Three Kinds of Wards

I’ve always found it rather awkward to have to explain the terminology of “wards” and “stakes” to my friends of different faiths. But lately, I really like the connotations that are at least dimly present in the word “ward.”

The usage of the term in the Church is left over from a time when civic and religious government were seamless in “Mormon Country,” and the church “ward” simply corresponded with political and administrative districts. We actually live in a place now where some neighborhoods are still known by their Ward numbers, and it has been fun to talk to realtors about whether we want to live in the “Second Ward” or the “Old Sixth Ward” (I have no idea where the new sixth ward is!). The other context in which we most often use the word “ward” is, of course, in referring to divisions within a hospital–the maternity ward, the critical care ward, or the pediatric ward. (In newer hospitals, it seems that these divisions often have their own “wing”, but we are not so far from the older usage that we don’t recognize it).

I like thinking of the ward at church in these overlapping ways. There is the buzz of activity of the political ward: leadership meetings, Primary administration (always the busiest precinct!), the chatter of rushed activity planning, appointment making, and the constant hum of friendly nosiness. The hallways are crowded with campaign posters, urging attention to Enrichment Evenings, upcoming firesides, the food storage competition, or the Institute class. The choir director, like Dennis Kucinich, constantly begging us to follow our better angels and show up to practice singing, even though absolutely everyone knows the ward choir is a lost cause.

In the midst of this ward, the Relief Society President and the bishop and diligent home teachers and careful, unassuming friends see the other ward, the hospital ward. The woman with the crumbling marriage, the brokenhearted father whose son has just announced he’s never going on a mission, the lonely widow, the young mother staggering to church through the haze of postpartum depression, the self-loathing gay man trying desperately to be someone else, the Beehive who just doesn’t fit in and is mercilessly teased by her classmates, the 14-year-old who hates Scouts and basketball, the middle-aged woman recently diagnosed with MS, the new convert with a burning testimony and equally burning nicotine addiction… It is a hard ward to walk through.

I used to wish that we could be more honest with each other, that Sacrament Meeting talks and Relief Society discussions would be more “real,” that we would be less shy about letting our wounds show at church. Sometimes I still wish this, and I treasure those moments when something breaks through from one ward to the other, when our collective eyes and hearts are opened for a moment to the suffering around us and we realize for just an eyeblink’s time how desperately we need each other, how tender we ought to be.

But I’ve lately learned to be grateful for the buzz of the political ward, as well. I think most of us could not bear it if we saw the hospital ward steadily. It is too hard to unbandage our wounds and let others see and heal them, too hard to gaze for long at the afflictions of our dear ones. It is a sadly human necessity to retreat into the comfortable thrum of busy-ness, to attend to the mundane and unthreatening duties of church administration, the routine of visiting teaching and making visual aids and baking refreshments and high council talks and 72-hour kits and basketball tournaments. We long to visit that other ward and offer real comfort and have our own aches and pains tended to, but secretly, we are also glad when visiting hours are over. I think we should forgive ourselves our squeamishness and our weakness, and be grateful that a merciful God gives us so many practical tasks to distract us.

It is He, after all, whose wards we are.


  1. Wow, Kristine. This is one of the most amazing posts I have read on any site. I have served in both the hospital and the political wards and also am grateful for each of them.

    Your last sentence almost made me cry.

    Thank you!

  2. Oh Kristine, what a beautiful post.

  3. What a lovely post.

  4. To echo Mi:

    My wife was released recently after serving as YW Pres. for almost 4 year. As an integral part of both wards you describe, she was fighting back tears as she read the last half of this post. Some of her triage left her sobbing at night in my arms, but the results of some of that service also have been the highlight of her life’s work in the Church thus far. She cried when her time in the hospital ended, but she is grateful now for the current calm before the next storm.

    Thank you for such a moving post – from both of us.

  5. Kristine says:

    “As an integral part of both wards you describe”…

    Ray, I think the best folks pull this off. I’m nowhere near there–I’m the Dennis Kucinich character (rhymes with spinach!)

  6. I live in Ohio, Kristine. The spinach-Kucinich reference is quite funny if it leads to picturing Kucinich and Popeye next to each other. :-)

  7. In this context, I like to remember the etymological relationship between the words “ward” and “guard” and “garden.”

    Beautiful post, Kristine.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Very nice, Kristine.

  9. Wonderful, KH. As someone just now back from a hospital ward, you’re right, it’s important to balance shared heartbreak with shared enthusiasm.

  10. I’m blown away. No words.

  11. From my own perspective in callings over the years, I would like to add that some of the most Christ-like examples of love, endurance without complaint, forgiveness and just about every other pure characteristic I have ever seen have come from members within and caring for the hospital ward.

    A Bishop’s wife who was diagnosed with cancer after his call who helped him cope with her disease and refused to let him consider being released, the SP who allowed that Bishop to delegate responsibilities that normally would not be delegated, the ward leaders to picked up extra responsibilities gladly and the back row members who sat with her during SM so she wouldn’t be alone; the bi-polar, single mother, YW Pres. and the YW who understand her bad days; the elderly, mentally-disabled Priest and the YM who help him pass the sacrament — I could go on and on and on with my deep respect for these people, as well as those whose burdens most members will never know.

    Kristine, I can’t think of another post that has touched my heart and brought such wonderful recollections to my soul. Again, thanks.

  12. I’m fairly new to the bloggernacle and have greatly enjoyed the diversity of views and opinions expressed therein. Sometimes I think too many on these posts are straining at gnats and missing the point of the gospel, which, as I think you so did so well to point out, is to tend to those in the hospital ward. It is hard, and it does tear at our hears, and it gives us just a glimpse of the love our Savior bears for each one of us.

  13. Thank you.

  14. Beautiful, Kristine. You have helped articulate why I love my ward so much — it’s a combination of these two types of wards.

    Thank you for this post.

  15. I don’t always read BCC much (just not enough time in the day), but I’m glad I came over here today. Thanks for this post, Kristine.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    Brilliant and moving, Kristine. You can have any calling you want in our bloggernacle ward.

  17. Lovely, profound and moving insights into what a ward
    is and should be. Thank you Kristine, and I will echo
    what m&m said, that this is why I love the church
    so much. When it works the way it is supposed to it
    is such a perfect combination of practical busyness and
    tender care and spiritual uplift. And thank you
    to all of you here at BCC for your interesting and
    thought provoking posts. I come here often, though this
    is the first time I have posted.

  18. Norbert says:

    Thanks for this beautiful piece.

  19. This is lovely.

    The first things I’ve always thought of when thinking about the word “ward” are mental wards and prison wards. You’d understand if you knew anything about my family.

  20. Melissa DM says:

    Simply beautiful.

  21. Adam Greenwood says:

    This post was three kinds of great.

  22. One of the best pieces of writing I have seen in a while. Reminds me of many of Eugene England’s personal essays, no matter how brief. As one who has responsibilities in both the “hospital” and “political” wards, you captured the magic of church service and community that I have grown to love, even as I try to love the residents of those wards more all the time.

    Thank you.

  23. jothegrill says:

    What amazing insight. You’ve answered a big question I had recently. Thank you.

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