It’s Summer, and we are doing a fair amount of travelling. I’ve attended meetings in a different place for four consecutive Sundays, and it has caused me to do some thinking about the way we define community.
My own ward feels like home to me, and it must be acknowledged that our home wards are where most of us experience the church most directly. This is where we serve in callings, pay our offerings, and are able to involve ourselves in the lives of others in ways that make a difference. When we speak of our ward family, we are describing a feeling of belonging to a community of believers.
My month away from my home ward has helped me to realize that I am also part of a larger community. The church is my home, and its members are my brothers and sisters. For people who experience a sense of alienation in their home wards, it might be helpful to realize that, whatever their opinions, there are tens of thousands of latter-day saints who share them, and with whom they have communion. (I will note that feeling out of place is almost entirely caused by where we set our boundaries which define community. A person who is politically liberal in the U.S. might very well feel like a square peg in many U.S. wards. In the same way, people sometimes stumble into the bloggernacle and are appalled at some of the wolves in sheep’s clothing they find there. They have never heard anything like this in their home wards, therefore they feel out of place in the LDS online community. In both cases, the solution is to expand the definition of community to include members beyond our ward boundaries, or even our country’s boundaries. It’s funny to me how two people looking at each other from opposite sides of a ridiculously low fence both feel defensive, and like lone voices in the wilderness. By leaving the fence in place, they both get to feel like martyrs and indulge their persecution complex. Win, win!)
This issue of where to place boundaries is not an easy one to settle. Who is in and who is out? If we set them too narrowly, we’ll end up talking only to ourselves. If they are set too broadly, the concept of boundaries becomes meaningless. And in the church, it is possible to still be part of the community, even when we are out of it. If I were to do something that would result in my expulsion, I would nonetheless be carried on the roll of my quorum, and I might even get better home teachers than I had before. And of course the bishop would be willing to help me all he could, so even as a theoretical excommunicant, the community would still be willing to include me in important ways.
The LDS Newsroom has an article entitled The Grand Enterprise of Mormonism. The entire thing is well worth reading, but I’m especially interested in this part:
The enterprise of Mormonism goes far beyond any passing media narrative or sensation of the moment. It aims higher by seeking to explain the ultimate questions of existence: what it means to be a human being and what it means to belong to the larger human family. The longing for family connection — between those who have gone, those who are here and those who have yet to come — finds a home in the Mormon worldview and in the lives of Latter-day Saints who subscribe to it.
The question is: Where do I belong? And the answer is: In the family of God. In the dedicatory prayer at Kirtland, Joseph Smith prayed for the members of the church and “all their connections”. He cast a very wide net, and he spent the last decade of his life almost desperately trying to make connections real and meaningful.
It seems clear to me that Mormonism is about creating connections and expanding boundaries. Our founding prophet said:
But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; he views them as his offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men…
 History of the Church, 4:595; from “Baptism for the Dead,” an editorial published in Times and Seasons, Apr. 15, 1842, p. 759.