Ten Things I Like About My Ward

March 8, 2012

Today’s post is a list of ten things I like about my ward.  The impetus is a comment by Mormon Heretic to my post last week where he said, “It seems like many of the items in here are a bit like scab-picking to me, and seems to have a negative focus. I mean I do some scab-picking too (like my recent “Dumbing Down the Gospel”), but I hope it isn’t a steady diet.” And he was right.  While I have pointed out things I would do differently if I were in charge, it’s not all doom and gloom, so I don’t want to give that impression.  While the LDS Church is obviously a global organization, past a ward level it’s generally just management.  Leaders above bishop rarely know people on an individual basis but give talks and mostly focus on policies and administration.  So, in reality, the gospel is lived “in the trenches” on a ward level.  And I happen to live in a great ward.

For those who haven’t picked up on it from prior posts, I live in Salt Lake City, in the heart of the Church.  I can look out from my back porch and see downtown Salt Lake.  From my neighborhood I can see several temples.  A general authority lives in my ward.  We occasionally have an apostle visit the ward.  We have a wide range of occupations and life circumstances represented.  So, why do I like my ward?  In reality, there are a number of reasons.  In homage to David Letterman, who we watched every night when I was at BYU, and who we even emulated by dropping objects like bowling balls off the Spencer W Kimball tower, I narrowed it down to ten.  This isn’t necessarily my top ten, and they aren’t in any particular order, but here goes:

10. Aloha

We have a member of the ward who addresses the ward with a big “Aloha” every time he stands up for anything – even if he’s just making an announcement as part of his calling.  It was even better when a member of the bishopric started sacrament meeting one day with a big “Aloha”, not even having any ties to Hawaii and completely out of character for him.  After everyone gave a somewhat surprised “aloha” back, he kind of chuckled and said, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”  He then started sacrament meeting.

9. Not Worrying About Bikinis

We have a pool, and because I have kids, we regularly have a dozen or more kids here on any given summer day.  At least 80% of the girls from the ward wear bikinis when they are here, and no one cares.  Sometimes they wear tankinis, sometimes they wear one-piece swimming suits, whatever.  It’s refreshing that the majority of people in my ward aren’t hung up on something so trivial.

8. Being YM President

My calling before my current one was YM President, and we had a big group of kids.  I generally had 25 priests, 20 teachers and 20 deacons at any given time. Because I had good people helping, I mostly focused on the priests.  We did a lot of fun things, including playing laser tag regularly, going to a club to watch a band play, putting casts on each other and playing with x-ray machines, hiking in the Wasatch mountains, playing frisbee golf, having a Xbox Halo 3 party with pizza and multiple TVs hooked up throughout my house, summer BBQ & pool parties, etc.  We also did a number of spiritual things.  We met each Sunday morning as a quorum and read the Book of Mormon for an hour before Church; we covered a chapter in Preach My Gospel once a month in our quorum meetings; we memorized scriptures; we served retirement branches in our stake; we did multiple service projects; etc.  In the two years that they were priests, each boy read the Book of Mormon with us nearly twice, and went through Preach My Gospel around 1-1/2 times, all before going to the MTC.  We generally had 14-18 missionaries out at a time.

They are great young men and we became great friends.  When they had an extra ticket to a midnight movie on a premier night, they’d call me and we’d stay up far too late on a school/work night.  It may seem weird, an “old guy” with a bunch of kids, but they were my friends.  My wife and I took some of the young men out to dinner before a Dream Theater concert in Las Vegas when we were all down there.  I’m proud of what they’ve done, what they’re doing and where they’re going, and I am proud to call them friends.

7. Not Being YM President

At the same time, I’m really, really glad that I’m NOT YM President.  It was a lot of work keeping everything organized, as well as all of the silly meetings you have to go to as YM President with the other ward leaders.  For the past couple of years I have taught Primary and I couldn’t be happier.  The kids are great.  We have treats and color.  Lessons take just a few minutes to prepare.  And we get to sing songs.

