KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOR—THE BEGINNING
They helped everyone his neighbor, and every one said to his brother, be of good courage.
When I was called to serve as the Public Affairs Representative for the Northborough Ward, Boston Stake in 2001, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Bishop Arbon's words to me were, "The opportunities in Public Affairs are like drinking water from a fire hydrant." There was a manual that offered some direction, but basically I had to find my own way to create a climate in which the Church is known for good.
As I studied and pondered the possibilities of how to be most effective in this new calling, I realized that the Public Affairs Committee could pursue a low-touch approach — seeking positive press from the local news media by sending press releases about Church events and hoping their coverage would portray the Church in a good light. Or we could pursue a high-touch approach — actively cultivating one-on-one relationships within our communities. While both could be effective, Ammon's experience as an envoy of the Church among the people of King Lamoni demonstrates that a high-touch approach would be the better choice. For an extended discussion of Ammon, download The Spirit of Ammon PDF in the Resources section of this site.
A church-sponsored survey taken in 2002 further underscores the effectiveness of the high-touch approach. Respondents were asked two questions: (1) When you think of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what do you think? and (2) Does your top-of-mind response generate positive or negative feelings? Of the 8% who had a Mormon acquaintance, nearly 100% had positive feelings. Elder Hugh W. Pinnock pithily summarized the results: "Each of us is a public affairs chairman."
As I pondered the two approaches, the inspiration for Know Your Neighbor came. While I knew that cultivating one-on-one relationships would be far more effective in promoting a positive image of the Church and its members, I also knew from my own experience that the high-touch approach is far more difficult than simply seeking positive press. Each of us has a litany of reasons for not reaching out to our neighbors: we are too busy, too self-sufficient, too transient, and too scared! We are afraid of exposing ourselves to outside influences, and we are especially afraid of rejection.
I began to wonder if it were possible to make the act of reaching out to those with whom we share common ground less threatening. I was convinced that there must be something we could do that that would allow members of the Church in our area to gently nudge themselves into reaching out. As a result, Know Your Neighbor was created — an idea so basic it had been overlooked. The actions required to Know your Neighbor are straightforward. They are: Over the next six weeks, invite into your home one non-member family or individual with whom you have something in common.
Taken at face value, getting to Know Your Neighbor is simple. Yet, as I considered my own actions over the past few years, it is not necessarily easy to implement. Inviting people into my home and heart without the commonality of religious beliefs requires me to step outside the comfortable cocoon of the church family, to be more open-minded and accepting of people exactly as they are — without any hidden agenda or expectations. I must have a sincere desire not only to know them, but to love them. There is a wonderful saying that comes to mind, "It is easy to love all men; the difficulty comes when we specialize." Therein lies our challenge.
As we actively implement Know Your Neighbor, I am confident we will create a climate where our Church is known for good. But more importantly, we will begin to feel more connected to our communities. We will discover the wonderful similarities among all people including the profound and generally mutual desire "to make the world a better place."1 And, finally, we will come to recognize that "the Lord's work is too vast, too arduous for any one people; and that God is indeed using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work."2
Special thanks to Bishop Mike Arbon, former Bishop of the Northborough Ward, Bishop Terry Holmes, Framingham Ward, and the Presidency of the Boston Stake, Presidents Maury Hiers, Kerry Hopkin and Matt Eyring for their willingness to pilot Know Your Neighbor. And finally to Sisters Sara MacLean and Tammy Valdez for their ongoing support.