Duty to stick with a dysfunctional ward

December 7, 2003 | 37 comments
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This is a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit lately — what is a member’s duty to stay with a dysfunctional ward? I have been thinking about it because, well, I am currently in a dysfunctional ward. We have a hard time keeping major presidencies (such as the Bishopric and the Elders Quorum) filled. We are on massive life support from high council and missionaries (16 in the ward). We see dozens of baptisms each year, but almost all are inactive within 6 months. Some of those who didn’t immediately go inactive were immediately given major callings and overwhelming responsibilities, and that made them inactive.

I play a major role in running the Elders’ Quorum, and my wife does the same for the primary (I also spot-teach Sunday school, pinch-hit on organ when needed, and play primary piano on a weekly basis). We are aware that, if we were to leave, it would be a major blow to an already fragile ward infrastructure. And yet, it is very difficult to exist in a high-maintenance, all-take-and-no-give ward for years on end, with no apparent end in sight. It is taking a toll on my wife and me. Worse, it is taking a toll on our children.

There are no primary teachers (there are a few who have been called, but they stopped coming to church after being called), so the missionaries teach primary classes, different sets every week. Primary is also, despite my wife’s best efforts, often a disorganized mess. My kids are learning to really dislike going to church, and are not learning much in the way of church doctrine or living. (We do some of this at home, but it’s nice to also have your children learning about the scriptures while at church).

In Elders’ Quorum, when we are not trying to jump-start home teaching yet again, we are poring over a 10-page list of nominal Elders’ Quorum members, large numbers of whom are complete strangers to me (and I’ve been in the presidency for two and a half years!). As it is, I barely have free time from my job to see my family, and have not had time to do a major repair job on the quorum. I tried when I was clerking and had more time, and was not particularly successful then.

There are perhaps a half dozen active members within ward boundaries who refuse to attend and instead go to the very active Manhattan Inwood ward with whom we share a border. I can’t say I blame them — we have considered doing this ourselves. It is frustrating, because we could really use the people who attend in Manhattan. At the same time, I can’t blame them for not wanting to be the first to come over. Yes, it’s pioneering and needed and all that. We are told that we should accept our sacrifices, and that we have a duty to help out in the ward where we are located. I’ve been doing that since arrival, but there is no apparent end to this ward’s dysfunctionality. And being here has, I feel, exacted an enormous toll on my family.

The situation reminds me of an allegory I saw at some point years ago (I vaguely think it was by Michel Foucault, but I could certainly be misremembering its attribution). The metaphor was a hot-air balloon, which is rising out of control, with a number of people hanging on. It is not yet at dangerous height, but will soon be there. In the story, each hanger-on knows that if he lets go, the balloon will rise faster, putting the others in peril much sooner. At the same time, each person’s own self-interest is to let go as soon as possible.

I think of those who don’t attend the ward as people who let go of the balloon. And while I know that they have put me in a worse situation, I really can’t blame them for acting in their and their families’ best interests.

Our time here may be ending next year. We may be moving in several months, and if that occurs, we will probably just tough it out for the last several months in this ward. However, I have now been here for going on three years, and practically every Sunday, I ask myself if I held on to the balloon too long.

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37 Responses to Duty to stick with a dysfunctional ward

  1. Adam Greenwood on December 7, 2003 at 9:30 pm

    Oh, my. I don’t know what to say, Kaimi. I just pray that God blesses you and yours, and your ward.

  2. Nate on December 7, 2003 at 9:57 pm

    I don’t have a good answer to Kaimi’s dilemma (I suspec that there isn’t one). I have also thought about this before. A related issue is when you are looking at places in the country or the world to work, do you choose a place where you know that you can “make a contribution” to the church, but also know that the contribution will take a toll on your family, or do you pick a place where you know that the church is well established. Looking back on it, I realize that as a young boy my family attended a dysfunctional ward. I didn’t realize this at the time. I just thought church was dumb. My parents later divorced, both moved out of the ward, and I spent the rest of my childhood in a more functional ward, although I confess that I frequently thought that church in that ward was dumb as well.

