“The one in the brown suit,” I whispered. “He’s our new bishop, Chaleen. His name is Bishop Jensen. You’ll get to shake his hand after the meeting.”
We couldn’t blame our children for being puzzled. Getting a new bishopric and having the ward divided were a little unsettling for us, too. But it didn’t confuse us like it once might have. We’ve learned that since Zion is growing, none of us who claims a place in the kingdom can remain untouched by the effects of change. It doesn’t matter whether a person moves geographically or stays put. When we lived in the southern end of Salt Lake Valley, we knew people who had been in the same house for ten years but in five different wards during that same time period.
Because of the Church’s continual growth, change is inevitable. But although the current is change, the flow is towards eternity.
“Thy people shall be my people.” Sometimes, looking at new faces and new callings, I say it with determination. And sometimes I say it with a comforting reassurance. After all, Ruth said it even before she saw the people who were going to be “her” people (see Ruth 1:16). She was both a widow and a convert and there must have been uncertainty in her heart. But, true to her resolve, she made those people her people, became the wife of Boaz, and was a link in the royal line leading to Christ.
Yet it’s not always easy to make changes—to move into a new ward, undergo a ward division, or experience major ward reorganizations. After moving from one ward to another, I have found myself thinking, “Who are all these new people? And how can they be so sure that I’m going to love it here? We left the best ward in the Church behind us.”
At such times, my journal provides some needed historical balance. In thirteen years of marriage, we’ve moved five times and have twice been involved in ward divisions. I’ve learned that each change brings goodness with it. And if there is great sadness when certain associations are disrupted, that’s good too. It means that the joy had been great.
For example, when our California stake was divided and our bishop was made a member of the stake presidency (our two wards were made three as part of the general change), I was worried because the new bishop had been a member of a different ward—we didn’t know him and he didn’t know us.
But before too long, I was recording in my journal: “Funny. It doesn’t take much more than the Lord saying, ‘This is your bishop’ and the feelings come. We loved Bishop Madsen so much. But now Bishop Troub is our bishop. And he’s a great bishop.”
Accepting new leaders, though, is sometimes easier than being removed from close association with friends. I recall noticing how amazingly our lives were tied to ward schedules: “I would have guessed I’d see a lot of Merle, Laurie, Delores, etc.,” I wrote, “even if they were in another ward. Well, eternity is ahead. And maybe I can be the Merle of our new ward. (Of course, I’ll have to lose five more pounds and find five more children—and keep my oven cleaner.)”
And then Al got an exciting job offer in Utah and we were on our way again. But leaving all of the strangers who had become so dear was painful. On the day of our last stake conference in California, I wallowed in nostalgia: “The next conference—after we’re gone—will be held in the new stake center, which we helped build. Ah, the Christmas booth at the bazaar. All those hours making the handbound books for our family fund-raising project. Oh well, so we learned to bind books.” Trying to balance two Church assignments at the same time had seemed difficult for me when I was doing it, “but having the difficulty removed has been even more difficult.”
We moved to Utah with good attitudes. We knew that we had to reach out, and that if any ward ever seemed indifferent it was because we were sitting back waiting to be neglected. We tried to avoid making comparisons. We looked for the positive and pointed out good things about the new ward and new people to our children. We kept reminding ourselves of the advice in D&C 67:14: “Let not your minds turn back.” And Alma 5:15, asking, “Do you look forward with an eye of faith?” We got involved quickly in ward assignments and were just beginning to feel really comfortable.
Then, after only a few months, our ward was divided, and I felt confused all over again. “Why do we always get bishops we don’t know?” I wrote in my journal. “Most of the new ward comes from the 17th ward. All the members of the bishopric do. The bishopric visited us Wednesday night. I’ve never had a bishop younger than I. Well, I guess it had to happen sometime. But we really feel out of it.”
We felt even further out of it when the stake was divided a few weeks later. Ward and stake positions were being filled all around us, but although we were anxious to serve, we weren’t called to do anything immediately. At first I was tempted to feel hurt, but then I noted in my journal: “Oh, the irony. The Lord’s kingdom is set up for service—helping others. And here we are thinking of positions in relation to our own needs and feelings.”
We learned that these times are sifting times and worked hard to repent of our hurt feelings. Within three months, both Al and I were busily involved in callings that we grew to love, and I marvelled, “How can Bishop Garfield have so much wisdom when he’s so young?”
The loving bonds we felt, not only with our ward but also with our whole stake, were so tight they hurt when a new work assignment took us to Idaho. I found myself weeping, “Bishop and Vicki. How can we leave them? How we will miss them. And Dean and Alona, the Wendells, the Klomps, the Jensens, Julie and Brig, etc. Will we find other people as great as these?” But I took more than sadness with me to our new home. I found myself thinking, “I’ve learned so much from working with Alona. I want to be like her and make others joyful as she has brought joy to my life.”
And in Idaho we were so warmly welcomed I felt almost overwhelmed: “So many neighbors have come to say hello. We’ve been well cookied and casseroled. How will we ever learn all these names? From what ward members tell us, we’ve moved into a combination Utopia, Land of Oz, Camelot, and City of Enoch.” Our daughter was asked to speak in church, and Al and I were called to teach.
A month later, while I was helping clean up after a Relief Society project, I was reminded of similar times in Utah. This time, however, I realized that I had crossed a big hurdle: “Those vibrations of past laughter and friendship don’t tremble me to crying. Spreads a nice warmth throughout. My store of positive churchwork memories is larger than I had supposed. And the store is a source of strength to me.”
Well, I’m not first a member of the Rexburg Tenth Ward and second a member of the Church. But while I’m in this section of the Lord’s vineyard, here is where I need to concentrate my efforts—sowing, tending, and harvesting for myself and others.
We may think of our people as fairly conservative, and we know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Eternal truth is unchanging. Principles, ordinances, sources of authority in the Lord’s plan are permanent realities, sturdy stakes offering unchanging support and direction to branching, blossoming personalities.
Yet—and I have found that I need to keep this clearly focused in my mind—the gospel plan is anything but a program of status quo. It is the greatest vehicle for change that ever has existed or ever will exist. It’s the only means by which a weak mortal can discipline and train himself to become like Christ.
So, as the Lord’s work progresses, we’re all praying that every nation of the earth will open their doors for the preaching of the gospel. We hope and pray that many—if not all—will come into the fold. And as they come and come, wards and stakes will multiply and divide.
The definition of true charity reminds us that charity “seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). What if we—not the Lord—decided on ward boundaries, stake assignments, and who we got for visiting teachers, home teachers, and bishops? Who knows how much growth we would lose by that self-seeking?
Only the Lord knows how many more times during mortality I’ll say, “Thy people shall be my people.” I might say the words hesitantly at first, but I’ve had enough ward-changing experiences to have no doubts that before long, I’ll be shouting it with enthusiasm and love: These people are my people!
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “These People Shall Be My People” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a family gospel study period:
What are some of the joys of being in a new ward setting?
What is the best way to deal with the sorrow of being separated from friends and beloved leaders by a move or a ward division?
How can one best adapt to a new ward situation? What are some good ways of getting to know other people and learning to love them?
How does rendering service to others make us more comfortable with them?
What kinds of things must one do in a new ward to be able to say, “These people shall be my people”?