When Are We “In” A Ward?

July 12, 2009 | 20 comments
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Our ward here in New York City is undergoing quite a lot of transition at the moment, and I once again feel alienated from those who have left and those who are arriving.

Due to the economy, members are leaving because of job loss and job changes and others are arriving for the same reasons. This is in addition to the normal turnover we experience–those who have finished school are gone (the new crop will arrive only in September), interns are arriving for the summer, and a few have moved in or out or other reasons.

Those leaving for economic reasons are the most difficult, I think. They include those I have known for many years, those I most consider my friends; those with whom I have the strongest relationships.

The others don’t concern me as much. I don’t know them.They are here for so little time that it doesn’t seem worth the effort. After being here for nearly 20 years, many of those who have been in the same ward with me seem like they almost were never here.

For their part, the students often have a similar attitude. They come with the idea that their stay here is temporary–which leads them to not participate much.

Of course, like in too many things, all this just exposes my own hypocrisy. When I went to BYU years ago, I was not interested in the community at all. I maintained my residency in Maryland and kept my Maryland driver’s license and voter registration for as long as possible. Afer all, I reasoned, I was only going to be there for a while, so why make the changes?

Even after I switched to Utah residency and a Utah driver’s license (I never did vote in the state), my life was still more oriented towards BYU campus (yep, the campus was my world in a very real sense) than to life outside of campus, and my interactions with most things off campus weren’t all that successful (I never felt like I could connect very well with people off campus). Even my Church life wasn’t very good–the worst being the off-campus family ward in Provo that my wife and I attended for over a year without receiving a calling.

I think there is a bit of a lesson in this. I was certainly wrong at BYU to think that I could remain apart from Utah while living there, just like the students that come here to New York City are wrong to think that they can live in New York City and not be a part of that city. But I also think that I am wrong to ignore the students that come here for short periods, just like that ward in Provo was wrong to ignore my wife and I.

In a larger sense, I can’t help but connect this with what my mother told me as a youth. Noting that we are often told that we should live “in the world, but not be of the world,” she suggested that we, Mormons, often have the emphasis in the wrong place, emphasizing “not being of the world” over “living in the world.”

To me, the lesson is that we do need to “live in the world” just like we need to live and participate in the place where we happen to be, even if it is only temporary.

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20 Responses to When Are We “In” A Ward?

  1. Tim on July 12, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I lived in a ward in Eastern Idaho that was composed mostly of an upper-middle class suburb. A smaller section of the ward, separated geographically and economically, was a street of apartment buildings, filled with poor members and temporary residents. We lived in one of the apartments for a year. We got called into the primary and were mostly ignored. I knew the people I hometaught and a bunch of 3-year-olds, and that was about it.
    Compare that to now. Our current ward is very small (attendance-wise). The ward mission leader, elder’s quorum president, and young women’s president are all temporary students (here for just two or three years). The old EQ president (also a student) just moved out, as did the ward’s executive secretary (who’s been gone for two months and has yet to be replaced). The ward relies on the students (mostly graduate students) because they have to. And the ward’s much friendlier, much more of a family, than the Eastern Idaho ward. It’s a ward that’s much easier to be an active part in.
    Don’t ignore the students/temporaries. They’re a useful resource, and they need to feel like they’re welcome.

  2. Andrew S on July 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I’m pretty used to people moving in and out, but then again, living in military towns will do that to you. So, people who are only going to be here a short while (like, just for basic training or whatever) still get called to do stuff and there’s still a lot of activity despite the transitory nature of things.

  3. queuno on July 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    They are here for so little time that it doesn’t seem worth the effort. After being here for nearly 20 years, many of those who have been in the same ward with me seem like they almost were never here.

    Kind of a sad commentary on ward unity, though.

    My personal feeling is that you throw yourself into the ward you’re in. Sure, maybe you’re a student and you can’t attend every activity, but you should honestly attempt to be part of the ward.

    That goes for baby blessings and baptisms. I know it ticks off my inlaws to no end, but I live *here*. My children will be baptized *here*, where their friends and teachers can participate. Our children were blessed *here*. Not *there*. Yes, that means that extended family *there* doesn’t get to participate (unless they come *here*).

    Our ward has split 7 times in 12 years. It’s hard getting to know every new family. But there’s no reason not to try to get to know as many as possible.

  4. Jonathan Green on July 12, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Kent, I agree with your final sentiment. If I hadn’t gotten to know people in wards where we were temporary, I wouldn’t know anyone at all now. We’ve made lifelong friends of people who shared a ward with us for less than a year

  5. Dan on July 12, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    hey Kent, yeah, the ward is changing rapidly right now. We moved back into this ward because of the people we knew from when we lived here before, and we’re sad to see so many have to leave. And it does make it hard because after too many changes, you reflexively close up to the changes, thinking you’ve reached out enough times. It’s a real challenge in such a mobile society like ours here in America.

  6. Marie on July 12, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    This post hit home because my family is currently struggling with “fitting in” in the ward we’ve lived in for a year now. We are military, so regardless of the economy, we know that we have at best several years in one place. The ward we’re in now has it’s share of retired military, but the Active Duty members aren’t that large in number, and the rest of the Ward pretty much grew up here. It has been said to my face that “they” don’t really want to take time to get to know us because we won’t be here that long – we’re only here for 4 years.

    Well, I would like to ask anyone if they “know” how long they’ll be in one place? You could be gone from this world tomorrow, none of us knows what our own timeline will be so even if we’re not moving, we still can’t guarantee any sort of time in one place. Each of us just wants to fit in, and know that we’re cared for and that we matter. The fact that I’m only in one place for 4 years at a time doesn’t make me any less worthy of being someone’s friends, and what those in our ward don’t realize is that it makes their friendship to me worth that much more.

    I don’t know of any situation where by extending friendship to someone it was a bad thing as a result of the time together not being a lifetime. Each person we meet and develop relationships with can strengthen us and help us grow – even if that friendship turns sour. Our friendships are what we make of them, and I for one choose to make them.

    If Christ had not taken the time to do things for people because he had a “limited” time on this Earth much less due to his travels, where would we be? I’m not saying the atonement is on the same scale as being friendly, but it is of the same motive – love.

    Anyway – those are just my thoughts and thank you to everyone for sharing yours.

  7. LDS lady on July 12, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    and think of the pioneers, settling and building houses and temples when they were temporary at best in each place–what if they’d waited till they were no longer transitional to do all that?

  8. jks on July 12, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Kent, I think you are missing a lot of what is in the article. I have never been really poor and have never been a mother of six children, no husband, and no family. My best friend, however, has been really poor and it is scary and tremendously stressful. This story is about praying and having the worry lifted because the Lord will carry our burdens and does bring us strength and comfort.
    I can only offer my small story about when my husband was laid off in January (a surprise layoff btw). That evening we cried tears of joy because we had each other and we had our children. It brought into focus what was really important in our lives.
    This woman had that kind of experience. She knew that she had that gospel and that paying tithing was a privilege and that her Savior was there to support her through life’s challenges. She says “The burden of worry immediately lifted. My love for the Lord overcame the weakness generated by my fears.”

  9. jks on July 12, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Sorry! Somehow I’m on the wrong thread for that last comment. Hope you enjoyed it anyway, lol!

  10. Ziff on July 13, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Kent, I think what JKS is saying is that if you’ve never been the mother of six children, struggling to pay tithing while keeping a roof over the kids’ heads, you’ve never really been “in” a ward. :)

    I recently moved from a ward that had a fair number of students, and really did a lot of work to integrate them (us). Even people in town only for the summer for internships were given callings, HT/VT assignments, etc. I didn’t really notice this until I had been there for quite a while. But I think it was a good approach to take. Now that I am out of school and my family lives somewhere we intend to stay for a while, I’ve found that the best friends I’ve made so far have been graduate students, many of whom are leaving the ward quite soon. I haven’t regretted at all investing time to get to know them. They’ve been good friends. So I really agree with your summary point in your last paragraph.

  11. Amanda on July 13, 2009 at 4:38 am

    We are getting ready to leave a ward that we have been here for approximately 10 months. My husband was in the Young Men’s presidency and I have been in the nursery the whole time. The ward put us to work as soon as we arrived. We went to every baptism, went on missionary teaches every other week, and I played the piano in sacrament meetings biweekly. I have never felt so much a part of a ward in my life. We were welcomed in like family, which was needed since we were living in a different country than our own families.

    As a result, my husband and I have learned more about how to support and serve others in a ward family than we have learned over our entire previous church membership. We are young and still in the transitory stage of life. I am told that our service was useful, but I don’t know if that can compare to our exponential growth and gratitude for the ward for helping us grow up. I agree with this wholeheartedly. Wards should use every member that lives there-no matter how long. Not only would the ward would be stronger for it, but those families that are able to contribute will have their testimonies strengthened as well.

  12. green mormon architect on July 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Great thoughts. I have been quite transitory for the last 10 years and have enjoyed being in many different wards. I like what it says in D&C 51 regarding those who were migrating from the east into Ohio for only a short period of time:

    “…wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good.” (verse 17)

    Even if you’re only going to be somewhere a short period of time, it will be to everyone’s benefit to act as though you are permanent. This has helped me feel more integrated into those wards where I was a short-timer. The reverse could also hold true for those who are permanent ward fixtures. There is a lot to gain from those just passing through and the effort in friendship and helping them integrate is usually well worth it when all is said and done.

  13. Matt Rasmussen on July 13, 2009 at 11:05 am

    It’s ironic that someone will pray to get a job that temporarily moves them to a different place and then say “I’m not going to get involved because I won’t be here long.” Equally ironic when a Bishop, Relief Society President, etc. will pray for someone to fill a calling and that person moves in temporarily but is then then ignored outright. We sometimes forget what the Lord has planned for us and don’t make the most of things when we could be blessing others or they could be blessing us.

    I have been treated that way, blessed when not treated that way, and probably guilty of being that way myself since I’m not perfect.

