Years ago, while living in the Boca Raton Ward, a new family moved in and gave the ceremonial “we’re-new-in-the-ward talk.”
[As a disclaimer, don’t go off feeling bad if you didn’t do this in your ward. It doesn’t mean you’re an outcast, it means some bishoprics apparently don’t follow the proper “unwritten order of things” like refusing to let women give opening prayers. Nevermind. We didn’t speak in our current ward in Eagle Mountain until we’d lived here over five years. Afterward the bishop said, “Wow. You’re a great speaker.” Which was kind of funny because, well, I am a public speaker!]
Anyway, the father in the new family got up and introduced himself thusly:
We just moved from [city, state]. We weren’t active there because our home teachers never came to see us the whole time we lived there.
Aside from clapping my hand over my mouth to avoid bursting into gales of inappropriate laughter and putting my head between my knees to regain composure, my first reaction was, “Then I guess we can all stop coming to church! I’m outta here!”
My second thought was something akin to the old Herbal Essence Shampoo commercials (you know, before the new ones that simulate sexual relations on screen). “So, if you stopped attending because you had no home teachers, then you stopped doing your home teaching, so the people you were supposed to teach stopped coming, then they stopped teaching and the people they were supposed to teach stopped coming and so on, and so on, and so on.”
It is surprising how often we expect others to do the work of finding a place for ourselves. And more curious, perhaps, that most often what we complain about in others, is the same character flaw that we exhibit ourselves.
While serving as the Relief Society president in a very transient ward, a sister complained to me that our ward was unfriendly. I asked her how many couples she had invited over. As you can predict, the answer was, “none.”
I suggested she might want to come to homemaking, get to know some women, and invite a few for lunch or a couple for dinner. She refused, because, “We are new and don’t know anyone.” I pointed out that over 50% of the ward had moved in within the past six months. Everyone was “new.” She expected others who were “new” to be bold enough to approach her even though she was unwilling to be that bold herself!
Even in wards that aren’t so transient, everyone has a reason for not doing what they don’t do. Maybe they don’t approach new people because they are shy and insecure. (I only overcame that because my calling demanded it and gave me an “excuse” to approach people.) Maybe they are in the black hole of Primary and have no idea who is new and who isn’t and don’t want to embarrass someone who’s been in the ward for months by asking if they are new. Maybe they have lived there for a long time but aren’t active enough to be aware of the new folks. Maybe they are dealing with a situation that makes socializing nearly unbearable. (During the months of extreme morning sickness during one pregnancy, I would literally burst into tears if anyone said a word to me. I preferred to avoid people altogether.) Maybe they are new themselves.
I have found something universal in every ward I’ve ever lived in. There are dedicated people and there are flakey people; there are friendly people and there are grumpy people; there are positive people and their are whiners; there are gospel scholars and new converts; there are people who take action and people who demand that action be taken on their behalf. The positive traits are not shared by all the same people, and neither are the negatives. Some flaky people are friendly and some complainers actual do a lot of good. And the wards are made up 100% of imperfect people.
I’ve also found that every single ward had something amazing to offer my spiritual and social life, no matter who much alike or different the general population aligned with me.
The main difference is that in some wards the goodness just fell into my lap. In others I had to work my tail off to get it.
I tend to believe that the former is just a graceful, tender mercy. The latter is to be expected. And it’s my job to volunteer, to be cheerful, to make friends, to find joy, and to grow in the gospel no matter where I am.