Our patchwork ward family

June 12, 2008 | 49 comments
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There are advantages to attending a ward too small for fixed wooden benches in the chapel. I like to make sure my family is sitting together at the beginning of sacrament meeting, or at least that everyone is in the chapel somewhere. But even if we start out that way, it rarely lasts. Sometimes a couple of our kids scoot up a row to sit with their primary friends, or their friends will come sit with us. Sometimes our kids scoot back to sit with some of the ward youth. The configuration changes each week. I suppose I would prefer my children to sit right next to us, but with rows no more than six chairs wide, escape is never more than two chairs away, and not every battle is worth fighting.

In fact, our kids are probably less noisy when they’re sitting a couple rows back with the youth. Occasionally I’ll have to turn around and shush someone, but the teenager on whose lap the kid is sitting is also a fairly effective interpreter and enforcer of parental wishes. I suppose I would generally prefer that my children listen to the talks, but quiet inattentiveness is the best we get most weeks. Last Sunday I managed to capture my older kids’ attention for a minute by talking about galaxies and Egypt and Kolob—actually, I got most of the ward’s attention by talking about Kolob—but you can’t talk about Kolob every week.

Our ward is probably around average size for Germany, with about a hundred people attending, give or take. What this means is that, as long as the ward has existed, there has been a reasonably good chance that one parent from any given family would be sitting on the stand in a leadership position, giving a talk, or away on stake business, and there are also family ties between a lot of members. Keeping children quiet in church has not just been everybody’s business, like it seems to be everywhere, but everybody’s responsibility. We’ve heard the bishopric mention the importance of reverence the usual number of times, but it’s not the embarrassing experience it is for parents of small, noisy children, not when the people who wish for more reverence in sacrament meeting are able and willing to make themselves useful by adopting an active child for a few minutes.

Our bus back home comes twice an hour on Sundays, and I think we’ve made it to the bus that leaves just after sacrament meeting ends exactly once in almost two years. So we’ll head home forty minutes after church gets out, or an hour and ten minutes, or an hour and forty minutes, depending on how many people we need to talk to, and how many friends are still around for our kids to play with. Most other ward members drive to church and could leave at the time of their choosing, but we’re rarely the last people to leave.

49 Responses to Our patchwork ward family

  1. john f. on June 12, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Sounds familiar!

  2. Norbert on June 12, 2008 at 7:37 am

    Yeah, this is our ward too. We have Sac mtg first, and usually start five minutes after 10 to match the bus schedule.

  3. john f. on June 12, 2008 at 8:57 am

    We share a building with the Stratford ward with which you are familiar, Norbert, and for some reason the decision was made to have both meetings running concurrently rather than at separate times during the day, so we start with Priesthood/Relief Society and end with Sacrament meeting while the other ward starts off with Sacrament Meeting. The building is very crowded on Sunday morning but empty on Sunday afternoon.

  4. Adam Greenwood on June 12, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Good to hear.

    Sunday I managed to capture my older kids’ attention for a minute by talking about galaxies and Egypt and Kolob—actually, I got most of the ward’s attention by talking about Kolob

    Yeah.

  5. Ray on June 12, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    We served in a branch with average attendance of about 30 recently, and there is something wonderful about the closeness of all the members in such a situation. Our teenage son taught Primary; our younger teenage daughters played the piano and led the music – and gave talks and said prayers much more frequently than in a large ward. We lingered longer during that time than any other time in our marriage.

    There are definitely blessings associated with a larger ward, but I wish all members could experience what we experienced in that branch.

  6. Sarah on June 12, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    I liked church more when I was “the” Laurel (my younger sister was “the” Merrie Miss, though we found out later that the class had been renamed and integrated with the boys years earlier but no one ever told anyone in our branch.) Being able to push the “pews” forward to play (half court) basketball) was cool. And Sunday School was definitely more interesting when there were four kids and the teacher was a Priest younger than me. ^_^

    However, not having to drive an hour and a half to get to the stake center in order to “host” the stake dance (because, they explained to us, none of the kids from the big city were willing to drive out to our building…) and having more than one piano playing adult available and not putting the four-year-olds in the same Primary class as the nine-year-olds and escaping having to hear my youngest sister wail about being the ONLY kid in the entire Primary who’s willing to sing is nice, too. She wasn’t kidding about the singing, incidentally: she still twitches when you bring up the Sacrament Meeting Program, because she was stuck doing every non-adult part for years.

  7. Mike on June 13, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    My daughter’s age group has about 8-10 girls depending on how you slice it. They are rising seniors in high school and a couple of them graduated this spring. It has been a great group of friends for her and it will be sad to see them all go their seperate ways next year. Although challenging at times, and far from perfect, I think she is having a good experience growing up with this group of youth in the ward.

    My son, a couple of years younger only has one other boy his age in the ward. They have been good friends, but we live about 30 minute apart. We have made different choices with scouting; my son is a leader in a large super-active non-LDS troop with 80 kids from his high school. His friend struggled through, often alone, in our lame ward scouting program to sprint to the Eagle’s nest as quickly as possible. From my son’s perspective he cheated and has crappy scouting skills. It is also not fair that my son gets to plan and go on all these elaborate camp-outs, many of which spill over on to Sundays and his friend doesn’t. They don’t have very much in common any more.

    We lost two young men to graduation this spring and our total number of active YM will be 7 the coming year. Two of them speak English as a second language and seldom come over on Wed. night. Two are just enough younger than my son and his friend (about 2 years) that they really don’t want to have anything to do with them. The seventh is a year younger than that. Some of the parents of these younger lads think my son is a bad influence on them. About the worst thing my son does is wear flip-flops to MIA, which is strictly forbidden. And his hair is out of control. It is like making water run uphill getting him to even go. He is definitely not having a positive experience in any church activity right now, except one: early morning seminary. There he has an exceptional woman teacher and he is an auxillary member of his sister’s posse.

    We can cite warm memories of shared trials in these quaint little wards and branches. But I think if we look at cold hard data, we will find that there is a critical mass of youth below which our retention is increasingly likely to fall off. I know my daughter’s group is above this critical mass, barely. My son’s group (pair really) is far below it. You can argue that the family is more crucial than the church to the development of youth. That is true. The family can raise youth up with integrity and good character and a likelihood of living the general principles of the gospel. But I believe the youth’s long-term commitment to participation in the social organization of the church is largely determined by their experiences at church more than at home.

