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Last Saturday, I dragged a shovel over to the home of a single mother and helped move 10 yards of topsoil to various parts of her yard. I almost died.

Half a dozen guys were already shoveling when I arrived. I joined in and we knocked it out in about 45 minutes, or halfway to a heart attack for me. When we finished, I trudged home sore and sweating but also satisfied.

It was a service project for my Mormon ward. I heard about it from a high priest group email, telling us when and where to show up. Included in the email was an Old Testament scripture: Joshua 24:15.

"And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; [blah, blah, blah, yea even unto extra blah] but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

The biblical prompt seemed a bit over the top coming as it does from an Old Testament prophet who slaughtered children. So I responded with 1 Peter 2:18.

"Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward."

Note: "Froward" is an archaic word. It roughly translates to the more modern term of the posterior exit on most of God's creatures.

Enough with the doctrinal conflict. The point is that service projects are one of the things I like about church. In fact, they're one of the few reasons why I attend the sit-down part.

The woman we helped is Candice. She and her daughter live about three blocks away, a distance commonly regarded by most suburbanites as "on the moon."

See, if I didn't go to church and/or respond to a call for help, Candice and Shaelee aren't people I would have ever bothered to meet.

Church affords me the opportunity to associate with them in such a way that they feel OK asking me for help. I sometimes sit by Candice in church, and her daughter Shaelee was in my nursery fight club last year.

Incidentally, this is also why I like home teaching, an LDS Church program that obligates me (because I said I would do it) and another guy to visit several assigned families once a month to see how they're faring.

I like it because of the interaction with people I might otherwise never meet, much less get to know. During these monthly visits, I'm supposed to find out if they need anything. Oh, and deliver a nice gospel message.

Puh-leeze. If they go to church, they already have all the message they need. If they don't attend, it's probably because the message became annoying. Since I have a foot planted in both camps, I never take a message. Fire me.

My job is to be there for "my families," whether it's helping them fix something, plowing their driveway in the winter, or just being an ear to gripe into when they're stressed.

Yeah, I know. I don't need church to be a good neighbor. But would I actually do it otherwise? Would I know the people living three houses away well enough that they would ask me for help, never mind someone three blocks away?

The one problem with home teaching and ward service projects is that it's almost invariably Mormons helping Mormons. That isn't really outreach as much as it is "in reach."

How many of us who take such pride in being good neighbors know the names and needs of the neighbors who aren't Mormon?

Church or whatever program used to learn how to be good neighbors is just a starting point. What happens outside is the fun part — and proves whether we were paying attention.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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