The secret of measuring success in the church is…

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio (1606)

RAF recently wrote an interesting post on ‘the secret of measuring success in the church’. Almost everyone will have their own ideas on a topic like this and very often they will be quite different. Despite this, considering such questions can be worthwhile because they orient us toward that which is most important. As such, I thought I would try my hand at coming up with a measure of the success of the church.

It is this: the success of the church is measured by the extent to which members of a particular ward/stake eat together in each others homes.

First let me explain what I mean and then why I think this is important.

When I use the word ‘extent’ I do so with a particular view in mind. The networks of food sharing in an area should be both broad and frequent. In other words, wards where people eat together regularly but only within a relatively narrow group of associates within that community are not (or better, will not be) as successful as wards where a broad range of people (preferably the whole ward) are included within the list of possible invitees. This list of potential guests should not just exist merely as a vague preference but rather it should be manifest in the people who have actually eaten in our homes. This should nearly always be reciprocal. Almost everyone should both invite others into our homes and be invited into the homes of others.

The extent to which members of a particular ward/stake eat together in each others homes is the best measure of success because it is one way of observing the social boundaries which divide the body of Christ. Therefore it is a good measure of the degree of fellowship that is experienced among ward members.

It is a commonplace insight that who we eat with and how is one way of enacting society. Downton Abbey is a popular example of just this type of idea. Class and gender divisions are given a tangible quality through eating rituals. Those whom we eat with, particularly if we eat with them regularly, are often those we consider to be our peers, our friends, and, by implication, our equals. Invitations to dinner then become one way of reconfiguring the divisions which define our societies.

Part of the reason for this reconfiguration is that when we eat with others we offer them our labour and our time. We present gifts to them that are then commonly received with thankfulness. This sharing also very often encourages conversation which can lead to greater mutual understanding. Although this may all sound a little idealistic I sense that this understanding is the basis for spiritual fellowship.

Fellowship is the key to the success of our communities and is therefore the primary reason why it would be important to be sensitive to the amount of food-sharing in a ward. What does this fellowship consist of? Mormons love to talk about their religion. When we eat together the topic of conversation almost always move toward our faith. As people sit and talk about their religion in a setting that facilitates sharing and gratitude it is not uncommon to find increased openness and vulnerability. Thus in response to giving or receiving of gifts there is very often a genuine bond that is forged. People who have shared this type of experience, I propose, are more likely to serve and love one another. They are more likely to be willing to yield to the needs of others and be sensitive to those needs in the first place. In short, they are more willing to treat each other with Christian love. The greater the degree of this social mixing via food the greater the degree of fellowship that will exist in that ward.

All of this is quite obvious and yet I rarely hear food discussed as a mean of encouraging Christ-like virtues or spirituality in a ward. Of course, I am not suggesting that eating together will solve all the spiritual problems the inflict the body of Christ nor am I suggesting that a formal metric should be used to capture the breadth and the depth of this food-sharing. But if a selection of members can look around their congregation and see that, say, only a third* have been in their home for dinner, then I think that is a pretty good indication of some problems in that ward. In fact, resolving this might create a situation where some of the issues in Elders Quorum or Visiting Teaching or Sacrament attendance resolve themselves.

Living the gospel should be something we do together; if we are not doing it together then perhaps that is the reason people are struggling to live the gospel.

* It is difficult to put a number on this simply because our wards varies so much in size. In smaller wards, the proportion should be higher.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I like your thought, here, Aaron, largely because I remember being integrated into the social fabric of a new ward I had moved into largely through a semi-formalized practice of meal sharing in the ward, which I wrote about here: http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/05/23/dinner-groups/

  2. Kevin, shamefully, I must admit that I think I missed that post. A great experience which highlights precisely why I think this is important.

  3. “if we are not doing it together then perhaps that is the reason people are struggling to live the gospel”

    Excellent point, Aaron. In my experience getting in each others homes does tend to solve a lot of problems that would otherwise crop up.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Ingenius, Aaron. Seriously.

