A Letter to My New Bishop

Background: A couple of weeks ago, a new Bishop was called and sustained in my ward. As luck would have it, my new Bishop is also one of my closest friends in the ward. On his first Sunday as Bishop, he passed out a survey for members of the ward to complete.

Dear Bishop N.,

You and I moved into this ward with our tiny-but-growing families a few weeks apart during the summer of 2006. Perhaps because of the similarity of our situations in life, as well as some mutual friends who greased the wheels ahead of time, I felt a warmth and closeness with you more or less the instant I met you. I sensed in you a greatness of spirit and capacity for leadership that I have rarely experienced–maybe only a time or two before, and I knew that, despite your relative young age, you would be standing before our ward as Bishop sooner rather than later, if only we both remained in the ward long enough to see a change.

The experiences we’ve shared over the past three years–birthday parties for our kids, watching conference together, swapping babysitting duties, saving you from an apparent drowning, enduring long ward council meetings, and just chatting in the street while our boys make each other cry, have all served to confirm the initial impression I had of you.

When the word was given a week prior to your sustaining that there would be a new Bishop, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that you were the best man for the job–and I even tried to (tactfully) tease you and express my sincere excitement and joy for your upcoming assignment during the week–I knew you were the new Bishop. My wife felt similarly, as did many others in the ward who participated in the obligatory speculation sessions that precede new Bishopric sustainings. Truth be told, there wasn’t really much chatter about who the new Bishop would be–it was just about who your counselors would be.

Despite, or maybe because of, the complete and utter lack of surprise when your name was presented for sustaining, there entered into our chapel a spirit and peaceful energy that firmly and undeniably witnessed to me–as well as to many others present—that you had been called of God. It was extraordinary. I support and sustain you as my Bishop, and look forward to serving under your guidance.

You asked me–both in a survey you gave to ward members, and individually as we talked after your sustaining–for my thoughts. Over the past three years, you and I have had many conversations about our ward, about the gospel, and about life in general. You know that I have strong feelings about our ward and the issues it faces. We also talked about the difficulty in talking or soliciting feedback on these issues, because neither of us wants to suggest that the outgoing Bishop was anything less than magnificent–because he was fantastic and used his spiritual gifts to bless our ward in innumerable ways. Nevertheless, your spiritual gifts and style of leadership are different, and it is only fair to expect that you would excel in some different areas.

I jokingly suggested that you didn’t really want me to answer your questions because of my blunt nature, but, in the immortal words of The Great Matsby, “look Poindexter, you knew what I was when you [asked].” I chose to respond in a public format like BCC because I have often found that extra eyes can illuminate many flaws in my own thinking (Just be wary of anything that comes from a rogue named “gst”–he is not to be trusted), and also because I’m running out of ideas, and I have a monthly posting quota to meet. So here goes.


1. How connected/integrated do you feel with your ward family? Why do you feel the way you do?



Though it may surprise you (or not) to hear me say this, I feel quite un-integrated, and actually very lonely in our ward. I imagine that, to others in our ward, my wife and I appear to be very well integrated and seem to be among the more active and happy families in the ward. We are not. This is partly my own fault, to be sure–I’m not the shining beacon of friendliness and warmth that I could/should be, and I’m by nature quiet around strangers (Let’s blame it all on my Finnish wife, okay?). But it’s not entirely on us, either.

A story my brother once told me describes a common feeling I get in our ward. During the five or so years he spent in a very non-LDS community for graduate school, he and his wife observed a very odd, phenomenon: They made it a point to invite people over to dinner on Sunday as often as possible–monthly, perhaps?–and without fail, every single time their guests were not LDS, the couple quickly responded in kind and invited he and his wife over for dinner shortly thereafter. However, the LDS couples they invited rarely, if ever, observed this social norm of reciprocity. My wife and I feel very much the same way in our ward (exceptions do exist–Miles & Michelle! Ben & Holly!)–and we’ve wondered if somehow we just lost the ability to make friends. We have continued to try to invite people over, but we have long since abandoned the idea that we might be asked over to someone’s house to eat. Maybe our kids stink. I don’t know.

That’s just one example, but whatever the reason, we don’t really have any “real” friends–the sort we actually engage with outside the confines of the Stake Center–beyond of our amazing home teacher, your family, and a few others–many of whom have recently moved away. Increasingly, our best friends, and those with whom we prefer to spend time, are not in our ward at all. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that, it’s also a little bit sad.


2. How ready do you feel for a change in calling? (Feel free to be candid.) What talents and interests do you have that you would like to bring to a calling(s)? What calling(s)?


Regarding my current calling, I have never felt particularly good at my calling, partially for reasons that I will talk more about in a minute, and partially because of my own weaknesses. However, since incompetence was not one of the listed reasons for being released, I will defer to your judgment here.

As far as future callings are concerned, well! I had spent the last 29 years honing myself into an under-30 year old Bishop, but you just destroyed all of my hopes and dreams, so thanks for that. Just kidding. Really.

The truth is, I don’t really have an well-formed opinion as to where my talents are best suited in the Church–my answer would have been different 10 years ago, different again 5 years ago, and will probably be different a year from now. I enjoy serving in almost any area of the Church, and have been involved in about everything at one point or another–teaching, auxiliary leadership, Priesthood leadership, activities, temple preparation, subversion, family history, and clerking. I’ve never served in the Relief Society, though, so there’s a thought, I guess.

