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Hearts Knit Together

I was a wreck last week at church.

We had been informed the week before that our ward boundaries were going to drastically change (they weren’t kidding — we got the news today!) When the announcement came, I felt a peace. It was that peace that says, “This is good and right.” I was glad to have had that anchor because I was pretty miserable last week as I contemplated not seeing these people every Sunday. They really are like another (very large!) family to me. I thrived on seeing them, worshiping with them, connecting with them. These are my people!

Change is always a challenge, but I just can’t express what these people mean in my life, and what our experience in this ward has been like. I realized why it hurt so much to have our ward altered: because our hearts have been knit together. That imagery is powerfully descriptive of how we feel toward each other; our hearts and lives really have been so intertwined that we just had a hard time imagining not being together anymore. We have fasted together, prayed together, attended the temple together, worked side-by-side, had wonderful gospel discussions…. It’s just such an amazing group of people.

I can’t really capture it all in words, although that scripture describes our ward well. I can testify to the amazing power that comes when people really come together “with one eye, having one faith and one baptism” with that spirit of unity, love, and eternal connection. It’s no wonder that the Lord’s hope is that we become a people of one heart and one mind.

I know we will meet more wonderful people. But for now, I’m feeling a bit like I’m being separated from a little Zion. I have found that “[church] can be a heaven on earth when we are filled with love,” and when we allow our hearts to join with others in the joy and power of the gospel.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Ray March 3, 2008, 6:22 am

    You’ve just described both ward in which we live and the small branch in which we currently serve. It really is wonderful to be a part of something like what you describe, and I am convinced many people who struggle with their testimonies would not do so if they also truly “belonged” to a ward or branch like that.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 3, 2008, 8:39 am

    The feelings you’re having are a great testimony of your (past) ward. What a tribute.

  • facethemusic March 3, 2008, 1:00 pm

    Wonderful post Michelle! I’ve been in 7 different wards just since the time I was married almost 20 years ago (14 all together). You can feel when you’re in a ward that has strong ties, and sincere love for each other, and when you’re not. We’ve never experienced a ward that was unkind, snobby, etc– of course there are always individuals who may be nasty, but there was never a problem with ”the ward” in general.
    And yet, there’s still a difference between good and better. Or better and best. (Now that conference talk in popping in my head.) And even though we’ve always been in “good” wards there are 3 that stick out because of exactly what this post expressed.
    The ward we are in now is the most difficult we’ve ever been in. “Difficult” because the need in the ward is SO great. Family problems, suicide, disabilities, illness- including HIV, schizophrenia, bipolar, (in high proportion to total number of ward members) single parents, teens with alcholic parents, no parents, or parents in jail, ward members in jail, families with no transportation, high number of people (proportionally) needing almost complete financial support, etc. However, that “need” is partly what I think has made the ward so warm, so welcoming and so tight. We’ve had to help each other and serve each other more than in any other ward we’ve lived in. And I’m not talking about taking over a casserole. 🙂
    There’s a very high probability that when we move we’ll be moving out of this ward. That will be the only thing that will make the move a difficult one. It makes me sad just thinking about it. 😥

  • mlinford March 3, 2008, 4:12 pm

    We’ve had to help each other and serve each other more than in any other ward we’ve lived in.

    I think this is part of what has brought us together as well…we have had lots of chronic, serious, even terminal illness. Lots of faith, fasting, and service — the kind o f service that is over long periods of time.

    But there’s more to it, too. These are just people who live the gospel. So when we talk about it, it’s not that two-faced thing that can sometimes creep in. We discuss what we believe, and then you can tell people go home and really try to live it.

    It’s also a great bunch because they are REAL. We share garage sale success stories, hold a yearly ‘soup and swap (where people will proudly wear someone else’s clothes or use others’ items with gratitude and glee). Anyway…. *sniff*’

  • kiar March 3, 2008, 5:05 pm

    I have the opprotunity right now of living in a fantastic ward. We had a bunch of sweet gentlemen show up to our house and move all our stuff on Saturday, making what I thought was going to be a hecklacious job into a 1.5 hour job! Then one sweet sister showed up two days in a row to help me clean the house, and SHE did most of the cleaning, (the baby was being VERY difficult). Another sister came over to hold the baby for me while I boxed things up, at the beginning of the week. One of the gentlemen in the ward, who has adopted us as his kids, was here every day to help move stuff, painted the new house, and held the baby for me. When my van died, he lent me his Expedition to get my kids around in.
    I have also had the experience of living in what my mil calls “a cold ward”. No one even noticed when we had another baby, or even when we moved. (we came back to visit, and no joke, someone said, “oh I thought you guys just went inactive!” I had been in the Primary Presidency,and hubbie was Scout leader) It is that ward that has made me appreciate and love this ward so much, and strive to help and serve as much as I can. I hate the thought of ever moving again, becasue it would mean that I would have ot leave these wonderful people. On the other hand, it is neat to meet new people, and try to bring a fun spirit into a “cold ward”.

