Sitting in Fast and Testimony meeting last Sunday, I started thinking about why I enjoy my ward so much, and it came down to the people in it.
There’s Brother K who, though mentally handicapped, bears a sincere, simple, short testimony every Fast Sunday and loves to read verses for Gospel Doctrine class in a sing-song voice. And there’s Brother B, also mentally handicapped, who sits on the front row of Sunday School class, often adding his comments. Whenever Sister R shares her thoughts about the Gospel, she does so in a voice on the edge of weeping. Brother J comes to Gospel Doctrine class actually having read the lesson and anxious to talk about his insights, as does Sister E, who will read the verses we are discussing when no one else will volunteer. Brother L doesn’t say much, but he listens carefully and stops the conversation when it heads in a direction he doesn’t think good by reminding us of what is important. Sister M gets so excited about the things we talk about that she can hardly control herself from commenting, and Brother M often brings us back to reality by making connections between the topic of discussion and our real lives. Brother and Sister A, like Brother L, don’t often comment, but when they do, they let us know that they have been listening and have strong opinions (and that my opinions are nonsense). Brother Q tells friendly, happy stories that seldom have anything to do with the lesson. Brother H looks like the Marlboro man and is equally as quiet as I imagine that cowboy to be, and Sister H often puts people off with what they mistakenly take to be her anger or criticism. But either of them would give you an arm or a leg if you needed one, and each is as committed to the gospel and the Church as you could hope for, though few who haven’t known them a long time know about that commitment because the Hs don’t meet standard criteria. Brother Z left the ward for a long time, looking for a wife after his divorce. But he’s back and incredibly self-aware, stopping any discussion to ask questions and often recognizing his failures, but without self-pity. And Brother T comes but rarely speaks. When he does, he seems not yet to have figured out the difference between what one says in church and what one says at AA: we know more about his struggles than I would like to know. Young Brother E is there because his parents make him come, but he passes out hymn books with a smile and seems to enjoy talking with his friends at church. He’s even willing to talk to me. Sister S sings with an amazing voice but rarely speaks above a whisper in church. She picks up the marker and the eraser after Sunday School class, saying “Thank you for the lesson” as she does and returning them to the library.
In addition to the ordinances we perform, those people and several dozen others make our meetings: Our Sacrament and Testimony meetings are led by a bishop who obviously loves what he is doing and wants to do it well, at the same time that he is aware of his limitations. Lots of people show up for Gospel Doctrine class, and it is rarely difficult to get them to participate, responding to questions, asking questions, and making jokes at the teacher’s expense. And the joking doesn’t end with Sunday School. The High Priests spend a good part of each meeting ribbing each other, and I’ve heard the Elders do the same.
If I put aside my selfish desire that the ward meet my presumed need for intellectual stimulation, I begin to see it as what it is, a perspective on the Celestial Kingdom: filled with loving, good people, each with her or his idiosyncracies and differences, joined loosely and happily together in divine work. The ward isn’t very intellectual. It is not yet a place of refinement, beauty, and genuine art–and it will be a long time until it is. Since it isn’t yet the Celestial Kingdom, it is often a bit messy and disorganized. And we often fail to do what we should or we fail to do things as we should. But in spite of some shortcomings, I suspect that my ward is as good a glimpse as I’m going to get on this earth of the Celestial World.