I believe in the company line that a calling is what you make of it, so I can only say that the one constant has been that I’m not particularly awesome when it comes to dealing with other peoples’ offspring (or my own!) until they’re about 12 years old. :)


3. Do you have any other suggestions of thoughts for the Bishopric? What else would you tell us at the start of our new term of service? Please be candid. We appreciate any information or inspiration you care to pass to us.


First and foremost, prayerfully consider the counsel of the eternally wise Mark Brown, given here, and Kevin Barney, given here. After that, everything else will be cream cheese. Well, not really, but it’s a start.

Bishop, as you know, I am the Fellowshipping Chair in our ward–it is sort of a quasi-clerk position dedicated primarily to managing the ridiculous size of our ward, which is, as you know, ridiculous. As I understand my calling, I am specifically focused on helping people, and especially new move-ins, feel comfortable and integrated in our ward. (The irony of this calling, given my response above, is not lost on me in the slightest.) In my view, this calling gives me a unique view into what I perceive to be the primary source of challenges facing our ward–it’s size, and I have written about this at length here. I hope you’ll give those a read, but I know you’re a busy man and may not get to it soon, so let me summarize a few of the key observations I’ve made after serving in this calling, and as a membership clerk in our ward.

  1. Our ward is split into three very distinct groups that have demonstrated almost no capacity or willingness for mixing: The Students, The Older Retired Couples (Orcs), and the Young Professionals. While this may be a naturally forming equilibrium, it also means that many people ignore or are otherwise unaware of 2/3 of the ward.
  2. Our ward is very unfriendly. This is, as I said above, partly my fault, too. I promise to try harder, and will employ unrighteous dominion to make my wife try harder, too. But Orcs are scary, and the Students and YPs are absorbed in taking care of their children.
  3. Most of the non-Orcs in our ward feel very disconnected from the leadership of the ward. I expect that, given your youthful stature, this dynamic will change somewhat, but the basic problem will remain: 1 Bishop + 650 Members = Not much face time.
  4. While the Students and Young Professionals are often transitory and exhibit a high turnover rate, we’re still people–you know this, because you’re one of them! It is destructive for the spirit in the ward, and for the spirit in the lives of young couples, starting out on a shaky path of activity, if these people are seen as temporary ward members, with temporary concerns, who need temporary callings. Liberate the nursery leaders!

The culture of unfriendliness and non-integration in our ward is not a problem that can be solved with a single Sacrament meeting, or a new set of goals in ward council. We are where we are, and that is where we must begin. As such, my sole suggestion is very simple: Attitude reflect leadership, Bishop. Learn the name of every ward member. It is a first step, and even though it is difficult in a ward of our size, it will remove part of the disconnect between the leadership and the body of the Saints. More importantly, it will set an example of recognition, familiarity, and one-by-one ministration that others will follow.

Bishop N., I love you and sustain you, and I know that your tremendous capacity for love and your willingness and ability to serve are not dependent on my input. I know the challenges and burdens on your shoulders are great, and I do not claim to comprehend or appreciate them. I also know that you have keys and rights to inspiration that I do not. But, as I said before, you asked, and I hope some of the above was helpful.

Best,

Scott B.

_________________

A Letter to My Bishop

Comments

  1. I feel like you just described my ward. It is comforting for my wife and I to know that our experiences are not isolated.

  2. Yeah, Bishop N is great. I should know. :)

    It is incredible how many LDS bloggers there are in the OC area.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that job no. 1 for the new bish is to actually learn the names of everyone and do his level best to get to know them. Very tough in a ward of 600+, but there’s really no other choice. The picture directory Scott’s wife is trying to create (and the Orcs are religiously avoiding) would be a great help towards this end. I wish my ward had a picture directory; I’m constantly embarrassed that I don’t know people’s names, even though I well recognized them.

    I’ve often thought that if I were ever a bishop (perish the thought!), I would delegate all but absolutely non-delegable duties to my counselors, and spend almost all of my time dealing with actual people. Let someone else run the programs; you need to deal with flesh and blood human beings.

    When I first moved into this area 20 years ago, probably the one thing that wove us into the fabric of the ward more than anything else was something called dinner groups. This was the passion and baby of the bishop’s wife. She had the entire ward divided into groups of about a half-dozen couples. Every other month, two groups would get together at someone’s home for a dinner. Then two months later, your group would be paired with a different group for dinner. So you got to know a half-dozen couples really well, and over time you were exposed in an intimate dinner setting to pretty much the whole ward. When she left it fell apart, but that was the single most successful thing I’ve ever seen at bringing a ward together.

  4. Scott B., I’m still shaking my head that your new bishop solicited the ward members’ opinions. Wow — I’ ve never heard of this, but I love it. Great post.

    Kevin Barney — I remember my parents attending (and loving) “dinner group” in our ward back in the 1970s and 80s. The dinners stopped as I got older and I’ve never heard anyone else mention them since. It was fun to hear about your experience. Thanks.

  5. “I’ve often thought that if I were ever a bishop (perish the thought!), I would delegate all but absolutely non-delegable duties to my counselors”

    It’s been hammered into our Bishops’ minds from the Stake (via SLC) that they are to only concentrate on the youth, missionary work, and only essential non-delegatable duties (welfare, interviews, matters of counsel, etc.).

  6. Yeah, that’s pretty much my ward, too.

  7. Good for your new bishopric directly to solicit feedback. My only suggestion to them would be to install a suggestion box next to the tithing envelope holder.