    It seems that these kinds of units show the difficulties and perhaps the limitations of our model of a lay priesthood. It is interesting that much of the functionality that such units do have results from the work of full-time, “professional” clergy, e.g. missionaries.

  3. Andy on December 7, 2003 at 9:59 pm

    I sympathize with your predicament. I myself was one of the missionaries in several of those kinds of wards during my mission.

    Frankly, I think this is the kind of situation in which the stake presidency, or some other higher authority, should be informed of the situation and take some action.

    My bishop, for instance, does not live in our ward boundaries. I know this bothers some members in our ward, but I confess that I am thankful for the fact. Can’t a stake president confront people when they are not attending the ward they live in, and help them see that they are needed there?

    I think you’re being too easy on those who should be, but are not, attending their assigned ward.

  4. Adam Greenwood on December 7, 2003 at 10:11 pm

    Andy has put his finger on a possible solution.

    If the Stake Presidency would assign some members to attend your ward, maybe you could get enough stability to keep some of the converts. That would allow your ward to limp along, if not yet walk.

    That’d be rough on the assigned members, true, but this is God’s church. Lump it.

    While writing this, I realized I may have uncomfortably answered a dilemma of my own. There’s an area of Albuquerque where you can get good irrigated land close to downtown (where I’d work). The schools are bad but that wouldn’t matter for quite a few years yet. Mrs. G and I still hesitate because the local ward’s in tatters. We couldn’t move there in good conscience without relieving the few faithful saints of some fair portion of their unbearable load.

    I guess if they can handle it, so can we. (But I still better ask Mrs. G.)

  5. Jim on December 7, 2003 at 10:55 pm

    Some years ago, in a similar situation, I went to the bishop to discuss the issue with him. He begged, “Please don’t move out of the ward,” and we decided to stay. Within six months, he moved out. We stayed for a couple of more years, only moving when we were finally able to buy a house. It was easier to make our decision to stay when our children were not yet in school and we be the ones having the most effect on them. After that, I don’t know what we would have done.

  6. sid on December 8, 2003 at 12:24 am

    Looks like it is time for the Stake Presidency , and other leaders need to step in, and reorganise Kaimi’s Ward. Replacing the current Bishop with a new Bishop and his 2 Counselors might be a first step. New, enthusiastic leaders who have a desire to serve their Ward, and have a great desire to do what is necessary to achieve that end, in my mind, is a must, if the Ward is to be turned around. We will pray for you all.
    -Sid

  7. Logan on December 8, 2003 at 11:21 am

    Well, Kaimi, I feel like I can relate. I, too, live in an extremely dysfunctinal ward (okay, so it’s the same ward ;)). In all honesty, it has been a long time since I’ve felt that I’ve been edified personally in my ward. Sometimes wearing yourself out in the Lord’s service — by being Ward Mission Leader, music chairman, Institute Teacher, substitute everything, etc (basically everything you don’t do) — seems like more trouble than it’s worth. I guarantee my wife would be inactive but for the massive guilt she would feel. It’s really, really, hard here.

    I also have to say, that there are Sundays when we come home, and my wife vows never to return, and starts looking at apartment listings in some other part of the city. Usually she calms down by the next week. Along with you moving, I can only imagine in horror if both our families left at the same time.

    You and I talk about our situation from time to time, in vague, “Yeah, well, what do you do?” sorts of terms, and leave it at that. I feel just as helpless and frustrated about the situation as you do, but until now I thought I might be the only one who felt so strongly.

    My question to you (and everyone else on this post) is: do you think it would be inappropriate, or “not supporting our local leaders,” if we actually sat down seriously and thought about solutions and possible changes, then took them to one of our imported High Councilmen, who isn’t as close to the situation?

  8. Nate on December 8, 2003 at 11:29 am

    It sounds as though it may make sense to combine your ward with another, more functional ward. They did this with some dysfunctional wards here in Little Rock and the result was one, ultra-functional, superbly administered ward.

  9. Kaimi on December 8, 2003 at 11:58 am

    Hi Logan,

    It’s good to see you on this thread, since I know you can relate to the topic :).