6. Understanding Bishop

I’m glad that I had a tremendously understanding bishop, as I wasn’t the most traditional YM President.  One person asked him what he thought about us having a YM activity where we played an XBox game that was rated “M – Mature”.  He said that he didn’t care what we did during the week if it made them more likely to listen on Sunday.  He also wasn’t too particular about our budget.  For 25 priests, my budget was $200 for the year. This works out to about $0.67 per boy per month.  We couldn’t even buy a soda per boy each month for that, let alone do all the things we did.  Fortunately, as leaders we were in circumstances where we could “supplement” the activity budget a bit.  And at the end of the year, we still had our $200 in our account.  Our bishop didn’t micromanage anything, but focused on the big picture of how the YM were developing and learning.  I couldn’t have done the job with any other kind of leader over me.

5. Rainbow Shirts & Beards

Because of my callings, I haven’t really been to my own quorum for over half a decade.  But when I see the men, I’m glad that no one micromanages there either.  On any given Sunday, at least 30% of the men are wearing non-white shirts – blue, green, lilac, pink, striped, grey, black, etc.  Probably 10% don’t even wear ties.  No one cares.  A fair number have beards or goatees or mustaches or scruff.  No one cares.  I don’t know if anyone has tattoos, though I think it would be cool because I really like tattoos.  But no one would really care about that either.

4. Devoted Members

We truly have devoted members who follow-through on things.  While YM President, we planned an entire ward youth conference with a single 20-minute meeting. Our youth conference involved traveling 4 hours to Moab, with a service project in Salt Lake City and a devotional in Provo on the way.  It involved camping and food.  It even involved a day rafting the Colorado River with 80+ people.  Don’t ask how we fit it in the budget, but the whole thing was essentially planned with email and texts.  A month before, one person said they would take care of the tents.  I never talked to them again but the morning we were leaving, they were all loaded on a trailer.  Someone else said they would organize the service projects and that was done.  Another person set up the devotional.  And so on.  We created a list of tasks – everyone volunteered for one – and everyone followed through.  It was seamless.

And it’s like this in all aspects of the ward.  One of the members set up a server for the Elders’ Quorum.  Home teaching followup is done with a monthly email.  You can click “YES” or “NO”.  There is a space to fill in any special needs or feedback.  It’s slick.  There are automated text & email reminders for various activities, etc.  We have someone whose entire calling is helping 14+ year old scouts finish the few little requirements they have for Eagle.  We have someone who tracks Duty To God, and who meets with all 60 FAMILIES at least once a year to go over things.  We have Halloween parties will ALL the kids in the neighborhood, LDS or not.  We have Primary triathalons.  We have dunk tanks and hot dogs.  And it goes on and on.  We have a very devoted ward who truly go the extra mile.

3. Temple Recommend Interview

For my last temple recommend interview a few months back, the counselor told me that the recommend was really between me and God and that he didn’t think he needed to ask me any questions at all.  The fact that I scheduled the interview and had a desire for a recommend was enough for him.  Since he was required to go through the questions, he again said that the answers didn’t really matter to him, as God knew my heart and that’s who it was with anyway.  It was very refreshing.

2. Doing Anything For Each Other

At least every week or two, I have someone call at random times of the day asking if I could see them for some sort of medical problem or question.  But it goes both ways.  I could literally call just about anyone in the ward at any time and they would drop what they were doing to help me.  I’ve been called at 10pm to help give blessings.  I’ve called people at midnight when one of my son’s teeth was just about knocked out.  We have people with medical issues who are still having dinner brought 5x/week nearly two years later.  People shovel each others walks.  People serve.  This is the true spirit of Christ – being willing to serve your fellowman and put their needs above your own.  And my ward has it.

1. People Trying To Be Better People

Finally, my ward is filled with great people trying to be better people.  We all have our issues.  Just about every family has some sort of crisis they are going through, or else someone in their extended family, or their close friends, or whoever.  There are good times and bad times.  We have people addicted to drugs.  We have people recovered from drugs.  We have dozens of missionaries out.  We have missionaries who came home and left again.  We have missionaries who just plain came home.  We have tragedy and success.  But none of that matters.  We just keep on trying to be better.  And that the end of the day, that striving to be better is all that truly matters.