    I count as treasured experiences a couple of late night bull sessions which included you, and which started over meals.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Now you’ve got me thinking about recipes I can make for a crowd.

  6. Anonymous for this cuz I don't want my ward members to know I said this says:

    Hmmm. I see that it could be a measure of Christ-like acceptance of one another, but I’m not so sure from my own experience. It might even happen in wards where there significant homogeneity of social class and wealth in a ward. But as a Relief Society president, i just don’t see folks coming to the homes of hoarders, cat lovers (13+ cats, for example), dog lovers (4+ dogs, for example), single adults, large numbers of children, mentally ill, imperfect housekeepers (that would be why I invite few to my home – I know I violate deliberately some cleanliness standards held sacred by other sisters), and inadequate access to food or transportation, let alone those who live dilapidated housing or in one-room spaces or less. As you state, reciprocity is necessary for this to work. And i just don’t see any possibility of reciprocity for many members of my ward.

    I also suspect this measure might be biased toward the socially gregarious.

  7. Anonymous, I recognise that there might be exceptions (hence ‘almost all’). However, the vast majority of groups on that list are precisely the sort of people who are sometimes left out of our fellowship because they provide a challenge to the limits of ‘socially acceptable’ friendship. This suggestion is not supposed to be easy, in fact it is incredibly difficult. It might sound simple but I have found people very resistant to it. Eating together quickly cuts into our deeply held insecurities and expectations in a way that few other practices do. For all of the groups you mention it might be hard both for the invitee and the invited, and that is precisely why we need to do it. I suppose really what I am saying is that all of these expectations which divide us are in fact limiting the body of Christ to be such.

    Moreover, as someone who is fairly gregarious, I can assure you that this is always not easy. I am willing to concede that this might work better for some than others and yet I am convinced that even those who find friendship difficult or unsatisfying will still benefit from these associations.

  8. Beyond the social issues Anon Coward lists in #6, some cities inhibit this. NYC has far fewer dinner invitations than in our other wards, due to transit issues, transportation of food issues, and the excessively small apartments. (Another factor for us, I suspect people fear my wife’s judgement on their “offering”; not that she’s judgmental, but she went to cooking school and studies food.)

  9. Anonymous for this cuz I don't want my ward members to know I said this says:

    Seriously. How on earth is the person living in one room, or the person living on food stamps (or bishop’s storehouse commodities, with a carefully scheduled menu) supposed to invite others to dine? Yes. Let’s rub it in BIG TIME that one person has bucketloads less than another.

  10. Amen!

    My family lived in a place about a decade ago where the stake had three stated goals, repeated at every stake event. I don’t remember the first one. The second was to read the Book of Mormon. The third was to invite someone into your home each and every month, member or non-member.

    My husband and I — very definitely not gregarious types — were fairly serious about observing that goal, and it was a lovely experience, getting to know neighbors, work colleagues, and ward members.

    We’ve tried to keep it up since then, but haven’t done too well the past few years for one reason and another. Time to start again!

    Anonymous — if issues like that are common in the ward, it may be necessary to adapt to your circumstances and do something different like hold potlucks after church, a break-the-fast each month, perhaps. Even the cat lady can bring a crock pot of chili mac to a potluck.

  11. Ben S, again, most of these are surmountable problems because they are based on what a dinner invitation should be. Such expectations are not always necessary. We can learn to be more comfortable in settings that are not ideal (perhaps eating off of trays on laps), where the food might be less than desirable, and even where it is not a full meal.

  12. Anonymous, having been that person at different points in my life, all I can say is that it can be done. For example, perhaps I might need to learn to feel comfortable eating on a bed rather than at a table. Or perhaps I need to appreciate that I cannot always offer or receive an entire meal – however I think a Bishop in a ward where this type of sharing was common would understand that providing for one family to feed another will eventually (hopefully) be reciprocated and that it would bless these two families.

    Once again, I recognise that there might be exceptions but, just to reiterate, this is definitely a challenge. It may well take creativity to solve but I think it is worth trying.