    Let’s see, if both of our families left, that would mean the collapse of primary infrastructure(Mardell), primary music (Mardell, me), young women (Amy), ward music (you, me, and Amy), Institute (you) and serious blows to Elders (me) and ward mission (you). (Also, it would deplete by 100% the number of substitute-for-any-class-on-30-seconds-notice people in the ward, a position which is used all too often).

    I often think that we need to get people from Inwood. Inwood is an incredibly thriving ward, and its chapel is closer to many of our members than the Kingsbridge chapel.

    As to the differences between our ward and Inwood, the following tale illustrates: I moved out of Columbia housing at the same time as several other graduates. One such graduate settled about 20 streets south of me, and attends Inwood. When we left Manhattan, we had similar profiles — active elder, well educated member, no particular distinguishing experience in leadership. Upon arrival in Inwood, he was, as I recall, called as an assistant building cleaning coordinator. I arrived in Kingsbridge 2, and was immediately put into the Elders Quorum presidency (I became the counselor; previously there was only a president) and have had 3-4 callings at a time since.

    As far as I am concerned, any ward that can take an active, educated member and call him as an assistant building cleaning coordinator can spare a few bodies to fill in the bishopric of its neighboring ward. (The bishopric doesn’t have an Executive Secretary, since the Exec secretary — Logan — was called as Ward Mission leader, because the mission leader was called to replace the high-priests group leader, who had in turn been inserted into the vacancy in the bishopric at second counselor). (I think I got all the links in that chain right, but I may have missed one or two).

    Finally, I should admit that when I read Nate’s post last week mentioning that he was an Elders Quorum instructor, I was green with envy. A ward that can take Nate Oman and make him an EQ instructor — ahh, that would be so nice. If Nate ever set foot in our ward, it would be a race to see if I could grab him for Elders Quorum presidency before the bishop got to him for Exec Secretary. :)

  10. Aaron Brown on December 8, 2003 at 8:21 pm

    My wife and I are members of a Los Angeles ward (Wilshire) that includes Skid Row within its boundaries. We’ve been here for over three years now. Needless to say, I can relate to all of the previous comments, and I often wonder how we’ve managed to last here this long. Chuch can be amazingly unstimulating a lot of the time. Very few active members are competent enough to serve in any capacity. I have, on occasion, taught combined Gospel Essentials and Gospel Doctrine, only to spend the next hour teaching combined Elders Quorum and High Priests. Maybe this will happen again some Sunday when I’ve been asked to speak in Sacrament, and the other speaker will fail to show. Imagine: Almost three full hours of me! It’s enough to drive one to inactivity…

    I must say, however, that being in this ward has had several unexpected benefits. I now have a much greater appreciation of what it takes to make a ward function, and I have found that by being forced to take the lead in making things happen, I am much more invested in how everything turns out. I also find myself interacting with and caring about people I would never otherwise run across. As someone who has been perpetually bored in Church for much of my life, I am in what should be one of the most boring wards of all, but I find the experience more meaningful than I did in say, Cambridge, where I was just one more angst-ridden intellectual, or the wealthy, L.A. suburb ward I grew up in, where smugness and self-righteousness was so often the rule.

    On the one hand, maybe I’m just making the banal point that “being a leader/teaching a class is more stimulating than just being a passive church attendee.” Well, duh! But what I’m also trying to say is that if I were in a regular ward, I’d probably still be pissed off a good deal of the time, picking fights with Brother So-and-So who imbibed a bit too much McConkie on his mission. In my ward, I don’t have the time for such things, nor the inclination, given that most of the members are struggling economically to the point that they haven’t gotten around to making a rigid ultra-orthodoxy part of their shtick.

    So, all in all, it’s been a good experience, though one that I do want to eventually end. Of course, I should point out that my wife and I do not yet have any children. I’m sure the costs of being in a ward like this will be much more palpable when we do. Then, we’ll probably run to the hills (in both senses)!

    Aaron B.

  11. Adam Greenwood on December 8, 2003 at 11:13 pm

    I don’t at all see the harm of bringing forward a list of problems and alternative solutions. This is our church. We make it function. We sustain the leaders, which means God sometimes works through us to guide them and answer their prayers.

    By all means, give the leaders a chance now to exercise their stewardship before you and Kaimi leave and then they have to.

  12. Randy on December 11, 2003 at 6:09 pm

    Aaahhhh . . . . A topic near and dear to my heart. I live in the “Atlanta Ward.” I don’t think our ward approaches the dysfunction of Kaimi’s ward, but we certainly have our issues. Our ward takes up all of downtown/midtown Atlanta and extends well into the southern suburbs, many of which are drowning in poverty, crime, and drugs. To drive from one end of our ward to the other takes about an hour — on the freeway, without traffic. We have never done a precise census count, but we believe there are about a million or so people living in our ward. When I moved here about four years ago, there were 855 people on the ward list, of which about 140 or so came to church on any given week. Our ward list is now down to about 550, but only because we had a great ward clerk who tracked down all these people. He has long since moved away.

    About a month after I moved here, I was called as the High Priest Group Leader, at the ripe old age of 28. I presided over a group of about 10 high priests (or at least 10 people who attended high priests group). About half of them could not read. Most of the others did not come to class because they were busy in their callings. About three months after that, I was called as a counselor in the Bishopric. Our Bishop at the time (like myself) was lawyer at a big Atlanta law firm. He was 26 when he was called. He too has long since moved away. Indeed, of the group of young married couples that were here when I moved here, all have left, except for one, and they are moving at the end of December.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think you can probably begin to get a sense of the challenges our ward faces, particularly as to the dearth of MP leadership. Despite these problems, I absolutely love our ward. In fact, many of the people I am most fond of don’t have a penny to their names and have never set foot on a college campus. I love the diversity of our ward. About half of our members are black, about half are white. Our members come from every walk of life, and from just about every corner of the globe. While our ward certainly has its fair share of problems, I love it here, and would not seriously consider changing wards, if I only had myself to consider.

    But kids change the equation. Right now, our ward has enough people (mostly Georgia Tech students) to make the primary run as well as one could ever hope. Frankly, that has been the exception rather than the rule. While at the moment we have a handful of young, active families, most of them will be moving out in the next year or so when they finish school. The problem is only getting worse as it becomes more and more expensive to live in-town. Because there are very few places within our ward that are affordable and safe, it is hard to keep families with kids here. The result is that the YM/YW programs consist almost exclusively of kids that come from dysfunctional and/or inactive families. In fact, it is a significant accomplishment for a young woman to make it through the YW program and into RS without getting pregnant. While I am not exactly interested in moving to a traditional Utah ward (consisting of about 250 members spread out over three or four streets, perhaps with half of an apartment complex), it would certainly be nice to shield our kids (to the extent it is possible) from the challenges the youth in our ward face. The result is that we too are looking at our options, including a move to greener pastures.

    In the end, I agree with the comment made earlier — you simply have to do what is best for your family, whatever that is.

  13. Roger Corman on January 4, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Kaimi,

    BUCK UP! You need to stop whining and stop focusing on the bad. Stop worrying and stop allowing pessimistic feelings to run your life. Go to church where you are supposed to. Stop thinking about “jumping off the balloon”. Stop thinking about “what could have been”. You don’t go to church to see what life is like in a utopian ward. In reality, your ward may be worse off than others in the metaphorical spectrum of good and bad ward, but, you’ve obviously forgotten the reasons for going to church.

    A) Take the sacrament.
    B) Learn to love. (This is probably a greater challenge for you)
    C) LEARN (being the active verb) to magnify you’re calling.

    You won’t be perfect at any of the 3, but you should be progressing. Posting some whiny diatribe on whether or not it would be good to buck out of your current ward shows that you’ve got plenty of room to grow.

    Joseph Smith once said… (and no, this isn’t from memory. I remembered where it was but I had to look it up)
    “I will give you one of the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying they are out of the way…then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy and if he does not repent he will apostatize, as God lives.”

    Essentials in Church History
    by Joseph Fielding Smith
    page 228

    I don’t know why I’m wasting my time posting when I should be studying this morning. I just got called into the elders quorum presidency and have been doing some research when I found your post. It was frustrating to witness a total lack of commitment and faith. I can’t belive that you have not only allowed things to degrade to this point, but second you’re willing to post about it on the WWW, for all to see. Memebers, non-members, new converts, and potential converts. THIS ISN’T THE FORUM FOR HANDLING PROBLEMS AND FEELINGS OF THIS NATURE! If I was the EQ President, I probably wouldn’t have a very good feeling working with you. Just go to church, do your best, and try to love all around you. It isn’t that difficult. Why have you made it such?

