our family had given up that day - the outing to the gardens, the errands we only have one day to do, family time together, and stake conference. I had to call my brother twice to vent.

Everyone knows how The Elders Quorum Move goes. People aren't packed, aren't organized, haven't gotten a big enough truck or enough help, underestimate how long it will take, etc. I myself have been moved by a ward group more than once and I really appreciate that help (at least I fed them pizza!) Ed has moved way more people than times he will ever move, that's for sure. I don't know how or when TEQM became tradition but it seems to have evolved into something some Church members feel entitled to, like a service the Church promises to provide. In large wards with lots of manpower (including youth) and few moves it's no problem, and can even be a unifying ward effort. But our ward is small, human resources are extremely limited, there are lots of moves in, out and within, and there are a lot of people with a lot of needs. A few people end up doing a lot of work, over and over. As I was juggling two kiddos Saturday afternoon, like I do five other days of the week, with an eye single to the relief of having Ed around on the weekend, I started to consider if we can put some kind of limit on EQM's, like the ward will provide 2 hours of moving service, but then you're on your own or something like that. I told this to Ed and of course he questioned whether it still counts as Christlike service if you put stipulations like that. Dave made a good point, that people outside of the Church move all the time without free labor, even on a limited budget. If they can do it, why can't we?

I know many, many of you reading have had personal experiences with TEQM. I'd like to hear from you - what's your view on the phenomenon? Am I justified in my feelings or do I need an attitude adjustment? How can the service continue without it being taken advantage of, or can it? Since it's not an official Church program, can a ward or EQ put limitations on the service, or even at times refuse to do it? How do you deal with TEQM when you're asked to participate? I'd like Dave to tell his take, if he's willing. And the rest of you, especially those I know are reading but don't usually comment, chime in (Kristina...). TEQM affects whole families, not just Elders - does it affect you for good or bad?


Shells said...

I don't know which tale Dave told you of, but I distinctly remember the time he went to help a family move and when he got there found that they had not packed up ANYTHING. What was worse, is that they had a past history of several moves like that. When we moved, I was pregnant, Dave had pneumonia, and we had very little money. However, we were COMPLETELY packed up, even with our physical limitations. We also decided that it was a lot to ask our friends to help us move with what was at the time not much stuff, and that when we move again we will most likely hire movers for the majority of the work.

I don't know if you would want to set strict limits on time, etc., because then you have the eventual - hey you helped him for 2 hours and 15 minutes and me for only 2 hours and 5 minutes arguments. However, I think whenever a request comes in, you can set realistic expectations. Some examples.

When are you moving? Well, that is Stake Conference so we would be happy to help up until XXX time, but then you will need to make other arrangements.

How much do you have to move? Well, we will gladly help, but with that much stuff, maybe you should consider moving some on your own, or pay for some help moving and then we can help with the rest.

Will the move be over a meal? Please make sure to feed your free help, they will be starving.

Etc. etc.

I am all about setting realistic expectations these days.

NateS said...

Our last ward was similar; lots of moves, few people willing to help, etc. Our EQ Pres published a moving guide that listed: 1. what was expected of the family (everything packed, truck there) 2. what would be provided (number of people, how long, etc). It worked out pretty well. Elders were more willing to participate because they knew exactly how long they were going to be there, and that they wouldn't be stuck packing up useless junk that should have been thrown away when the lady moved out of her parent's house.

Therese said...

i think that this discussion should also include, beyond the merits of thankless service, thoughts on how it's ok to say no. we're in a similar situation (alan works 16-20 hr days) and our weekends are precious, not only for my time with him but especially time with the children. as i read your account, i truly felt your pain as you recounted how your saturday slowly evaporated as the clock ticked on. sounds like ed isn't the kind of guy who can say no very easily, but you can! so instruct him in the finer art! do it for the kids!

Ritt Momney said...

