The voice on the other end of the telephone relayed a simple message: "I'm going to baptize my wife and children in two weeks, and we'd like you to be there."
After years of absentee membership in the Church, the man was returning to full activity, and was bringing with him his entire family into the Church. Where once only a name appeared on the ward's membership rolls, now an entire family was attending meetings, participating in the gospel, and being fellowshipped by ward members.Hundreds of times each year this scene is repeated in meetinghouses Churchwide. For a variety of reasons, individuals suddenly are touched by the Spirit and become determined to get themselves back into full gospel activity. They have received the sweet whisperings of the Spirit in their lives and wish to share that joy with others and to feast again with the saints. Their activity in the gospel helps others, and gives new meanings to the phrase "gospel in action."
Where once there were hard feelings or darkness, now the bright light of eternity shines in the hearts of the returning Latter-day Saint. Where once bitterness or hurt feelings crowded out the Light of Christ, now the Spirit of our Father in Heaven burns brightly, blotting out all but a willingness to regain the peace the gospel brings.
Shortly after becoming president of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson and his counselors in the First Presidency issued an invitation to the less active to return to full fellowship in the gospel:
"We are aware of some who are less active, of others who have become critical and are prone to find fault, and of those who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions.
"To all such we reach out in love. . . . We encourage members to forgive those who may have wronged them. To those who have ceased activity and to those who have become critical we say, "Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints.
"We are confident that many have longed to return, but have felt awkward about doing so. We assure you that you will find open arms to receive you and willing hands to assist you."
Those who have transgressed can find many scriptural references that will comfort them and impel them to move forward into total and continuing repentance. President Spencer W. Kimball related this example:
"I had just finished performing the holy ordinance in the temple wherein a delightful young couple had been sealed for eternity. . . . I slipped out of the room and started down the hall, and I was startled when someone grasped my left arm. As I turned around, I saw a woman . . . who had a pleading look in her eyes. "Do you remember me?"
She was intently looking to see if I would recognize her . . . I had to admit with some embarrassment: "I'm sorry."
To my surprise she whispered with deep feeling: "I am glad you do not remember me. I was afraid you would. If you can forget me and my transgression, I have the hope that my Father in heaven may forget." (Miracle of Forgiveness p. 342.)
To many returning members, that first step through the meetinghouse doors appears as frightening as anything they have done in their lives. What awaits them may well determine if they succeed or not in their attempt to return to activity.
To those who are well-grounded in gospel truths, it becomes inherent to ease the burden on the returning members, to hold out a hand of friendship and love, to guide them across the chasm of unbelief until their footing is firmly planted on solid soil again. The Savior has said as much:
"Come to me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
As we welcome back the less-active, it behooves us to remember our own halting first steps in the gospel.
We too walked slowly, with trepidation, until - with growth and maturity, time and sure-footedness - we were able to lengthen our stride. Now, on solid ground, we stand ready to assist others.
The invitation from the First Presidency remains as valid today as when it was first issued more than five years ago - "Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord."