How to Divide a Ward and Prosper
By Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd
Our last column focused on the problems of a ward divided, after a member in Massachusetts wrote and told us a horror story about her own ward after it underwent a reorganization. If you missed the column, read it here.
The plight of this worried reader caused us to worry too. Unbeknownst to most of the members of our stake, our stake was about to undergo its own reorganization, as five wards were going to be realigned to create a sixth ward in their geographical center. Our own ward was destined to lose about a hundred members and gain another hundred members, leaving us with the same approximate number of people, but different faces all around.
As stake clerk, Clark knew when the changes were taking place, and what those changes would be. But the bishops of the five wards didn’t know anything specific, and they had very little time to plan. We were afraid that what happened to the reader’s ward in Massachusetts might happen to our own Virginia ward, and we didn’t want to see that.
We sent a copy of the Massachusetts reader’s story to our stake president, and also to our bishop, along with a little note expressing the hope that our stake wouldn’t make the same mistakes that were made in that other, far away, ward. Perhaps our local leaders paid attention to what we sent, but it’s just as likely that they intuitively knew how wards should be divided in order to spare the feelings of all. In any case, our stake was able to effect the change without the trauma that could easily have occurred during a major ward realignment.
We saw changes the moment the boundaries had been realigned. In fact, we participated in some of those changes by passing out invitations to a game party at our home as our new ward members left the building. Meanwhile, our bishop was busily circulating through the stake center, picking out people who were going to be in our new ward and introducing himself to them.
Our bishopric spent the next week or two visiting every new family in our ward. This was remarkable, because in our area of the country bishoprics and auxiliary presidencies do not customarily visit ward members. This was the first we’d ever heard of it being done in our stake. Several of the families the bishopric went to visit were inactive, but after receiving a visit from the bishopric, two of the families said they’d see the bishopric at church on Sunday. Already, before the first meeting of our new ward, changes were being made.
But it wasn’t just the bishopric who visited new ward members. The Relief Society presidency visited the new women of the ward, the youth leaders visited the youth, the Primary president visited the new Primary students, and the priesthood quorum leaders visited their new quorum members. The new ward members may have been tempted to install revolving doors in their homes before the first week was over!
There was one significant difference between our situation and the situation of the reader in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, the reader’s ward had gained new members but hadn’t lost any. Thus the ward was fully staffed, and none of the new ward members got ward callings. In our ward, however, we lost as many members as we gained – and our bishop filled every last vacancy that had been created with new ward members.
By the time the dust had settled, we had an entire Young Women presidency that consisted of new ward members, along with a Young Men president, a high priest group leader, a gospel doctrine teacher, a Relief Society counselor and secretary, and a Primary counselor. Within a couple of weeks, the third of our ward that was new was filling almost half of our high-profile ward assignments. This was a good thing all around.
We have heard that new home teaching and visiting teaching assignments are reflecting the changes in the ward boundary, but we don’t have any personal experience with that because we’ve had the same route for years and years. We are reporting our home and visiting teaching to people who were formerly in the other ward, however. That’s just another way for us to get to know those new people.
Our Relief Society used a lesson period for all the women in the room – old and new – to introduce themselves and tell a little bit about themselves. Our next enrichment meeting also featured a getting-to-know-you activity, complete with white elephant prizes and laughs all around.
We also have a monthly Relief Society Lunch Bunch (where women bring food to share as they sit and visit together), a monthly book discussion group, a weekly play group (where mothers visit while their children play), and a twice-weekly exercise group. Although most of these activities were in place before the ward was realigned, the exercise group is new – and the aerobics teacher is a member who came over from the other ward.
As for the activities committee, our most recent game night was attended by old and new ward members equally. Everyone is looking forward to next month’s game party. Our first whole-ward activity since the realignment will be a Medieval Night in March, where the king and queen from our annexed realm will be welcomed into the court of our current king and queen. The court jester (who will be our emcee, and who is also in charge of the joust) is a person who came in with the new ward members. From what we’ve seen, he just may be crazy enough that he will become our permanent ward emcee.
In the six weeks since our ward boundaries were realigned, three women have pulled Kathy aside and told her they like our new ward much better than they liked the old one they came from. They all assured Kathy that they liked their old ward just fine, but that this ward is different – and better.
If our Massachusetts reader’s experience can illustrate how not to realign a ward if you want to make people happy, our own experience can illustrate how to do it if you want a quickly integrated ward of satisfied members. As much as we’d like to, we can take no credit for our ward’s terrific response in welcoming new members to the fold. This is something that everyone in the ward took part in, and everyone can share in our success.
The Savior said, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:6). Perhaps the converse of that is also true. If we are one as we serve the Lord and worship together, we are doing as the Savior commanded. In that sense, we are His as we rejoice in our unity as a community of Saints.