This list could go on and on – I brainstormed at least a couple of dozen other things I could have listed but stopped here.  I am truly blessed to live in a great neighborhood, and in a great ward where no one cares if you’re LDS or not, no one cares how “active” you might be, no one cares where you’ve been or what you do or how much money you have.  People just accept you as you are.

And that’s my ward.

———————————————

Questions:

  • What about your ward?
  • If you’re active, what are things you like about your ward?
  • If you’re not currently active, what are things that you did like about your ward?
  • Were there things you liked about your ward growing up?

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25 Responses to Ten Things I Like About My Ward

  1. Howard on March 8, 2012 at 6:14 AM

    My ward is nothing like yours. It would be best imagined in the soundless black and white medium of The Artist. Our Bishop lost a three year old daughter about five years ago it hurt him deeply he remains stunned while his wife eats to maintain her sizable obesity, they set the muted depressed tone. He takes his worthiness interviews seriously and his favorite book is The Miracle of Forgiveness. We are an old ward when the Johnstons moved out with their 6 boys and 2 girls they took 2/3s of the Aaronic Priesthood with them. I am the Sacrament greeter. One guy with a strong testimony wares a colored shirt and no tie the rest of us ware the standard uniform no one cares I doubt they even notice. GD is taught by a very capable retired professor who thinks she needs to cram the entire lesson into the limited time so it is very fast paced I rarely find the scripture before she finishes reading it for the class. That’s okay because I get a rest in the HPG where at a very slow pace they hand out slips of paper with the lesson on them and read them in order to each other. Each Sunday is a primal scream.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 8, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    Wow, that is a lot of YM.

    I have to admit, my entire time growing up, mostly in branches and wards in the hinterlands, I only once had a ward with any number of kids in it.

    I still remember being the only priest and the only senior, no juniors, two sophomores in one branch that was about to become a ward.

    Bless your heart Howard.

    I really enjoy my current ward. I could not ask for better YW advisors for my twelve-year old with Tourettes, love my bishop, our HPG is pleasant and enjoyable (and I bring snacks at least once a month).

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  3. Mike S on March 8, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    #1: Howard:

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience in your ward. I don’t have much to say other than hang in there. Hopefully as leadership eventually changes, your ward will take on a better “feeling”.

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  4. jks on March 8, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    Wow. Quite a list! My ward isn’t perfect, but I like it.
    1. Diversity. Ok, so maybe I wish there were a few more 40 year old married people with kids, but I try to view it as a good thing that we are so diverse in age, # of kids, marital status, and income.
    2. Small. We have 120 in sacrament meeting. Sacrament meeting is pretty quiet. Primary is peaceful. People know each other. My family isn’t left on the fringes, we are needed.
    3. Converts. We have converts all the time. While sometimes it is awkward and sometimes frustrating when they stop coming, it can also be a really, really wonderful thing.
    4. Reactivation. We have a ward where people are often coming back to church after a long absence. I am strengthened by their testimonies.
    5. Nobody is perfect. I never leave church feeling like I don’t live up to some sort of standard. I feel encouraged.
    6. It ends on time. Sacrament meeting has only gone over maybe three times in 7 years.
    7. They love my kids. My kids always have good teachers who care.

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  5. Mike S on March 8, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    #2 Stephen:

    I, too, grew up in a ward like that on the east coast. There were 4-5 Mormons in my high school. The ward was 30-40 minutes from end to end.

    My current ward is literally a rectangle around 0.8 mile x 0.3 mile. As I mentioned, there are a lot of great things about it. Admittedly, there are times when I want to slap my hand against my forehead and say “Doh” (like the 9/11 sacrament meeting where we got hammered on about women’s modesty) but luckily those are few and far between and the majority of the ward members realize that the opinions of some of the people are NOT what the gospel is actually about.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on March 8, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    My current ward is pretty good. We have a lot of new converts, many visitors each week, and members are constantly moving in and out (expat ward), so everyone goes out of their way to make people feel welcome. There are women in pants and in saris. There are men in shorts with running shoes who are just visiting and didn’t bring dress clothes. There are dozens of countries represented.