    Know that I am by no means perfect in this matter or any other. I am full of folly and faithlessness, ad infinitum. But, it isn’t hard to spot fundamental problems with your post. I don’t mean to berate. I’m just pissed to hear it from you.

    Sorry if I was bluntly and harsh and less than sensitive, but I believe everything I said.

    Roger F. Corman

  14. Kristine on January 4, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    Ah, yes, Roger, far better to use this public forum to demonstrate the self-righteousness and lack of charity of which church members are capable than to vent the legitimate frustrations of service in a difficult setting.

  15. Jim F. on January 4, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Kristine: touché.
    Roger: You seem to believe that “I believe everything I said” justifies being blunt, harsh, and insensitive, to which we could add judgmental, unkind, and a number of other adjectives. Since when is that true?

  16. Gordon Smith on January 4, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    Roger,

    Based on your comment and your website, I infer that you have embraced the phrase “buck up!” as an animating life principle. While I have sympathy for this sentiment in many circumstances, I think you have misjudged Kaimi and inappropriately minimized his concerns.

    Kaimi’s concerns are shared by many members, particularly in urban wards. Indeed, I have had experiences and feelings that are very similar to those that he described. While I observed some friends in the ward who dealt with the challenges more nobly than I, others did not fare as well. Those experiences still provide a motivation for me to do better in my present circumstance, and I appreciate the opportunity that I have had to compare my experiences with Kaimi’s and to learn from him.

    One thing that makes this site great is that all of us — the bloggers and those who comment here — have been willing to discuss the honest concerns of faithful Mormons in a respectful manner. I hope that you will stay around long enough to contribute more meaningfully to future discussions.

  17. Aaron Brown on January 4, 2004 at 11:23 pm

    In my experience, “righteous indignation” is THE favorite emotion of many, many people. Problem is, life just doesn’t provide very many occasions to become legitimately indignant. This can be very frustrating. Boo-Hoo. What to do? Answer: Go around manufacturing “indignation scenarios,” no matter how implausible the events or conversations that allegedly trigger them.

    Roger’s rant motivated me to re-read Kaimi’s initial post, to see if I somehow missed something on the first read. I didn’t. Sorry Roger … I suggest you spend another few hours scouring the internet for some other context in which to ply your trade more believably. You’re bound to hit something eventually…

    Aaron B

  18. Clark Goble on January 4, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    Roger a tip for your new calling. Berating is only a good motivational technique in the Marine Corp. For the rest persuasion is often far better.

  19. G LaVetter on February 6, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    Hey guys… I know this is a very late post, but it is mainly for Kaimi… maybe you’ll check in. I share your frustration as do many families church-wide. In our ward, a few core families carry the heavy burdens of keeping the auxiliaries running, most without full presidencies. We are a young couple with 2 young kids, I am YW pres, my husband is EQ pres, full-time employed and full-time doctorate student. We have grown spiritually by leaps and bounds and it is my testimony that the Lord qualifies, strengthens and supports those whom he calls (either to callings, or to membership in difficult wards). That is not to say that He will never alleviate or lighten our burdens, however. PRAY about where to live, when to move, what’s best for your family’s growth, and then have the FAITH to commit to doing the will of the Lord. He absolutely will guide your family if you let Him. It may be His will to strengthen and increase your testimony through service, and to have other “missions” for you to fulfill elsewhere, in His time. Also, if you get an answer to your prayers that it is time to move on, trust that the Lord will replace the outstanding contribution that your family is making to your ward, with another valiant family who is ready to step-up and take on more responsibility (and blessings). Best of luck… remember, you are not alone!