    Two questions: First, what number of youth is this critical mass? I think that depends on the youth involved and what schools they attend and their age distribution and siblings and economic challenges and similar or different interests and their family situations. The BSA is the most sucessful youth activity in modern history with tens of millions of former members. Their experience is that patrols need to have at least 5-8 boys and three patrols are needed for a troop to function properly. So I would guess about 25 as a general average for a lower limit, which is more than double my daughter’s group. If we insist on splitting the YM and the YW into two seperate organizations for most of the time, that would be 50 youth minimum per ward, assuming both sexes have similar needs (which is probably not true). Not single digits of each as will be true in all of the wards in my stake next year.

    Second question, what do we do if we find ourselves far below that number, whatever it might be? I have discussed this with my ward and stake leaders many times. Although they seem empathetic to my concerns, they haven’t done a damn thing about it in close to a decade. The rest of the ward seems too big (175-200 Sacrament meeting attendence and 500 on the roster) to combine with another nearby ward; which are all too far away to conveniently meet together anyway, with traffic and gas prices increasing. They are not open to outside-the-box solutions that might bring larger numbers of non-LDS kids into our activities beyond a few stray friends. In retrospect, it appears to me that horrible choices were made, of where to draw ward boundaries and where to place expensive buildings many years ago, based partially on delusions of future rapid growth that never happened. Our youth pay the price with lower activity, poor long-term retention, fewer full-time missionaries and frequent assimilation into the larger non-LDS community.

    I hope I will look fondly back at this time with gratitude towards the church for all that they did in helping my two kids to “made it,” however that is defined. But if my kids don’t, it will be hard for me not to lay a heavy portion of the responsibility of what went wrong at the feet of a church with too many units divided out too small to function properly. Several parents of excellent youth who have already grown up in my ward and left the church in various ways are already in this position. It isn’t pleasant.

  8. Jim Donaldson on June 14, 2008 at 12:06 am

    My wife and I have lived our whole adult lives (30 years) in a small Denver central city ward; five of those years I was the bishop. We have never had many youth because the housing here is expensive and there seems to be, in the church, something of an almost genetic need to get young families to the farthest, newest and cheapest suburban housing developments. The character of the ward hasn’t changed the whole time we’ve been here. Recently married couples move to the ward (where all the exciting things in town happen), have a kid or two and last a year or three in the ward. Big nurseries, no youth. Lots of old people. Hundreds (really) of singles, 95% inactive. The ward membership turns over 100% per year. Still, it is the most wonderful ward for reasons that are not here germane. I love it.

    We raised two healthy very active (so far so good) daughters, now 22 and 27, here. They were the only active members in their high school and were often in church classes of two or three, combining whatever age groups necessary to make that number. Two or three kids at seminary, sometimes only my daughter.

    As a ward, when my daughters were young, we used to talk–obsess, really–about critical mass endlessly and try to figure out how to achieve it. I was a true believer and bugged the stake leaders with suggested boundary changes. We thought it would solve all our problems. One day, it finally occurred to me that it simply was not going to happen and (most importantly) that it did not matter. We had been praying for the wrong thing. The calvary was not going to rescue us. We needed to stop wasting time talking about critical mass and actually do something. We settled on having the best and most exemplary people in the ward be the YM and YW leaders–really load ‘em up–and specifically encouraged those leaders and teachers to develop very strong relationships with the kids–not to be their buddies, but their examples. They could not just go through the motions. We told them exactly what we were doing and why. And we left them in those callings long enough to do it, which is essential. We often had more leaders than active kids. My daughters greatly benefited from those relationships with these leaders and teachers. They were the critical relationships of their youth. They did not depend at all on relationships with peers for their relationship with the church. The leaders and teachers were usually only a few years older themselves than my daughters, but they were ideal role models, uniformly married in the temple, and had often made sacrifices to do that. My daughters remain in touch to this day with some of those leaders even though those leaders and teachers (most often parts of those young married couples) have moved from the ward. To do this, sometimes the Relief Society and priesthood leadership were minus a counselor and/or a secretary for a while and we had people that no other wards would have used at all to fill some of the other boxes on the organizational chart, but we had purpose and plan. It worked.

    This was a great benefit to my family. In many ways it was better than relationships with peers that always have an element of suspense because they can go south in bizarre ways in a heartbeat. Your kids do not need church member peers. The church is not a social club. They need to get spiritual nourishment at church, they can go to parties anywhere. Just like adult life. They need to be taught the gospel and loved by exemplary leaders.

    My daughters were always able to find terrific friends outside of the church whose adherence to similar values was often better than the some of the church members from adjoining wards. They had very active social lives. We mostly knew the families of their friends, enjoyed them, and approved.

    Youth retention is a serious problem for all wards, big or little, everywhere, for hundreds of reasons. Church wide, if I remember correctly, Primary attendance is usually around 75%, the number of missionaries around 10%. I do not think you can ever blame lack of retention on not having enough other scouts. A testimony based on a social experience is one built on sand–sooner or later it will collapse. Having few in numbers means that you have to deliver the essentials of the gospel and build genuine testimony–not bury them in social fluff. The kids don’t need a club, they need a church. They may not agree with or even understand it, but that is what they need. Everything in my experience teaches me that.

    Wards evolve. When you go to our stake center, a great portion of the Eagle Scouts on the foyer board were from our ward–60 years ago. By the time we moved here, the parents of all those scouts were retired and elderly. I eventually attended their funerals. The ward we shared a building with–farther away from middle of the city– then ran the same cycle about 15 years later. The pattern repeats itself in concentric circles until you are in the desert. Ten years ago our stake boundaries were jiggled to include some wards farther out so we would have more youth in the stake. The wards that were added now have 17 priests and 2 deacons and they are getting scared. Wait until they just have 2 YM total, which won’t be long. The bells are starting to ring all over again. Every ward will eventually face this.

    There maybe other ways to solve this problem, but we had a head start. That is how we did it here, and it worked just fine.

  9. Ray on June 14, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Thank you, Jim.

  10. Ivan Wolfe on June 14, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Great comment Jim.

    However, you said: “there seems to be, in the church, something of an almost genetic need to get young families to the farthest, newest and cheapest suburban housing developments.”

    I don’t agree with that. I think the genetic need is pretty much Middle Class American, not merely Mormon. Young families are going to go where they can afford to live, not because they’re Mormon.

    Other than than one nitpick, a great comment that bears further reflection.

