I’ve become aware that it is now seems to be more common for wards to be combined to form a single unit. This is something that has happened to my own ward recently. I am so happy. And apparently we’re not the only stake where this is happening. It was only last year that I had thought this would be unthinkable (because statistics) to those running the church. Back in my 2013 post “Growing Up Mormon in Britain”, I wrote:
“Picture, if you will, a world away from Utah… Where the culture is one of obedience; trying to run the church right, trying to follow the programs. Where wards are divided as soon as there are the minimum necessary number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders, so that everybody who will has at least one calling, sometimes as many as three.”*
In the city I grew up, we went from one ward to four, and gained a second building, from the time I was born to the time I left for university. My then ward had also seen the formation of a branch, later reabsorbed into the originating ward. I’ve seen this happen with branches a number of times during my lifetime in the church, so didn’t regard that as unusual. Wards were a whole different ballgame however; they stayed.
It was only of the order of twenty or so years ago that a rash of new stakes were formed in Britain. My husband and I moved into one such new stake not long after we married. There were then two wards sharing our chapel, and within a few years a third was created. It certainly kept us busy. I imagine at some point during this period complaints about the difficulty in running all the programs, and folks holding multiple callings, finally reached the top somewhere, and instructions began to be heard, though were often not adhered to, that members should have just one calling. In that ward I generally had two.**
After a decade or so we moved to our current ward and stake. Our small city comprised two wards, sharing a building. We hadn’t been here long, when we suffered some boundary adjustment, losing some of our ward members to the neighbouring ward; not the first time boundaries had been shifted about here.
So, not so long ago when we heard the two wards would be having a special conference, I was pretty much expecting another boundary adjustment. I wasn’t happy at the prospect. The neighbouring ward would be the one to gain, and our ward was barely coping, what with the levels of ill health in some of the auxilliaries.
However, just before the conference, we had the sister missionaries over for dinner. One of them had spent time in a city that had given it’s name to one of those new stakes, and which had once been part of the stake in which I grew up. Back then there had been two wards in that city. This sister informed me that since then there had been as many as three, but that now, there was just the one ward. I was stunned. Really! Just one ward in that city, and there had been three? Never mind the two I remembered. It was at that point I began to hope.
I discovered later that the area from which we moved, where there were three wards sharing a building, has gone back to two wards. And in Japan, where my husband had attended for few years more than 20 years ago, there had been two wards sharing a building. This had been increased to three at some point, but is now down to one.
Everyone I’ve spoken to about the recent combining of the wards in our city is delighted, though there may be some who were unhappy with it. The missionaries love it, because a) it makes street contacting easier – there’s just the one meeting time and those same missionaries will be there in Sunday meetings, b) they don’t have to grapple with the whys and wherefores of geographical boundaries when teaching family members of recent converts who had been living on the other side of the boundary, especially when it’s all in the same building anyway. We’re not a large city. There’s a larger pool of active and healthy members available to serve in the various positions. It’s better for the small numbers of youth and primary children to be together. It feels like somebody might have been listening, because how do you, on the one hand follow the injunction that each member should only have one calling when you’re expected to run the programs anyway, and the numbers don’t add up? Either the one calling instruction is ignored, or worse, some things get farmed out as “assignments”, which is much the same thing but without the benefit of a sustaining vote and setting apart. It feels like somebody might have been listening, because how do you find time to help and fellowship new members when you’re run off your feet on a Sunday, and your spare time is spent knee deep in preparation or attending meetings during the week?
Now the building really can feel like the centre for the whole church community in the city, undivided by artificial boundaries. Now, for example, we can hold an after church munch and mingle because we aren’t required to clear the building for the other ward. It feels like we can breathe. And hey, we’re still smaller than those Utah wards, I’ll be bound.
- What changes, if any, have you noted where you are?
- What do you perceive to be the benefits of a) dividing a ward? b) combining wards?
- Do you think we may have been too quick to divide wards in the past?
- Do you see this as a change in strategy, and if so, why do you think such a change might be necessary?
*At 17 I had three callings: on the Laurel class presidency, assistant choir pianist, and cultural arts director on the activities committee.
** That would be ward pianist with some responsibility for ward music (there was no music chair), and either: primary teacher, YW leader, RS teacher, and finally RS Presidency member (but still teaching).