  20. jp in lv nv on December 16, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    Kaimi, I think there is nothing worse than the CHURCH taking a father or mother from family, that is not the point of the GOSPEL. I never saw my father ever -due to his plethora of callings- and I had a very hard time with going to church, how could I love something that stole my parent? I think my advise dittos the “Get the Big Guns in the Stake involved”, maybe threaten to leave, but most of all, your responsibility lies in the life of your babies. Everyone else in your ward are adults. Make them act like adults.

  21. Kaimi Wenger on December 16, 2005 at 8:57 pm

    I agree, JP. I eventually left my dysfunctional ward when I changed jobs. (My original link wasn’t clear on that, and I’ve updated the link). As far as I know, it’s still a mess. Thankfully, not one that I have to deal with every Sunday.

    I know that the issue is still very much a live one for some of our readers, hence the From the Archives post.

  22. Tim J. on December 16, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    “Can’t a stake president confront people when they are not attending the ward they live in, and help them see that they are needed there?”

    Ward members attending a different ward outside where they live are not to be given callings in those wards, nor be able to receive a temple recommend since the interview would not be done by THEIR bishop. This is unless their move has been approved by the SP. But this would be hard to enforce w/o offendng people.

    It sounds like your ward needs a serious reorganization and your boundaries need changing.

  23. Bradley Ross on December 17, 2005 at 12:20 am

    Interesting how times change. When I first read this post I was living in an Orem, UT ward where hand-delivering a flyer to every home was a pleasant evening walk and where I knew the names of all the non-members and less-actives. There weren’t many.

    Now I live in another ward, also in Utah. I have very different views now! My current ward is still far more functional than Kaimi’s description, but we struggle in many things. Elder Perry’s talk in the first Worldwide Leadership Training satellite broadcast, titled as I recall it “The Basic Unit,” talked about how small wards feel very stretched because they think they have to implement the whole program of the church. He then explained that this isn’t true. I wish the text of that talk were available on the internet. I no longer have a copy.

    I wonder if our failure to grasp that “basic unit” concept makes church more difficult than it needs to be.

  24. Erica Merrell on December 17, 2005 at 1:08 am

    Shortly before we moved from New Jersey, they reorganized the inner city Philadelphia branches into wards with both functional and dysfunctional parts to try to help alleviate some of the issues brought up here. I’d be interested to see how that worked out, since our ward had been organized in the same way a few years before and it didn’t work out really well. The dysfunctional New Jersey half, for many understandable and many sad reasons, was practically ignored by the functional Pennsylvania half. But like Nate said, it works sometimes.

    I have to admit that we’ve loved homechurching. Sometimes I wonder if small neighborhood meetings in members’ homes in these difficult places might be better.

  25. Jed on December 17, 2005 at 1:14 am

    I think the post shows us how the church can help us grow by putting us in intractable positions that require our faith, prayers, stamina, and ingenuity. In this case, the opposing tugs are self-sacrifice and self-preservation. When is a sacrifice too much? When does self-preservation become an act of selfishness? Only God can give us the answers, especially when dependants are involved.

    I don’t wish to trivialize the post, because I think it is a profound one, but I wish the Mormon film genre would tackle themes like this one instead of settling for the inane themes which will soon be exhausted if they are not already. The best film has lead characters pulled in two equally compelling directions as Kaimi’s post does. Here he stands on the edge of being a saint or being a sinner, an agonizing place to be. Then he faces the awful recognition of realizing his decision may be responsible for the welfare of his children. We would do well to try and capture that human dilemma.

  26. Ariel on December 17, 2005 at 1:17 am

    The ward where I grew up was similar in that it had a high turnover rate and a few core families that were rotated through the leadership positions. Testimony meetings were never boring, although they often consisted of people complaining about how they had to go to church to get church welfare checks. The biggest problem I noticed was my parents trying to find a place for their children to go every Sunday morning during Ward Council Meeting, since they both had to attend. I’m sure there were bigger problems, but I was a child and didn’t notice. I wouldn’t worry about your ward scarring your children- my parents read the scripture storybooks to us in FHE, and I learned anything there that I would have learned in Primary if there had been a teacher. No lasting scars- I think.

  27. claire on December 17, 2005 at 1:45 am

    Ariel, you mention your childhood… what about your teen years in a struggling/bordering on non-existant youth program? This is the problem I worry we will face in a ward very similar to what Kaimi describes….

