Diversity at Church

As I walked in to sacrament meeting this morning, I was greeted at the chapel doors by a beaming young girl from Primary, who I would guess is maybe 8 or 9 years old. She smiled broadly, handed me a program and shook my hand as I entered the chapel.

Just inside the chapel sitting on the back row was a lovely African woman. I smiled at her and wished her good morning. When I first came to this ward we had many 20 active African or African American members. Over time we lost pretty much all of them, but lately we’ve had a bit of a resurgence. I’d say we have about a half-dozen active black members–all women (some with children).

Before long the chapel was pretty full. We never open the folding doors in back (we don’t have an overflow area; those doors lead directly to the cavernous gym). People nevertheless eventually find places to sit. There aren’t many gaps in the pews; we all sit closely together.

There had been a baptism yesterday, and so a woman and her young son were both confirmed. The confirmation prayers were said in Spanish. During the meeting, I can hear the low level hum of the real time English to Spanish translation. We have a significant latino population within our ward; there is a Spanish language Sunday School class, and we also have a pair of sister missionaries who are specifically Spanish speaking. Our SP served his mission to Mexico, and his counselors are latino. (We used to have a counselor in our stake presidency who was from Ghana.) The first talk was given by a young latina girl I don’t recall ever seeing before. It was her first talk ever, and she was excited for the opportunity. She did a fantastic job, and I made it a point to find her afterward to tell her so.

For the intermediate musical number, there was a violin duet performed by a young Japanese man of priest age and an older anglo woman. We have maybe eight or so Asian families–Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos. Some of these are mixed marriages, but no one gives that circumstance a thought, and it is hard to even remember that there was once a time not so very long ago when a lot of Mormons freaked out about that kind of thing. It is completely a non-issue in our ward.

The final talk today was given by a brother in our ward who is also on the high council. He spoke in English, but he is Mexican and Spanish is his native language. We sometimes have entire talks given in Spanish, sometimes with real time translation over the pulpit, and for shorter talks sometimes without translation.

As I walked out of the chapel, I smiled to myself at the beautiful florilegium that is our ward, a bouquet of colors and cultures and languages and backgrounds, all joined together to worship as a single, united family. We all love each other and are happy to worship together.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be a very beautiful thing.


  1. I love it.

    So would you say it’s a great ward or the greatest ward?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, I would say it’s a great ward. There are actually a lot of great wards in the church, so I would be hesitant to claim mine happens to be the best. But I do love and appreciate it. We also have wonderful local leaders, which helps a lot. So much of a person’s relationship to the church is experienced at the local ward level, and that can be a blessing or, unfortunately, in some cases a challenge. As I walked out of sacrament meeting today I just felt a deep sense of appreciation for my ward and resolved to do a little blog post about that, the result of which is the above.

  3. Kevin: Thank you for sharing this! I’m torn about having wards and branches only for a specific group of people. I can see the advantage of having segregated wards, but as an English Language teacher, I see the disadvantages as well. Regardless, I’m glad you had this experience.

  4. wreddyornot says:

    Thank you posting this. It will help me remember as I go off to block in five minutes that we are all different and unique even if sometimes we forget.

  5. I love that your stake combines the whole ward, without segregating by language. I served in a Spanish branch once as a member of the Primary presidency. I don’t know what the adults thought of it. We didn’t have any members of the branch actually called to serve in Primary, but the kids regularly asked us if we could switch lessons or sharing time to English. It was a large stake, and most of the kids wanted to go to church with their friends from school.

    I think that your ward would have met the needs of our Primary children much better. I also think that maybe some of the anti-immigrant feelings in some of the wards in the stake might have been softened, if the wards had those branch members integrated into them. When you serve and worship alongside someone, it is harder to “other” them.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I think there are a couple of Spanish branches as well, but people can just go where they feel most comfortable.

  7. Ebenezer Robinson says:

    Our ward is not so diverse as yours, but we have Latino and African-American members, and our share of mixed-race families. Our previous ward, in central Kansas City, is a poster child of diversity. When we walked in the first day, we were surprised to see the makeup of the bishopric: Latino bishop, African-American first counsellor, Anglo second counsellor. The congregation has representation from a large range of ethnicities. Actually, they have a four-hour block: English-language sacrament meeting, mixed language Sunday School/Primary/etc., mixed language RS/PH, then Spanish language sacrament meeting. Some challenges, but a vital, dynamic ward serving the inner city. Great gospel experience, which we still miss on occasion.

  8. Kevin, while yes people can choose to attend another ward, the Gospel is a Gospel of order. I feel we should be supportive of our ward/branch. A good lesson to learn is adaptability. When we can adapt, without murmuring, often we find blessings in the learning opportunities.

  9. “So much of a person’s relationship to the church is experienced at the local ward level, and that can be a blessing or, unfortunately, in some cases a challenge.”


    I am in a quite homogenous ward, and, as much as I love it and the people in it, I occasionally miss my previous experiences in more diverse congregations. When a fuller orchestral sound exists, it can be glorious, indeed.

  10. RockiesGma says:

    Kevin, I hope I can be among the florilegium of your ward in Heaven someday, and I truly covet being able to attend your class. My teacher is terrific—he does a great job. But I’ve developed a soft spot for your insights and style of delivering them. God bless you for sharing your talents.

