Last week’s column  contained a lament from a reader who wondered how ward members can get over feeling that they live in the “ugly stepsister ward” instead of the “Cinderella ward.”  Having lived in both kinds of wards I was interested in what our readers had to say, and they didn’t disappoint me.  Let’s see what they had to say:  

The Lord is not comparing us to others, and is not comparing wards to each other, and neither should we.

I have lived in wealthy wards, poorer wards, very active wards, wards that struggle to get home teaching done, and branches. You can look at these situations as “What am I getting?” or you can look at them as the opportunities you have to serve. I have personally enjoyed the feeling in less active and less prosperous wards that my service was more needed.

David Hall

That’s a great attitude, David.  I think a lot of the dissatisfaction we get in our ward interactions (and you notice I use the word we, because I’m as guilty as the next person) comes from the fact that we’re asking, “What’s in this for me?  What am I missing?  Why can’t I have what the people in Cinderella Ward have?”

If instead of focusing on the getting we focus on the giving, we’ll be a lot better off.  Thanks for the reminder.

We have some economic disparity in the wards in our stake, and I have thought about this question.  One thought is, bloom where you are planted.  It can be a challenge to live in a ward with many needs, lots of turnover, and few youth.  But it can also be a blessing, and you can be a blessing where you live. 

Pray for opportunities to share the gospel and increase the membership in your ward.  Help befriend the less active, and strengthen and sustain others in their callings.  Although one person cannot singlehandedly solve all of a ward’s problems, a prayerful and devoted family committed to helping strengthen the ward members around them can do great good.  If you are “stuck” in a difficult ward, perhaps you can consider that you were brought to that place “for such a time as this.”

Also, those in the stake can make a difference in helping wards help each other.  In our stake, ward Relief Society presidents often send out requests to the email lists of the other wards for the needs of their members, and in this way those who have more material wealth are able to know of the needs outside their ward and help meet them — such as when someone needs a bed to sleep in, a wheelchair, a washing machine. 

Also, frequent swap meets are held where no money is exchanged and people bring what they no longer need.  All the wards are invited to these, and they are held at different buildings every time.  This is a good opportunity for people to clean out their closets, as well as for those with needs to fill them.  Some shoppers are also donators, some are not, everyone is welcome.  By keeping the lines of communication open and sharing activities together, the wards can build unity and love between each other.

A.H. in Texas

I like the way your stake’s Relief Society presidents work together to fill the needs of the community rather than the needs of only their own wards, A.H.  Perhaps your letter will inspire other Relief Society organizations to do likewise.

I grew up in the Midwest in the 60s and 70s.  Some of the places we lived had branches or small wards, and other places had large wards.  There are blessings to each, and each should be enjoyed for what they offer the members.  

In Kansas we lived in a small ward, with just a few youth.  Our stake had large wards in it, so when it came time for roadshows we were not too thrilled. The stake leaders were aware enough to group the small wards together for the competition part.  I was grateful for this. 

The first year we felt like ugly ducklings compared to the big wards — and were a bit humiliated by our meager performance. The next year we were ready; the youth got together and wrote up the script, and the lyrics to the songs. One family were great musicians, and they figured out and played the music.  My sisters and I and other girls designed and sewed up costumes.  The performance was great.  Everyone had a speaking part, and we all sang together.  We placed first in the small ward category, and we did it all with very little adult help. 

When I was in a larger ward, my total involvement was to put on a costume of a tree that had been made by someone else and stand by the side of the stage in the opening act, but it was thrilling to be a part of a huge, wonderful production of lights, music and dancing!

In the small branches as a young girl, I had the opportunity to bear my testimony every single Fast Sunday.  We all did, and when we had each taken our turn, the meeting was over and we went home (usually early). Our family of eight was loved and appreciated.  We took up a whole row!

Newly married and living in California there were huge economic differences in wards.  I was in a “middle” type ward there.  The opportunity was there to help those with less than what we had and to be helped by those with more.

Now I am raising my family in a huge ward in Arizona.  I love that my kids go to school with so many ward members and can go around the neighborhood among Latter-day Saints.  Their leaders are our neighbors.  The activities are kept low-key but are well attended and the scouting and Young Women programs are fabulous. 

Economics do not have to get in the way.  Each type of environment helps shape my spiritual self by giving me the chance to serve in whatever way I can. 

Content in Arizona

Thanks for pointing out, Content, that wards of all sizes and economic conditions have something to offer.  Clark and I have been in both the Cinderella wards and the ugly stepsister wards, and we have enjoyed the benefits of each.

This really hit home.  Our building houses three wards — one very wealthy, one with older, longtime members who are always very involved and active, and “ours.”  We have a lot of young families as well as older, retired couples.  We also encompass the poorer section of our town. 

We struggle to fill callings because many of the older members refuse to serve in Primary or Scouts because they’ve “already done that and don’t want to do it again” (some actually say those words).  We have many with special needs, both physical and financial.  Our budget for ward auxiliaries is so low that members contribute whenever possible.  One of the other wards just had their Blue & Gold Banquet and barbecued steaks!  Our ward had a potluck and ran out of food because several families didn’t bring anything. 

We have a new bishop who is doing his best but is also new to the ward and I think is rather shell-shocked. 

I actually love our ward.  We have some wonderful people as well as some who are struggling but have great potential.  It just seems odd that each time the ward boundaries are redone nothing changes.

  I remember the last time we had a change when they did move a very few families to our ward from the wealthier ward. I was sitting in front one of those families and heard the sister say her family had been banished to Hicksville (I’ve cleaned up her language for publication) — and it was not said with any kindness.  I wish I had said something to her that one of the hicks in our ward is extremely artistic, another a scriptorian, and another knits baby blankets for all new babies in the ward.  Unfortunately, I was so shocked I said nothing.  I guess I’m part of the problem.