  • facethemusic March 3, 2008, 5:45 pm

    But there’s more to it, too. These are just people who live the gospel

    Okay– well there’s a difference. Certainly, there are people in our ward who are faithful and truly live the gospel. But unfortunately, MOST of the severe problems in our ward wouldn’t exist if people WERE living the gospel.

    Kiar— hecklacious???? :rolling:

  • Ray March 3, 2008, 6:19 pm

    kiar – ftm beat me to it, but I always crack up when I see Mormon attempts to create “swear slang” – especially with words like “heckfire” and “dangnation”. I have to admit, I’ve never heard “hecklacious”. That might be my favorite of all time.

  • davidson March 3, 2008, 11:16 pm

    I’m so glad you’re in a ward like that, Mlinford. I’m sad that there are any “cold wards.” I guess I’ve lived this very sheltered life. I can only think of two wards in which I didn’t feel welcome, and as I think back on it now, it may have been only a few people, and they may have been merely nervous or shy instead of actually “cold.” Time has given me some perspective.

    I remember when I was in a college ward for the first time. No one said hello to me. The bishop didn’t welcome me. I sat by myself. A young man came to the pulpit to speak, and he said something I’ve always remembered. He said EVERYONE in the ward was new, including the bishop, and EVERYONE was waiting to be welcomed by the “old” members of the ward. There weren’t any. Those who were considered veterans had only been there a few weeks. He said something like this: “Rather than sitting back, feeling bad and waiting to be welcomed, reach out! Welcome others. Now that you know how it feels to be unwelcome, never allow another person to feel that way, at least as far as it is in your power to control. When it comes to feeding sheep, be on the giving side of the feed sack, instead of waiting to be fed.” That may have been some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I’ve tried to remember it, not only in church settings, but in every situation where I’m meeting new people and encountering new circumstances. As President Hinckley would say, “Forget yourself and go to work.”

    We had the neatest Sacrament meeting yesterday. My eighteen year-old daughter had a friend her age in the ward whom she’s known for six years. This girl used to come to church when she was twelve, but church didn’t interest her much. She became inactive. Her mother was a recent convert and her father was an uninterested nonmember. We had her in our home several times for sleepovers, and she was always so sweet and polite and friendly and complimentary, sort of unusual for a girl her age. Several months ago she got pregnant and had a baby out of wedlock, and yesterday, she brought him to our ward to be blessed, with the father of the baby in tow. I worried how they might be received, and I was so proud of our ward. Members who had known her for years (and some who had not) gathered around her after the meeting and hugged her and shook hands with or hugged her boyfriend, who had a pierced tongue and a big metal barb protruding from his chin. Her nonmember father had tears in his eyes through most of the meeting, and her mother was beside herself with joy. I saw Christianity in action yesterday. It felt so good. I think it is no accident, the wards we come to, the people we rub shoulders with. The dynamics are interesting.

  • mlinford March 3, 2008, 11:53 pm

    For all the wonder of my ward, I will say that I have seen people be not very happy with it, and with other wards. I have a theory that sometimes — not always, but sometimes — the goodness of a ward can be determined in part by how much one is willing to give and open one’s heart. There is a really interesting interplay of both ‘give’ and ‘take’ in wards. A recent Ensign article talked about that…about how we each can do our part to make our experiences in a ward good.

    That said, I know there are wards where the dynamics and culture are just weird. I would hope they are the minority, though. In my experience, they are.

  • delmar March 5, 2008, 7:20 pm

    wow! here i sit, currently crying. blame it on my bad afternoon or blame it onr hormones due to being 5 months pregnant or blame it on the fact that this discussion totally hits home right now since we now live in a FRIGID ward.

