MPMIA: The Ward Is Where It’s At
“The ward is the most appropriate place to reach the one: that’s where the ward representative is, with the resources of the elders quorum president, the Relief Society president, the bishop, and the stake to help.” (Melchizedek Priesthood MIA 1974 June Conference.)
Modestly described as “the star of the program,” the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA ward representative is getting the attention because he/she has the responsibility for all of the singles in the ward over the age of 18.
In each ward, there are at least two Young Adult and two Special Interest representatives. Each may call whatever number of assistants, interest group coordinators, information coordinators, and special projects coordinators he needs to serve the needs of ward members.
These assignments may be made in consultation with the elders quorum counselor and the Relief Society counselor assigned to work with the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA. Both of these counselors report to their respective presidents who, in turn, inform and correlate with the bishop. The presidents and their counselors receive training and other counsel from the stake priesthood leadership and the stake Relief Society presidency.
In addition, the ward representative receives instructions from the stake Young Adult or Special Interest Council of which he is a member. A stake high councilor also attends these council meetings. If the ward representatives decide that a particular need can best be met by a stake activity, they propose it to the stake council.
But the main responsibility of the ward representative is stewardship over the single individual in the ward. The ward representative is the helping hand that grips him firmly and pulls him into activity within the ward, multiward (where necessary), and stake groups.
June Conference (1974) leaders, emphasizing the autonomous nature of each ward, stressed they were offering suggestions, not a rigid program, and encouraged flexibility and local adaptivity. But its four program elements are exciting atmospheres for meaningful, personal involvement.
1. One of the elements is to form a home evening group, organized for single adults as long as they are not living with their parents. The group leader should be called by the bishop. There are two restrictions: the group should not be called a “family” and the leader should not be called a “father.” They can meet on any night of the week that suits the group. Their activities are optional—they can participate in lessons, parties, service projects, and so on.
Two sisters over 70 years of age in an Arizona stake have an unusual home evening. They go to two other sisters who are homebound, ill, and older than they, to visit with them and present them a gospel lesson. They are bubbling with joy about their group.
One of them said, “I can’t believe I’m learning so much about the gospel. I go home and prepare those lessons and just love to visit with those sisters. They’re so anxious for Monday nights.” She added, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done because I’m learning to forget about myself.”
2. Another program element is a “meeting for single women.” Again, the word flexible is important. Young Adults and Special Interests may meet together or separately, within their ward, or on a multiward or stake level where necessary (with the approval of all the leaders concerned). These meetings may be held at any time, including Sunday. A leader should be called, but no presidency should be called. The curriculum may be the current Relief Society lessons or any other lessons that have been approved by the Adult Correlation Committee such as former Relief Society lessons, seminary lessons, or institute courses. The summer course will be General Conference talks.
A popular rerun that could be used is the Relief Society course, “A Lovelier You,” focusing on charm, deportment, and self-development. Also, the Relief Society has prepared 13 optional lessons on such topics as “A Sensible Course in Physical Fitness,” “Practical Ideas for Beauty in the Home,” “The Woman Alone,” and “Vienna and Its Music.”
Many activities concerning this age group are with men, so the meeting for single women gives women that extremely helpful opportunity to meet together and discuss how the gospel relates to them in their special situation. When the women’s recreational program, a new and exciting aspect of Relief Society, is established in each ward, it will permit greater involvement for single women with the ward family—homemakers and career women will play on the same volleyball team. When can this recreation program start? As soon as local leaders decide to move ahead.
3. Another program element is the Young Adult Sunday School class. In those cases where there are not enough Young Adults in a ward to make a good Sunday School class, multiward or even stake classes can be formed with the consent of the Sunday School officers, bishops, and stake presidency. This class should be hosted, housed, and taught by one of the ward Sunday Schools. If the teacher is not from the host ward, the call should be made through the stake. The Gospel Doctrine course should be used.
4. Another program element—the newest and possibly the most exciting—is the “interest group,” which “is not an activity on a night, but whatever meets your needs.” Interest groups are formed after a survey of ward talents and desires shows a profile of acceptable activities.
These groups—within, across, and including home evening groups—may be one time only or the beginning of a 50-year-old tradition, depending on how well they meet the needs of their members. Meeting times are flexible—the fishing group may get together on ten minutes’ notice when the trout start biting; the symphony-goers may know their schedule months in advance.