  11. Eric Boysen on June 14, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Our stake recently moved all of the families with Mutual aged children from an adjoining ward into ours.We now have a vibrant youth program. The other ward is now missing a whole demographic. It works for us, but I wonder about our brothers and sisters on the other side of the freeway.

  12. Ardis Parshall on June 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    It works for us, but I wonder about our brothers and sisters on the other side of the freeway.

    I am in a ward without children between 3 and 18 — those families are all assigned to the only ward in the stake with a Primary or YM/YW. We miss them. Our bishop at the time our Primary (6 or 8 children) was taken away fought the stake as hard as he could without being unseemly. I like my ward members, but it is hard not to have any young people, and to be one of a tiny handful between 30 and 70. High Priest Group barbecues when you’re the only one under 85 are not a lot of fun, either.

  13. DavidH on June 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    “I think the genetic need is pretty much Middle Class American, not merely Mormon. Young families are going to go where they can afford to live, not because they’re Mormon.”

    There is some truth to this, but I wonder if active Mormons disproportionately move further out. I say this because we have lived in wards like the Donaldsons during our 29 years of marriage, and while we have noticed our Church friends routinely moving further out, we have not noticed the same thing with our neighbors or friends from work or our children’s friends from school. Indeed, while the schools our children attended have increased their enrollment, the LDS percentages and number of seminary students have steadily declined. I wonder if there is any academic study on the issue.

  14. Mike on June 14, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Reply to Jim # 8 from Mike

    Thank you for your insight. It really rattled me. One reply pops into my head:

    Why church then?

    For me it seems everything Jim mentions his small ward doing is really either family or close friends or bettter accomplished elsewhere if the small ward isn’t up to it. I guess I already sort of knew that when I put my son in the school cub pack about 8 years ago. It was the best thing we ever did for him and yet I feel so guilty about it. I thought church was a social club on the surface with several other aspects, some of eternal consequence. I can teach the principles of the gospel in my home but I can’t create other people and interact with them. Society has these other people but I thought there was this special little safe society of God’s people with common beliefs and goals called the church. Age doesn’t matter to adults, but to kids even one or two years age difference is a big deal. I wanted it to include more youth.

    The best and most exemplary people I currently know, the kind of people I want my kids to emulate, are not generally in the LDS church. Our ward pattern is to have one of the reluctant parents of the youth (with little imagination who will cause the least trouble, in my perspective) called as YM/YW/Primary President for a year or less and then the rest of the organization filled with the younger adults who have a rapid turnover. If our ward manages to call any really top notch people, like the current seminary teacher, then the kids gravitate there anyway. If it is more mediocracy, then why worry? If so few of the people they emulate are LDS, how can I expect them to retain an LDS identity after they leave my family?

    This is a statistical question so it must have an answer, right? I just don’t know it. I contend that larger youth programs have measurablly higher levels of retention, however you choose to honestly measure both variables. Jim seems to indicate that retention is similar across the board. (That 10% figure making it on a mission is extremely disturbing.) Anyone with access to the big computer in the tall building on North Temple have data that supports/refutes one proposition or the other? Local Protestant churches with successful youth ministries seem to favor larger congregations.

    I know this isn’t fair but Jim, the former Bishop with two successful children, might have a rosier view of things than a member who has struggled in various ways and watched some of their children go astray and prayed in desperation for the church to “send the calvary”. I suspect Jim is right and nothing is going to happen in my ward. Much of what Jim says rings true. Just for my critical mind, is there anyone else who shares Jim’s mature perspective even after seeing their children not “make it,’” in a small ward, however you want to define that?

    Jim, I thank you again. Your perspective is thought provoking! I am taking a dozen mostly non-LDS scouts backpacking into the wilderness for the next 2 weeks, so this will provide me with something to mull over in my mind, and keep me from stirring this pot further. Got to get packing.

  15. Julie M. Smith on June 14, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    DavidH, I am wondering if number of children plays into it: we moved into the hinterlands because we needed room for (hopefully) a large brood. If we’d only planned on one or two kids, then we could have spent that same amount of money on a much smaller house that was much closer in.

    Jim, your comment makes me a little uncomfortable because it sounds like you arranged the entire staffing of the ward around being sure that the needs of your own children were met. Now I’m going to assume that you were acting under the inspiration that you were entitled to as a bishop and that in your situation it was the right thing to do, but I’m drawing the line at making it a universal: there are probably wards out there who need their bang-up people serving in the RS secretary slot that you left empty because, in that ward, that sec. will be the one to find and remind everyone about the lost sheep who are, of course, someone else’s children, too. Again, none of this is criticism of what you did, but it is a reminder that each ward is different and that that’s why bishops (and other leaders) are entitled to inspiration for their unique circumstances.

  16. Jacob F on June 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Jim –

    I agree with everything you said (except the flight to suburbia comment). In fact, your comments match up well with our experiences here in downtown Phoenix. We have loads of young, upwardly-mobile professionals (and their children), but very few youth. I know my stake back home in Utah consolidated the scouting program at the stake level, so that there is one stake scout troop. I think this is a grave mistake. We try to have every ward YM and YW organization fully staffed, and the expectation is that even if only one boy is able to make it on a particular monthly campout, the campout happens anyway. Three leaders, one boy. One boy is worth the effort. (We do have quarterly courts of honor on a stake level though…)

  17. Julie M. Smith on June 14, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Jacob F.,

    As I said to Jim above: please do not construe any of the following as a criticism of your ward, where we’ll assume that you are following the Spirit and doing what is right in your circumstances. But, in general, to ask THREE families to go without their husband/father overnight so that one YM can go camping is, in general, a questionable allocation of resources. Of course “one boy is worth the effort,” but how many boys . . . and girls . . . and wives . . . were left at home so this could happen? (Again, I’m criticizing this as a general policy and not criticizing what happens in your ward.)

  18. Researcher on June 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Ditto to Julie in comment 17. Due to work schedules and commutes, many families do not have a lot of quality time with Dad even if he’s not camping with the scouts all the time. To some families this would be a slap in the face. From what I’ve heard, our ward has a very hard time staffing the YM because of expectations like this.