Holy Smokes, that sucks! Ed really sounds like a nice guy. I would have walked out on those buffoons without a second thought.

dävid said...

oh man, that kind of crap makes me furious. to me, that is about courtesy and being aware of other people. that is the one thing that bothers me over and over again, people being oblivious to how their actions impact others.

i was complaining about this once and my sister said that unless i confronted someone about their trespasses, then it was no good. you just can't be a martyr. you have to tell people how you feel. likely, these people will do it again and again, expecting the service without ever knowing that they are being rude and are taking people for granted.

ed, is a saint, and should've high-tailed it out of there at noon. but of course he couldn't, because they weren't prepared.

i've benefitted from the eq move, only once. i was VERY well prepared, all they had to do was unloading, took 25 minutes tops. we had drinks and had planned to get pizza, but all the lads wanted to go home to their families.

i've been taken advantage of many times on the move, usually i'm in good spirits if there are some of my buddies there and we can kind of laugh the situation off. i figure, moving karma will eventually catch up with them.

i'm not taking the high road on this one. you have every right to be upset and frustrated.

Disco Mom said...

Thanks for all the support, guys. I know most of you have been in my - or Ed's - spot on this one. I told Ed next time he signs up for a move - especially when he already has plans with his family - I am taking it upon myself to call the movees and tell them he will not be there. And then he made a point I had to think about. He said he didn't do this move to help the Johnsons*; he did it to help the other guys he knew would be there all day. Point taken - Troy and Mike (the other guys) would have been there even longer if Ed wasn't helping, and you hate to leave good guys like that hanging. But after thinking about that for a few days, I say every man for himself. If Troy and Mike want to be martyrs to their guilty consciences, rather than spending time with their families it's up to them. We each have choices here. Therese is right, Ed is no good at saying NO (except to his family!), but I do have some experience and my Mom taught me well to let guilt roll off my back like oiled duck feathers.

*Names have been changed to keep you from hunting these people down and harassing them, since I know you got my back.

kristina said...

Ah, yes, something that we can all have empathy for and which has personally touched so many of us ;) My personal favorite was when John arrived at the family's house to find nothing packed and the washer full of water and wet clothes....

When it comes to signing up for a move, it depends on the day and on the people moving and their need, but we say no if we have other plans, and when we do help, we put a time limit on it. I'm a firm believer in time limits when it comes to church service. I think of it as maintaining some level of control over my personal time and allowing time for everything that is a priority to me (balance). It also keeps me from feeling resentful.

dave said...

Ugh. In general, I have withdrawn from TEQM. On the other hand, we live in a big ward with lots of celestial Ed types, and I don't worry that the people will get moved. I used to participate a lot, when I was in the EQ presidency.

Here are my (personal) factors for whether or not I'll be involved. You must score at least a 15 to get me there to help you:

1) Are these people (who are moving) friends of mine/ours? weight:10

2) Do I have priesthood stewardship over this family (as a HT, EQpres, bishopric, M is VT, etc)? weight:8

3) Do I have reasonable confidence you've got your crap in order? weight: 5

4) Are any of my friends going to be helping with the move? weight: 3

5) A time slot has been specified: weight: 3

6) Food has been offered in advance. weight: 3

7) This is not the first time I've had to move you in the last 3 years: -2 for each other time I've moved you if I participated, -1 if I only knew about it.

8) I'm feeling particularly Christlike this week. weight: 3 to 8.

9) It is my personal opinion that your family can afford professional movers: -3

10) I know there will be several capable guys there without me, and I'm 'willing to let them get more blessings'? weight: -3

That's not really exactly how I make that decision, but it isn't all that far off, either.

I'm kind of reminded of the quote about Joseph Smith (I had to look it up, trust me I don't just quote this stuff):

"I first saw the Prophet Joseph in May, 1842. . . . A few days after this I was at Joseph's house. Several men were sitting on the fence. Joseph came out and spoke to us all. A man came and said that a poor brother who lived out some distance from town had had his house burned down the night before. Nearly all of the men said they felt sorry for the man. Joseph his hand in his pocket, took out five dollars and said: "I feel sorry for this brother to the amount of five dollars. How much do you all feel sorry?"
Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 15, 1892, 641.

