Bringing a Divided Ward Together       
By Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd

Most church members do not understand the positive effect that a ward activities committee can have on the entire ward community.  But a letter from a reader recently pointed out to us that a ward’s activities chairman is in a unique position to heal some of the wounds that can sometimes occur in a ward.  “Concerned in Massachusetts” wrote:

I’m writing to you because I don’t know what to do.  Our stake was realigned a year ago, and our ward picked up half of another ward in the process of acquiring additional members.  We didn’t lose any members in the realignment, so our ward was fully staffed.  The bishop has been good about putting people from the other ward into positions as they become available, but for the most part the people from the other ward are not utilized in a way that would make them feel welcome in our ward.  Home teaching and visiting teaching routes haven’t been changed, either, so people from the original ward are teaching members from the original ward, and people from the new group are teaching other people from the new group.

Because the old ward was quite close, there are many feelings of bitterness about the new ward boundaries.  The new ward members don’t feel welcome in our ward and want to go “home” to their old one.  They don’t want to go to ward parties or participate in a ward that they believe has not welcomed them.

As an activities committee chairman, I know there should be something I can do.  I just don’t know what it is.  The bishop has given permission for the activities committee to present a sacrament meeting in our ward.  I’ve thought about using a section from your ward activities book as a springboard for my talk, telling people why they should attend ward activities.  However, this doesn’t feel right to me.  Do you have any advice?

Here is our response to our Massachusetts reader:

“Thanks so much for writing.  We can empathize with your situation, because our stake is constantly being realigned, and the possibility of ward or stake boundary changes is something that hangs over our heads like a dark cloud.  Members who live in fast-growing areas of the Church can tell stories about how they have lived in multiple wards and stakes while living in the same house.  These kinds of changes are usually good for the wards and the individual members, but they can test our faith and lead to problems such as this one.  We believe a sacrament meeting from the ward activities committee is a good idea, but you were very right to suspect that you weren’t on the right track.  What your ward needs isn’t our book (even though we thought our book was pretty good, and we would certainly like to sell more copies!).  If you really want to reach your ward members, the theme of your sacrament meeting should be a spiritual one.  Your theme should be the words of Christ, as spoken in Doctrine and Covenants 38:6 – ‘Be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine.’

“You and the other speakers should speak from the heart.  You can tell the ward how some of you looked upon the boundary realignment with mixed feelings because you were afraid you might lose close contact with friends, but at the same time you were excited at the prospect of forging new relationships with others.  You can tell the new people you empathize with their feelings of being cut off with the body of the ward they grew to love, because you know how you’d feel if you were in the same position. 

A Honeybee People

“When Brigham Young adopted the honeybee as a symbol for the Mormon people, he did it for more than the obvious reason that honeybees are industrious.  Bees (and ants, too) are so entrenched in their communities that every member of the community is entirely dependent on all the others.  In fact, if the center of the colony (the queen) dies, all the others die immediately because they literally cannot survive without one another.  By themselves, one bee can’t do anything.  But when they work as a group, they create vast colonies that can produce huge hives, that can make honey, and that can even overpower and kill a person who is perceived as being a threat to the group.  (Okay, you may want to find a more diplomatic way to say that!)

“You can use an example of the Church as being one body (from the writings of Paul).  It seems to some of the people in the new ward that they have been cut off from their own body and cannot survive without it.  However, they should think of themselves as an organ that has been transplanted into a new body.  They can’t survive – and the host organism cannot even thrive – unless the ‘transplant’ takes.

“You may want to use this opportunity to plead from the pulpit that people be thinking of ways that they as individuals can ease the burdens of people who are suffering in this situation.  The Relief Society president and priesthood quorum leaders may not want to go through the trouble of changing home and visiting teaching assignments so that people are visiting and being visited by people from the other group, but this should be done where reasonable.  Although making mass changes to home and visiting teaching assignments may not be appropriate, your leaders should move towards having more integrated assignments as changes become necessary.  Other things can be done by ward members in other leadership positions, if they’ll just go to the trouble to put themselves in the place of the new ward members and determine what they would want done for them.

A Committee’s Influence

“In addition to encouraging other ward leaders to reach out and heal the wounds in a ward, there are things that an activities committee can do directly that will greatly influence ward members for the better.  If you don’t have members of the new group on your committee already, you should get some immediately.  At least one person from the new group should be speaking at that sacrament meeting! 

“One thing that has helped in our ward is a monthly adult game night.  If you have someone on your committee who has a big home and no young children to distract people, you can use that home for a monthly night where adults bring a snack to share and come for an evening of fun.  You provide the drinks, the ice, the games, and the paper products.  We can even give you a list of games people can play where you don’t have to be smart to win.  Those game nights are hugely successful in our ward, and we get a different group of people out to play every month.

“If you haven’t tried the flamingo exchange that was described in our book, that might also help your ward with ward unity.

“Another option is to have ‘secret Santas’ in your ward, especially if you somehow get people from one faction being secret Santas to people from the other faction.  The concept of secret Santas doesn’t just have to be used in December, you know.  Secret Valentines are right around the corner, and secret friends are good all year ’round!

“It is up to your bishopric and your ward auxiliary leaders to set the example for attending ward activities.  If they’re not doing so, this should be a huge emphasis of yours when you go to ward council meetings.  People tend to follow the example of their ward leaders.  If your bishopric doesn’t think it is worth their time to attend ward activities, then the members will follow their example and won’t attend either.  Don’t be discouraged if your ward leaders fall into this category.  This is just another step for you to get them properly educated!  We also had a ‘fifth Sunday’ meeting where all the adults in the ward who weren’t in Primary had a ‘munch and mingle’ during the last hour of church, so people could get to know each other.  (This is one of those instances where asking forgiveness may be better than trying to seek permission ahead of time from the stake president.)  In fact, if you have a fifth Sunday coming up (and the next one is in January), that may be a great time for your sacrament meeting talk.  People can be fresh from that talk when they go in for the munch and mingle, giving them an extra incentive to befriend people they don’t already know.  That’s when you can start the flamingo exchange, too.

“Don’t forget that a ward newspaper – or even just a Sunday bulletin that has a lot of humor and unity-building articles in it – can greatly help your ward come together.  Our ward bulletin editor does a stellar job of putting articles in each issue that highlight different families in a hilarious way.  (But she is also one of the co-authors of our activities book, so we would expect no less!)

“Keep us posted about your situation.  And thanks for sharing it with us, because it serves as a good reminder to us – and to all Meridian readers – that a ward activities committee can have a huge influence in healing a ward that has undergone a boundary realignment.”

Your Turn

Now that you’ve read what we sent to Concerned in Massachusetts, what are your ideas?  If you have any suggestions for our Massachusetts reader, or want to tell of ways your committee helped unify your ward, please write to us at [email protected].  We’ll share our responses with you in our next column.