  19. Jacob F on June 14, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Re: 18 & 19

    It’s rare that a 1 boy 3 leaders situation actually happens, but I believe it’s not just the boy who benefits; the leaders benefit as well. Let me clarify that this isn’t some policy written in stone. But a man in our stake — a medical resident who is extremely busy — came up to me a few weeks after a training we had given emphasizing why we try to fully staff the YM organizations. It was a Sunday, and the previous Friday / Saturday they had held an overnight camping trip. Three boys had to pull out at the last minute, leaving just one. He was a shy boy. The leaders — including this resident — decided to go ahead with the trip anyway. The resident told me that they noticed a change in the boy, beginning when they told him they were still going even though it would just be him. By the end of the trip apparently the boy couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. The resident told me he had no regrets about doing the trip with just one boy. Let me add that this particular boy lives with his grandparents, who are not members, and bikes to church by himself.

    Extreme example, I know, but the idea is that one boy IS worth it. Also, the leaders decided on their own to go — we just taught them the principle, they made their own judgment call given the circumstances. I don’t think it’s a questionable allocation of resources at all. The men have a chance to serve, and the boy is blessed. With all due respect, to let one boy fall by the wayside just because he’s the only one around would be very sad indeed! (btw Julie, I enjoyed your George Wythe/TJE post and shared it yesterday with my wife’s little sister who went there this past year…she’s now thinking of starting over at BYU-Idaho…)

  20. Ray on June 14, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    See what happens when the full story is known and we don’t have to rely on the incomplete picture and make assumptions? Thanks, Jacob, for the extra details. As someone who sees shy, introverted boys who get ignored too often when the group activity falls apart, I appreciate the decision to let this young man know he was worth the experience.

  21. rbc on June 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    With respect to small numbers and weak leadership, our ward suffers from both. Consequently, I’ve set up a parallel young mens/young womens groups. I have two kids in YM/YW and our ward activities run the gamut from pathetic to weak, for all of the usual reasons (poor planning, lousy activities, poor attendance etc.) It extends to stake activities as well. Further, our SP will not approve any officially sanctioned trips to church history sites or anywhere outside of stake/ward boundaries. (we are easily a day’s drive to Hill Cumorah, Kirtland, DC, Philadelphia etc where the surrounding stakes routinely send their YM/YW during the summer.) So, I have organized trips to these locations with the youth in our ward. I regularly have activities at my house for all of the youth. To be sure, it would be nice to have a few more active families with sharp YM/YW in the ward and a more enlightened SP, but if those are not to happen then we’ll just take matters into our own hands. So far, no complaints not that anyone’s complaints would really stop me unless it were the kids whining and even then I’m not sure I’d stop.

    We are in the process of calendaring a night out at the Phillies with the kids in the ward. Of course I’ll extend an invitation to the YMP and YWP and won’t schedule the game to conflict with another ward/stake activity, and probably not on a Sunday-j/k. Citizens Bank Ballpark is outside of our ward and stake boundaries. I dare the SP and/or Bishop to try and stop me.

    I enjoyed reading and agree with comment # 8.

  22. Jim Donaldson on June 14, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    >Why church then?

    First, because it is true. It’s true even when it is annoying, maybe especially. Secondly, it’s also the place that puts more spiritual experiences in front of you than any other place, even if the parties are lame. You need the spiritual experiences, you need the group scripture study, you need the opportunities to serve, you need the weekly ritual, you need the sacrament, you need the discipline, you need the ordinances, you need the feeling of like minded people working together, you need the possibility of Zion. You don’t need the parties. If the church were a social club, I’d resign. I know of lots better social clubs.

    > For me it seems everything Jim mentions his small ward doing is really either family or
    > close friends or bettter accomplished elsewhere if the small ward isn’t up to it.

    But the ward is up to it. That’s the point. We had to stop waiting for the calvary and do what we could do. I wouldn’t change a thing. The other point is that the leaders and teachers are called and set apart. They are blessed with inspiration in ways that family members and even the closest friends are not. While it isn’t a crowd scene, it is still the institutional church working under priesthood leadership to meet the needs of ward members–in this case, the kids. That’s exactly what you want the leaders to do and have the kids learn. It’s just a smaller scale.

    >Our ward pattern is to have one of the reluctant parents of the youth (with little imagination who
    >will cause the least trouble, in my perspective) called as YM/YW/Primary President for a year or
    >less and then the rest of the organization filled with the younger adults who have a rapid turnover.

    Perspective may be hard to maintain here, but if this it is true, there’s your problem, not the critical mass. The critical mass is an excuse for poorly staffed and poorly run programs. The expectations are too low.

    >Jim, your comment makes me a little uncomfortable because it sounds like you arranged the
    >entire staffing of the ward around being sure that the needs of your own children were met.

    I understand how you could think that. But my children (one or the other of them) were in YW for a span of 12 years, the youngest one entered as the older one left, i.e., the younger one entered 6th grade during the older one’s senior year in high school. I was the bishop for the first 4 of those years. Since then, with the exception of a short-lived failed experiment when the stake eviscerated the ward and made it into 3 small adults-only branches (only to undo it a few years later), our ward has for a dozen years pretty much followed the same pattern–not for my kids, but the kids of the other active families who now have youth. We make no secret that even though our ward is 80% singles, that the tending for the families with children is our highest priority. Admittedly, this is a little selfish in that most of the leadership has children. That’s just how the church works. Those are the people, in general, who are invested completely in the ward. But we decided this back then because the time we have with the kids is so critical and so short. They are dependent on us for those experiences. We are blessed with very gifted young married couples and graduate students. We take advantage of them. We know that they will not be here long so we are shameless about working them to death. They will soon be leaving and their opportunities in their big new suburban wards will be quite different and they can rest then. We also have much longer to work with the hundreds of in-actives and occasionals. They have the Relief Society, the priesthood quorums, and themselves. They are adults. With the kids, the clock is ticking louder and, it always seems, faster.

    > I think the genetic need is pretty much Middle Class American, not merely Mormon. Young
    > families are going to go where they can afford to live, not because they’re Mormon.

    This may be true. I just know that there are some really nice neighborhoods in our ward with affordable smaller houses and cool schools, that no Mormons live in, but lots and lots of very nice families do. Is a 3500 square foot house and a big yard worth a 90 minute daily commute? All I have to do is look around me to see that I lose this argument by a landslide almost every day, especially at church. But still….

    I didn’t mean to hijack the thread with my anti-suburban prejudices, it wasn’t really the purpose of the comment as a whole. If I were smarter, I wouldn’t have mentioned it.

  23. Ivan Wolfe on June 14, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    here are some really nice neighborhoods in our ward with affordable smaller houses

    That answers it right there. I’ve got three kids (and a fourth on the way). This goes back to Julie’s #15 – smaller houses often don’t cut it with large(r) families. Given the choice between a small(er) house and a lengthy commute but big(ger) house, I’d go for the bigger house so that my kids have room to play and grow.

