I want to begin this post with an acknowledgment. Everyone described in the following is, to my best knowledge, acting from good intent and in a manner that they feel will best lead themselves and the other parties involved back to God. That said, there is a minor disaster afoot in my ward.
There are two sisters in my ward. Both have been primarily home-schooled, but moreso in the hippy, liberal, critical-thinking model than in the “protect my baby from evolution and modern birth control” model. They are both fairly hip, independent young women. They are in their middle years in the Young Women’s program. Neither wishes to go to Girls’ Camp this year. They both seem to find the strict scheduling and schmaltzy Spirit-baiting irritating. If they want to go camping, they want to camp, not be force-marched to “voluntary” testimony meetings. Both girls have (as far as I can tell) strong testimonies of the gospel. They read the scriptures regularly, go to the temple when they can, are active in service and Young Women’s activities, and love the gospel. They enjoyed Girls’ Camp when they attended last year. They made friends, sang songs, and so forth. They just don’t want to do it this year.
Their Young Women’s leaders and compatriots have entered full-on-freak-out mode. One of the girls has not had a perfect attendance record at Young Womens (although she does regularly attend the other meetings). It gets to be a little too much for her. As a result, she sometimes leaves church early (maybe once a month or so). This, along with her quasi-public decision to not attend Girls’ Camp, has resulted in the Young Women’s leadership singling her out with praise and arranging with her classmates to come over after church with large cards (covered in candy bars) begging her to come back.
I’m going to describe five incidents in this scenario to give you some idea of what is going on:
1. One Sunday, during a class that she skipped, the Young Women’s leadership decided to invite her back to church. They had her best friend call her on a cel phone. This daughter, seeing her friend’s name on the call waiting, took the call. The friend then put her on speakerphone and all the girls in the class begged her to come back (this to a girl who comes more often than not).
2. On another occasion, she attended a Young Women’s activity. One of the leaders commented on how pretty she had dressed that night and said she looked like a supermodel. For the rest of the night, that leader and, eventually, the other girls referred to her as “supermodel”. This was on a night when this girl had not done anything particularly special with her looks.
3. At Young Women’s the other night, the activity was making hats for Girls’ Camp. The girls were told that only those girls who were going to camp could participate, because there was not enough material. However, material had been set aside before the activity began, including two piles that had the names of these two girls. Nonetheless, they were told they could not make hats.
4. At another recent activity, they gave out bells to practice a song that the Young Women were singing. Every girl in the chorus was given a bell, except one of these two girls (the other had chosen to not attend). This was quickly corrected, but it was still interpreted as a message.
5. Finally, one particular member of the Young Women’s leadership appears to be behind most of these tactics. She is actually a longtime friend of the family and knows these girls well. She was (indirectly) spoken to and asked to please lay off because she was not helping these girls. Afterword, she, first, came over to the house with a plate of cookies for one of the girls, saying, “You used your free agency to stay home, so I can use mine to come over,” and, second, she approached the other girl at church, beginning, “I know that you would like me not to bother you so much about this…,” and then proceeding to give the girl a guilt trip over not going, implying that other girls would lose their testimony if she did not attend.
As I said, all parties involved are trying to do the right thing. The girls want to continue to approach God on their own terms. The mother (heretofore unmentioned) wants her girls to enjoy Young Womens. The leader wants the girls to have the spiritual-uplifting, testimony-strengthening experience that she is sure camp will be. They worry about these girls because of the unorthodox nature of their upbringing and the apparently blasé attitude toward attendance that has been expressed.
Further, I think this is all magnified by our all being in Utah County, Utah. With so very little missionary work obviously available, work with the less-active is all the outreach and missionary experience the area provides. In our less-than-perfectly attending girl, the leaders and the other girls see a project, a means to perfect themselves in service to another. That this other doesn’t particularly want their service is, for the time being, beside the point.
The mother, in particular, is torn by all this. She loved Girls Camp growing up and has been an active participant in the recent past. She wants her girls to go and have fun. At the same time, she wants to respect their decision to approach God and the church in their own terms, with their own testimonies. She wants them to fit in at church and have friends. But the behavior of the leadership is over the top, causing her to question whether she trusts them with her girls.
Now that I have written all that, I am not sure what the point is. I heard about the goings on and wanted to bringing it to your attention, but I don’t really know why. Maybe I am just moved by a story wherein everyone is acting in good faith, trying to do the right thing, and yet they are all affecting each other negatively. I’d like to imagine a way out of this where everyone remains friends, but I don’t see it at the moment. And these are good people.