Monday, September 3, 2012

Small town church

I live in the suburbs of a large Midwestern city in the U.S. and I attend a large suburban ward. My ward really has the best of an established Wasatch Front ward in terms of church programs (fueled by regular influx of folks from "out west") and solid gospel teaching and the best of a “mission field” ward in terms of newer members and reliance on the gospel rather than Mormon culture. I love my ward, and I’m glad we’ve lived there off and on (between foreign postings for my work) for years.

This weekend we visited my daughter who lives in a small town in Pennsylvania and we attended her small ward. The ward is geographically huge and takes in her small town of 5,000 plus several other small towns in the county. You can drive for an hour and still be in her ward.

This is the kind of ward that many of you will know, one in which the number of people with long church experience is relatively small. There are few imports from “the west” because there are no industries to draw such imports. Many of the members of the ward are home grown, some the second or third generation of converts in the area.

It’s a small ward, and might even be a branch in another stake just because of its size. Programs struggle to look like they would in a large established ward because of number of participants and the experience of those running the programs. Lots of ages combined in small youth classes and in Primary.

We settled in for Fast and Testimony meeting in a ward that we did not know, not knowing quite what to expect. Of course our daughter has made many good friends here and has come to rely on her church family to take our place since she lives so far from us. But sometimes attending a testimony meeting in a ward you don’t know is like attending a wedding where you only know the bride or groom, but no one else. You never quite know the backstory; you never quite know what’s really going on.

This weekend’s meeting, I have to say, was delightful. It was hard for me to know if there were many who bore their testimony every month; some apologized for getting up again so soon, and others suggested if people were tired of hearing from them, they ought to get up first. But almost to a person, each testimony followed the simple counsel given by the bishop’s counselor who conducted the meeting: testimonies should be about the Savior and should be brief.

One of the first testimonies was from a sweet gentleman who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his conversion (he’d been tracted out by missionaries I learned later in the day). Another proud dad spoke of having two sons sealed to their wives on the same day. A sister offered hope to families that might not yet know the blessings of temple covenants with encouragement and hope that seemed to come from her own experience. Other brothers and sisters did just what one hopes for in a testimony meeting: short, simple testimonies offered because the bearers felt a spiritual prompting to stand and share.

There are many ways in which my daughter’s small rural ward is different from my large established suburban one, but in this way it is not different: the Spirit taught me there just as it teaches me at home. How grateful I am for that truth.

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