    But, this is getting off topic, as you said.

  24. Ray on June 14, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Jim, thanks again.

  25. Nate Oman on June 14, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Jim Donaldson: I was just released as a the YM President of a ward with 2.5 active deacons, one active teacher, and 3-5 active priests. Our issue is not the central urban v. suburb area, but rather smallish town in south eastern Virginia issue. However, what you say rings true to me. Our youth are doomed if their salvation depends on the youth parties we planned. On the other hand, sitting with a group of teenagers in a Sunday school class or around a camp fire talking about the scriptures have been some of my best church experiences in years, and I am sure that it was those experiences that will have mattered in the YM’s program if anything has.

    That said, I would not underestimate the power of youth examples. One of the great things about our YM is that the priests genuinely like and reach out to the younger boys. I don’t think that this would happen as much in a ward with a lot of youth, but it is the sort of relationship that few things other than the church would sponsor and I think that it has been a decsive influence in the lives of at least one or two of our YM that I can think of.

  26. Julie M. Smith on June 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Jacob F., it sounds like your ward made exactly the right call, given the circumstances of that boy. But I’ve also seen a dad (with a whole passel of little kids) leave a (struggling, overwhelmed in general, with a huge calling herself) wife at home so he could spend yet another weekend camping with boys from completely active, stable families. Unless there’s more to that story that I didn’t know about (always a possibility . . .) I’m not sure about the wisdom of that resource allocation.

  27. doug on June 14, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I was intrigued by the title of the post, and thought our story might fit the definition.

    We\’ve just begun serving in and staffing a new YSA ward which consists primarily of Deaf, Latin, Native American, and Caucasian members (because the host stake has enough 18-30 year olds from a Deaf/ASL ward, Spanish-speaking ward, Native American ward, and eight other English-speaking wards, from which we also get Korean, Polynesian, and Brazilian members).

    Admittedly, I was somewhat worried about the potential rigidity of the cultural boundaries (“How would group X get along with group Y, not to mention group Z?”) but the trepidation quickly gave way to Providential peace. One by one (with the help of some great simultaneous interpreting and handheld technology), these YSAs stood and shared testimonies in their own languages without a thought to the audience.

    Our sacrament hymns are sung in three languages (four, if you count the Diné brothers in the back) and auxiliaries are starting to be filled with people from each culture and language. It\’s been really great to pick up conversational Spanish (thank you, “como se dicé…”) as I turn around and teach them ASL in the same breath.

    Patchwork, indeed.

  28. Jacob F on June 15, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Julie, I can see your point.

  29. Bookslinger on June 15, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Julie, Here’s my understanding on hierarchies of priorities in the church:

    1. A parent’s duty to family comes before duty to any calling in the church, regardless of who the calling serves, even the bishop’s.

    2, The ward’s collective duty to the youth (both active and inactive) comes before its duty to any adults (active, inactive, lost sheep). (How young in age “youth” includes, may vary, maybe down to 3 yrs old.)

    With adult-hood, there comes some level of responsibility for self. (This may be why it seems many YSA’s get left in the lurch.) But I learned at the feet of a good bishop, basically what Jim said in #8. You put the _best_ people in the Youth Program.

    The 2nd priority of that bishop, after youth, was home teaching. If home teaching goes well, the whole ward usually goes well.

    If the church (and parents of course) fail to raise up a righteous next generation, the church would die out. Converts are essential to keep the church growing too. But converts could not fill the void if a generation of youth were lost.

    So while many things are essential; raising up a faithful new generation, home teaching the members you have, and bringing in new converts, that’s basically the order of priority: 1) youth, 2) home teaching/retention, 3) missionary work.

    And as others pointed out, not all wards have type-A dynamic 20-somethings to fill youth-leadership slots.

    One of the church’s programs to revitalize sagging wards is the calling of “service missionaries”, usually retired couples from suburban wards, to serve in the inner-city wards. Maybe that program needs to be expanded to bring dynamic 20-something married couples into sagging wards to help out with the youth.

  30. Clark on June 15, 2008 at 2:53 am

    Bookslinger, I think that’s a great point. While retirees can help with leadership I think dynamic people in the under 40 range can be truly helpful as well. The one downside is that many have their own kids which limits how dynamic they can be in practice.

  31. James on June 15, 2008 at 3:33 am

    Chiming in with Jacob F. here. I live outside of Phoenix on the outskirts of the town of Queen Creek. Like most of our neighbors we live here because the housing is affordable and big enough that we can live with our six kids without whacking each other in the head when we turn around. While some wards in our stake have 25-30 of each boys and girls in YM and YW, we have nine boys and nine girls. No priests until my boy turns 16 on Sunday. My kids that are in the youth have wonderful relationships with their advisors and instructors. They get involved in planning and execution of events in a way that youth in bigger groups do not. We are also a very small ward geographically, maybe 1.5 square miles at best, so a lot of church activities actually never gets to the church. The youth frequently meet at their leaders homes or at neighborhood parks for youth events. At Christmas, the young women came to our house and made cookie-in-a-jar kits as gifts for their activity one week. Nine girls from 12 to almost 16 and their leaders and a couple of mothers make a lot of happy noise.

    A point to be made is that youth can have good experiences and spiritual growth regardless of the size of the group at church. Yes, there are types of activities that are actually easier to do with larger groups. But, the adults and the youth can have enjoyable experiences regardless of the group size.

    Note to Julie: Just because boys, or girls, come from stable active families that does not mean that they don’t need those adult leaders. I know that there were times that, even though there wasn’t anything earth shattering, it was a lot easier to talk to a scoutmaster while staring into a campfire than to talk to my parents. Sometimes that does mean that a scoutmaster “(with a whole passel of little kids) leaves a (struggling, overwhelmed in general, with a huge calling herself) wife at home so he can spend yet another weekend camping with boys” that he has been called to serve. It’s a form of sacrifice and consecration for the mother just like the father who walks the halls at church for years with small children so that his wife can serve in primary or relief society.

  32. Rivkah on June 15, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Jim -

    You said your children’s youth leaders were “ideal role models, uniformly married in the temple.” So were the single members of your ward automatically disqualified from being youth leaders?

  33. Mark B. on June 15, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    The calvary was not going to rescue us.

    Actually, Calvary that will rescue us. Just don’t wait around for the cavalry.