    I can’t describe it as cold…nope, its frigid!!! I’ve tried to befriend a few of the younger moms, but we fall into a funny age group in our ward. We are under 30, but have a almost 9 year old and a almost 4 year old….so people around here seem to expect us to be in the 30+ group, but we aren’t. We have nothing in common with people in the ward other than the gospel and people don’t seem to want to talk to us or even get to know us. What makes this tough? We just came from Kiars AMAZING ward back in early December. Yep, the ward that adopts you as part of their family, treats you like their children and grandchildren, would do almost anything to help you including give you the shirt off their back ward! The ward that supported and loved us during a majority of my families recovery from our auto accident, which oddly happened directly following a ward activity. The ward that lent us a car when ours was totalled in that accident, a ward where friends stepped up and let us live with them when I couldn’t stand living with my in-laws one second longer….once again during my receovery, a ward where EVERYONE knew your name and where you lived and if you worked and when and would stop by just to bring cookies. A ward whos Missionaries showed up on p-day to play in the snow with your kids and build giant snowmen and go sledding down a crazy hill or to shovel your neighbors driveways when we were all stuck because of the storm. The ward who kept trying to find my husband employment while he was unemployed and even gave him handyman work and little jobs to keep us afloat.

    Now back to our amazing ly fridgid ward…..grr! We’ve been in the ward since December. We don’t have callings, my husband isn’t assigned to home teach, I’m not assigned to visit teach, we haven’t seen a home teacher yet, and my mom (whom we curently live with) and I share a set of visiting teachers which we’ve seen once since Dec. Back in early January when Northern California was hit hard by storms our bishop mentioned in church how all the home teachers had called each member of the ward to check and make aure everyone was ok and didn’t need anything…….well that was nice to hear, but it would have been even nicer had we gotten a phone call from my moms home teacher during that mess! Luckily our neighborhood is one of the luckiest around and depsite a few large downed trees and fences we still had power. This is the ward who doesn’t recognize if any of us are missing from sacrament due to illness and still don’t know my husbands name or our last name at all. Luckily our RS presidency did make a point to visit with me back in early February and that was nice, but considering all the other circumstances doesn’t seem make a difference in the feelings we have so far about the ward. Our bishops wife still doesn’t know our names, how many kids we have or who we are related to. The EQ president walked up to another guy in EQ 2 weeks ago and asked if he knew where our family lived and the guys responce was “maybe you could ask him, hes sitting right there.” Hello???? A couple of weeks ago when I taught a class at our Stake RS womens conference….during lunch my mom, myself and our non-member friend sat at a table with one other older lady from our ward and had 4 open seats cause nobody walked over to sit with us and all the other tables with our ward ladies were full.

    Sorry I just totally turned that into a venting session. I just wished we were back in our old ward!

    Sometimes when we are out looking at homes for sale and rentals, my husband will point out “well this will put us into a new ward” or “i guess we’d be in the same ward” honestly I’m not sure which one is positive at this point.

  • mlinford March 5, 2008, 9:29 pm

    I’m sorry, delmar. I have often felt bad for people moving from our ward; it’s hard to go from a great ward to one that isn’t so great. I wonder what it is that makes dynamics so different. I can’t help but think that it’s sometimes that people are struggling so much themselves (trials, insecurity, needs, whatever) that they don’t know how to reach out. I dunno. It would be an interesting study to figure out if there is something concrete that makes such wards different.

  • davidson March 5, 2008, 9:34 pm

    Ah, Delmar, that makes me so sad. It sounds like you’ve been friendly and tried to make things work.
    I’m sorry you’re having that trouble. Moves are hard enough when ward members are welcoming and friendly, much harder when they’re so distant and cold. It hope it is better soon. I will pray for you.

  • missbrown March 6, 2008, 9:51 am

    delmar, I’m sorry you’re having a tough time! I just wanted to let you know that we’ve been in our ward since November, and I just barely got a calling… so it’s not too unusual. And I bugged the RS president for a month until she made me a visiting teacher. 🙂 I hope things get better for you soon! We lived in an AMAZING ward about 9 years ago, and it was hard hard hard to go from that to what we went to.

  • davidson March 6, 2008, 9:54 am

    So, I’m curious, all of you. Do you think a cold ward is salvageable? What do you think it would take to make a cold ward a warm ward? I’m interested in your thoughts.

  • Ray March 6, 2008, 10:25 am

    I don’t want to overgeneralize, since I don’t know the wards being discussed at all, so please realize I am about to state a general rule that might or might not apply to specific wards. (How’s that for a careful disclaimer?) :confused:

    Often, wards and branches take on the personality of the Bishop or Branch President. Auxiliaries often do the same thing in modeling their individual presidents. This can be alleviated by a visible counselor who has a different personality, but leadership style and personality are strong indicators of the type of vibe within a ward.