  13. Single and Anonymous says:

    As a single adult, I don’t much appreciate anonymous’s lumping me in with hoarders, the mentally ill, and the slovenly as being incapable of luring guests to my table. I invite, guests come, and a good time is had by all. It’s the stereotypes held by the anonymouses of the world at least as much as the handicaps of those whose homes she can’t imagine visiting, that keep us on the margins and contribute to the ill-success of a ward.

  14. Success IN the church, or success OF the church. They are very different things.

    If you see “church” as a primarily social construct, I could see your point. But I expect more from Church. I would much rather measure its success by how much service is being rendered, than by how often people are entertained in the homes of others.

  15. SilverRain, perhaps you have not finished reading the post yet because I am pretty sure that we do not disagree at all.

  16. I think that in the United States we have this idea that feeding people in your home is ‘entertaining’ them and it needs to be a big deal and a way to impress guests. The focus tends to be on the people providing the food and the venue. I served a mission in a country where feeding guests something was commonplace, and while some people probably did it to provide a good impression of themselves, generally the focus was on the guest–making sure the guest was comfortable and felt appreciated. As missionaries we ate all kinds of food (some of it disgusting and probably unsafe–that’s when you pray for protection) in all kinds of situations, from plates of fish sticks balanced on our knees while sitting on a sagging couch in a cramped apartment with four large dogs running around shedding fur on everything to formal dinners complete with tablecloth, fine china, and several courses of food. People fed us because they loved us and they wanted to serve us–which is what I think Aaron is trying to get across. I’ve often wished that the culture in the US had this idea that eating together is a delight and doesn’t have to be an obligation or a burden. I agree with this post that more opportunities for members to spend time outside of the formal constraints of church and in each other’s homes would be beneficial and I wish we could all lighten up a bit about being in each other’s space.

  17. marginalizedmormon says:

    It doesn’t work. It’s a nice thought, but there can be sad consequences. I can’t go into detail, but trust me–
    It sounds nice, but when the church is as stratified as it is socially–

    it can’t work.

    We’ve tried.

  18. marginalizedmormon says:

    and stratified economically–

  19. I didn’t understand why sports were so important to people until I moved to the South and learned that football was really about community. It provided a common interest, a venue for food to be shared (a ward tailgate?), and brought disparate people together over and over. I think Aaron’s got a great idea here, and to the extent that individual circumstances preclude (probably constrain, because as some have mentioned we sometimes just need to get over ourselves) sharing, a ward potluck, linger-longer, or such can help bridge the gap. I had a Bishop that made it a point to invite two families to eat at his home each Sunday. We got started on some good friendships that way. Aaron, you’ve made me decide that I need to find a way to eat lunch with someone as often as possible. I feel isolated at work (which is why I’m browsing blogs…) and I think you’ve provided a path for me to remedy that. Thank you.

  20. I think that how often people dine at each others houses is a good indicator of ward success. I disagree with it being made a goal though. Correlation does not equal causation. I know that is really cliche, but sometimes cliches are true.

    That is the same problem I have with home teaching. Assigning people/strongly encouraging from the pulpit to to eat at each others houses just makes it hard for people who don’t fit in to know if they have made a friend or if someone just feels pity for them. I think encouraging people on a blog to invite people over is a great thing, but not from the pulpit.

    The gospel is less about what you do and more about who you are. We create all these programs with the goal of making people feel like they are accepted and included. We need to stop doing that and instead work on actually accepting and including people. One way to accept and include people is to have them over for dinner, but the invitation should be a result of the acceptance. We shouldn’t invite people over to show them how much we accept them. Motivation matters.

    Maybe a person is self conscious about their threadworn furniture and doesn’t feel accepted enough to invite someone over for dinner. Creating a program where that person feels obligated to invite ward members over and then judge them as not following with the inspired home meal sharing program that their ward leader whom they have covenanted to sustain only serves to make someone like that feel less accepted. Maybe that family needs a play date at McDonalds where their kids and a ward members kids can play in the germ ridden plastic balls while parents have authentic conversations in a non-judgemental neutral territory. Going to a restaurant however inexpensive is much more preferrable in my opinion than pretending to like someones cooking when you don’t. People want honest connections, not fake connections based on dishonesty.