  34. Jim Donaldson on June 16, 2008 at 1:39 am

    > You said your children’s youth leaders were “ideal role models, uniformly married in the temple.” So
    > were the single members of your ward automatically disqualified from being youth leaders?

    Good point. No, they weren’t. I wasn’t drawing the line quite sharply enough. We also called single endowed women into the YW leadership and we nearly always had one. In fact, we looked specifically to do that. We wanted a little balance in perspective for those who might not marry young. We did exclude divorced women and men, whether endowed or not. We also excluded the unendowed. Currently we have the 31 year old single daughter of a general authority as a counselor in the YW presidency.

    I know it sounds like I run the ward and have forever, but I don’t. I was in the bishopric for 7 of the past 8 years and was present for lots of decisions and discussions with the current and previous bishop. I now teach our building’s early morning seminary, as a volunteer.

    >Actually, Calvary that will rescue us. Just don’t wait around for the cavalry.

    I don’t understand what you mean. The solution for our problem resided inside the ward. No one came to help, then or now. We stopped waiting and aren’t waiting. We are expecting no one–unless you are specifically implying that the Lord is the calvary. He rescued us no doubt, but that wasn’t on whom we were waiting.

    Strange as it may seem, our ward (except for the bizarre period when we were three nonfunctioning branches) has always declined those surplus older couples from the suburbs who were offered by the stake from time to time to help us (#29) and supplement our leadership. In some ways, perhaps we are urban snobs and think that no one who doesn’t choose to live here will get why we live here. They tend to think that we are all disadvantaged and that we are forced somehow against our wills to endure living here. The owner of a bakery in the suburbs even offered to bring us free surplus bread one Sunday per month presumably so that we’d have something to eat. We declined. It isn’t like that at all. We all choose to live here. We like it! Many of those from the outlying suburbs are afraid to come to our neighborhoods, which is both ridiculous and offensive. So we’ve found that we really need to solve our problems ourselves, with the Lord. If we do all we can–intelligently and prayerfully–the Lord will take care of us. Though from time to time we forget that, when we get it, we’re mostly fine, and at least as functional as the average ward.

    Although we are geographically the largest ward in the stake and we have the largest raw numbers in the stake, we are among the bottom two or three wards in average sacrament meeting attendance. So the stake kindly leaves our members in the ward to serve. The unintended consequences of this is that we are unrepresented in the stake councils. The last high councilman from our ward served more than 20 years ago and we have not had a member of the stake council in over 30 years (maybe longer, but that’s as long as we’ve been here) until one of our ward sisters was called as the stake primary president a year ago. That absence is really unfortunate and it tends to permit those odd assumptions and misperceptions linger because they go unchallenged. We live a long way from the stake leadership and our building is rarely visited unless there is some scheduled rotation or ward conference. Our ward really isn’t in the Aleutians, but it feels like it sometimes.

  35. Jonathan Green on June 16, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Jim Donaldson, your comments are by far the most interesting and important part of the thread, including my original post. Thanks for writing them, and thanks for putting up with a certain amount of disagreement. To my understanding also, the youth programs are one of the church’s highest priorities. The experience you describe sounds a lot like what I saw in my ward during grad school, when there weren’t a lot of youth but the quality of the youth leaders was incredible. (And thus my shock and horror when I discovered that friends at another school attended a “married student ward” until their children turned 3, so that they could have opportunities for “training.” What a huge waste of talent.)

  36. Jonathan Green on June 16, 2008 at 2:05 am

    >Actually, Calvary that will rescue us. Just don’t wait around for the cavalry.

    It was a joke, based on spelling. I’m sure it was meant in good fun, a way to say “I read and enjoyed your comment, thanks, but I didn’t have a substantive addition or objection.”

  37. JKS on June 16, 2008 at 2:37 am

    When my older brother was in a small YMs, they made a commitment. Each of them had completely different interests. But they each committed to coming to all the activities, even the ones they weren’t interested in so that someone else would have fun.
    Sometimes inactivity kills a youth program. Sure, there are some families with very active teenagers so leaders can bond with them. But there are plenty of members who only show up sometimes and therefore leaders can’t really get to know them. And then there are the competely inactive ones.

  38. norm on June 16, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    #22. “We make no secret that even though our ward is 80% singles, that the tending for the families with children is our highest priority.”

    In my opinion, this sentiment is endemic to church leadership and completely and utterly destructive.

    In the US singles account for more than 1/3 of the membership of the Church. True, we teach about the centrality of families to God’s plan. Families are the building blocks (the only ones?) of society and of the church (again, the only ones?) But privileging the needs of “families” over singles who far outnumber them (the “highest priority”) is merely a matter of a self-serving leadership junta. It happens in every stake I’ve ever seen, where the knee-jerk assumption is that singles take last priority–and then we wonder why they are inactive.

    Yes, ‘self-serving’ above is a strong word–but leaving the 99 in peril to look out for the needs of the one “who is most similar to me” is not the Lord’s instruction.

    I imagine the response may be, “well those 80% singles are inactive (or less likely to stay active) anyway”–to which, the obvious and correct rejoinder is–”why do we think they are (or go) inactive”?

  39. Jim Donaldson on June 17, 2008 at 12:07 am

    >It happens in every stake I’ve ever seen, where the knee-jerk assumption is
    >that singles take last priority–and then we wonder why they are inactive.

    Singles aren’t the last priority (#38).

    Adults (not singles) are as a matter of policy a lower priority than kids and families with kids. That is true. It is based on long-standing instruction from prophets. Single or not has nothing to do with it. It does happen that lots of them are single. Adults are the second, not last, priority (note #29). There are lots of things further behind–talk to the Family History people and the Canning people and the Magazine people about priorities.

