My family and I are spending some weeks of holiday in Southern California to visit friends and family and enjoy the weather. We’re attending my parents ward, which was the ward into which I was born, baptized, etc. My ‘hometown’ in the southeast corner of the San Gabriel Valley has always been an ethnically mixed neighborhood; in the last few years the Chinese and Korean residents and businesses have dominated the area in a way some might find threatening, but it has improved property values and (from my point of view) made a bland suburban vacuum something more interesting.
The ward, when I was growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s, was fairly solidly WASM (white anglo-saxon Mormon). The draw of the language wards in the stake (Spanish and Chinese, later Korean and for a while Tongan) decreased diversity to some degree. In addition, a majority of our ward members had strong Utah ties. (I was very aware of this because we did not.) I grew up feeling like the church was separate from the community around it, something like an expatriate club. Very few of my school friends were white anglo-saxons, and my few experiments with bringing them to low-key church activities were uncomfortable and unsuccessful.
Twenty years later, the ward looks very different. There are still more ‘white folk’ than you generally see around town, but there is an ethnic mixture of members more reflective of the neighborhoods which the ward serves. Interestingly, the ward also seems to be more involved in the community than it used to be, looking for service opportunities and cooperating with other community groups. I asked my father if the diversity made the ward more involved in the community or the other way around, and he said it works both ways: the ward is more connected to the community because it resembles the community, and (relatively) more converts come from the community because it looks ‘normal’ to them.
I’m not saying this is a trend, or that this is a perfect ward. I’m just happy to see a ward reflecting the makeup of the community and in turn making solid connections to that community, rather than standing apart from it.