I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time now, probably close to a year. I found a news post that gave me the final impulse to write it. The article is from Deseret News and is called Saving seats at Mormon church in Plain City leads to assault, arrest.
So here’s the plot of the article for those of you who don’t want to take the time to read the whole thing. One Sunday when there was a baby blessing AND a missionary farewell talk scheduled a visiting family saved seats that were the regular seats of ward members. One of the ward members sat down in their regular spot and an argument ensued. After the service the argument continued. After Sunday School and Quorum meetings the argument continued in the parking lot and escalated into punches being thrown and one of the two men arguing being hit by a car and ending up on the hood of the other man’s car.
I have learned a few lessons that I can apply to this situation and they are lessons that I wish I could transplant into the hearts of some people who are very close to me.
Ward Members Aren’t True
I’ve had several friends who move to a new place, or just to a new ward in the same city, and they find that the ward is made up of firmly established cliques. Everyone has their own set of people who they talk to, hang out with, make comments in class with, sing with, dance with, sit with, and my friends can’t find a place for themselves among all these cliques. This might not seem all that significant, but I’ve seen how it is like the gateway offense that can lead to inactivity.
I had one friend that found this situation in one city after another and one ward after another. They always knew that the gospel was true but got more frustrated and distant from her peers as time went on. They alienated themselves from some of their closest friends as a result of not wanting to attend activities with them. They started to isolate themselves from the good influences of peers because they would want to hang out with the annoying people from one ward or another. There were no shortage of difficulties or temptations that came along, but suddenly the support structure that had always been there to provide strength was gone, and slipping into bad habits was a lot easier since the new support structure was so much more willing to accept poor behaviour and decisions. In this case my friend decided that what they needed to care about was having close friends immediately upon arriving in a new ward, not the truth of the gospel. Instead of jumping in and getting involved in things like Choir, sunday school, relief society, or priesthood; instead of asking for a calling from leaders and giving their all; they decided to emotionally check out, time after time after time.
In the case of the news article people, what they chose to care about was where to sit, who to sit with, and getting even. For them the important part of sacrament wasn’t ‘the sacrament’ it wasn’t their covenants, it wasn’t the doctrine, it wasn’t camaraderie It seems to have been about being right and getting what they wanted. While the things that we focus on and obsess about don’t escalate as quickly as this fight did (normally) Satan is good at increasing the pressure incrementally until things come to a head.
Ward members are not true. Our ‘ward family’ is not true. The gospel is true.
Orson Scott Card wrote about several Mormon tropes in his book Lost Boys. Mormon wards depicted in satyres such as The Singles Ward, The RM, or Divine Comedy Sketches can seem far fetched, but they are so amusing because they can be so accurate without going too far afield. If we count on those we interact with at Church to be perfect, to supply our need for friendship no matter where we go, to always accept us, and to never annoy us we will always be disappointed.
When we find ourselves in a new ward full of people who are distant, cold, or occupied, we have the key to breaking the ice in our hands already. Become involved! Don’t wait and expect that over time people will be ore accepting, becaus emaybe they will, but maybe they won’t. By jumping in and helping where we can people will get to know us and we’ll start to build a rapport with future friends. Ashley and I have made it our goal to become as involved with the wards we move into as we can. We try things like:
- Participating in service projects,
- Singing in the choir,
- Offering to be substitute teachers in youth Sunday School classes,
- Accepting speaking assignments whenver they are offered, even it it means reorganizing our plans or our schedules,
- Offering to read in class,
- Sharing answers and experiences in class, especially when we agree with a comment and want to add to it, (Once you say you agree with someone they are 26 steps closer to being your friend. Exactly 26 steps)
- Play our hardest in ward sports, (even if, skill-wise, we’re in the bottom 1/5 of a five-man basketball team)
- Hang out in places where other people we might like are likely to be. For new parents this means being in the hallways during every meeting. I have found that usually some of the coolest guys in the ward are the ward clerks, or at least in my last two wards they have been, so I end up spending half my time in any class where I have Kye wandering the halls and the other half hanging out in the doorway to the clerk’s office talking about stuff.
- Going to events and partys even when we know absolutely no one else. I often feel severely self conscious and awkward at these events, and so does Ashley, but I make myself go because I know that if I don’t make an effort to bond no one else will either. Prime example: I was invited to a party with a couple of guys from the ward. We were going to prep for Father-Son camp (pre-cook and eat bacon) and watch the NBA Finals.I never watch sports, I’ve only ever watched 2 basketball games all the way through, and that was the second one. I took an accidental nap in the 20 minutes between getting home and going to the party I was so exhausted and I literally had three other places that I could be that night. But I chose that one because if I’m not being friendly, then aren’t I the one who is cliquish and excluding others from my life? Why yes. Yes I am.
Ashley and I know that the important things in life are:
- Each other
- Our little family
- our commitment to the Gospel.
We try not to let other factors barge in on our life, but they always do. By keeping our priorities straight we’re able to cling to each other and the iron rod, or at least we try every day. We recognize that our friends at church aren’t a sign of truth or untruth, they are helpmeets along the way and examples.
I don’t think that I’ll ever approach my friends directly and call them out on being isolationist, or on being the cause of their own problems because I don’t know their problems. But I feel that I can promise anyone who feels lonely and disregarded by others in their ward. The cure to being alone is to go out and get involved. The church provides myriad ways to get involved, all you need to do is find some things that you’re good at, get involved proactively, and you will quickly make friends. Not find them, make them. Making friends is a whole lot more satisfactory than just finding friends anyways. Remember, the gospel is true, and the best way to grow straight and tall is in the middle of a grove, not alone on a windy praire.
Once you know what is important, you will know when to care and when to let offenses go. Care about staying true to the gospel enough to get involved, even if that feels uncomfortable.