    If someone invites me over for dinner and I feel they are doing it in some attempt to serve me or I was assigned as some sort of project and not because they like our family and want to get to know us better in a mutually beneficial way, then I will turn down their invitation and I have.

  21. anonlds, I tried to explicitly state in the OP that I do not think this should formally measured and I do not think it should be a programme per se and so it seems to me that we probably agree. Thanks for commenting.

    Brian, writing this post has made me realise that there is a great deal more that I could do as well. Although make sure you keep dropping by during lunch.

  22. marginalizedmormon, it is difficult to respond to your comment but I suppose that there are sad consequences either way. I would be willing to gamble that this has some important positives even where it is very difficult. However, I accept that I may be wrong.

  23. I just want to clarify the causation/correlation thing.

    I think have good relationships mutually beneficial relationships with fellow ward members causes people to accept each other into their homes and their lives. I think that is true regardless of how you categorize people. Rich vs poor, outgoing vs reserved, same 10 people vs those who will turn down callings. I think having people over for dinner can build relationships that already exist. I am skeptical of the shared meals causing people to accept each other when they don’t already.

    Relationships are built incrementally over time. Some may view dinner in your home as a small beginning step in relationship building. Others view dinner in their home as allowing someone into a very deep and personal part of their lives and not a beginning step at all. Acceptance means finding a way to honor both those groups of people.

  24. Great reminder, Aaron. I’m going to do more of this. Excuses about being an introvert be damned. I am confident of progress toward our covenant ideals of being of one heart and one mind and comforting those that stand in need of comfort.

  25. I had no idea this was even a thing. I don’t think shared dinners was something that went on at all in my family ward growing up, and yet my impression over the years was that it was always a well-mixed, loving, socially functional ward. Is this a more regional practice, or did I just have a weird ward?

  26. Meldrum the Less says:

    I bought and sold a house in Salt lake that more than doubled in value in a few years.We hit it here perfect when things were in a bit of a slump and got a really nice big colonial house with hidden foundation problems and in need of some rennovation and updates which again doubled if not tripled in value over the last 20 years. So on the surface it looks like a mansion even though for years I spent most of my free-time fixing it and still have not got up the skill or money to do the bathrooms. Since I have basically been blessed far beyond what I deserve, I sort of considered my house like ward property in some unwritten united order.

    I noticed that my stay-at-home wife doesn’t really get serious about cleaning or making others do their chores until just before we invite someone over for dinner. She admitted as much and we went through a phase where we invited people over at least twice a week to force us to keep it clean. We had up to 19 cub scouts here every week for 5 years and every other youth activity that needed a place to meet. We invited all the young families in the ward still in apartments to come over several times a week if they wanted and play in the forested back yard which is very kid friendly. In addition, whenever anyone needed a place to stay over night we had extra bedrooms. My wife has had women escaping their abusive husbands and spenting that first frightening night away from him hiding in our house. Or alternatively women with unresolved conflict who got angry and temporarily left their husbands in a fit of rage and who spent a few days with my wife listening to them until they could calm down and think about what they really want which turned out not to be a divorce but some needed changes. The basement has a kitchen and bathroom and a big open room about 1000 sq ft. I think we had about 30 girls sleeping (mostly giggling) down there for youth conference one year.

    But this has a down side. I was told by the previous bishop a few years ago that many of the young couples that we invited over felt like they had as much if not more on the ball than I did and by extension they deserved at least as nice a big house. This was causing a few of them to move out of the ward and into the suburbs with 2+ hour commutes to work.