  8. Our ward has some of the same demographic characteristics but the opposite culture — of embrace and friendliness and borderline outrageous helpfulness. Part of it is that we’re smaller than your ward by at least 250 people. Part of it is good leadership (as you obviously have), a strong youth/Primary program, and activities that interest people at different life stages. (Linger Longers are always popular, and the group you call “Orcs” get first place in the buffet line).

    But part of it may be that we have very busy nonofficial communication channels: 1) a buzzing yahoo group that does everything from promote people’s home businesses to serving as a sort of ward Craigslist. Membership in the group, without being forced, encompasses most of the members who own computers I think. The moderator of this list just does it, it’s not a calling. 2) a monthly RS newsletter that goes to all sisters (with their names written on it) either by hand or by US mail. 3)for a while, a very funny ward newsletter written by a talented graphic designer, handed out each Fast Sunday 4) a weekly RS announcements email that includes not only the upcoming events and the temple service schedule and the building cleaning schedule and the lesson topic but also who’s sick, who’s better, and what the compassionate service needs are for the coming week. Part of it is undoubtedly that we work very hard to make Home Teaching and Visit Teaching work well. I don’t know what our numbers are, but it’s my impression (and my personal experience) that a lot of service and caring happen because of those programs. I think that if people are made aware of what service is already happening in your ward (and what needs exist) it makes us real to one another. It may help build a culture of service and giving to one another, which in turn build solid friendships and mutual affection. That’s at least what it has done in our ward.

    Could there be more conscious planning to connect any 2 of the 3 distinct groups you mention? Could Primary have an adopt-a-Grandma/Grandpa party? Could Orcs teach youth how to use the family history center? Could YPs and Students find a community service project to tackle together? Maybe 2 at a time is one way to start.

    Best of luck to you and your new bishop.

  9. Kevin,

    I’ve often thought that if I were ever a bishop (perish the thought!), I would delegate all but absolutely non-delegable duties to my counselors, and spend almost all of my time dealing with actual people. Let someone else run the programs; you need to deal with flesh and blood human beings.

    Well said, and I think some of the bishops I know have adhered to this, and really, that’s what counsellors are for.

  10. Many of the problems of isolation and cliques might be partially solved if the ward were smaller. Our ward split a few months before we arrived, and now even temporary students are well-integrated and hold leadership callings (EQ Pres, YW Pres, Ward executive secretary). As much as some of the ORCs hated the split, I think it’s changed things for the better–even if we struggle to get sacrament meeting attendance to 100. Every visitor gets noticed and is given immediate attention by any number of ward members. Compared to our last ward, an over-sized ward in Idaho Falls where I didn’t know anyone, no one introduced themselves to me, and I was isolated from other men teaching Sunbeams with my wife (and looking back I’m a bit surprised I didn’t go inactive), this smaller ward has been incredible.
    My wife and I have also made an attempt to invite people over for dinner, and have noticed a similar trend–the nonmembers then invite us over for dinner, while the members (almost) never do. Maybe it’s a Mormon culture thing.

  11. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    You’re a great writer, Scott.

    And you’re gonna make a great nursery leader.

  12. I forwarded this on to my own bishop explaining that this is exactly how my wife and I feel. Maybe he will act, maybe won’t. I find this overall condition sad.

  13. As regarding the split between the ORCs and the other groups, I’ve often wondered if it is a mistake to divide the Elders and High Priest as harshly as we often do. Would it violate doctrine to team up home teaching so the companionships were one high priest and one elder? Could Elders home teach some widows in the ward?

    I’ve heard Pres. Packer talk about the blessings of having “experience” in a ward, but the Elder/High Priest divide seems to diminish this blessing.

  14. living in zion says:

    I really like this post. I find it very encouraging that the main post and the comments so far all point to solutions that are practical and easily ‘doable’. I think you are right, attitude makes the difference.

    With God, all things are possible

  15. Thank you for this post and your honesty. This post really gave me a lot to think of today on this drizzly Sunday. Kudos for your bishop for asking and hopefully, he will be able to use the suggestions to help yourself and other members develop stronger friendships and more meshed.

    Then maybe your bishop can come and help my bishop. I live in the most dysfunctional ward I’ve ever seen! :)

  16. The overall condition is sad and no doubt others could do better, but the only thing we really are in control of is us. So we should each strive to do better.

    When was the last time you called a few friends from church to talk and see how they are doing?
    Invited people over to dinner on a regular basis?
    A trip to the zoo with your friends and their kids?
    The museum?
    Out to lunch?
    A walk in the park to feed the ducks?
    A baseball game?

    Some people do these things and have done them from time to time. It seems to me, that when we really feel the most involved is when we truly dive into service and not just doing things on the list, but actually caring about and thinking how we can love those around us. Not complaining about not fitting in and a lack of unity — not condemning anyone as being a naysayer either, it makes perfect sense to wonder about the unity of our wards.

    The change needs to start with us. And perhaps as we keep working at it over and over again over the years people will get the message.

  17. sam,

    No doubt, had the question been, “What would you suggest to other ward members?” then my response would contain much of what you write. However, the question was only for the Bishopric specifically in this case.

  18. I bet every bishop in the church wishes he could get a letter with so much advice and honesty from one of his members. It made me think about what kind of a letter I would write. Like you I don’t feel a part of the ward. There are various reasons for this, quite likely mostly my fault. What I feel is most lost in my ward experience is a sense of community, a shared set of purposes. Sadly, going to church is mostly for me something I do out of a sense of duty, but really get nothing from it, interact with very few, and am glad when it is done.

