I recently accepted a new calling in my ward. I’m now the compassionate service leader in the Relief Society. It’s been a good change from my previous calling as gospel doctrine teacher; I’m still relatively new in the ward, and this calling allows me to meet and know the people I worship with more intimately. There is a self-interested angle to this: every so often I cause a little trouble in my wards, or contemplate doing so, and I’ve found that when I know and love individual people I can get away with saying more. Plus, you know, once in a while the service I organize does actually bring some love and support into people’s lives — which is the whole point, after all.
Over the past week our ward has whipped up some classic, casserole-style compassionate service. A new family moved in, and several days later a member of that family suddenly became very ill, resulting in week-long ICU stay. We barely knew these people — indeed, I hadn’t even met them yet — but the ward sprang into action, and visits, meals, childcare, priesthood blessings, and lots of fasting and prayer were freely offered. My tiny part in all of this was to organize the meal deliveries, a task that took only a few minutes thanks to an email network and a convenient website. Ward members responded willingly, and I do believe that we ministered to this distressed family in Christ’s way.
This story looks like it will end well, and in Sunday’s fast-and-testimony meeting there was a feeling of true intimacy and love as we shared tears of gratitude with our new family. This is the kind of service that Mormons provide exceptionally well: a defined need was met rapidly and effectively, and the favorable ending allowed us to share the joy as we shared the burden. Moments like these, marked by trust, work, fellow-feeling, gratitude and joy, are at the heart of Mormon lived experience.
There are other kinds of needs that are harder for Mormons to meet; to be fair, they’re much harder for any community to meet. Chronic, undefined health problems, mental illness, unhappy family dynamics, prolonged financial distress, burdensome caregiving responsibilities, social isolation: each of these crosses is borne by somebody in our ward, and this kind of suffering is not easily relieved with casseroles and child-care. These sisters and brothers, too, are in need of our service, and while it is sometimes more emotionally difficult to provide this kind of ministry, it can be done. I have seen it happen many times in the wards I have lived in.
Yet something still remains, and a child’s malapropism helped me to think about it in a new way. One of my children, misunderstanding the title of my new role, asked me to explain “compassion-and-service.” Suddenly the phrase, and the duties it described, took on a new meaning for me. I am called to facilitate the sharing of service and compassion in our ward. Compassion need not be merely a tacked-on descriptor, a grammatical adjunct to the “real” work of practical service. The best practical service is indeed compassionate, but compassion is a Christian labor in its own right.
If you will forgive a brief incursion of commercial language, perhaps we can think about “re-branding” compassionate service.  When we re-brand the work of the Relief Society as, in part, “compassion-and-service,” a new realm of ministry, beyond casseroles and visits, opens to view. Returning kindness for anger; refusing gossip; reaching out to the eccentric and the difficult among us. Advocating for the “least of these,” the transgressors and the nobodies. Breaking down barriers of race, class, gender, sexuality. A ministry of remembering: a sister in my parents’ ward has sent flowers on the anniversary of my brother’s death for more than twenty years. A ministry of tears: mourning with those who mourn. A ministry of presence: simply sitting with a lonely soul. A ministry of lovingkindness, of reconciliation, of acceptance.
This is nothing new, of course. This is basic lived Christianity, but I can always use the reminder. “Compassion-and-service” reminded me of those basics today.
 I do so with trepidation, because just today I read Hugh Nibley’s classic rant against mixing the worldly and the spiritual: “But the label game reaches its all-time peak of skill and effrontery in the Madison Avenue master stroke of pasting the lovely label of Zion on all the most typical institutions of Babylon: Zion’s Loans, Zion’s Real Estate, Zion’s Used Cars, Zion’s Jewelry, Zion’s Supermart, Zion’s Auto Wrecking, Zion’s Outdoor Advertising, Zion’s Gunshop, Zion’s Land and Mining, Zion’s Development, Zion’s Securities — all that is quintessentially Babylon now masquerades as Zion.” (“What is Zion? A Distant View”, in Approaching Zion, p. 54).