Several years ago my LDS ward started a neat summer activity called a Neighborhood Walk-About, where, every other week in the summer, three homes in the neighborhood would place some lawn chairs, blankets, and light refreshments out in their yard, and neighbors would walk about the neighborhood, stopping at each home to chat with other visitors. The activity would typically last from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. It was a very popular activity, with kids riding bikes between homes, creating a great opportunity to chat with our neighbors outside of church meetings or service projects. The best part was that non-LDS members of the neighborhood were quite involved in the whole thing, frequently functioning as one of the stops in any given week. There was great participation and a lot of friendships were kindled during these activities. My kids looked forward to the “walk-abouts”, and would get bummed out during off weeks. How often can you say that about a church-related activity these days?
Well, all good things must come to an end, apparently, because the neighborhood walk-about died a slow death over subsequent years. The first intimations of the activity’s death began when the ward council decided that the LDS families hosting a refreshment stop during each week’s walk-about would be asked/pressured to co-host with a non-member family living near them. This resulted in awkward conversations between neighbors, where the LDS neighbors were asking non-LDS neighbors, who sometimes were reluctant to participate, to co-host with them. Eventually, LDS neighbors volunteered in fewer numbers to host refreshments stops, due to reluctance to pressure non-LDS families into participation. As a result of this, two things happened:
- Some families hosted twice during a summer in order to have enough refreshment stops each week.
- Some weeks the number of refreshment stops was reduced from three to two, meaning there were larger gaps between stops within the neighborhood, which meant that some walkers only visited the home nearest them rather than walk to the other side of the neighborhood.
The next stage in the activity’s demise was when the activity officially became a ward mission activity, with the activity’s coordination turned over to the ward missionaries. This resulted in greater pressure for LDS neighbors to co-host with non-LDS neighbors, as well as direct requests from the ward missionaries to non-LDS neighbors to host a stop. To the neighborhood’s non-members, the activity changed from being a neighborhood activity to a ward activity. They got the message that the entire enterprise now had a goal of proselyting rather than neighborhood cohesion. As a result of less participation, the number of scheduled activities went from every other week (about twice per month), to once per month (only three activities for the entire summer). My kids were crestfallen and, needless to say, were not impressed.
The last gasps of the now, effectively, ward walk-about, occurred last summer, when it was reduced to just one Sunday for the entire summer. In addition, there were now three designated stops in the neighborhood, with refreshments provided by the ward: one in the church building’s parking lot, one in a grass strip at one end of the neighborhood, and another in a cul-de-sac. It was now an official ward activity, with flyers delivered by the ward’s youth to each home in the neighborhood. We happened to be out of town on the week it was held but heard that turnout consisted of essentially the ward’s core members. Our non-LDS neighbors expressed their disappointment that what had started as an inclusive, laid-back, low-key summer activity for the entire neighborhood, had become yet another ward activity.
The whole thing reminds me of terrible movie sequels. Why do we ruin good activities by “improving” them like this? Why can’t we just recognize something good and let it alone?