    I wish your new bishop good luck in pulling such a large ward together. And yes, tell him to take Kevin and Mark’s advice to heart. I see that as one of the biggest problems in the lame-ification of our lessons.

  19. Yikes! I’m sorry, but I this whole suggestion letter thing is just wrong. The last thing a new bishop needs is “advice” from well-meaning ward members. He will quickly find that no matter what he does, some member or faction of the ward will second guess every decision. A letter like this just gives that practice more legitimacy.

    He will soon find that far from having unlimited free time to ponder the dinner arrangements of perfectly capable people in his ward, he will struggle to find even a few fleeting moments to keep his marriage together and his own children on track as he spends his time running and attending an infinite number of meetings, showing up at every event so as not to snub anyone, performing weddings and funerals on his weekends and nights, and sometime taking time off work for them, counseling abuse victims and abuse perpetrators, the sick and dying and the newly bereaved, the widows and the addicted, the crashing marriages, the struggling teenagers, etc etc.

    Ask not what your obviously awesome new young bishop can do for you, but rather what you can do for him.

  20. Sterling Fluharty says:

    I agree you have to strike a balance between helping your bishop reach his potential as a zion-like leader and inspiring the members to try their out own ideas for perfecting the saints. I tried an experiment on Facebook. I created an unofficial group for my ward. Now there are 50 members and it functions great as a photo directory. It sure creates interesting conversations on Sunday when members ask you why your face looks so familiar!

  21. I admit we’re one of those families that doesn’t usually reciprocate when others invite us over for dinner or to do something fun. Most of the time our house is a mess, and my wife and I get really stressed out trying to clean it. We also tend to agonize over what to fix. The few times we’ve had people over and fixed whatever we wanted, we could tell our guests didn’t care for what we’d fixed. I know this kind of attitude will never fix the problem and we need to try harder, but there’s a lot of inertia to overcome, and frankly the heavy LDS emphasis on outward perfection doesn’t help.

  22. How refreshing to have a Bishop come in and ask for suggestions!

    (We have the same problem as Steve #21. We keep planning to reciprocate when we can get our act together, but we never have our act together)

  23. Incredibly helpful post…and cool that you have a relationship with your bishop that facilitates such exchanges. Your ward is too big by double, it seems.

    I think the biggest challenge for many wards is to have some semblance of Mormon identity on days other than Sunday. With the three hour block, I think many try to get all their Mormoness into it and over with so they can focus on work, school, or whatever else is on the docket (and there is a lot).

  24. living in zion says:

    When my non-member friends were in their twenties, they were going to school and working on a career. In their thirties, they got married and started having the optimal 1 or 2 children, with no real money or time challenges. Their churches are 1 hour on Sunday, if they go.

    They also drink caffiene like crazy, dosed with an occasional beer and cigarette, which all give them a boost of energy.

    They have time to socialize and a lovely homes to do so in, because most of them are hardly ever at home during the week. The daycare has the kids, the lawn is cut by a service and meals are eaten out/take out most weeknights.

    I, on the other hand, have a completely different life and have zero energy for anything beyond surviving my life. We feed the missionaries once a month because God expects it and a little old lady with a missionary meal calendar won’t let us leave the building until we commit on paper.

    I look forward to the day I have the money, time and energy to clean my house for company. Until then, I am forced by circumstances to accept the reality only my immediate family will grace our table.

  25. About reciprocating, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a return invitation to a dinner appointment. Think outside the box. Invite a family to meet at a park for dessert. (You don’t have to clean your house, you don’t have to cook.) Sharing a meal is a great way to be hospitable and get to know people, but it’s not the only way.

    Our current bishop is great at delegating. Even in a small ward like ours, there’s way too much for one man to do if he were to try to be intimately involved in the programs of the ward as well as minister to the welfare and spiritual needs of the ward members. That’s my only advice for a bishop.

  26. Diana Blackham says:

    Wow, livinginzion post #24, was that sarcasm? I have the missionary meal calendar assignment. Didn’t realize how despised I must be. I’ve experienced some resistance to having the missionaries in member’s homes , but I am a convert who thanks the Lord everyday for their service. I have a 7 year-old-son who might accept and be called to be a missionary, and have had the missionaries over for whatever we could find in the refrigerator, but it was our family that benefited most from having the missionaries in our home. And labeling people as ORCs which sounds like Orcs; do you read Tolkien, or was it your intent to label a group in an unkind way?

  27. lving in zion says:

    Diana,

    Not bitter, just tired.

    I am feeding the missionaries on Wednesday, I will be sure to think of you and your son. You will be happy to know I am already signed up for next month, too.

    I didn’t label anyone anything, but I personally don’t find offense with ORCs, as a matter of fact, I would consider that an honor. It would mean I have enough money to retire. Right now I am expecting to die on the job.

    I haven’t read Tolkien, I found the pictures on the paperbacks too intimidating. I haven’t seen the movies either. But I can quote large passages from ‘Finding Nemo’.

  28. Diana Blackham says:

    Lving in zion,
    Well, now I know why you’re tired. You must do things 600%. I’m lucky to get a family to have the missionaries over to dinner twice a year.

  29. lving in zion says:

    Diana,

    My husband and I are nursery leaders and just got home after church. Probably not the best time to post anything that requires thought.

    Today we had 8 eight children. One was obviously getting sick and was unusually whinny, one just had a baby born and is struggling with not being an only child anymore. Another just had eye surgery and cried a ton. We are positive one little guy is autistic but his parents aren’t able to see it yet. One little girl is from a family with major problems and she has a serious anger problem. Another girl is a princess and has real trouble sharing. One little guy has his nap time during nursery and requires cuddling the last hour. Thankfully, the last child is 100% fine and his life is good.
    By the time we get home from serving others, I am cool with having a few days to veg.

