Grant Bennett spoke at the Republican National Convention about Mitt Romney’s service as a lay pastor. Grant explained that Mitt volunteered up to 20 hours a week when he was serving as a lay pastor, helping people with the full range of personal problems: unemployment, sickness, financial distress, loneliness, marital problems, addiction, challenges faced by single mothers, and separation from family faced by immigrants. Mitt listened, he helped, and he demonstrated compassion. With the assistance of his congregation, Mitt provided food and housing, rides to the doctor, and companionship for those facing illness. He also performed physical acts of service, including raking leaves and sweeping floors. Grant concluded the address by expressing gratitude for having been tutored by Mitt, who he described as a “deeply good man”.
Pat and Ted Oparowski also spoke at the convention about their experience as church members who were blessed by caring service from Mitt Romney. Their son, David, was diagnosed with cancer. Mitt visited David on many occasions. Once, 14 year-old David asked Mitt to help him write a will so that he could divide up his prized possessions, such as his skateboard and his fishing gear. In addition to recording David’s will, Mitt gave the boy a thoughtful gift to bring him cheer during his illness and honored the boy’s request to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.
Pam Finlayson told the Republican convention about the first time that Mitt visited her house. Because she didn’t have a dryer, laundry was hanging everywhere, and Mitt simply began collecting and folding the laundry with her. She told of Mitt later visiting her premature baby in the hospital and stroking the baby’s back as tears filled his eyes. She described Mitt being “overcome with compassion” for their sick baby. At Thanksgiving time, Mitt and his family brought Pam’s family a Thanksgiving dinner. Mitt’s wife, Ann, told Pam that Mitt had done most of the shopping and cooking. Pam said that Mitt didn’t just believe in loving his neighbor, he practiced it.
In addition to his time as a lay pastor (1981-1994), Mitt also spent two and a half years volunteering as a missionary, beginning at the age of 19. Just as Mormon lay pastors spend their time working with those facing challenges, so to do Mormon missionaries spend their time – in very large measure – talking with and working among those facing challenges. They meet people from a broader diversity of backgrounds than most Americans have a chance to meet in their daily lives.
If we look at the whole scope of Romney’s lay service in the Mormon church, I think there is a convincing record of a man who honestly cares for others, who purposely has committed his time to serving others, and who — contrary to the mantra among his detractors — has plenty of first-hand experience that allows him to understand the challenges of everyday Americans.