I have to start off by telling you that this is not a rant post. Keep reading, it will surprise you.
I grew up in the Midwest and on the east coast, in the USA. And then I moved to Utah. I learned many things by observing the congregations I was a part of. We call those congregations Wards. First, Wards in Utah are very different than Wards outside of Utah. Or so I thought.
Outside of Utah, a Ward family is just that– it’s a family. They are your social connection, your leaning post when you’re hurt, and they are the first ones you turn to when you need something. You meet with them often and stay long after events are over just to socialize. You know more about them than you know about your neighbors or many others in your circle of influence. In a perfect world your Ward provides you spiritual and social nourishment.
Utah Wards can be that way too, I’m sure. But they are far less likely to be your social nourishment. In the Utah wards I’ve observed, people run out the door the second that church is over. They don’t stay to socialize. And there are rarely extra activities outside Sundays to visit with each other. I think that should change.
There may be obligations on Sundays that mean you have to leave church quickly. But we need just as many social gatherings for us to form the bonds needed to become unified. Just because we don’t have to rely on our ward to be our family, doesn’t mean they can’t provide a vital nourishment to our souls.
Maybe they figure they know each other in the neighborhood, so it’s ok to leave right away. But I think they are missing out on the added emotional support that comes from having truly deep and meaningful friendships with your ward members.
I found myself feeling bitter about the difference in my new Utah ward. There were some ladies that no matter what I did would look down their noses at me, and turn away. I found myself not bothering to make friends because I felt like I was up against a cold hard wall when it came to socializing.
Then my childhood friend moved to Utah.
She had grown up in my area, and she had been to the East Coast congregations. But what she found when she got to Utah was a warm and welcoming ward who changed everything for her family. Her son had a scout leader who would make a point of walking past their house to walk her son to scout activities.
Her daughters were welcomed with open arms into the young women’s group. And she and her husband found major support when they lost many of their moving boxes to a disaster and needed replacement baby things. I was shocked. Who were these people? Where were the aloof and cold Utah Mormons I had come to expect?
I looked around my Ward and I was surprised. I sent out a social media request for help for my friend. I had expected help from everywhere but my ward. But sweet ladies from church came to my friend’s aid. Some reached out on social media, and others called my house. They cared! There were so many donations that I couldn’t park in my garage.
It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction when I judged my Ward. They were loving me the way they knew how. I had expected a different atmosphere, a different Ward culture. But their hearts were still in the right place. And when their service was needed, they stepped forward.
I learned another thing. Some people in my ward continued to completely ignore me. But I stopped caring. I started to understand that those people had a problem inside their own hearts. And it wasn’t my job to try to change them, or to even break through their icy exterior. Some people are just going to be stinkers no matter what.
Another friend of mine described it well when she reminded me that church is not full of perfect people. Most of us will never even know what perfect is until well after this life is over. Church is the emergency room, the intensive care unit, for sick and dying souls who want something better.
It doesn’t mean they know what that better is, but they are trying to learn. We need to be patient with each other. When we feel strong enough, we can lift others. When we feel weak, we can sit back and listen and the Spirit will help us heal.
Hearing her made me realized I had things all wrong. I had let the weakness of human beings come between me and my perfect, infallible, God. I was denying myself of the blessings that God could give me by reaching out and helping His children. I had to stop judging people, and just let them be at whatever level they were ready for. Because He was working on them as much as He is working on me.
Now I have a new answer for friends when they ask me what to do when their ward sucks. Because now I know that it’s not so much an us vs. them situation. It’s much more Christ working on all of us, and how are we going to respond to His help? And are we ready to help Him in His work of saving souls?
Patty thrives on all things creative. You’ll often find her in the garden pretending she is a suburban farmer. She loves meeting new people, and is devoted to her friends and family. In her heart she is a Midwesterner even though life has moved her all over the country. She believes in “blooming where you’re planted” and has found purpose in every place she has been. She has a deep and abiding love for the Savior and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And she loves editing LDS Blogs because it is a constant spiritual uplift. Not many people can say their job builds their witness of the Savior.