Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, do their best to help the poor and needy, including those in the greater Chattanooga area. They do so in several ways, including through fasting and fast offerings – based on Christ’s teachings to serve others.
Unlike tithing wherein LDS members offer one-tenth of their income to the Church for the construction of chapels, temples, and for missionary work and other purposes – and unlike contributions LDS members make to the Humanitarian Aid fund which is used for worldwide relief efforts which serve both members and those who are not members – fast offerings are used to help the poor in local LDS congregations everywhere. In the greater Chattanooga area, there are 12 LDS congregations.
Ecclesiastical leaders, or bishops and branch presidents, who are called from local LDS congregations to serve and preside without pay, are responsible for the prudent use of fast offerings. As the late Elder Joseph Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: “Fast offerings are used for one purpose only: to bless the lives of those in need. Every dollar given to the bishop as a fast offering goes to assist the poor” (April 2001 general conference). Fast offerings are distributed to those members in need in the area where they are collected and are used to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care or other necessities – with the ultimate goal being self-reliance.
This is why the use of fast offerings is guided by basic welfare principles. As Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said: “The correct use of fast offerings is intended to support life, not lifestyle” (“The Law of the Fast: A Personal Responsibility to Care for the Poor and Needy,” October 2014 general conference). And so, individuals and families are encouraged to become self-reliant by reducing debt – and also by seeking improved education and employment opportunities, where possible.
What is a fast offering? In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the first Sunday of every month is set aside for fasting – when “members of the Church go without food and water for two consecutive meals in a 24-hour period and then contribute the money that would have been spent for that food to those in need” (lds.org). These funds are then used to confidentially help the poor and needy within the stewardship of the Church.
Excess fast offerings collected locally are shared with the rest of the Church to help those in other LDS congregations. There is no standard amount set for fast offerings. Donations are encouraged but not mandatory. But, the late Elder Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said: “The efficacy of our prayers depends upon our liberality to the poor” (1982).
As taught by the LDS Church, “Fasting has been a practice of the prophets of God and members of His Church since ancient times…[and] this commandment to fast continues in our day” (lds.org, Fasting and Fast Offerings). The late Elder Tom L. Perry, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said: “The longer I live, the more impressed I am with the Lord’s system of caring for the poor and needy. Surely no man would think of such a simple yet profound way of satisfying human needs – to grow spiritually and temporally through periodic fasting and then donating the amount saved from refraining from partaking of those meals to the bishop to be used to administer to the needs of the poor, the ill, the downtrodden, who need help and support to make their way through life” (“The Law of the Fast,” April 1986 general conference).
Bishop David Avery, who presides over the Harrison Bay ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Harrison, Tennessee, says, “It is a blessing to know that fast offerings are available to help members of the congregation when the need arises. Usually the help provided is short-term because we teach self-reliance but the blessings that come to those who give and receive are long-term. In fact, Isaiah taught that those who obey the law of the fast are entitled to the blessings of heaven. “Then shall thou call,” the Lord said, “and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9).
“Put another way,” Bishop Avery said, “Obeying the law of the fast is one way we can keep the first and greatest commandment – to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart – and the second, which is like unto it – to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-39). ‘For the poor shall never cease out of the land,” the Lord says, “therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land’ (Deuteronomy 15:11). When thou hast done these things, “the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11). These are the Lord’s promises and His promises are sure – yesterday, today and forever.”