    And then there is David, my brother and his wife and their family (We call it a tribe). She has 9 siblings and her parents both have a double digit number of siblings. They all like to get together and they have this family practice of just showing up any old time. My brother’s medium sized house is about as busy as a small motel. Sometimes he answers the phone: David’s bed and breakfast. I have been there when he had 36 people sleeping in his 4 bedroom house. One time he came home from a date with his wife to find one of her uncles and aunts sleeping in his bed and the old wrangler was still wearing his cowboy boots with real horseshit on them. My brother bought a motor home and parked it locked in his driveway so he would have a guaranteed place to sleep. He definitely does not see his wife’s generosity as indicating any great righteousness, more like a different set of boundaries in the way that family functions.

    I don’t think we are any better than the other members of our ward because of our willingness to have people over all the time We have been blessed with something we found easy for us to share. It could have been any other gift from God. Sharing our gifts is what matters more than a specific gift or practice.

  27. anonlds, skepticism is probably fair in this instance because most of the food-sharing we see is between those who have already developed a good relationship. However, acknowledge that correlation does not negate the potential causation. When people feel pushed to make conversation they inevitably share something of themselves. Having someone into your home for some food provides a context where that push can occur.

    mikka, are you saying that where you grew up people did not ever eat in another persons home? That seems a little unusual.

    Meldrum, these are some of challenges we face when we practice these ideas but they are also the very things we need to combat, IMO.

  28. Don’t worry, I wasn’t saying we were disagreeing, just focusing on opposite ends of the stick.

  29. I think this is a great way to look at fellowshipping. It’s a great way to look at things qualitatively. It’s a pretty terrible “measure”, and I think on the church’s own terms it’s inadequate.

    If the church is what it claims to be (which I have received personal revelation concerning the matter), then making covenants in the temple which lead to exaltation of individuals and families (and building programs which encourage progress in the understanding and keeping those covenants) is the primary purpose.

    With that in mind, I’ve heard temple recommend holders as a key “measure” as well as the aforementioned active Melch. priesthood.

    All that being said, qualitatively, I think there is obviously more to it than simply being “active” on the attendance roles or holding a temple recommend. And I think the way you’re looking at things here could be one way to view discipleship, which ultimately concerns what we are becoming.

    I would add this might seem to leave out those who don’t like to cook, don’t have a home worthy of entertaining, and can’t really afford to do it. But realistically, mealtime should probably become more important for many of us, and it’s a great idea to encourage others to involve others in it together.

    But it’s a terrible idea for any kind of measurement.

  30. Love the idea, Aaron. We do it in some measure in our ward because we have dinner groups that rotate through the ward population, or are supposed to. It’s not one-on-one but small groups (3 or 4 families, say). All kinds of things happen, from eating at restaurants to pot-luck. Being essentially a loner, I objected to it at first but over time I admit to enjoying the increased knowledge of others and their lives as well as some new friends.

  31. Honestly, no, I can’t remember anything (or hearing about anything) like this. (Unless we’re including special events like farewells, or kids over at each other’s houses?) I’ll ask around – my first reaction to this post was ‘people seriously do things like that after college?’ but now I’m wondering if we were just one of those Fringe Families and I never realised it.

  32. Ack, that was me. Really *really* hate this wordpress login thing, can it be got around without twit/face?

  33. It worked really well in my ward, especially because only those who signed up were assigned a group. Nobody felt obligated and nobody had to participate if they didn’t want to.

    I liked being forced out of my comfort zone and even made it a date night because that way I could actually get to know the other people we were with. It was even better because I was in nursery at the time and didn’t get to know a lot of people otherwise.

  34. Clearly, I need to move to some of your wards to ruin your numbers. You don’t get inside my front door without (a) having set it up in advance and (b) having a darn good reason. HT/VT are not considered good reasons.

    What’s so wrong about wanting your personal space to be private? There’s nothing untoward going on at our house; we just don’t like people coming over. It’s not like we see our home teachers and the visiting teachers always want to collect my wife for a walk and lunch out somewhere. That’s great! They don’t have to come by. You could come by right now and it’d be orderly, although we’re not clean freaks. We prefer to entertain at a restaurant than in-home.