The size is also flexible: you join as many as you have time and interest for. Thus, nearly everyone may participate in a temple excursion or a Sunday fireside, while only a handful will take up rock-hunting or bowling. And if there are only two people in the ward who can’t be wrenched from the Saturday opera to watch pro basketball, there’s still an interest group.
Obviously, interest groups provide a means for helping to activate many people. If Hal is inactive and extremely interested in archaeology, could an interest group be formed to satisfy his keenly felt interests—and also serve as the instrument for activating Hal? Obviously, the principle can apply everywhere. Its component principle—seeing that everyone has some assignment of significance—can also be applied. One of the best ways to activate a person is to give him or her an assignment or opportunity to serve. With so many interest groups and service opportunities around, there can be an important and useful assignment for everyone.
Recreation is also a big part of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program, with the whole ward participating in certain competitive sports that can go as far as area-wide tournaments. Interest groups are also designed to take care of “smaller” sports: skiing, surfing, and spelunking.
The following editorial, reprinted from the September, 1974, Lamplighter (the Special Interest newsletter of Salt Lake Grant Stake), summarizes the enthusiastic response of at least one segment of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA to the new ward priorities of the program.
After June Conference, What?
Now that all the bishops and Relief Society presidents and enthusiastic out-of-towners and even more enthusiastic in-towners have subsided back into their daily work after the extravaganza of June Conference, what is there to say about it? This June Conference cannot be compared to that when President Lee announced the formation of the priesthood MIAs with consequence to the organization, function, structuring, and programs that possibly only he completely understood at the time. This conference was a continuation, not a change—but for that very reason, because there is less smoke to clear away from the debris of old programs—we can see the course that the June Conference Committee has outlined for us much clearer. And there are two major emphases:
(1) Most of the old programs are to continue, much as they have. Even the much-maligned sports program came in for its own ten minutes of judicially prepared defense. Mammoth activities were the showcase, as literally hundreds of young people reported, dispersed, and attacked the various service projects in the valley, and hundreds more showed up for various spontaneous concerts. One visitor from Washington took her four daughters and their violins and spoke with tears in her eyes of the spiritual impact that experience had on her children. But it was made carefully clear, with tactful but persistent repetition, that the days of the multiregional “gala” are over! “In the program,” according to Joe J. Christensen of the June Conference Committee, also director of Seminaries and Institutes, “the ultimate VIP is the One!” Then he spelled out the obvious: the unit in the Church designed to recognize the one, to put the one in touch with his bishop—the man who has primary stewardship for the one—is the ward structure. Leaders were urged to keep activities close to home—ward, yes! Stake, yes. Region, well. … Area, why?
(2) As part of the program of reaching the one, and also as the major change in existing programs, is the Pursuit of Excellence Award, announced by Elder Marion D. Hanks. At the first glance, this program looks like the Master M-Man and Golden Gleaner Award, spiffied up. But it’s not. In fact, this single program may have more potential for changing the lives of individual members of the Church than anything since family home evening. It places the responsibilities for change squarely on the shoulders of the individual, mobilizes the resources of the Church to aid the individual, and is not limited to the Young Adult-Special Interest categories with that unspoken implication that the kids need something to keep them off the streets. Any member of the Church over the age of 18 is automatically a member of the program. To mobilize it, he/she makes an appointment with a leader: bishop, home teacher, Relief Society president, or any counselor of these presiding bodies, discusses with that person the specific goals he/she would like to achieve, sets a date, then disappears to do it. When he reappears for another interview and the signature, change has occurred in his life. The booklet that explains the program and suggests some goals (start bugging your leaders now for yours) spans a lot of interests; you can “adopt” a single-parent child in your ward and see that he gets to spiritual and recreational activities; you can teach someone else a talent that they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own; you can walk up the stairs in the Church Office Building as part of your own physical fitness program—and you can tailor the program to your own needs. Perhaps even more important than the specific goals reached is the fact that participation in this program will teach a process of change—of planned, meaningful change. We can learn how to take hold of our lives and mold them into the patterns of our choice. The power is back in our hands rather than with the demands of our job, what happens to be on TV, the daily crises-to-crises that can happen in marriage, the living in memories of older years.