    By the way, I don’t wonder why they are inactive. I think I’ve figured it out, at least for our ward (but I think it is true church wide, since I’ve never found our ward, wonderful as it is, to be unique). The great majority of inactive adults, single or not, fit into one of two categories. They were baptized as adults and the baptism didn’t ‘take’ and within a few weeks of baptism they either stopped coming or moved. They were never assimilated in any real sense. The other group was baptized as children, bailed as teenagers, and have stayed away, e.g., all those 58 year old deacons and teachers on your ward list. Both groups have one thing in common: they have never really been active church members as adults. They don’t even know what it looks or feels like. Our ward has something like 140 prospective elders. All but a few (less than 7) fit in one of these two categories. It is easier to map the men, but the same thing is true of the women when you dig into it. These folks are slightly more promising than cold tracting calls for missionaries, but just barely. We shouldn’t give up on these folks but making any concerted effort is very difficult. And of course, the wards where these folks congregate (like ours) are the wards with the least other resources, to wit:

    We hover around 500 members of record in our ward. The number of families is always near 400. That means the average family has 1.25 members–the average family is a single person. How do you home teach 400 families with less than 40 active priesthood holders? Do you team them up and assign them 20 families a month? For those of you think that that wasn’t a rhetorical question, the answer is no. Assign somebody 20 families to home teach and they give up before they even start. Assign them 10, and it is essentially the same thing. We generally try to rotate assignments so that we try to make contact every year with everybody. If when we do that, they show any interest at all, we jump on them with everything we’ve got, at least include them in regular administrative discussions, try to insure real home and visiting teaching, missionary visits (our ward has 6 full time missionaries), inclusion for invitations, activities–you know, like you are supposed to do. Regularly, in our ward, we assist the Holy Ghost in bringing a half dozen folks out of inactivity to priesthood advancement and temple worthiness every year. We are enormously proud of that because it reflects a whole ward full of people who are willing to take people where we find them and nurture them without judgment or grimace until they are back. On the other hand, all of that effort is statistically insignificant, except to the one person who comes back. In most cases that person is single.

    The simple answer is we focus on families with kids because that’s what we’ve been instructed to do and the kids can’t do it themselves.

    What would you have us do differently?

  40. eTigger on June 17, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    RE: Jim\’s comments above about wards with no youth (sorry for the late post)…. There has been (before the current housing-mortgage bubble popped) a multi-generational trend in the \”suburban\” United States for families to seek greener pastures. This is not only an LDS phenomenon, but members contribute to it. Apparently some learn at their parents\’ knee that owning a \”used\” house is not as good as owning one that no one else has lived in before. Why?…I don\’t know.. (as evidenced by my preference to purchase a 140+ year old home (on the edge of town when it was built) in a 185 year old city).

    If you want to attract more families with children (and keep the ones you have), the key is to ensure that the neighborhoods within your ward boundaries have the desired amenities (whatever they are). It may mean going out and working with the school district to keep an elementary school threatened with closure, or to start a coop pre-school or elementary school program. It may mean working with the local parks and recreation authority to improve recreation programs for youth. It may mean working with the police department on community policing efforts, such as creation of neighborhood associations, ordinance enforcement, and abatement of nuisances. What it really means is getting the ward members out of their homes and into the neighborhoods to make a difference. Do that, and suddenly you just might find the ward becomes a net attractor instead of a temporary nesting place.

    As for you folks who have been taught to flock to new subdivisions as soon as you can, get a grip and take a look around. We have been asked to build Zion where we are – the commandment to emigrate to the western wildlands was superceded long ago! Do what you can to build Zion where you are. You\’re needed here!

  41. KLC on June 17, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Julie’s comment about a father leaving his home to serve other active youth and James’ response make me think of the unwritten order of things in my own ward. We routinely call parents with youth to work with their children. A father with scout aged boys is usually called as scoutmaster, a mother with teen aged daughters is usually called as Laurel advisor, etc.

    I’ve had several conversations with ward leaders about the wisdom of this policy. Most young men and women I know, like the young man I once was, have enough of their parents and want and need contact with other adults.

    My son had a new deacon’s quorum advisor, a father with young primary aged children. He was excited about having him in there. He would come home every Sunday and tell us what Brother X had said and done and taught them. This lasted for about 3 months until brother X got a new calling. I was called to be my son’s deacon’s quorum instructor. Can you guess how often my son comments on or even acknowledges the lessons his new instructor gives?

  42. Ginger on June 17, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    “We also called single endowed women into the YW leadership and we nearly always had one. In fact, we looked specifically to do that. We wanted a little balance in perspective for those who might not marry young. We did exclude divorced women and men, whether endowed or not. We also excluded the unendowed. Currently we have the 31 year old single daughter of a general authority as a counselor in the YW presidency.”

    As a 28 year old divorcee myself (I’m a convert) I understand now why I’ve never gotten a calling, despite there being a handful sitting unfilled. :( I understand the reasoning behind it, it’s just… painful.

  43. Jim Donaldson on June 17, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Ginger (#42),

    We put that restriction on service in the YW, but absolutely nowhere else. And there will likely be some occasion when we don’t even do it there. That’s what following the spirit is all about. But it is a useful starting point.

    As I remember, it used to be in the handbook that there was some restriction (maybe suggestion?) on who could serve in the YW leadership. I think even that is gone now, but we still do it for our own reasons.

    We’ve had divorced women serve as Relief Society presidents and every other thing. Being divorced doesn’t disqualify you for anything but the YW. In our ward, we don’t have the luxury of excluding anybody. We need absolutely every body that can draw a breath. There are some great advantages in living in a ward where you are needed. Not having a calling is good for about three weeks, then it is awful.

    Talk to your bishop about it. Set up an appointment. It is permitted. It may just be an oversight or a misunderstanding. Sometimes the cracks are bigger than they should be.

    Rule #4: Don’t attribute to malice that which can be accomplished by simple incompetence.

  44. Kirsten M. Christensen on June 19, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Interesting post, esp. since I was a member of the ward Jonathan writes about years ago and, having attended earlier this year with him and his family, could picture the scene he paints for us with fondness.

    The discussions have led off in enough different directions that it’s hard to know if what I’m about to write constitutes a threadjack, but I think not, since Jonathan’s post is about a ward’s collective responsibility toward its children. With that in mind, I feel compelled to respond to the comments on the prioritizing of YW/YM programs. It’s not that I don’t see the need for strong youth leaders or won’t be very grateful for them when my kids get to that age. But as a Primary presidency member, I am BAFFLED by the relative lack of attention paid to Primary and the frequent inability of church leaders to see that a strong Primary might actually lead to strong youth. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to be so desperate to put the absolute strongest people in YW/YM if we cared to do the same for Primary. There have been some very powerful statements on the importance Primary from General Authorities, but I don’t think they are widely known.