    My ward has a small amount of racial diversity and I’m happy that everyone loves everyone. Another diversity I’m most concerned for are those who have varying thoughts and ideas on one or two points of doctrine or policy. They are silent. I know a few who feel unwanted because comments made in classes or talks make gentle to harsh ridicule of such things. The commenters and speakers are good people and mean no harm. I think they just believe that everyone there thinks the way they do. But there are some who are hurt and struggle to feel happy when they go home. They speak of “gearing up” throughout the week to “brace” for Sunday.

    I hope the day will come when we don’t hurt those who are different, even as we’ve learned in my lifetime not to have issues with different races and inter-racial marriages. Where once we judged “others” by the color of their skin, we now judge “others” for their views. Accepting all races has blessed the church and it’s members to take necessary steps toward Zion’s one-ness. I hope being of “one heart” doesn’t mean one view as much as it means loving everyone of every view. I hope we can become more aware that being PC ought not to mean political correctness as much as it should mean the worthy principle of personal consideration, especially toward those who have to gear up all week to brace for Sunday. I’ve known far too many who gave up over the years and drifted away. I hope they may be among the florilegium, too, someday. God bless them.

  11. @melindalbrown, you express a worthy sentiment concerning supporting where planted as far as Ward geographic assignments go. But I suspect you misunderstood what Kevin meant. I live in the same Stake and we have a fairly flexible policy when it comes to where a Spanish speaking member is required to attend. By default they are assigned to the English speaking Ward whose boundaries they inhabit. But, if they prefer, they are welcome to attend one of the Spanish Branches. We actually have 3 in our Stake and each attend in the same building as at least one other English speaking Ward. Kevin’s is actually the only building without a Spanish Branch. However, if a member attends a Spanish Branch then they are committing that everything is done in Spanish. We’ve had a few families determine they wanted to start attending our English Ward in order to improve their language skills and a couple have decided to rotate back to the Branch for various reasons. We also share certain programs with the Branches (usually youth) and as a result every Ward tends to support multiple languages through translation where needed.

  12. Amen, RockiesGma – and amen.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, Alain explains the situation in our stake better than I would be able to do, and that is indeed what I meant to convey.

  14. Ethnic or racial diversity means little or nothing to me. What truly matters is intellectual tolerance. If the members are open to new ideas and are willing to concede (as I am) that some of their existing beliefs may be wrong or may be in need of revision, then I feel at home.

    The ward we were in for many years became so reactionary and pharisaical that we decided to move. Our new ward exhibits the tolerance I was looking for while possessing a healthful disdain for many of the regulations and micromanagement policies that seem to breed like rabbits in SLC (our new ward believes that Joseph Smith really meant it when he said: “Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves”).

    We were lucky that our circumstances allowed us to relocate without any major disruption in the rest of our lives. I feel bad for those who don’t have this option.

  15. Awesome.
    When I was on my mission ( U.S. Spanish/Welfare). I was priveleged to open a Spanish Branch in an all Caucasion, somewhat affluent Ward. The Bishop was Hispanic, but wealthy. The ward members resented us and the investigators we brought to church who came from every country from Mexico, Central America and South America. I miss the diversity.
    This was nice to read.

  16. I moved a couple of years ago from a wonderfully diverse ward–racially, politically, culturally. I loved that ward.

    There was a lot of turnover in that ward–a lot of young married couples. Several who were active participants in that ward went inactive after moving out of the diverse ward and into wards that didn’t have that diversity. I’m not inactive, but it’s certainly a struggle being in a non-diverse ward and being “diverse” yourself. It’s a lonely place to be in, and I understand, at least in part, why so many of my friends have stopped attending.

  17. Heart of Stone says:

    Ebenezer Robinson–

    A lot can happen in 40+ years. I grew up in the old Kansas City 1st Ward. I can remember being called a ” n#%^*-lover” in my teachers’ quorum for defending Willie Mays, of all people. I’m trying to get my mind around the experience you describe.

  18. Guillaume says:

    I know asking this makes me a cretin, but why must we use the word “diversity” this way? We’re talking about race, no? What you mean of course is non-white. Talk about other-ing. I mean, look at the way Tim uses the term above; in scare quotes to boot. He’s “diverse”, while those not like him are “non-diverse”. In common use today (and especially on a site like this) diversity has a positive connotation; non-diverse or homogeneous the opposite. Therefore Tim’s fifth sentence could easily be read as “I’m not inactive, but it’s certainly a struggle being in a non-good ward and being ‘good’ yourself.” Wouldn’t it have been more straightforward and less demeaning to just say “I’m not inactive, but it’s certainly a struggle being in a majority-white ward while being non-white.”?

  19. Kevin, I can’t tell you how much I miss that ward. I had thought I would use my Spanish more in Texas than in Chicago — the exact opposite has been true. Unfortunately, we Americans tend to divide ourselves into cities or neighborhoods that are more uniform than diverse. Thus, in areas where the LDS population is large, the wards tend to miss out on the diversity.

  20. Does anyone know about the supposed ‘Asian Ward’ around BYU somewhere? It’s all in english but specifically for Asians, which seems kinda funky. The church has an odd approach with asians it seems. They even do this sort of EFY type thing for Koreans in Park City every year, my korean friends invited me and another white friend of mine, I didn’t go because of work commitments. My white friend went with them however (He served his mission in Korea). Anyway during the whole thing some presiding authority I think he was an area 70 or something, pulled him aside during the event and politely told him to not ever come again, it was just for Koreans. He was cool with it but we think that sometimes there’s a bit of unnecessary segregation in the church on occasion.

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