    Having said this, I have witnessed one ward where a gregarious, loving, smiling sister with no major calling almost single-handedly changed the spirit in a ward. It was impossible to be anything but happy around her – *and she was “around” everyone all the time*.

    My advice: Be the change you want to see and pray that others will follow your lead. (Just don’t get judgmental about it.)

  • Lisa March 6, 2008, 10:36 am

    Great Question, Davidson!!! I think it is ALWAYS salvageable. My Dh and I talk about this a lot because of his church assignments. He believes much of it can be determined by Leadership in the ward. I have also seen 1 or 2 families turn things around.

    I had an interesting experience on my mission that I have never forgotten. I was a new missionary at one of my first Zone Conferences. No one was saying Hi to me or being very friendly. I felt very out-of-sorts and like I had no friends. everyone else “seemed” friendly with each other, but not me. I went into the Ladies Room at the church, locked myself in a stall and started to cry. I’d been there about 30 seconds when I got what I can only describe as a very large brick to the head by the Holy Ghost. I was basically told to get out there, quit feeling sorry for myself, and BE a friend, and to put a smile on my face, and befriend my fellow missionaries! I tried it. I know this will be utterly shocking: It worked! I never felt friendless again! Amazingly, my experience didn’t really change anyone else or their behavior……but it changed ME!

    Delmar, please, please do NOT for one minute think the above is a chastisement for you!! It is not! I have also since that time been in wards that were a bit “cold”. Even when I tried to reach out. It is very frustrating! I imagine your situation is doubly difficult because of the fabulous ward you just left. I really sincerely hope, and pray it will get better!!! When they all find out what an awesome chef you are…they will all be falling all over themselves to come eat at your house!!!:rolling:

  • agardner March 6, 2008, 2:56 pm

    I too have had experiences in both “warm” and “cold” wards. Sometimes even while living in the same house and the ward changed around me!

    I agree that a lot can depend on the leadership, including the leaders in the women’s organizations. And it’s true that a few people can really make a difference.

    One thing that one ward I lived in did, and it was fantastic, was that they had a Sunday School class for new people there for the first time. This was a ward with a ton of transition going on (in South Provo, with lots of apartments, 2 trailer parks, condos, and about 15 single-family homes) so it was kind of necessary – but basically what they did was invite anyone who was new to attend that class the first week. During that time, they would meet ward leaders (someone from every presidency visited that class each week), get their information to have the records transferred, and kind of explain that our ward was always in a state of flux and to please reach out to others as well. Someone else posted a similar thing, but it is true that the people you may think are being snotty are also new and are wondering why YOU are not being friendly to THEM.

    It was also great because then you’d already made a friend or two who would walk with you to RS or Priesthood and introduce you, so you knew someone right from the start.

    The RS also had a “new sisters” breakfast every month (or was it quarterly) where everyone who had moved in during that time to get together and make new friends.

    For the amount of move ins/outs this ward had, we had an amazing amount of cohesiveness and warmness. It didn’t feel like a transitional ward at all in that sense. We had the same bishop the entire 3 years we were there, but the counselors changed about every 6 months or so it seemed as people left the ward. Still, there was always a great welcoming spirit there, by those who were staying around and those who were only there for a short time.

    It is really hard sometimes to keep going when you feel totally unwelcomed. While church shouldn’t be just a social thing, it also shouldn’t be a socially painful thing either.

  • kiar March 6, 2008, 2:59 pm

    very cool! I love that you guys have a special class for newcomers. that is amazing.

  • agardner March 6, 2008, 3:09 pm

    I forgot to also say that in that particular ward – the bishop had been the bishop once before, 20 years earlier. He was a great bishop, very loving person. And one of the few who was a “permanent” resident.

    My dh was one of his counselors when we moved. It was kind of funny because the bishop was finally moving also after having lived there most of his life (they were building a new church building there and the church bought his home), we were moving, and the other counselor was moving also (to head to medical school). So it was a pretty much “give your best while you’re here and then leave” ward.

    BTW, the bishop who followed was just a young guy, living in a far-too-small for his growing family condo. They had listed their condo a couple of times and it hadn’t sold, although they’d purchased a lot to build a new home in another town. Anyway, just as the bishopric was changing, they finally had an offer on their place! The very same day that he had his appointment with the stake president. LOL! So they really prayed about it and ended up staying. I think they had 4 or 5 kids at the time. I can imagine he was a great bishop. I ran into his wife in Target a few years later and she said they were still there, and in the meantime their building lot was still there waiting for them for after his release.