  30. I was raised in a home where we never had people over, not even family members, because of my mother’s insecurities. I spent 40 years trying to overcome that influence. I had finally gotten to the point where I could at least have the youth over without too much stress when the Bishop came to pick up his daughter and asked me if it made me uncomfortable having people in my home. I still am not sure why he would ask that, I think my home is about average is cleanliness and clutter, but you can bet I am not asking people over any more! I guess I would suggest to a new Bishop that he speak be careful to speak only kind words.

  31. FWIW, I am amazed that the bit about inviting people over to dinner has gotten as much attention as it has.

    @19–Yours is certainly one way of looking at it!

    @26–Yes, I read Tolkein, and I am sorry if you don’t find that particular acronym funny. I assure you that you stand (mostly) alone in such an opinion, but I apologize if you’re offended nonetheless.

  32. 650 members of the ward? There’s not really any way to overcome the disjointedness, isolation and loneliness in a ward of that size. Bishop’s first order of business should be to start soliciting at the stake level for a split.

  33. Diana Blackham says:

    @26 No problem. She who takes offense when offense is intended is a fool. She who takes offense when offense is not intended is a bigger fool.

  34. Scott, this was a great post. I’m ward clerk in a ward that’s on the verge of breaking 700 members. 45% active. I could sympathize with a lot of what you wrote. Since our new building is under construction we know there will be a split soon, but until then we carry forward. The hardest part is keeping track of the new members. I’m particularly untalented in that regard and require about 3 contacts with a person before their name and face are cemented in my head.

  35. Steve G.,
    I know thy pain, good brother.

  36. Diana, you weren’t alone in noting the possible negativity of the label Orc. It seemed incongruous in a post about ward unity.

  37. I hear ya, lving in Zion. On weeks like this (FHE Monday night, pack meeting Tues night, husband gone Wed for mutual, husband gone Thurs for stake leadership meetings, primary activity, playdate, missionary open house and husband gone chaperoning dance on Saturday, missionary farewell in another stake – with flat tire on the way – and husband gone the rest of all Sunday) all with a newborn not even four weeks old and four other little kids, and honestly, fellowshipping, reciprocating, entertaining are not anywhere on my radar. I wish weeks like this were the exception and not the rule.

  38. #19 C Jones,

    Appreciated “C Jones” comments. While the effort to get input from everyone is appealing on some level, the reality is that he is most likely creating expectations most of which will remain unfulfilled for which there may very well be a blowback. It is like getting a missionary recommendation on your desk for a new missionary that states in essence: “president, this elder/sister will do fine if placed with a strong missionary” and then finding out that 80% of the recommendations say the same thing–well do the math.
    A fellow bishop who served in my stake at the same time told me and others: “When I get released I hope to have reached the point where everyone in the ward likes me.” I responded, “if they do then you probably haven’t done your job..”

  39. ORCS? I love it! I am also a big fan of DINKS (Dual-income, no-kids).

    Dinner doesn’t have to be some five course fare. My wife and I try to have a different family over 2x a month for Sunday dinner. Our Sunday dinner tradition (stemming back from when we used to have 2 services on Sunday) consists of Brinner or homemade pizza night. It doesn’t take too long to prepare, it’s food that is readily consumed by even the most discerning taste buds (most of the people we invite over have young families), really hard to screw up, and not tough to clean up.

    But, now that you mention it…we have not had an in-kind invite afterwards. Usually I laugh it off as how my weird notions of mormonism keep me out of the main stream, but one starts to wonder after awhile.

  40. Antonio Parr says:

    Your Bishop is sounds wonderful.

  41. Antonio Parr says:

    I edit real gud.

    Try again:

    Your Bishop sounds wonderful!

  42. Ron Madson–Please allow me to be blunt: I cannot help but find your response to be beautifully ironic. In virtually every comment I’ve ever seen from you, you’ve grumbled in one way or another about the status quo of the Church, and opined about how things should be done differently. Now, here when a young Bishop does something that is very much _not_ the status quo, you cry foul, and suggest that he revert to the status quo.

    Well, Ron, I invite you (and C. Jones, above) to reconsider your position–not only because I think your stated position is wrong, but because I don’t think that, when we get down to brass tacks, you believe it’s right, either. Perhaps the problem is that I failed in my OP to effectively communicate what is going on here.

    The way I see it, there are a few different ways to approach a new calling as Bishop. One way would be to assume that either you already know and fully comprehend the needs of the ward, or that the Lord alone will tell you everything you need to know and understand.

    Another approach would be to assume that you don’t know everything, and instead of just praying and pondering, to also take the ward’s pulse before putting the pedal to the metal. Ask how people feel, ask if they are happy, etc…

    Which of these two approaches do you _really_ believe will be more likely to result in revelation for a new Bishop? C. Jones argued earlier that the Bishop should be focused on “counseling abuse victims and abuse perpetrators, the sick and dying and the newly bereaved, the widows and the addicted, the crashing marriages, the struggling teenagers, etc etc.” I totally agree, and I have not the foggiest idea how soliciting a few answers to basic questions about how happy people are in the ward can do _anything but help_ a Bishop do those things. Information greases wheels, does it not?