There's a principle there, one I can live with. 'How sorry do I feel that these people, who I know to be making decent wages, have chosen instead to rely on the Church?' uh, maybe next time. 'How sorry do I feel that this guy who I home teach is being evicted because he hasn't managed to pay his rent?' Sorry enough to help, the first two times. After that, when the Bishop cuts you off from welfare because you aren't fulfilling your commitments to him, and you won't move into a cheaper place because you can't take your 70-lb dog with you? Sorry, you're on your own.

Maren said...

Oh, this is a tough one for me. Kari- my full, heartfelt sympathy for your lost Saturday! It sucks, it really does. I know. I lose a lot of days like that.

We have been the beneficiaries of many EQMs. We've always been completely packed, fed the guys if it's near mealtime, and never asked for RS or any other (cleaning) help. Just help Quinn lift the stuff I can't carry. An organized EQM can be quick and painless, though sweaty, and the movees can be humbly grateful. That's when it's easy and satisfying to give service.

We have also been there when people have NO idea how to move and seem to have given the process no thought at all. To my (educated and enlightened) mind, it makes no sense whatsoever and it's annoying. Since living in this tiny branch which is short on elders and long on older single ladies who move lots of junk (and often), I've seen the guys work miracles. (And the RS manages to get involved, too. The EQ usually asks us to help out ahead of time if possible.) We know the people here so well, though, that somehow I'm not quite as annoyed (or maybe not as surprised- I've learned to train my expectations) as I might be when the "morning service project" turns into the all-day project. I wish Quinn were home to speak to this as well. I try to picture these people doing it themselves, and- bless their hearts- they never could. Maybe I'm soft on them because I know they aren't really taking advantage of the elders; they really don't have the capacity to figure it out and do it themselves!

I agree with Michelle (and others) that there should be some initial questions answered before things begin. Maybe the EQ Pres or secretary could have a conversation with the movee about their readiness to receive 2 or 3 hours of help. Maybe the EQ could assign certain (non-regulars) to be there for a particular timeframe. "Joe, Tim, Frank- 8 to 9:30, Allan, Buster, Homer- 8:30 to 10, Ed, Bishop, Justin- 9 to 11." The end.

If you need more help, have another conversation with aforementioned leader about what YOU are going to do about it. There does need to be some (can't think of the right word)... personal responsibilty and ownership like there is in any welfare transaction in the church. We do have a cultural history of letting the EQM be free-form service, and the guys are not always going to demand tight planning for these things, but maybe individual EQs could come up with a strategy- like nates mentioned. Great idea.

And for the families left behind when it all goes horribly wrong? (Sigh.) Is there a good answer that doesn't sound trite?

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with Ed's suggestion that placing boundaries on volunteer service somehow devalues the effort. Ed had every right to leave at 10:00 am for his family commitment.

If not, then missionaries would never be able to come home without their 2 year service being devalued and denigrated. As it is, no matter how long serves on a mission, there will still be people whose lives would be much better if one stayed on the mission forever.

John said...

I wholeheartedly endorse what has been said, and your experience is paradigmatic of the madness that TEQM has become. If I had seen the husband sitting around and watching tv while I moved his stuff, I would have dispensed some back alley justice on the spot and then rounded up the remaining brethren for a hasty departure (especially if I was the one giving rides).

Kristina referred to a time when I arrived at a move to find nothing packed and wet clothes in the washing machine. In fact, the story is much worse than that. An inactive family in our ward was moving in the middle of a Tuesday during the summer in Texas. As I was one of the few students in the ward, the home teacher called me to say (i) he himself could not miss work to attend the move but that (ii) the move would last from 10-12 am. Famous last words.