    As to my ward growing up, there were lots of things I really loved. Because we were geographically far flung and there were not many members in our region of PA, as a youth group we were very close friends. Our ward was very diverse socio-economically, and there were six different high schools all in one ward. Nobody was uptight or judgmental. We were just glad for anyone who would show up and pitch in.

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  7. KLC on March 8, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    Mike, great list…except for #10. I have no enthusiasm for alohas in church, especially when the giver decides the response isn’t good enough and repeats it.

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  8. Paul on March 8, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Mike, great list. I’m glad there are so many good things about you ward, and that you see them.

    My list would be a lot like yours, though I live in a suburban ward in the Midwest. (We don’t have quite the number of youth you do, but we do have awesome youth leaders.)

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  9. Chris on March 8, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Ten things I like about my ward:

    1. We have a number of authentic, kind, non-judgmental people in our ward who are compassionate and loving.
    2. The Primary program in our ward is wonderful. Each child is loved and nurtured.
    3. We have socio-economic diversity, and people in our ward are respected for who they are, not what they have.
    4. Because we are inclusive, less active people feel comfortable at Church and are fellowshipped with love and respect.
    5. We have the best home teachers imaginable.
    6. When I was issued my last Church calling, the second counselor emphasized that the bishopric was aware that I had health challenges and that they did not want me to accept the calling if I felt it would negatively impact my health.
    7. The stake presidency and bishopric do not make the members feel guilty, overwhelmed or pressured.

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  10. Jeff Spector on March 8, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    I am still trying to get over the fact that Mike S’ Ward is in Utah, ’cause it sounds nothing like any Utah Ward I’ve attended. But then I was only visiting.

    I like my ward because while I was teaching Sunday School, I could pretty much say what I felt and no one ever gave me a hard time. I tried to educate and not just read the lesson material.

    Also, Someone recently apologized because they found out I was a Democrat and they thought they might have said something offensive in HP meeting.

    People help when asked.

    Our Bishop is a great person and while he is pretty by the book (his Dad a was a AA70 and now a Temple Pres.), he is very realistic and very loving toward the Ward members.

    We have a great little chapel in the forest and the setting is just beautiful.

    The Ward members are great.

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  11. Mormon Heretic on March 8, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Wow, I didn’t think that comment would inspire a post, but nice post.

    I don’t think there is a “typical” ward in SLC. They wards I have attended there have a wide range of personalities, from dysfunctional to ritzy. I did attend a singles ward in SLC over a decade ago and was surprised with Elder Ballard showed up–that was a nice treat. He was much funnier, and showed much more personality in Sacrament Meeting than he does in GC.

    One ward in SLC had WAYYY more BMW’s in the parking lot than any other ward I’ve ever seen. Other wards I’ve seen in SLC had a lot of tattoos, levis, and definitely on the other end of the economic scale.

    I went to my sister’s ward in SLC about a year ago, and it was very different. Some people bore rambling testimonies about all sorts of trials with depression, a daughter who had been murdered about 16 years prior (and this was the anniversary), and struggles with alcoholism.

    In my stake, I’ve been told that 2/3 of the members are under 18, so we’re pretty young. My ward is ok, but nothing like Mike’s ward.

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  12. Troth Everyman on March 8, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    I’ve experienced wards all over the spectrum.

    On the low end:
    In one ward the Bishop didn’t keep confidences. As soon as something was disclosed to the Bishop it didn’t take longer than a week for the rest of the ward know. In another ward there were long pre-existing schisms between different groups of families that constantly bled into meetings and activities. In another ward one had to attend regularly for at least fifteen years before being not being viewed as an outsider.

    On the high end:
    Grew up in a small branch in Alaska that was very close, loving and helpful. The ward was less concerned about doctrinal purity and judgment and more concerned about the practical success of their members. Currently live in a large ward that is very service oriented. They also have a wide range of economic and ethnic diversity. Despite the large size they manage to maintain a “small branch” closeness that I like.

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  13. Heber13 on March 8, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    They are just good people in the ward. Its nice to have a group of such good people.

    Our ward has such a focus on good youth activities, that is of great value to the community.

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  14. FireTag on March 8, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    “we had a big group of kids. I generally had 25 priests, 20 teachers and 20 deacons at any given time.”

