Young Single Adults, Leaders See Benefits of YSA Ward Reorganization
Heather Wrigley, Church News and Events
In an effort to improve the experience of single Church members ages 18 to 30, the Church is reorganizing and realigning young single adult wards and stakes throughout Utah.
Young single adult wards are being reorganized geographically and included in newly formed young single adult stakes. Student wards will be discontinued.
Each YSA ward is open to all single Church members age 18 to 30 who live within the ward’s geographic boundaries. Young single adults may choose to attend the YSA ward or the conventional ward in which they live.
Although there are young single adult wards all over the United States, these changes will primarily impact those in Utah and Idaho. For the members along Utah’s Wasatch Front, an additional change will be that all young single adult wards will now be part of a young single adult stake.
Church leaders hope this will reduce confusion about which ward young adults should attend. Some 40,000 young single adults will be affected by the change.
“This age group tends to drift a little bit, to different units, different wards,” said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy. “We hope it will provide enhanced opportunities for them to serve in leadership positions, and to teach, to lead. . . . We hope it enhances their opportunities to meet other people and to do meaningful service, and we want to deliver these opportunities in their geographic area.”
Making a Difference Already
Young single adults and their leaders in areas where the change has taken place are seeing and experiencing a difference.
Wess R. Greene, president of the Logan Utah YSA Fourth Stake, said the change has created a feeling of belonging. “In the past, there was this overarching feeling that if a young single adult wasn’t a student, they couldn’t attend a student-dominated YSA ward,” he said. “The reorganization has opened YSA units up to everybody who wants to participate and interact.”
In the YSA 37th Ward in Logan, Utah, Sam Powell, 23, said the reorganization has not only brought Church members closer geographically, but in friendship as well.
“It’s following the Lord’s principle of keeping a record and belonging to one fold,” he said. “Because our ward members are geographically close, our ward has become more like a family ward where your neighbors are your associates and friends.”
“I would say that it’s been one of the best changes the Church has ever made,” said Ronald S. Godfrey, president of the Logan Utah YSA Second Stake. “It has given to the young people a sense of purpose.”
Several wards and stakes in Ogden began transitioning last April, and YSA stakes in Logan, Cedar City, St. George, and Ephraim also have made the change. Utah’s Salt Lake, Davis, and Utah Counties will be reorganized by June 2011.
The focus of Church leaders is to enhance social and leadership opportunities, assist those seeking to return to Church activity, and strengthen the faith of young single adults.
Enhanced Social Opportunities
The Church encourages social interaction and synergy among its young people. This reorganization enhances opportunities for them to socialize with other young adults and provide meaningful service.
President Greene is the chair of regional activities for young single adults in his area. His committee continues to encourage joint activities between YSA wards and stakes to allow young single adults the opportunity to meet many different people.
“It helps members to get to know one another and to share experiences in a worthy, nonthreatening environment,” he explained. “The young single adults can be strengthened and develop friendships.”
More Opportunities for Leadership
Another benefit from the reorganization is increased opportunities for young single adult leadership.
In President Godfrey’s stake, more people have returned to their designated wards, allowing them to be placed in various positions of leadership.
President Greene calls the new YSA wards “LTCs”—Leadership Training Centers.
“The Church is going to continue to roll forth, and this generation is going to be placed in positions to guide the Church,” he said. “In these wards, future leaders are learning about priesthood keys and priesthood power. Young single men and women are learning how to reach out and understand and help people.”
Elder Thomas M. Cherrington, an Area Seventy in the Utah North Area who helped implement the new program in Cache Valley, Utah, explained that YSA wards offer more leadership positions for young single adults.
“In a conventional ward, a young single adult is very seldom called to something like an elders quorum or Relief Society presidency,” he said. “In these [YSA] wards, you have young single adults who are serving in nearly every capacity in the ward, except bishop.”
The benefits of the reorganization reach beyond the chapel walls.
“We’ve seen a lot of young people who haven’t been engaged with the Church for a long time start to come back,” Elder Snow said. “We are trying to get everyone in the fold. We want everyone to feel welcome.”
“Some people felt hesitant about attending a student ward,” said 22-year-old Elissa Mellor, Relief Society president of the YSA 37th Ward in Logan, Utah. “The name change to a young single adult ward was good. We welcome anybody and everybody.”
In the Logan Utah YSA Second Stake alone, approximately 200 YSAs have been reactivated since September 1, 2010, when the reorganization took place.
“Now everything is equal,” President Godfrey said. “It’s all about being a young single adult. It’s not about being in school or out of school. Everyone has a sense of peace and a sense of place.”
The young single adults themselves are the ones bringing about that change, President Greene said.
As elders quorum president in the YSA 37th Ward, Sam Powell has seen the difference the reorganization makes in reactivation. “It’s been a miracle to see all the single adults open their arms and accept everyone—students, nonstudents, less-active, and inactive,” he said. “There’s no difference between a 19-year-old freshman and a 29-year-old who’s working full time.”
The Church is in the process of trying to form new wards as many young single adult members return to full activity, Elder Cherrington said.
Strengthen the Faith
Another reason for the reorganization is to help Church leaders—stake presidents, bishops, and elders quorum and Relief Society presidents—build stronger relationships with those in their congregations.
Previously, with so many options available to young single adults, many would “ward hop”—making home teaching and keeping track of activity difficult. By reorganizing wards geographically, priesthood leaders now know exactly who is in their ward boundaries and can more effectively reach out to them. Conversely, ward members know who their bishop is and can access his counsel and assistance.
“It has really focused and solidified the membership in each ward,” President Greene said. “In regards to what President Monson said about rescuing the one, it has really facilitated that process.”
Come unto Him
The reorganization of YSA wards and stakes has been difficult for some who loved the ward they were in but find themselves in a different ward now.
“It’s not something that Church leaders have just decided,” Sister Mellor said. “It has come from the Lord, and we just need to have faith and trust in the Lord that we really can learn and grow and have opportunities to become more Christlike because of this change.”
Along with other units, the YSA 37th Ward in Logan lost some people from its ward who were dearly loved, Brother Powell said.
“But people need to realize that blessings will come through their obedience to the counsel of the Church,” he said. “I know that. We’ve seen the blessings that come from obedience here in Cache Valley.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is to bring everyone to Christ. The previous organization allowed some young single adults to slip through the cracks and feel like they didn’t belong.
“Behind the scenes what we’re trying to do is bring the message of the Atonement and the Savior’s love to everyone, whether they’ve lost their way or are fully embracing the principles of the gospel,” President Godfrey said. “I feel that we’re all blessed that this change has happened.”