When I arrived at 10 am - the hour appointed for the truck to arrive - the family was STILL ASLEEP and asked that I come back in an hour. I returned in two hours to find both that the truck had not yet arrived and that nothing had been packed. In addition to packing most of their things, I somehow became responsible for carrying the heavy items out to the truck - and did I mention this was Texas in the summer? I finally begged off after about 4 hours of no food or water because I seriously thought I was going to collapse.

The moral of the story: I never again attended a service project orchestrated by that home teacher, and I have never participated in a move without limiting my commitment ahead of time. That means that at least twice now I have left in the middle of a move when my time expired, regardless of whether the objective has been accomplished. As a result, my attitude has been better, and I think those being moved have had a greater appreciation for what they were asking of the local brethren.

I, too, have lived in a ward with a written move policy, and I like the formula idea. Ultimately, I am a firm believer that one's own family comes before service in the church (something I have learned from very painful family experiences) - so we each have to set limits and stick to them, or they will never be respected, least of all by lazy tv-watching husbands.

dävid said...

fyi, per dave's joseph smith anecdote.

in today's terms, it'd be like someone whipping 94.34 out of their wallet and saying thats how much they care.

that is kind of a lot of money.

what was joseph doing rolling around with all that skrillah?

Disco Mom said...

For the record Ed did way more than $94 worth of work, so he's at least on par with Joseph...

John said...

Sounds like Ed would have made $94 at a rate of about 30 cents an hour . . .

Joseph Smith in the same sentence as skrillah - never thought I would live to see the day. Well done, Pugs.

Jenny said...

This has been a great topic - one that everyone has had experience with. I enjoyed reading through and agree with many of the comments that this service is needed but far too often taken advantage of. And I also wonder how is has become an unwritten rule that it is the responsibility of the EQ.
I know how you feel that Ed is way to nice to say NO (Brad leans in that direction as well). But part of me is greatful that our other halfs are great guys, worthy, able and loving members who in small wards are capable and do have to carry much of the resposibilities and care for the ward, it could be worse, Ed could be the guy sitting on the couch watching TV while others take care of the work. I try to look at things, glass half full.
The last time we moved we were in a smaller, split ward, half newly wed and half nearly dead. Our EQ was small but mostly the younger guys we knew and were friends with - I remember our EQ president was so relieved and impressed when they came to help move. The truck was ready and everything was packed. He asked in amazement - "Everything is packed??...We only need to move the boxes that are already piled in one place into the truck..."
Naively I replied - Yes, we are ready for you to just help us load, do you usually have to pack up peoples things? (I am way to particular to let anyone else pack my things)
I agree that there can be some organization in the form of expectations and guidelines without taking away from the Service. I think someone was right on when they said this was more of a problem of a lack of courtesy and common sense - of how their actions adversly affected three good guys trying to help out. Programs and service projects in the church are more than often very organized with clear guidelines and goals for the outcome - I don't see how moving couldn't be the same. It shouldn't be and doesn't neccessarily need to be a job that most guys I know out there dread but are usually guilted into helping.
Hang in there and don't feel bad about putting your family first when you need to.

Preston said...

I am coming in late to this conversation having been remiss in not reading up on Kari's blog consitently as Shanda does. That being said let me add my two cents for what they are worth.

First, I think that a lot of elder's quorum moves have developed a reputation for substitution of a real for-hire moving company. Hence whenever the subject comes up in Elder's quorum everyone hides under their chairs refusing to offer their services because they know what is instore for them if they accept the assignment.

Our ward has had plenty of moves that fall in line with everyone's stories however our Bishop of just over a year put his foot down as soon as he was called. The policy is that the Priesthood is happy to serve moving the major items in your home. If they arrive and you are not prepared they will return at another time and/or help you move the major items before leaving you to finish.

When being set apart for a recent calling, that is going to be time demanding, the member of the Stake Presidency counseled that family comes first. The greatest service we render is in our homes and although what Ed did was noble spending time with our families is the most important thing we can do. So when in that situation, or in other situations where I know my time is being taken advantage of, I have a couple of good excuses to get out of it...namely my sweet wife and two wonderful kids. Sometimes it is a lot easier said then done especially right in the moment, but......

there is my two cents for what it is worth.