    Jarring, but a nice thought. CofChrist Aaronic priesthood are never kids, and I probably couldn’t find that many deacons, teachers, and priests combined in the ten states closest to me.

    That WOULD be a nice thing about your ward I could relate to.

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  15. Stephen Marsh on March 8, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Troth Everyman — where in Alaska? I spent four years in Spenard, 1964 to 1968 in the Anchorage 3rd ward. Some great people there.

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  16. Troth Everyman on March 8, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    Stephen – It was on Kodiak Island. My parents lived on Kodiak from 69 – 91. After 91 as a family we continued to return to Alaska every summer to commercial fish (for an additional 11 years or so).

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  17. UnderCover Brother on March 9, 2012 at 2:26 AM

    Hi Mike S.
    Great post. Loved it. I like my ward too.

    Off topic, I know. But can I contact you offline re: the Home Teaching Server? Brilliant idea and I think it will work here.

    Hope that’s ok.

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  18. Stephen Marsh on March 9, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    Troth Everyman — that is an isolated place. Glad it went well, as it seems is your new ward.

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  19. ENVIOUS on March 9, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Do you think there are many more wards like yours? I haven’t lived in a ward like that for 25 years.

    Last time we were in US was during the Prop8 thing and we were based in California. Didn’t even come further into Utah than Bryce canyon because thought it would be even more toxic than ward in California. If knew where your ward was might visit next trip to enjoy the experience.

    Putting together this post and the article in the March Ensign on Gospel culture. It infers there is one Gospel culture. Your ward culture is very different to mine.

    Your culture seems to be results driven, and agency respecting, whereas mine is based on the idea that obedience to all the rules (pharisee like) will eventually produce the result. My Bishop is a tax accountant which may influence how he does things.

    But my Bishop will read the article in the ensign and be convinced he is doing what the Prophet, and Lord want. Enforcing the rules.

    I have held a TR for 45 years continually but am having trouble getting it renewed because I questioned some anti gay marriage propaganda sent out by the HP group leader. How is this a moral issue? How will it damage my family? That kind of thing is seen as not supporting my leaders.

    The Bishop can really set the tone of how a ward is run and whether the members are being fulfilled or damaged by their church experience. Hoping for a change to someone more like yours soon.

    Perhaps if the Church, and the Ensign is a large part of what we see of the Church in outlying areas, were more aware/nuanced/real/inclusive?

    There is nothing from Utah to say the way my Bishop does things could be improved by making it more like your ward, in fact the opposite, but there should be.

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  20. Mike S on March 10, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    #17 UnderCoverBrother:

    Regarding the home teaching server – it’s used for a number of things. It was actually set up by a friend in the ward whose business involves creating, supporting and hosting commercial websites (major companies – you’d recognize many of the names from around the country). It was fun to take the YM to his building so they could see how things on the internet actually worked.

    I’m sure he’d be happy to let you know how it works. Send me a note to mikes dot slc at gmail dot com and I’ll try to help facilitate that.

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  21. Mike S on March 10, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    #19 Envious: The Bishop can really set the tone of how a ward is run

    I agree absolutely. The bishop prior to the one I worked with was much more of a “micro-manager” type. He’s still a great man, but it would have driven me absolutely bonkers and I guarantee I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things I did, as they weren’t “official” things, at least with his sanction. I probably would have done them anyway, and he would have had to release me or something?? The bishop before that is also a good friend. I’ve hiked in the desert canyons of Utah with him and other adventures.

    Perhaps if the Church, and the Ensign is a large part of what we see of the Church in outlying areas, were more aware/nuanced/real/inclusive?

    I think the problem with the Church as a large organization is that they have to emphasize obedience / conformity / handbook / etc. for the sake of the organization. A high percentage of the Church’s current membership are first generation Mormons. They need to understand “how the Church runs”, so that is the message that is given.

    In my ward, many of the members are multiple generational Mormons. They understand the difference between the church and the gospel, and generally don’t get too hung up on what’s not really important.

