Though I am generally well-integrated into the Latter-day Saint lifestyle and culture, there are times when I am reminded that I was not raised in it. In my earliest months and years, I frequently experienced such moments. I often wondered if I would ever feel as “one of them” rather than an outsider privileged to enter into their circle. I imagine many new members experience similar feelings when they are learning how to fit in and feel accepted among their new peers.
Becoming LDS is hard
Not only do new members have “the fullness of the everlasting gospel” to learn, but they also have an entire language, lifestyle and to leave behind. We’re all creatures of habit and we all like to feel comfortable. For some, becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is like moving to another country.
It is not an easy thing to become a member of this Church. In most cases it involves setting aside old habits, leaving old friends and associations, and stepping into a new society which is different and somewhat demanding (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997).
Sadly, I have, on occasion, seen newly baptized members criticized and treated poorly because they may talk or act differently than seasoned members. Some weather such actions against them and lean on their belief in the doctrines of the Church. Others, however, are deeply hurt or offended and walk away. Church members need to remember that it is often a significant paradigm shift when becoming a member, and that takes time and patience.
New members need nurturing, and that nurturing must come from Church members, particularly those within their own ward (congregation). They need people who will accept them as they are while helping them to learn and grow toward their potential.
And everyone, especially new members, needs to see friendly faces smiling at them when they walk into the building or classroom. They need to know that they are needed and wanted. They need true friends.
As members of the Church, we have the opportunity to shape the soil in which the new seedlings, or converts, try to grow. We can help provide either a nourishing or a hostile environment. In describing a nourishing environment, President Hinckley has stated that each new member “needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’ (Ensign, May 1997, 47)” (David E. Sorensen, “Why Baptism Is Not Enough,” Ensign, Apr 1999).
Be a friend
After a new member joins your ward, reach out to her. Walk up to her and introduce yourself and your family (if applicable) and what responsibilities you have in the ward. Tell her that she can contact you if she has any questions or needs some support. When she does, do all you can to be kind and accepting. You never know, she might become a cherished friend.
As I reflect back on my 16 years as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I remember many blunders and offenses – either on my part or that of other members. Thankfully I have weathered the fierce winds that blew. I’m still here to tell the tale. I also remember with fondness the members who accepted me as I was at the time yet encouraged me to grow. I will always be grateful for their friendship and kindness.