Geary said...

I think the hardest thing in the world for young fathers to learn is to put their families first. It took me many years to figure it out, even with good advice from older men who knew better and could see the mistakes I was making. My wife will verify that I came close to putting her in the nuthouse when I was gone a lot, leaving her at home with small children. Then my oldest son, who was 5 1/2 years old, died and everything in my whole life changed altogether. It suddenly became clear to me (and I mean instantaneously) how important my family was, and that clarity has never faded.

I think there is way too much wielding of guilt in the church in trying to get other people to do what "we" -- read Bishop, or Stake President, or whoever -- want them to do, be it home teaching, or genealogy, or temple work, or moving people. Sometimes it is not done consciously, and it is often a byproduct of simply not thinking through to the consequences that will result from the argument being made. One day, a long time ago now, I consciously decided that I would no longer be motivated by guilt. When I hear it being wielded, I simply reject the argument ("here's an opportunity for blessings"; "Christ would expect us to ..."; "Be Christlike by performing ..."; "you will be blessed when you ..."). I just start over from scratch and look at all the elements of the situation and come to my own conclusions about it. But I digress ...

One of the things I think we are supposed to learn is to think for ourselves. I'm not so sure it is a good thing to do things for people that they could and should be doing for themselves. Through our anxiety to serve, which too often reveals our own lack of confidence in how we stand in the Lord's eyes, why should we deprive young families of learning how to prepare for a move? More mature families should know better, and if they haven't learned before, now is a good time to start. Older people are a different case. I'm MUCH more sympathetic to their plight, especially if they lack the mental or physical ability to do what they want to, but can't. But by all means bring order, planning, and good sense to the issue of moving people in and out. The responsibility is first of all, theirs -- period. Help with the big, heavy stuff is welcome, but beyond that there is a fairly rapid degradation from service to sucker.

By the way, it falls on the EQ to do this "service" because they are young and hardy. Can you imaging the HPQ doing it? Me neither.

Marie said...

I'm a bit late in commenting on this thread, as I am only now (when the two kiddies are sleeping) catching up on my blog-perusing, but I feel to make my FIRST comment today as it is applicable to my present situation.

Adam (faithful husband that he is) is off helping our friends from the ward move from their third story apartment to a townhome a mile away. (For the record, there is another family moving into our ward today as well, so the resources are spread pretty thin). Now, I have to room to gripe about his absence because I encouraged him to help. Initially, we pledged his time from 8:30-10 since the truck was supposed to be available at 8 (and you know that never really happens quite on time). I called my friend last night to say our kids are sick, since she was thinking of coming over with her newborn during the move, and I didn't want their cute baby to catch the virus. (Another angst of mine: going to the doctor b/c your kid can't breath at night only to hear it's a virus and to just wait it out). Ok, moving on. When I CALLED THEM last night (not vice versa), I was informed that they were not able to get the truck b/c they procrastinated making the reservation and that now the move was going to start at 11. Adam went at 11:30; it's nearing 2 and there's no sign of a stopping point. I'm sure it's a pleasant experience as, like I said, they are our friends and good company, but when I laughingly said yesterday on the phone that the late truck arrival would give them more time to pack their boxes and be ready for the move, the silence on the other end suggested that the few extra hours was not going to make enough of a difference.

Now to the real point. We just had stake conference, and Adam mentioned that the stake president talked about service and how he is in particular concerned with the EQM. His view was that it is not appropriate for free moves to be a perk of church membership. I don't know what the answer is, having been the recipient of help from home teachers myself when we've moved. I do feel that following the pattern of the church welfare system is a good idea. Moving help should come first from your own resources (hire a moving company), next from family (thanks for lifting my piano, dad), then from home teachers (who are always asking 'what can we do to help') and lastly from the ward. Does that seem reasonable? And YES - do your own packing whatever category you fall into. It always takes longer than you think, doesn't it?

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