    In short, I believe that you and C. Jones have incorrectly equated a query about whether or not ward members are happy with a promise of wish granting. If this is because I was unclear in my OP, then I apologize–I assure you, my new Bishop made very certain that responses to the survey would be taken under advisement, but that he was not transforming the ward into a Democracy.

  43. Scott B. You’ve made a pretty big leap in #42. I don’t think (and didn’t say) that a bishop shouldn’t have input– and lots of it– into the wants and needs of the people in his ward. I just don’t think that a survey is an effective way to get it.

  44. Fair enough, C Jones. I would like, however, for you to explain how any of the questions above could possibly do anything but inform a new Bishop. I’m not being combative–I just really, really don’t understand.

  45. It’s not the specific questions. It’s not the kind of information that he’s soliciting. It’s the method. He needs that information, but I believe he needs it from other sources that don’t create unrealistic expectations, or that don’t legitimize the common practice of second guessing and back seat driving that commonly goes on in any ward. I think a survey can have those kids of results, however well intentioned it was offered.

    He has counselors, he has a ward council, and maybe just as importantly he has friends like you who are hopefully trustworthy and supportive and who can privately give him feedback when appropriate without subjecting the bishop to weekly questions from elderly brother so and so who is wondering when the HP group is going to start using Mormon Doctrine as their text as per his survey “suggestion”.

  46. C Jones, I think we’re going to just have to agree to disagree on this one. I think the survey was brilliant and inspired, and I wish every ward had a Bishop who so openly and directly asked ward members how they feel about things at the start of their service.

  47. This is a good idea, Scott, and thanks for this post. The questions reveal the heart of a man who wants to be a faithful servant to all. It will be interesting to see what he does with some of the suggestions. For instance, if I were in his shoes and somebody suggested aggressively that he should have a certain calling, I would be less, rather than more, likely to make that calling.

    Just so you know, the best stake president I’ve ever had did something similar to this.

  48. Bishop N. should have sent a survey questionnaire to former members of the ward, soliciting our views on what a doofus he is. Maybe then I could be of some help.

  49. That’s fine with me Scott B. I applaud your loyalty to your friend and wish him well in his service. He sounds like a wonderful man and nothing I’ve said was meant to criticize him personally.

  50. Mark, thanks. I think all too many of us have known folks who unrighteously aspired, and were sorely disappointed, when that calling in the Nursery evaded them until death.

  51. C Jones, I will say this: what you say may very well be completely right in a different ward, in a different situation. My feelings on the matter are actually not related to loyalty to my friend/Bishop–they are rooted in my perception that most of the younger 2/3 of the ward feels that most of the leadership doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. In a ward without that problem, like I said–you may be right.

  52. Scott B,

    I re-read the original post and maybe I should expand on my thoughts–even if ironic.
    First, I appreciate what your bishop is trying to do and find it commendable and reflection on his caring and humility and seriousness to which he takes his calling;
    second, the governing by consensus or “common consent” is very appealing to me personally and far preferable to the autocratic approach to leadership,
    third, I enjoyed your responses..

    BUT, based on personal experiences (from coaching basketball to being a Bishop and wanting to get input from everyone at first) I think the request for input on callings and open suggestions open to everyone in this manner CAN (might not) create all kinds of expectations and degrees of frustrations as C. Jones effectively points out.

    Whether I like it or not or despite my style or your bishop’s style the reality IMO is that we are habituated as a people to receive top down direction/ counsel—just look at the model we have at the highest level of our church. I believe in Elder Ballard’s Council model but as C. Jones pointed out it probably needs to be layered.

  53. Ron, Thanks for the clarification. Like I said to C Jones a few comments ago, I think that your opinions are probably right on in many, many circumstances and wards. I don’t personally think that the ward I am in is one of those, though–at least not right now.

    Here’s to hoping.

  54. Diana Blackham says:

    Does this compare in any way to my Bishop asking me (20 years ago) to write a computer program (remember, this was 20 years ago) so that he could have a clerk input all the hobbies, education, interests, prior callings, etc. of the ward membership which he could use to assist when making callings?

  55. someone please tell my stake president that we need a change in our branch! our branch president has been in his calling for 25 years….arrghh! there are a few other priesthood leaders that could do it. i’d give anything for a new branch president that wanted fresh ideas on how to improve things.

  56. May God bless you, Scott, your new bishop, and your humongous ward. Your letter is wonderfully candid and I trust it may prove helpful.

  57. Gordon B. Hinckley says:

    rst (55.),

    Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head, a man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?

  58. very interesting letter, and in many ways echoes feelings I have had at times. The thing that popped into mind after reading was – Wow – he is really setting him self up for a primary calling.

  59. BCC community:

    I figured that a letter with discussion addressed directly to me was as good a reason as any to make my first-ever foray into the blogosphere. So here goes. Please be gentle with me.

    Scott B.: Thank you for a helpful and thought-provoking post on many levels. Regrettably, little of what you say is a surprise, but through my eyes as a new Bishop it is helpful to have it broken down so concretely. You are a true friend, and a great blogger. 

    For the rest of you — first, some background: Knowing that it will likely take months to years before I have interacted personally with every member of our ward, I wanted a way to efficiently capture directly and immediately what people’s feelings were on the ward. I wanted immediate feedback, while the energy of a Bishopric change was still in the air. I hope people to feel vested in the change and new direction if they feel they have had a piece in shaping it. 

    I made it clear, however, that the intent behind the exercise was not to establish a ward run by democracy. It was just that we didn’t expect the Lord to give us inspiration on matters where simple information would do. To that end, I said, please give us information so that we can use it to go prayerfully seek inspiration. That said, cautions about people being disappointed when suggestions are not implemented are well-taken. Thank you.