    In our ward that sounds very similar to Jim’s, (an urban one with high inactivity, few youth, lots of elderly shut-ins, lots of Primary kids with one or no parents in the church) we often submit names to fill Primary callings only to hear that Enthusiastic-New-Brother-Who-Clearly-Has-His-Stuff-Together-
    and-would-Make-a-Great-Primary-Teacher is needed for YM. While the YM/YW programs are fully staffed for usually a handful of kids, we routinely have 2-3 dozen children in Primary yet have gone months on end with classes unstaffed, despite submitting multiple names, desperately calling around the ward (so as not to overwhelm any one sister or brother) each week to try and find substitutes, or, just as often, combining classes or shoving a manual into some hastily grabbed ward member’s (or full-time missionary’s) hands as s/he walks into class because we didn’t know until we showed up that a teacher was sick or otherwise not able/willing to be there. This barely-covering-the-bases approach has a HUGE impact on the children. Those who are new or come seldom are less likely to come back to a slapped-together lesson. Those who are active or semi-active who already feel invisible or uncertain about church will feel more so if their teacher is someone different every week who clearly hasn’t prepared, doesn’t know their names, etc, even if that person is kind and doing their very best. Children’s testimonies take their earliest shape in the home, ideally, but very often in Primary. But apparently because we don’t often see Sunbeams or CTR 6′s experimenting with drugs, joining gangs, getting tattoos, or edging toward or already engaged in sexual activity, it’s apparently hard to see that fostering those budding testimonies and guiding those little people with the best spiritual leaders the ward has to offer might actually help steer them clear of some of those things later. (And frankly, plenty of our 9-11 year-old Valiant kids are already exposed to frightening threats to their spiritual well-being.

    I have never been a bishop and can only begin to imagine the tetris-like nightmare of trying to staff an entire ward, let alone one like ours. And I must say that our bishop is an inspired miracle worker in a ward that needs miracles everywhere. I also do not presume that any leader ever thinks or says outright “Primary isn’t important.” But, at the risk of sounding very critical and even apocalyptic, I have seen benign neglect of Primary in enough wards to be convinced that it is a cultural, systemic problem, one that seems to be addressed only with the occasional enlightened local leader who ‘gets’ that a strong Primary is as critical to the youth of the church as a strong YM/YW program is. I hope I’m wrong and that I am simply biased by my own frustrating experiences. I have been in wards with bishops who had such a vision and it made a huge difference. Such leaders understand that assuming that Primary will run itself or viewing a Primary staffed with the ward’s best leaders as a luxury can have enormous spiritual consequences on the entire ward, not to mention on the individual lambs who go to feed there.

  45. Researcher on June 19, 2008 at 9:02 am

    My daughter’s YW teacher is a divorced woman. I’ve never thought anything about it and indeed, would find it highly insulting to suggest that in some way she was not eligible for the job. She is a wonderful woman.

  46. Rose Green on June 20, 2008 at 5:10 am

    In response to #7:

    Wow. 50 youth in a ward as the critical number to function? I’ve never, EVER been in a ward with that many, not in 7 states and 3 countries (obviously I wasn’t in the Mormon Corridor). In fact, we count on an average of 40 to show up for combined stake activities. I’ve noticed that one of the things that really does help strengthen the youth in small wards is to have a strong stake connection. Some of our wards have more youth (like ours–at a whopping 10 YW!), some have less (like 1), but I notice that the kids tend to have a lot of contact with others in other wards, whether in person or by internet contact. (Yes, there are distances involved here.) I think because of the smaller wards and smaller youth demographic, our stake tends to put a lot more emphasis on the “stake family” than in other places–I know growing up, the stake was like another planet. (And some of our more heavily American wards seem to bring that concept with them–even thought they may have more youth, they participate far less in stake events.)

    Kirsten, I think you’re right that strengthening the primary is like making sure you have food storage before the famine hits (ie, the youth program).

  47. Jonathan Green on June 20, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Kirsten, I’m really glad you brought up the primary. Primary tends to be a bigger organization with higher Sunday staffing needs than YM/YW, but those teachers are needed. It’s not an easy calling–some of the most challenging teaching I’ve ever done was for a room of 5 and 6-year olds.

    Rose, thanks also for bringing up the role of the stake organizations. It also reminds me that youth leaders leaving their spouses at home with small children for days on end can affect men and women equally (but it was for a good cause, so I’m glad you went).

  48. Jim Donaldson on June 21, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Kristen raises lots of good points about Primary (#44). I am very sensitive to the needs of the Primary. Oh boy, am I. My wife is the stake Primary president.

    As I said earlier, families with children were the primary focus of our ward, that includes the primary kids as well as the YM/YW. I admit that between the two (Primary v. youth) we’d often give the YM/YW a little bit extra, because of the sense of urgency (and maybe a little desperation) because the time is so short and the stakes so high. But we do get the connection. Primary was next in line every time.

    We were/are very conscious of the need for continuity and consistency in primary teachers, that endless subs and classes without called teachers are very detrimental to the program. With occasional exceptions as the spirit directed, our conscious policy was that Primary teachers were off limits to be called to other positions until they had served for a couple of years as Primary teachers. And I know that when my wife was the ward Primary president, the presidency each had lessons prepared (somewhat elastic so they could fit the age group required) so that if some teacher had a sudden emergency or just didn’t show, someone was in a position to step in with at least something prepared, so they weren’t searching the hallways with the manual in hand trying to recruit someone who was ditching sunday school to babysit a primary class. And it was known that if we couldn’t staff a vacate teaching position in Primary for a few weeks (it happened), the bishopric actually taught it. Talk about incentive.

    If you talk to my wife, she’ll even do you one better. She’ll tell you that among the most critical people in the ward is the nursery leader. She says that if the ward has a solid nursery leader (or two) who has things planned and organized and is teaching simple gospel and ethical principles and songs (as opposed to just hoping that the chaos somehow stays inside the nursery doors), the children, even 2 year olds, learn two very important lessons: that the church is a place to learn and that there are other adults who love and care for them. Even at 2, they respect the church. They have had a positive church experience and look forward to the next. This makes a brutally clear difference when those children enter Primary and it changes their primary experience entirely. They come in expecting order, substance, and structure and they behave accordingly. If they’ve just experienced chaos in nursery, the chaos continues into Primary and can dictate their Primary experience for years to come. And it makes the job of all the Primary teachers that much much more difficult. They are already backfilling.

    Juggling all the balls in a ward requires astute observation of what is going on in every corner of the ward and constant revelation to keep them all up. But you don’t get it if you don’t pay attention and pray for it.

  49. Julie M. Smith on June 21, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    “And it was known that if we couldn’t staff a vacate teaching position in Primary for a few weeks (it happened), the bishopric actually taught it.”

    Oooo, that’s a good idea.