“Ummm Mom, what do I call Sister Parkin when I see her at school?”
“Probably Mrs. Parkin.”
“Why is she Sister Parkin at church and Mrs. Parkin at the school?”
“At church, we call everyone Brother or Sister so-and-so because it is a reminder of the relationships we have with one another. We believe that all people on the earth are children of our Heavenly Father and so by calling each other “Sister” or “Brother” we are reminded of our duty to love one another. But not everyone is a member of our church, and a lot of people do not believe the same things we do, so referring to Sister Parkin as Mrs. Parkin at school is appropriate.”
This is a question my first grader asked me last year and I bet others have wondered the same. So, why do Mormons refer to each other as Sister and Brother? Here are some of my thoughts:
First, it can strengthen in our minds our doctrine of a loving Father in Heaven who is the literal spirit Parent of every person who has lived on the earth. Understanding that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father increases my desire to have compassion toward my fellow beings. (Or siblings as the case may be.)
Second, it is not unlike calling a woman “Mrs. __________,” or “Miss ________,” or “Ma’am” and calling a man “Mr. __________” or “Sir.” Many Mormons teach their children in particular to refer to older members of their congregation as “Brother” and “Sister” as a way to show respect. (For me, it’s also particularly handy when I have brain lapses and have forgotten someone’s first name!)
Friends will typically refer to each other by their first names when speaking to each other in person, over the phone or at church.
Third, this way of addressing each other can solidify in our hearts the covenants we have made at baptism when we became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Through covenants we become children of Jesus Christ and promise to always remember him. We promise to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, to keep His commandments and to stay clean and pure. Essentially we promise to be Christians. By becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we join the body of Christ as taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12
2 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
A similar sentiment is shared by Paul in Ephesians 2:
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
By referring to one another as “Brother” or “Sister” we remind ourselves of the importance each of us have in doing the Lord’s work. Not one member of the body of Christ is more important than another, and we must all be focused on the Lord to function properly. This can help foster humility. Who am I to feel superior to another when God loves all of His children the same?
I find the familial relationships within the Church extremely satisfying. I have served and been served by the members of my congregation without the expectation of pay, accolades, or excessive thanks. The workings of the Church mirror that of the family. Within the Church there are shared responsibilities (callings), family gatherings (ward parties), worship gatherings (sacrament meetings), family prayer (this happens every time we meet together), and huge family projects (service projects). We also try to be there for one another, pray for one another, help and serve one another. Together we grow and accept one another’s faults. There is room for tragedies and jealousies, disasters and pain, just like there is in any family. But together, we make a mighty fine whole. I have always appreciated the tradition of referring to fellow members of the Church as “Brother” or “Sister” — I love it when I am referred to as “Sister W.”
To read more about how Mormons view their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints please read the following:
Belonging: A View of Membership by Jeffery R. Holland