  28. Not Ophelia on December 17, 2005 at 2:03 am

    Teens, and dysfunctional wards is something we’re dealing with right now [fun times.] It’s much, much worse than dealing with younger kids in a dysfunctional ward. But I’ve already blogged about that over at FMH.

    Still haven’t decided what we’re going to do about it, though.

    NO

  29. Todd on December 17, 2005 at 3:09 am

    Kaimi,
    I know this may sound like a cheesy answer, but have you prayed about whether you should stay or leave?
    I’m in a stressful job situation–working with some very unkind, unjust, and genuinely manipulative people–I lose sleep over it, it stresses my marraige sometimes, but for the time being, I’ve chosen to stick it out (my wife supports me on this, for the time being). Part of the reason why is because of feelings from praying whether or not I should stay.
    My point is this: your situation is legitimately bad–there are clear reasons for leaving it behind–letting go of the balloon, as you put it, but there are also obviously opportunities to stay and try to help solve some of the problems. *Either* choice is correct, in my mind, but individual circumstances about what you (and your family) should tolerate and what you should not are so unique that I really think that you are entitled to spiritual guidance in the matter.
    I may yet choose to leave my job, but it will be because I’ve thought it out (or because my wife has become genuinely affected by it), and because of some kind of affirmation from prayerful meditation.

    -t

  30. Todd on December 17, 2005 at 3:12 am

    oops…it’s late… sp on marraige…make that “marriage”

  31. Eve on December 17, 2005 at 6:24 am

    Random thoughts from a longtime lurker:

    I’ve never faced the dire situations described here, but I did struggle with burnout from having up to four callings at once during the six years I and my husband lived in a rural branch. More than once I met with the branch president and told him that I simply couldn’t take it anymore, that I had to quit doing something, and both times they agreed to release me from one of my callings. However, in spite of those periods of being burned out and overwhelmed, I loved that branch. It was, from all accounts, much more stable than the erratic situations Kaimi and others describe. I felt accepted there as I never did in the large Utah wards in which I grew up–which, by the way, had fully staffed and highly functional gala youth programs in which I spent some miserable years, due in part to some youth and leaders’ unkindness, but due much more to what I can only call profound cultural disconnect. I loved the branch because they had to be glad to take me, even though I was a hopeless nerd, because I showed up and tried to stagger through my callings.

    I tend to think the ideal church unit is small but stable (clearly a difficult combination both to come by and to sustain). A ward that has an assistant building cleaning coordinator is too big.

    (That term _unit_ always sounds like a toaster to me, while _ward_ sounds like a hospital room. _Branch_ is so nice and organic.)

  32. tracy m on December 17, 2005 at 10:02 am

    Shortly after we were baptized, (as part of a wonderful and active ward) reorganization put us in a ward such as Kaimi describes. My husband had only been a member for 4 months, and I for 2 years. It was devastating to us, our testimonies and to our activity. We struggled mightily with wanting to be obedient, but still having such a limited grasp on basic gospel principles and not yet having a really firm foundation in the Church. We were also fighting disapproval and threats of being cut-off from our families for becomming Mormon, and we simply could not take it.

    My husband simply quit going, and I tried with the kids, but I usually ended up out in the car crying until the block was over. This went on for six months, which isn’t long, I know, but it felt like the end of the world to us. The Stake President called us one night, and no questions asked, transefered us back to our old ward, regardless of the new boundaries.

    My point is, for some of us, the option of hanging onto the balloon just doesn’t work. We would have died on the vine and probably never returned to activity, and the thought of that makes me feel ill. Because of compassionate leadership in our stake, we are now doing fine, and on our way to the temple in January.

    I know that the other ward needs a lot of help- they still do, but not all of us are able or qualified to give it, no matter how hard we try. For us, being given permission to let go of the balloon is what saved us. And I am so grateful.

  33. Ariel on December 17, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Claire- I began my teen years in that ward, and at the time, two or three of the “leadership-quality sisters” were running the YW program. My mother was single-handedly running the Primary and was quite frustrated that she had one teacher who was doubling as chorister and counselor in the presidency, while the YW had multiple leaders. She would write nasty letters to the Bishop about it, actually.