I’m just glad I have a strong testimony and don’t let things like that bother me too often.  But I worry about some of the new converts and those whose struggles are heavy.  They may take offense and become inactive.  We all need to remember the Savior and how he loved everyone no matter their status.  I guess this is a test for us.  However, sometimes I just wish things were more evenly balanced.

Living in Hicksville

Thanks for sharing your great attitude, Hicksville.  Although you didn’t ask for advice, Clark and I have been in wards where there isn’t enough food to go around for potluck dinners, and eventually we hit upon a solution.

If you buy hot dogs and buns and have someone make the cheap macaroni and cheese, and then put these things at the front of the buffet line, children (and some of the adults!) will eat those things and ignore the rest of the food.  Voila!  For about a $20 expenditure for the ward, there is suddenly enough food to go around.

It works like a charm.  Try it!

I was introduced to the Church in a small ward in a lower-income, combination “blue-collar” and farming community.  They did not have a chapel to meet in.  My first Sunday I was greeted at the door by a farmer wearing his best bib overalls. He grasped my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I am so glad you are here.”  The women in Relief Society gathered around me after our meeting and all welcomed me with hugs.  I was charmed.  They didn’t have much in terms of financial resources or numbers, but I felt a spirit in their midst that I had not felt before.   I was grateful to be with them.  I still remember them with great fondness.

Since then I have attended wards that have been small and struggling, but knit together in love and support. And I have attended wards that have been rich in numbers, education, leadership, and financial resources.  They also had wonderful people who loved and supported each other.  The members of those wards also had significant personal struggles — as we all do.  All of those wards and branches have helped me to learn and grow.  In all of them I have been ministered to by caring people.  And in all of them, I have had the opportunity to love and serve others.    

While I understand the advantages and disadvantages of different levels of resources, I doubt the Savior would have us focus on this as an issue of importance with feelings of jealousy and competition between wards ensuing as a result.  During conferences we have heard stories of members in developing countries walking miles for the privilege of attending church. Do we suppose they are then investing their time in being grumpy, imagining that they are disadvantaged versus wards in other countries?  Or do they invest their time in rejoicing that they are among the Saints, able to gather and worship the Lord? 

So, to “Looking at the Green Grass on the Other Side of the Ward Boundary,” I would quote James Marshall who points out, “The grass grows greener on the side of the fence you water most.”  Instead of looking over the fence, invest your time watering your own grass.

Whatever our ward or branch circumstances in terms of finances or numbers, we should come to all meetings and programs with a spirit of gratitude.  We should seek to understand how we have been blessed by being surrounded with the members of our particular ward or branch.  How might we serve them?  How might they help us to learn and grow?  What meaningful relationships can we develop?  We should choose to have a pure heart filled with love for all members of the Church instead of allowing ourselves to be creating feelings of division. 

Grateful for the Grass I’ve Been Given 

Thanks for such a wonderful attitude, Grateful.  Thanks, too, for reminding us that the Savior is no respecter of persons. 

Our last two letters today make reference to my observation last week that a ward in an adjacent stake was allowing $20,000 per year for the ward activities chairman, back in the days when we had ward activities chairmen!

Shame on the bishop for allowing that kind of money to be spent on activities!  I have lived in poor wards, as well as rich ones.  The funny thing is I have never known when I was in a “rich one.”  

We have always been strongly encouraged to use money responsibly and learn the principles of prudence and self-sufficiency.   What are those “poor” rich people going to do when there is no money?  I say, bring out the fiddle and let’s dance!   Yee-haw!

Jan Pressgrove

Del Rio, Texas (and Topeka, Kansas, and Belleville, Illinois, and Layton, Utah, and Panama, and Spain, and Mississippi, and Hiawatha, Kansas, and so on)

I agree with you about learning the principles of prudence and self-sufficiency, Jan.  Read on to see what a bishop has to say on the subject of financial allotments.

I experienced some of this as the bishop of a ward that struggled with filling positions and large differences in individual financial circumstances. (As an aside, these same problems occur within a single ward as well as between wards.) We even had to disband the elders quorum and just had a Melchizedek Priesthood quorum.

The attitude could have been one of woe is me because we didn’t have all positions filled and all programs fully operating as described in the manuals, but this was not the case. This was a strong ward that depended on and supported each other. The attitude and feeling of a ward is totally dependent on the members and their approach to the gospel. This can be helped by how things are done.

The inspired financial program of the Church addresses this issue directly.  Here is a quick example. I have been blessed and on youth outings or temple trips it would not be a burden to “contribute” the cost of the gas when I volunteer to drive and take others. However, this may make others feel like they are not an equal because they just can’t afford to do so and do not volunteer to take their turn driving for that reason although they would like to. This applies to other activities as well — even to the bringing of food for dinners.

As bishop I insisted everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances, including myself, turn in receipts and get reimbursed from the ward for their out-of-pocket costs.

This way all could participate equally. Other things included the ward paying the cost of Scout camp or girls’ camp for all youth. This all came from the ward budget allocation from the stake, not additional individual supplements to the ward finances.

The ward you describe with $20,000 activity budgets does not understand the church financial program. It is truly inspired and can make a significant difference in a ward if it is implemented as it is intended.

I am sorry this is so long but I feel strongly that it is unfortunate we do not take full advantage of the inspired programs of the Church, including the budget process.

JD Fluckiger

I agree with you, Bishop.  Part of the learning curve of being a ward auxiliary leader is to learn to provide excellent experiences to the ward members within a budget.  When the money flows like water in a shower, the experience just isn’t the same.

Okay, people, that’s it for this week.  If you have any topics for upcoming columns, be sure to send them to [email protected].  We want to hear from you!

Until next time — Kathy

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Andy Warhol