What If We Actually Do It?
Happy Children in Relief Society Nurseries
“The Relief Society nursery was designed to make it possible for mothers of young children to attend Relief Society. It is an accommodation to the sisters to assure the careful supervision of their children while they get the benefit of Relief Society attendance and activities.” (Louise W. Madsen, former second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.)
The ward nursery leader is called by the bishop, set apart to her position, and usually serves for a year. Depending on the number of children in the nursery, “mother assistants” are called to assist for shorter terms.
The Relief Society Nursery Manual suggests a format offering a variety of activities to teach the three-, four-, and five-year-olds social skills, motor skills, and qualities of character such as faith, obedience, creativity, cooperation, and courtesy.
The usual session includes a greeting, prayer, short lesson emphasizing real-life situations, art activities, rest activities, songs, and a closing prayer.
Sister Oramae Watters of the Washington Ward, St. George Utah East Stake, was so convinced of the nursery program’s value that when she was released as Relief Society president, she offered to serve as nursery leader. During that year, the chapel was under construction, so she held the nursery in her home. On a typical day, the children were dropped off by their mothers at “the house with the happy clown in the window,” coats were carefully put away, and the children chatted about their activities or looked at books until it was time to start the lesson.
Sister Watters was surprised to discover that “in this day of television” one of the children’s favorite activities was listening to stories. In fact, Sister Watters felt like “a real ham,” turning herself into a gruff old man or an excited rabbit as she read, but the reward of the children, wide-eyed and edging closer, was enough. They also enjoyed such art activities as making homemade clay-dough animals, painting murals, making cookies or bread, planting seeds, or learning to brush their teeth.
Sister Kirma S. Larsen, stake Relief Society homemaking counselor in the Tempe Arizona Stake, attributes much of the success of their program to the enthusiastic support of the stake and ward priesthood leaders. The stake president frequently visits the nurseries when he comes for ward conferences. At the autumn stake nursery seminar which orients the ward nursery leaders, a counselor in the stake presidency or a bishop bears his testimony of the importance of the program. The bishops who make the callings stress the importance of the assignment and encourage full commitment from the nursery leaders.
This priesthood support is backed up with specific help to the individual nursery leader. In addition to the fall seminar, the stake holds monthly workshops in connection with its leadership meetings. The stake nursery coordinator also visits each ward nursery periodically.
“Our program stresses that ‘this is a service of love’ and that ‘these are our children.’ One of the most outstanding results of this program is the sweet spirit of love and consideration the sisters show to each other’s children and to each other as they become converted to the program,” says Sister Larsen.
Sister Nancy Ann Young, nursery leader in the Tempe Eighth Ward, Tempe Arizona Stake, bears her testimony of the importance of her calling. “I have had many mothers come to me and say that their children brought them to Relief Society because ‘Sister Young loves me and will miss me if I’m not there,’ or ‘I want to go to Relief Society today because we are going to make airplanes.’”
Results like this take thorough preparation. For Sister Young, it started when she received her calling. She accepted it prayerfully and felt that the blessing she received when set apart gave her confidence in her ability. Prayer for gentleness and the ability to enjoy the activities along with the children accompany the preparation and presentation of each lesson.
She attends the stake nursery workshops and uses the suggestions made there. She gives each child her undivided attention for at least a couple of minutes during the class period, and makes sure the children know the mother assistant and feel comfortable with her. Most discipline problems are helped by two special “friends,” two faces mounted on each side of a pencil end: Mr. Quiet Please and Mr. Thanks a Lot.
“The most successful thing I do in my classroom,” says Sister Young, “is begin each lesson by asking, ‘What is the most special and important thing about Sister Young?’ All of their little faces light up, and their hands fly up in the air, each of them bursting to answer the question. Many times I let them all answer together: ‘You love each one of us!’ And as I look at each one of their beautiful eager little faces, I get tears in my eyes, because I really do love each one of them.”
It is this feeling of love that is more important than the airplanes or the activities or the stories, for it transcends the classroom. One of Sister Young’s most cherished memories is meeting one mother and her child in a store. The little boy tugged on his mother’s skirt and whispered, “Mommy, she loves me!”