  • Ray March 6, 2008, 9:12 pm

    and that last paragraph, in a nutshell, is the beauty and power of the Church and the Restored Gospel.

  • Michelle D March 8, 2008, 5:46 pm

    It sounds like you have had an amazing ward, Michelle. Now you will have the opportunity to spread around some of that unity and love!

    A smile and a “hello” go a long way toward helping thaw feelings of anxiety for someone moving into a new ward, someone returning to activity, someone who is having a bad day, someone who is struggling with long-term difficulties (illness, financial problems, job loss…) You don’t have to become best friends; it’s just showing simple kindness. Others have commented that if people aren’t coming to you, then go to them. That is MUCH easier said than done, especially for someone in Delmar’s situation. Hang in there, Delmar!

    A couple of experiences that have helped me: When we lived in Boston, a family invited us over for dinner. They mentioned inviting people over, but not being invited back and made a comment about how that hurt but they tried to give others the benefit of the doubt, recognizing that family size likely had a lot to do with it. How many people have room at their table to add another family? Some people have room to make allowances, but others don’t. I learned not to take offense when our invites declined as our family size increased. We had done the same thing as students living in a small apartment; we had room to invite a couple but not a family, and at the time we didn’t have the money to ask anyone to join us very often as they’d be sharing mac-n-cheese with us (which I was too embarrassed to do)…

    A few weeks after we moved to AL, a family mentioned wanting to have us come over for dinner but were waiting until all the invites had died down. We had not (yet) received a single invite. We were at their house for dinner after church that same day. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t expected to cook for an additional 5 people; they just made more. (It was probably spaghetti, so easy to cook more than planned on short notice…) They became some of our closest and dearest friends. I’ve learned from this — what if they hadn’t said anything for a few more weeks, expecting that others were inviting us over? I try not to make assumptions about things like that, and we try to invite new members over for dinner within a few weeks of their arrival. My kids don’t think it’s fair that the adults get to eat in the living room, but that’s the extent of the table dimensions with the number of people we’re accommodating!

    And lest I give the impression that it’s all about dinner invites… When we moved into our ward here, we received help from the EQ and others. This included moving a piano; being regaled with the story of the time a number of men in the ward had been moving a piano that fell off the truck and splintered in the middle of the road. Laughter builds bridges towards friendship. This also included the bishop helping, realizing that we had a cub scout aged son with the rain gutter regatta 5 days away; whose wife called that night with the offer of using a boat made by one of her sons from a previous year so our son would be able to participate.

    A few years ago a young couple moved into our ward. They had a young daughter the same age as one of ours, and she was expecting. After SS at the drinking fountain, I simply asked when she was due and if she’d found a doctor here yet. She had already heard (from RS Pres?) that there was a woman in the ward with a lot of kids who had recently had a child so I would be a likely one to ask for doctor referrals. A friendship was started simply because I saw a need (having had to ask for referrals myself about a year earlier, when we were still new enough to the area not to have a good idea on our own) and she realized that I was the one to whom they had suggested she talk. Motherhood, despite age differences of kids and mothers, can be a common starting ground. This friend was surprised some time later to hear me describe myself as rather shy and hesitant to talk to people I didn’t know very well. She said she would never guess that of me, citing the drinking fountain conversation as proof! I learned that it doesn’t take quite as much elaborate effort as I used to think to be welcoming and friendly.

    I try to think about these types of experiences and how I would feel in a situation — and then act accordingly. Would I want someone to come up and say hi and introduce themselves and find out if I was new or visiting? Yes! So if someone new doesn’t say something I try to at least say hi. It helps that Ray is so outgoing. He is the one who does the invite within the first few weeks of someone moving in. It helps to be a big family and to have a hubby not afraid to comment in SS and PH, so we’re easier to distinguish and remember in a sea of new faces…

    Our ward is great. We feel that way partly because we had such wonderful experiences when we came — but others have had experiences that make them feel it is a “cold” unwelcoming ward. I guess it partly depends on expectations, attitudes, what you are coming from, and how overwhelming life is for everyone involved. I know there are times when I am struggling not to drown in my own problems when I find it very difficult to look around and notice anyone else’s difficulties. I’m probably not very friendly at those times…

    Sorry for being so long-winded. Notice that Ray is succinct! I can say enough for the both of us (and then some). :bigsmile:

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