Building communities: what we do best

For the past few days, I have been reading surveys about youths who reside in an affluent suburb of DC.  Although residents of this county are overwhelmingly happy with the schools and think that the county is an excellent place to raise children, they constantly cite two problems: youth have no relationships with adults and they have no place to constructively gather together.

I was struck as I read these surveys that despite the many problems I had as a young adult, lack of relationships with adults and lack of a place to gather were never issues.  Although I had few friends growing up, the Young Women’s program provided me with numerous opportunities to forge friendships with adults who were friends as well as mentors.   Similarly, weekly Young Women’s activities assured me that I always had a place to go.

Occasionally, I take for granted that everyone has a community in which they can forge friendships with people of all ages and gather as a community.  I take for granted that we have people who we can call upon and that a church will provide a place where single adults can meet and often find a spouse to marry.  But in fact, many people grow up without adult friends, live without people to call upon, and struggle to meet people to date.   When people outside of our faith learn about these programs and our community, they are almost always impressed and even envious.  If they join our church, in my experience the motivating factor is always the strength of our community, not primarily the doctrine (central though it is to making an eternal community).

So even though I occasionally whine that we are not doing enough to reach out to those who don’t share our faith or culture, I am even more impressed by the effective ways in which the LDS church forges lasting and interconnected communities.  Truly, it is what Mormons do best, the heart of our gospel, and, in my opinion, the most value thing that our church has to offer.

Comments

  1. Jayme B. says:

    What a great thought!!! You are spot on. I’ve often thought that the best thing we can offer others is friendship, love, and a safe place to develop good character and to reflect upon spiritual things. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I recently moved to a new area to start graduate school, and the Church and the Institute program at my school have been essential in creating a social network for me and in helping me feel at home in my new city. One of my non-Mormon classmates commented yesterday on how incredibly lucky I am to have a network of people who have common goals with me and who I can trust.

    Although you make an excellent point that we need to get people interested in the doctrine of our church, not just the social opportunities.

  3. I love how retired people have great opportunities to serve. Temple work, missions, callings, geneology…fabulous.

    I frequently wonder how people manage adjusting to a new place without a ward family.

    In Texas people do shop for churches. Part of that is doctrinal, but it definitely includes social aspects.

    Doctrine is what makes a lasting church membership, and it changes the relationship with other church members. If you believe the doctrine, in a sense you are stuck with the members like family, so you need to figure out how to work things out

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    A great thought. I’ve often reflected on what an incredible advantage it is to be able to plop down almost anywhere and instantly meld into a church community. I have many more friends and connections and support than I would if I were not Mormon, that’s for sure.

  5. Good post.

    Its true. I can pack up and leave TX for say Kentucky and can find a church community rather quickly. Heck I could even get a calling almost right away!!!

  6. I will be leaving to start a new job on Saturday, and the Bishop of our new ward knows I am coming. As soon as my record is sent to them, he will contact my Bishop and Stake President and know a lot about me. I will walk into a congregation in three days who will welcome me, if only because I won’t sit quietly in the back and wait for people to greet me. Our current ward will help us load the moving truck, and our new ward will help us unload it.

    When we moved to the Boston area as newlyweds over 20 years ago, one of Truman Madsen’s daughters took us in for six weeks until we found an apartment. We were “adopted” by two elderly couples who became substitute parents and mentors to us in our newlywed state.

    We moved to Alabama after I graduated, where a member gave me a summer job before I started teaching in the fall.

    Yes, even with the problems that arise with a lay leadership organizational structure, we build wonderful communities 90+% of the time for 90+% of the people who stay long enough to really experience them. I ache for those whom we don’t serve as well (those who think, believe and act differently than the general norm and those who are weary), and Elder Wirthlin’s “Concern for the One” is now my favorite General Conference talk of all time.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Natalie, you have stated something plainly which I have been trying to think about. We make strong claims about true doctrine being the foundation of the church, but it is clear that the church can get along just fine for long periods of time with some significant doctrinal lapses. For instance, even though Joseph Smith said that the first order of business is to understand the identity and nature of God, several of our church presidents weren’t quite sure whether we should pray to El, YHWH, or Adam. But the church managed to muddle through and even thrive during the administrations of these men.

    I attended a Saturday night stake meeting where an apostle spoke. He began his remarks by saying that over the next hour he expected to say many things, and some of the things he said might not be quite 100% doctrinally correct. I was impressed with his humility.

    I think we have a much better experience in the church if we approach it as an exercise in connecting to others and easing burdens rather than keepiong an eagle eye on the jots and tittles of doctrinal minutiae.

  8. One thing Mormons do well is community building and coming together during a disaster. A classic example of this is the Teton Flood disaster in 1976.

  9. Emily U says:

    I’ve heard people criticize others for being “social Mormons,” as if staying in the Church because of the community benefits is a bad thing. I don’t understand this sentiment. Are people worried that unorthodox believers will muddy the doctrinal consensus of the Church? Or that they’re freeloaders in some way?

    The community benefits are real, and they kept me in the Church during a period when I could easily have faded away. On the other hand, feeling excluded from the community can make it hard for even the deepest believers to stick around.

  10. I love the church community! One of the great things about the church is how members treat people who move in from far away. My son and I, when we were in Augusta, GA for a few months because of my job, we’re treated so kindly but the church members there. We made some great friends that we’ll never forget.

    Like Claudia Bushman said, these are the best people in the world. You couldn’t find better people. That’s an important reason why staying with the church is so worthwhile.

  11. Great points, Natalie. My wife and kids and I have moved in the past year, so this is particularly salient for me. In our new home, my kids have made friends at school and we’ve all made friends in the neighborhood and I’ve gotten to know a few people through my job, but all this pales in comparison to how many people we’ve gotten to know through attending church with them.

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