    There actually ARE people in my ward who are more dogmatic as expressed in comments above, but other people don’t tend to get too concerned about that, because of their backgrounds and church experience. We have families in our ward who keep old T-shirts around in case some of their kids’ friends show up in bikinis. People accept that just fine as their decision. If another family doesn’t care about bikinis, they don’t judge the other way either.

    But I don’t think the Church will ever come out and specifically say anything like that, largely for 3 main reasons:

    1) The Church has an interest in promoting a homogeneous culture. Hence articles in the Ensign about a “gospel culture”. I find this a bit stiffling personally, but it’s inherent to any organization. There is a “Starbucks” way of doing things. There is a “IBM” way of doing things. Etc. With other organizations, if you don’t like the culture, you just find another job. With the “one true church” nature of the LDS Church, this creates a certain tension if you don’t feel you “fit” in the culture.

    2) The people who tend to get called to increasingly high levels of the hierarchy tend to be those who most closely hew to the “model culture” appearance. They tend to be the ones who buy off on the idea that white shirts and no beards mean something important. And it is therefore perpetuated.

    3) You have to know the rules to break the rules. Famous authors break the “rules” of grammar. Famous painters break the “rules” of art. But to do that, you first have to understand the rules. The Church as an organization necessarily has to be like “The Chicago Manual of Style” or any other grammar text. They can only talk about the “right” way of doing it.

    Ultimately, however, once you know the rules of grammar, you can “break” them for specific reasons. Similarly in the gospel, if you understand the principles, you can see that that is higher than the rules. Christ tried to teach this to the people with the ox in the mire or with healing people on the Sabbath.

    The role of the LDS Church is to put out some guidelines. Our role as individuals is appreciate those, but ultimately realize that we ARE unique individuals whose primary relationship is with God.

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  22. Mike S on March 10, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    #12 Troth Everyman: In one ward the Bishop didn’t keep confidences. As soon as something was disclosed to the Bishop it didn’t take longer than a week for the rest of the ward know.

    This is just wrong and is a gross violation of his calling. It is a flaw of that person, I would have talked to someone higher-up immediately.

    I have luckily been in wards where it is done correctly. Just as an example, the other day I was talking to a very good friend who is in our current bishopric. We were talking about issues people have with addictions (we are both physicians). He mentioned that our bishop has said previously in bishopric meetings that he worries every time his phone rings that it is going to be a call that someone overdosed. But importantly, our bishop never mentioned WHO the people struggling were, EVEN TO HIS COUNSELORS. It wasn’t something they specifically needed to know, so he didn’t say.

    That is an example of a person living up to their stewardship. I’m sorry your experience is different.

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  23. Mike S on March 10, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    And thanks to all of the comments. I really like hearing about the GOOD things in people’s wards and communities. We tend to hear about the bad things in life (just like on the news), so it’s great to hear where things are working well – the silent majority.

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  24. ENVIOUS on March 10, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Mike,

    Do I gather then that the leadership of the ward would be called from the white shirt wearing group of your ward?

    I was in a stake in London in the early 1970s where the Stake Pres never wore a white shirt, he was later a GA (dont know about then).

    There were many young people who were active and held TR who would not have been had they lived in a different, more restricted stake.

    Wouldn’t it send a wonderful message if 30% of Apostles wore coloured shirts, or facial hair. The church would change overnight without any policy or principle changes.

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  25. Mike S on March 10, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    #24 Envious:

    I wear a white shirt probably once a month, and I was YM president. The YM president after me doesn’t tend to care about the color of your shirt either. In the bishopric, the tend to wear white shirts while actually IN the bishopric, but prior to and after their service there, they may or may not wear them. It tends to be more age related than anything else – older people tend to wear white shirts more.

    People don’t seem to care too much about facial hair, either. In our last bishopric, we had a counselor with one of those mustaches that you wax the ends and curl it up. It looked cool, although I couldn’t pull it off.

    I do agree with your last sentence. I think the Church leadership could say MUCH MORE about accepting diversity by having multi-colored shirts, beards, etc. on the stand at General Conference than they could with any number of talks – especially among the young people. When they say, “Come as you are”, but then expect you to then look like them, it’s a bit disconcerting to the younger generation.

    And in our last bishopric, one of

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