    I loved my time in that YW program. Thinking back on it, it was because the leaders cared about the girls- all of the girls, no matter what. They couldn’t be selective about who to love, because none of the girls were what I would call “cool.” The Cuban immigrant got the same treatment as Molly Mormon. The leaders talked about chastity, but were kind to the pregnant girls, and taught the rest of us (by example) that we love sinners, too.

    Then we moved to Idaho, to a ward with a full presidency in the YW, and in every other organization. No one in my family had callings for months. The YW leaders focused on the girls who were similar to their children- in other words, the cheerleader types. The other girls were ignored at best, or tormented and publicly embarassed at worst. This was coming from the leaders, not the other youth.

    My “dysfunctional” childhood ward didn’t hurt me, not even when I was a teenager. But the “normal” ward caused some problems. I guess the bottom line is that it’s hard to know what kind of ward will be best for your children.

  34. queuno on December 17, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    My experience has been that when people move from a “bad” ward to a “good” ward, they find that the so-called “good” ward isn’t just what it was cracked up to be. My general “rule” of thumb is that when I have had opportunity to look for a place to live, I may very well avoid “bad” wards, but “good” wards do not get any bonus points (in other words, a ward condition can only factor negatively).

    I have also found, though, that so-called “struggling” wards are a deserved challenge that the Lord has deliberately set up for faithful members — it gives them an opportunity to serve and to learn something.

  35. CS Eric on December 19, 2005 at 10:46 am

    I find this an interesting subject, because we are now attending the fourth ward (in our marriage) in which we are not living within its boundaries. The first three were deliberate; we asked for and got permission to either keep or change our records, based on our family’s needs. This time it was (kind of) a mistake. We moved here on a Friday, on Saturday called the mission home to ask what ward’s boundaries we were in (we didn’t have internet access to do the “find a unit” search on the Church’s website), and started attending on Sunday. Only two weeks ago we found we weren’t really in those boundaries after all when the EQ President, our Home Teacher, got lost trying to find our apartment.

  36. Ryan on December 19, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    Interesting quandary. I want to mention something that popped into my head while I was reading. I do not know whether I agree with this or not yet. Food for thought though….

    Does managing 4 or more callings compare to losing your home, your land and members of your family to mobs while you prepare to walk across a frozen/muddy/arid landscape with all your belongings in a small handcart on the way to settle a land that you’ve never been to that is inhabited primarily by Native Americans who by and large haven’t had good experiences with white people of whom you are one.

    Again, I’ve been through my own dysfunctional branch and been pretty overloaded. It’s not that I don’t sympathize. I just wonder if my murmuring is unrighteous or if the Lord really doesn’t want me to have to deal with such a mess.

  37. jimbob on December 27, 2005 at 10:41 am

    I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, so I’ll spare many of the details, but I spent law school in NO in a branch where any active member had two to three callings. On more than one Sunday I conducted sacrament meeting, spoke at sacrament meeting, taught GD, and then conducted and taught EQ. I had 25 people on my HT list, and was doing it myself as my companion was incarcerated in my first year and there was never anyone to replace him. Of course, I knew I was leaving in 3 years, which was sometimes helpful when I got frustrated.

    Without trying to offend anyone, what got me most angry were deserters. When active people would move in, find out how much they had to do, and then purposefully leave for a comfortable suburban ward…it really got me angry. I became more so when I found that active students that were considering moving there to go, e.g., to med school, were being advised by the large populations of students in these suburban wards to avoid our branch because it was too much work. I don’t know that I disagreed with the work part, but I know it was never going to get better so long as we were treated like a pariah. I’ve since decided that I will never choose where to live by what church unit the house lies in, good or bad. I just choose the right house or apartment for us, and then we go and help out where we’re needed.

    I’ve also thought a lot about the kids issue. The complaints among some families (we were childless at the time) were similar to Kaimi’s: not many other kids and primary teaching leaves something to be desired. But I’m not sure the lessons they can learn growing up in one of these units more than compensates for the lack of programming in primary. The few active families that had stuck it out until the recent flooding really had some great kids who understood what service to others meant.

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