Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Utah Mormons Need the Church Too!

I sat by myself in Relief Society for my first two Sundays in Utah. I didn't understand why people weren't more friendly and welcoming. After a month we finally cornered the Bishop at church to let him know we had moved into the ward. It still took another 2 weeks, and a few gentle reminders, before they read our names over the pulpit to welcome us to the congregation. 

Utah has not been welcoming to us. A handful of neighbors have introduced themselves, and then some proceeded to tell us about the families that lived in the houses surrounding us. Sure enough they pointed out which houses contained inactives or nonmembers. Some even went so far as to tell us the alleged reasons why the families were inactive. 

The Bishopric came to our home to get to know us. Before leaving they asked the traditional, "Is there anything we can do for you?" Instead of replying with the traditional (and expected), "no, we're great!" I was brave and told them that the ward hasn't been very welcoming and we were having a hard time getting to know people. The response I got could be summarized as, "That's just the way Utah is." 

It wasn't just a one time response. When there were only a handful of women at my first Relief Society activity, the Relief Society President explained that it was just the way Utah is. Several sisters supported her in the idea. They said that being surrounded by LDS people on a daily basis you just don't feel the same need to get together like you do outside of Utah. 

It didn't sit right with me. I pondered on it for several days. The New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants both describe Saints gathering together and the importance thereof. The modern design of the Church encourages Saints to gather together to uplift one another through service, lessons, and activities. So why is it that these Utah Saints don't feel the need to get together? Does the sheer number of Saints lead them to take Church programs for granted? 

I need Relief Society. It doesn't matter how many LDS or non-LDS people I associate with on a daily basis. I need a periodic gathering of my fellow sisters in the Gospel. I need a time and event set apart from my day-to-day life where I can go and be edified and uplifted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I am sad for my Utah sisters who feel that they do not need these things in their life. I am sad for my Utah sisters who have lost the vision of Relief Society. I am sad for the members of my congregation who have been left ignored and unfriended like myself. I am sad for the people who have been driven away due to the lack of acceptance and welcoming from others. I am sad for my neighbors who are inactive or not members that carry a scarlet letter for it. 

This is not the Utah I want to live in.

It wasn't just this one ward either. We've been in other wards in Utah. Some more welcoming than others, but none who embrace the programs of the Church like they do outside of "The Mormon Belt." You know, the wards where you feel like you are a family. 

I revel in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love it, I crave it, and I cling to it. Jesus has said "if ye are not one ye are not mine." I believe in visiting teaching. The real kind where you love, lift, and serve women and do your best to take care of them as the Lord would. I believe in Relief Society, an organization that I can utilize to bolster my faith, strengthen my home and family, and provide service to others. I believe in a ward family where I anyone can go and feel love and accepted exactly as they are with no expectations of immediate perfection or exemplary faith. I believe in Gospel that creates unity among people where saints and sinners are one and the same. 

This is the Utah I want. This is the Church I want. 

Where do you even begin to make that kind of change? The only thing I can do is to be the change I wish to see and call on others to do the same. 

Do you feel outcast by your ward? Do you feel as though you don't fit in? Do you crave something more from the Church? 

Be the change. It will make a difference to someone. It would make a difference to me.