    So what’s wrong with wanting personal space to be just that? Guess what – we don’t overshare personal life information with bishops or ward members (there are some things that should remain private). We show up at every ward activity to which we’re invited, we’ve been in the ward a number of years and know everyone, we pay our tithing and serve at the temple, serve wherever we’re asked, and our kids are heavily integrated in the ward. Isn’t that enough? Now you want to come by the house? Chances are, my wife and I are both working at the kitchen table and we’re busy.

  35. I’ll mourn with those who mourn, and stand with those in need of comfort, but everything I know about ward members’ personal lives I usually get from Facebook.

  36. The Boston II ward had a tradition of once a month “Bizzaro Dinners” which were very true to their names. After fast and testimony meeting the entire ward would disperse to these informal dinners. Anyone who was willing to host could host four or five families and everyone attended. I enjoyed it immensely.

  37. I think of several specific examples:

    In Japan, most members in our ward were not even home taught in their own homes (but rather at church after the block of meetings) because of local customs (and home size). I suppose there’s a possibility to measure the amount of communal eating, even outside of homes…

    That said, we’ve lived in two wards where in-home dinners happened from time to time. In our English ward in Taiwan, the bishopric divided the ward into thirds and each third went to the home of one of the bishopric members for a meal — it was a far more intimate (though still big) group than a larger “church dinner” at the chapel.

    In our present ward the HP group has organized small group dinners in the homes of members; those have been spectular as it has allowed for real conversation among two or three couples (or families, depending on the dynamics of the group). I wish we did it more often.

    I had a home teaching companion once who advocated that once a quarter we get all our families together for a meal in one of our (or our home teachee’s) homes. Those were great social experiences, too.

    We had a bishop once who used to invite a different family over every Sunday night for waffles (or so we heard; we were never among the invitees). Cool idea.

    All that said, I know in our family, we have some unique circumstances that limit the number of outside guests we invite into our home; I suspect we’re not the only ones who are in our position.

  38. I agree with a lot of responses. I grew up in a small Branch and was the only Mormon in my school my last 4 years of high school (9th-12th grades). The Branch stuck together and was very close knit BUT we did service projects for non-LDS people all the time. And we had non-LDS friends also. The Branch people did many, many things together, including dinners at each others homes. I soooo miss it.
    On my mission I ate in all kinds of situations and all kinds of food, from ritzy to very poor. Those who had the least to give were the best people to associate with. Those who had nothing nice did not care because it was more important to share and socialize with others.
    My current Ward sucks. It is like being in high school and constantly in a popularity contest.

  39. I think that some of the best wards and branches I have been in have been those where we did exactly what you describe. I also reflect that in many of the GA stories we here in conferences are related to food and sharing it. We can accommodate the “undesirables” with just a little compassion and effort. They may well feel uncomfortable in most situations at others homes, it doesn’t relieve us of the need to provide some shared food. Take them the meal so that they can enjoy it (or chuck it if they desire). Make the effort to share the food regardless of circumstance and the results might be surprising.

  40. This is a great post, Aaron, especially with the anon comments layered on top. My wife and I are pretty good at having people over for meals on Sundays, but we need to take anon’s challenge and reach a bit deeper into the ward. We tend to invite people over who match up with us kid-wise, but that can lead to a homogenous social circle.

  41. BTW, don’t worry folks, no one’s going to make you have people over for dinner. It’s just a blog post.

  42. I agree 100% with this post. There is no better way to feel like a community than by sharing food in each other’s homes. I’ve eaten in a lot of homes in a lot of places, and also had a lot of people eat in my home, and I can say that some of the things brought up in the comments (SES discrepancies, single vs. married crap, etc) don’t have to be issues at all. It does take some practice to feel comfortable hosting and being hosted, but it is consistently the most worthwhile thing I do all week and I have seen miracles happen as a result. No hyperbole there.