  14. John Taber on July 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    “Even if you’re only going to be somewhere a short period of time, it will be to everyone’s benefit to act as though you are permanent.”

    Exactly. I was in six different wards in the six years after I graduated college, one of them twice, and never for more than about nineteen months at a time. I was never called on to speak in sacrament meeting, but I somehow managed to get called as membership clerk in three of those wards. While I sent off my own record all three times I did feel like part of the ward by then, at least at some level.

    I’ve been in my current ward for six and a half years, and to some extent I still feel like I’m on the margin. Maybe it’s the fact that I came into the ward with a stake calling, and I still hold that calling.

  15. Dennis on July 13, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I liked this post; it speaks to a real problem that I think is happening all over.

    Although it is understandable, I think, that someone prioritizes the permanent over the temporary, the risk is that we become out of touch with the temporal flux of life. I believe, though my behavior doesn’t often show it, that even very brief encounters with certain people can be very meaningful. Even if you never see them again. Of course, a belief in eternal life and (near) universal salvation might be important to mention here. I suspect that some people we will be closest to in the hereafter are people who we were close to here, even for very brief periods of time.

  16. MarenM on July 13, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I have just made a temporary move to a new unit and am wondering how I fit in and whether these folks will allow me to get to know them.

    As I stood up to introduce myself in RS last week, the person conducting asked if I was short-term or long-term. I winced and answered, “That depends on your definition.” I knew the ward gets a lot of 4-6 month members and I didn’t want them to disregard me on day one, even though my stay will be twice that length.

    All these people are my potential friends; the only thing missing is enough shared experiences that expose the best parts of our souls. And I think that holds true for anyone around me- in or out of the church.

  17. Amanda on July 14, 2009 at 8:31 am

    The ward we attend here in Philly is very transitory. About half the members are graduate students, and the rest is split between inner city members (who are all members less than 5 years) and life-long members who live in the outskirts of the city.

    My husband is a medical student, so while we are “short term” (4 years) he has been called as Elders Quorum President and I am in the RS Presidency. I often get frustrated when I see other students “checking out” for the two to four years that they are here. We so desperately need them, no matter how long they are in town.

  18. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 14, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    With 20 years in the military, and moving 4 times in the 15 years since then, my experience is that, while there can be a good deal of inertia among members who have been in one place a long time and have their established friends and family, you can “break through” into the consciousness of those folks and of the people who extend callings by your own participation, both in classes and quorums, and in showing up to do volunteer assignments, such as service projects or ward choir. In wards where the leaders are not actively seeking to know everyone, it has taken me six months or so to get into the consciousness of those issuing callings. Several times it has been through volunteering to teach a class in the regular teacher’s absence.

    I think children in a ward connect people. They meet each other in classes and activities, and you teach other people’s kids and vice versa. I was visiting our daughter’s former ward in Boise a couple of years ago, and for Father’s Day they had a group of Unknown Dads with paper sacks on their heads stand in front of the Primary and take turns answering questions from the kids. It was amazing to see children recognize the Dads of their friends, based on visits to their friends’ homes.

    In my last ward, I went from being a temporary substitute Gospel Doctrine teacher to the regular one so seamlessly that they forgot to set me apart for several months. I kept that calling for 8 years, which I didn’t mind at all since I enjoy it more than anything else I’ve done. I’ve worked my way into that calling in my three previous wards. The key each time was participating actively in class and volunteering when they needed a substitute. I am subbing teaching Gospel Doctrine for the first time in my new ward next Sunday, so it may eventually happen again.

    Incidentally, the ward we moved into now is a splinter of the ward we moved into 12 years ago, which we left three years later. Between ward splits and people moving in and out, 80% of the ward is different from the one we left.

    If you want people to know you, you need to learn who they are.

  19. David on July 15, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I really appreciate all the comments here, and the encouragement to just “get involved”.

    I know I’ve often tried to ask those who are former missionaries which ward/branch they felt closest to — those where they had the choicest memories; and then asked them how long they were there. Usually the answer is 6 months, or 8 months tops! That helps us all realize how little time is required to have an impact on our own lives and on the people around us.

    On the other hand, I well remember some ward members in New England who just had a hard time getting involved with people who they knew would be leaving. It was truly an emotional withdrawal for them, since they felt that it was very painful for them to see people enter their lives and then leave. And I could understand, even if I knew that they might be missing out on a blessing in their life or the opportunity to be of help and service to someone else.

    Hopefully we can all bloom where we are planted. For me, I only have to follow the example of my wife who loves everyone and adopts all strangers :-)

    DB

  20. Di on July 18, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Great post! Danithew & I discuss this topic on an intermittent basis. When we first moved here, we were genuinely suprised by the ‘you’re a waste of my time because you might not stay’ attitude. A member from our previous ward shared some insightful personal thoughts:

    http://www.mormonmentality.org/2007/01/28/a-giant-revolving-door.htm#more-151

    We’ve been in several wards and differing circumstances, but I *LOVE* our current ward because the leadership vocalize at the pulpit a collective acceptance of one another despite how long people will be around.

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