    In all, we ended up receiving about 100 responses – or about 30% of our active, adult membership.

    The survey responses were great. Some shared some very candid, personal matters. Most just expressed their support. We learned that Scott B. is not alone in his concerns, and so we clearly have some things to work on as a bishopric. Clearly, our ward is not alone in this need. Sincere thankyous to Kevin Barney, jeans, Sterling Fluharty and others for helpful remedies for lonliness and ward integration. You are all welcome to move right in. I have some ideas of callings for each of you.

    And finally to gst: How silly of me to think think that I would get all the way through the discussion without a gst bombshell, and then just when I was getting all wrapped up in the fiesty exchange between C. Jones and Scott B., your enlightening contribution appeared. True to form. I welcome your input on the survey matter you suggested at any time.

  60. 650 members? That is enormous!

    Kevin Barney (#3) When I was in high school my ward had a similar system of dinner groups, but it was even better – we met once a month, and the meeting counted as home teaching and visiting teaching. It was the most unified ward I’ve ever been in, and our HT and VT stats were 100% almost every month.

  61. I think that Bishop N has the #1 most important quality to make him a great Bishop: humility.

  62. #59: Just wanted to wish you good luck and pray that you’ll be strengthened in your church labors, employment, and family matters. :)

  63. Liberal Mormon says:

    I like this.

  64. Erin Jeanne says:

    huh. I think this maybe one of the things I enjoy most about living way from the Zion Curtain. Our ward is very very close! We felt loved from the first meeting we attended. We try really hard to make friends with people who move in and our ward is working so so very hard to reactivate the 200+ members on our rolls that are not currently attending. We just got a new bishop and he created and presented a Ward Mission Plan. LOVE IT! he set clear goals for where he wants us to go and what He feels the Lord has in store from us! We have close friends both in and out of the ward, but those we lean on most are our ward family! Good luck Scott, I hope you get to experience the kind of love and togetherness in your ward some day that Matt and I are enjoying here in TN. We left a ward much the same in Murray Ut, but prior to that we had a ward we did not feel part of, I have been on both sides and a strong ward family is such a blessing! and Thank God for those men who are willing to be bishops and their families for letting us all lean on them! Good luck Bishop N. may God Bless you!

  65. Ward Choir Director says:

    Obviously Bishop N. needs to get together a great Ward Choir. This is the One True Way to integrate all of the groups–from Orcs to Dorks, everyone can be in Ward Choir! ( I think I’ll use this as my new motto.)

    Seriously, though, Ward Choir is THE place to be casual, friendly, find some common ground, it’s fun for all ages ( I let musically inclined older Primary kids into ours)–and it brings the Spirit into Sacrament Meeting.

    If the bishopric is supportive of the Choir (and it doesn’t hurt to be in it) you will find it is one of the things that will help unite a ward.

  66. Bishop N, I hope I have made it clear that I have nothing but admiration and good wishes for you. My response was based on my own personal experience– not as a bishop, but as a bishop’s wife. I am not critical of bishops– rather I feel fiercely protective of them.
    You are about to have the most wonderful experience. My love to your wife :-)

  67. Amen to C. Jones’ comments.

    Also, I’ll say this: With the exception of my current ward, I’ve had to attend the PEC and/or unit presidency meeting of every unit I’ve been in since I got home from my mission 13 years ago (8 or so units, I think, scattered around the country). In each and every case, I have heard both that: (a) the respective ward is the friendliest that someone has been in; and (b) that same ward is the least friendly that someone has been in. As such, when I hear “This ward needs to be more friendly to me,” I usually think in my head “Maybe you need to be more friendly to the ward.”

  68. My only reservation about such a public survey done while the energy of a change in bishops is fresh is what kind of message it sends to the just released bishop. It would be easy to see it as a public assertion by the new bishop that the ward is messed up and things need to change. Not a very comforting message for the volunteer who went before.

  69. amen Jimbob.

    I’m in a similar boat. So far in my ward I’ve been exec secretary twice, finance clerk, and am currently ward clerk. Throw in a stint as Young Men’s President early on and I’ve pretty much been a regular fixture in PEC/Ward Council for the majority of my 10 plus years here.

    In my current ward I’ve watched it grow in from a recently split ward of 200 members to its current state of 700 members ready to split again. The ward has gone from a reputation of being very friendly to not so friendly as its increased in mass. I think wards work better when smaller, not larger. When wards reach critical mass its nearly impossible to keep tabs on the new members moving in and unless they are self motivated they tend to fall through the cracks.

    I hear some love it since they get a chance to not have a calling for a while and can run under the radar, but others desperately need a calling in order to feel plugged in.

    There aren’t many solutions. A ward only has so many positions available. A bishop can either rotate callings more often or try and create callings which might be viewed as token callings by some. I think rotating callings more often is better because it gives some a well-deserved break, but likely won’t last a long time before another calling becomes available. Another nice thing about rotating them is that they stir up the leadership pools, so there is more interaction with members than what they will get from just seeking out friends in their natural comfort zones. Token callings feel unimportant and IMO don’t stir up the leadership pools and social groups often enough.

  70. KLC,
    As I noted in the OP, your concern is very real Re the outgoing Bishop. It was handled extremely tactfully, but even if it hadn’t been, our outgoing Bishop is a brilliant and wise man who was not unaware of the challenges our ward faces. The questions being asked are not new questions–just a new person asking them.