  43. Love this post. I can personally attest that this is something that builds and strengthens wards as communities and families, especially in situations where a ward includes people of very different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

    What I experienced was a ward coming together through precisely this activity as a family for the benefit of those who were new to the faith and who were less fortunate. More specifically, a “munch and mingle” was held at least once a month which was not just snacks but rather a whole potluck style meal. This addressed the issue with involving the poor or otherwise challenged (as referred to by Anon above). The ward faced substantial issues with urban poverty. The most affected were the newer converts that had been joining for the last several years (about 25 per year, which was significant growth for the area). At the munch and mingles there was a palpable sense of fellowship as these poor new converts, most of them unemployed and single young adult males from non-English speaking countries of origin, brought something small (like a bottle of soda) and in return enjoyed a full meal often consisting of meat, rice and other sides you would expect to see at a potluck dinner in the UK (i.e. NOT jello salad or funeral potatoes but other staples of such gatherings in that context). Observing them, I realized that this was a comforting experience for them. The ward really was their new family. They sat relaxed, talking, smiling and laughing. This was in contrast to many of the cares of their day to day lives.

  44. #43 john f, your comment reminded me of our ward in Taipei which had many Filippino sisters in it (they were mostly domestic workers there either as singles or without their families). They had regular after church dinners together (once a month or once a week; I can no longer remember), often with another western family or two helping to provide the meal. Those were exceptional opporutnities for bonding and fellowshipping.

  45. The munch and mingles were held in the Church right after the block of meetings. Participating in them was not my favorite thing at the time, I must confess (it was always a boisterous, messy meal that I have to clean up afterwards — and we had some pushback from the stake because of using the building for this purpose and because some stake visitors sometimes observed that it wasn’t “reverent” according to the strange Wasatch front cultural definition of “reverent” that had been coopted in that part of the UK).

    But it is upon reflection that I see how important they were, particularly through the lense of your post. Also, I am grateful that at the time I put my own preferences to the side and participated in them and in a ward leadership calling encouraged the continuance of the practice (because I could see the benefit they were having for those new converts and for more established members with different cultural affinities than my own). And, at the time, despite my personal tastes to the contrary, I was also aware of how it was bringing us into closer proximity to New Testament Christianity, in which according to my understanding, a communal meal was a feature and not a bug.

  46. Paul, that sounds like a real success.

  47. The ward in which I lived that had the most successful ward mission had established monthly meals in the ward mission leader’s home for new converts, investigators and members – and rotating meals at various other members’ homes. The only participant condition at the other homes was that nobody could invite someone who had eaten there already unless they had invited everyone in the ward who had not eaten there previously, and the only other rule was that no “lesson” occur in that setting.

    I think the success of the ward mission was directly related to the focus on the communal meal – and the insistence that it be only a meal and social mixing, not another excuse for a meeting in disguise.

  48. Has this practice been adapted in all cultures? Anyone serve a mission in Japan, where most people tend to eat out rather than invite others into their home for a meal. Social space may be constructed differently in Japan. Of course, Japanese Mormons as a sub-culture may be bucking the trend.

  49. Comet, cultural variation is not unanticipated, but within most cultures there are forms of food sharing that facilitate and symbolise social position and friendship. At root my idea is to extend these practices to all within the ward.

  50. Maria Griffin says:

    I so agree! When my husband and I were raising our six children we made it a point to have someone over for Sunday dinner at least once a month. I did this to expose my children to different folks and to fellowship ward members. We always made it a point to invite new members or move ins to share a meal with us. From time to time over the years we have participated in dinner groups organized by the ward wherein interested couples traded going to each other’s home one Friday each month until we had visited all 4 to 6 homes. Then we regrouped and started another dinner group with new couples. Very fun and a wonderful way to bond and get to know each other. I don’t believe it is necessary for everyone in the ward to be the “have someone over for dinner” type of people…but having a core group who reach out and invite does add a dimension of acceptance, camaraderie and love that will otherwise be missing. I might add that over the years, our family has only been invited once for every 10 times we have invited others. That estimate is probably generous. That’s ok with me, but interesting fact that not all folks are interested or comfortable having people in their home for a meal. It has enriched our lives immensely to have the privilege of hosting these social occasions and I’m glad we took the risk initially and kept with it over the years.

  51. We are distant from God. Someone who is closer to God is more distant from other members of the ward.

    So success, ironically, creates a type of distance.

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