  71. Jimbob, You’re right–often times those who cry foul are guilty themselves of not doing their best. I am certainly one of them. That said, if you read my post (linked in this post) from earlier, you’ll see that I tried to make clear that I don’t believe my ward is unfriendly because it is full of inherently unfriendly people who walk around hating each other. Rather, I think it is simply a function of too many people in the ward–no one knows if the person sitting next to them is a visitor or just someone they should know, but don’t.

  72. I’m trying to get over that uncomfortable feeling of telling people I don’t know who they are, even though I know I’ve introduced myself to them before. What I’m finding is people don’t mind getting reintroduced, since they probably forgot your name as well. I wonder if a lot of the unfriendliness people perceive in a large ward has its base in the fact that people are embarrassed to reintroduce themselves. I still hate doing it, but am finding its a necessity and always comes off better than I feared.

  73. I suggest that all bishops start early on trying to teach the members to rely most heavily upon the Lord, and not so much on the bishop.
    From the Lord, they will get answers and guidance to be self reliant. From the bishop, they will get a human’s best effort (though inspired) to assist. Often the bishop can end up drowning in a lot of unimportant, but urgent issues (get your Stephen Covey book out, bishop). Ward members can become so dependent upon a leader they trust, that they forget to go to the Lord for their own guidance.

  74. Scott-sounds like someone’s kissing-up for the cushy callings. Do I smell librarian in your future?

    Also, I have to question your Bishop math. I believe the operator should be division, not addition.

  75. Rameuptom,
    I completely agree–hence my suggestion was not for new programs, new mission statements, new phone numbers for reaching the Bishop at all hours of the day, but rather a simple and meaningful way of helping every single person feel recognized, known, and appreciated.

  76. - I like my big ward.
    – I’ve done my service in a “big calling” as YM President with 60-70 YM and have now thankfully slipped back under the radar
    – I am thankful for the chance that my chance of being called as bishop is nominal.
    – I like the fact that I am in my early 40’s, and there are at least half the people in my EQ older than me, so my chance at having to move to HP is also minimal
    – I like being able to spend my Sundays with my family, my weeknights doing homework with my kids or relaxing, and being able to help coach my kids’ sports teams – and at the end of the day, these are infinitely more important than spending years going to meetings ad nauseum…

  77. I served in callings non-stop for over 30 years! Finally, I needed a break, so I made some controversial comments in Gospel Doctrine class. I haven’t had a calling in over a year! I LOVE it!

  78. It sounds to me like Bishop N. made sure that the members of the ward knew that they were not so much giving him and his counselors directives as they were giving him directions. Thus, all the pooh-poohing about the problems such a survey could cause seem to be unnecessary.

    Every ward I have been in here in central Illinois gives new move-ins a household survey that asks about interests, past callings, and specific skills. I have never seen this as a means of letting members pick out their calling. Rather, it is a way for the Bishopric to know at least something before they give a calling. (For example, a bishop is probably going to call a member who knows how to play the organ to be the ward organist, not someone whose musical skills are limited to singing along with the radio… off-key…)

    Concerning the specific survey that Bishop N. distributed, quite like the idea and will find ways to steal the concept to use in various circumstances (such as teaching in public schools, and running my business). Interestingly enough, such a survey has a strong foundation in leadership best practices, identified through lots of research. One such practice is called Awareness of Process. In AOP, individuals respond to three questions: 1) What’s working? 2) What’s not? 3) What do we need to do next? I see this ward survey as a very well thought out attempt to do just that.

    I hope that Scott B. will give us an update in a few months to let us know how things have gone in his ward!

  79. Wow, the tripartite split sounds like a university ward in OC I attended some years back–established members (wealthy, mostly in high-paying professions), young professionals, and a grad student population (code word: Verano). But then again maybe I’m getting ahead of myself…

  80. Comet, we speak of the exact same ward.

  81. [warning: ward level naval gazing ahead]
    Scott B: Funny, some things never change. I was in the ward until 2005. I have good memories but the dynamic you describe dogged the ward even back then. Established members rarely set foot in Verano, as though it were some third world country; even the young professionals seldom ventured out. Once we invited a good established couple from the ward to our apartment, with its plastic lawn chairs and modest interior, and though we had a good time, there was a subtle fish-out-of-water undercurrent present. No one could definitively pin down the ultimate motivation for gerrymandering the ward in that particular way. The barriers were acknowledged in scattered comments here and there but no systematic effort was ever made to address them. So it’s heartening to hear that a new bishop is going to try to turn things around; best of luck to Bishop N.

    By the way, the 450 number for ward members is a mind boggling leap from when we were there…what happened?

  82. You mean 650? The growth has come from a huge increase in grad student populations, plus the general growth in Orange County because of economic opportunities.

  83. Scott B – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for personally reaching out to make me feel welcome in your ward and at the Miller Eccles discussion group the other night. I am a recent visitor to your ward and have found you, your child in nursery, and many others to be very friendly. While I have rarely attended Church for nearly 20 years, your ward and new bishop make me want to return week after week. Maybe the secret is that after Sacrament Meeting I usually end up in the nursery (the friendliest and most fun place in the building). Perhaps one suggestion for making a happy ward would be to usher all visitors directly into the nursery rather than gospel doctrine. [Just kidding] Thanks to you and Bishop N for all you do for me.

  84. Mark, it was great to see you as well. You are very welcome; If only I was half as charming as my little boy (and little girl!), no one would ever again feel unwelcome!

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