“My husband and I were thirsting for truth and righteousness when we were baptized as young parents with two sons,” says Joyce Williams of Tampa, Florida. “However, when the elders challenged us for baptism, we were actually in marriage counseling; we both needed a better understanding of our lives.
“Following our baptism in Tallahassee, Florida, we encountered rejection and criticism from our extended family, but we resolved to implement every principle we learned at church: we held family prayer and family home evening regularly, we paid our tithing and fast offerings, we attended every meeting and activity in the branch and district, and we subscribed to the Church publications. We even invited friends into our home to hear the missionary discussions: some became members. We also invited members to our home for meals and social events.
“On Sundays after meetings we lingered to visit and get to know others. We aligned our clothing with temple standards and our media consumption to high standards of morality. Reevaluating our financial situation, we decided I would leave my job and stay at home with our children. We began attending an institute class and planned to go to the temple in a year—we made it in a year and nine days. We also began doing our family history work, traveling to the states where needed records were available, then submitting names to the temple and performing the ordinances.”
This is an excerpt from one of many letters received in response to the April 1998 Ensign asking readers to share their experiences as new converts in building a lasting gospel foundation. We asked (1) what converts had done to maintain involvement after baptism, and (2) what others had done to help them make the transition to full activity in the Church. The following are selections from those responses.
“The first few months in the Church I continued to lean heavily on ‘my’ missionaries,” says Cheryl C. Everett of Tulare, California. “After they left, it became difficult to handle all the contention and opposition I faced from family and friends. This was the most critical transition I had to make in my Church membership. To strengthen my testimony, I received and studied my patriarchal blessing, I began to rely more heavily on my home teacher and his family, I continued to read the Book of Mormon and pray daily, I attended all my weekly meetings, and I committed myself to serve. I began doing my part to serve others through visiting teaching, and through my calling I began to feel a part of my ward family.”
Joye Corry of Cedar City, Utah, says: “After I was baptized, the missionaries no longer came to my home to teach me. I still saw them when they brought investigators to the meetings and activities, but when they were transferred shortly thereafter, I felt as if I had been cut adrift and all that was familiar had been taken away. But the moment was brief because members in my small branch in Babylon, New York, gathered around me and gave me their love and guidance.
“The branch president called me to be a visiting teacher. I accepted the calling and was assigned to be his wife’s companion. Under her tutelage—which I dubbed ‘visiting learning’—and through her example, I caught the vision of compassionate service.”
Sister Corry adds: “The missionary who baptized me moved back to his hometown, where my husband and I now live. At one of our outings, he asked me what had kept me active in the Church after I was baptized. I told him that he and his companion had introduced me to a message of love and caring. After I joined the Church, the members of my branch had lived that message.”
Sherry Fenton of Anchorage, Alaska, says: “We learned you need to base your testimony on the gospel, not on your new friends at church. The gospel is perfect; people are not. I consider it a blessing that the first time I attended sacrament meeting it was not a great experience. Everyone seemed depressed, at least to me, and the music sounded like funeral dirges. That first Sunday (which I later discovered was not a typical feeling at sacrament meeting) made me examine why I was joining the Church. I knew my conversion wasn’t about the people.
“A few months later, my husband and I served in callings where we felt we were not treated well by someone with whom we served. Some of our ward friends saw this and were afraid we’d be scared off. But we realized people are people: they make some mistakes; we make others. The important thing to us was we had found something too precious to lose over a few sore feelings.”
“As a teenager and only member of my family who lived the gospel, I had many challenges after baptism,” says Leslie Pincock of Idaho Falls, Idaho. “Fortunately at this time I was assigned a remarkable home teacher. Brother Burgess and his companion came to my home and brought the spirit of the priesthood, something I had never had the privilege of feeling. He gave me Church books and magazines and talked to me about temple marriage, dating, and goal setting. He and his wife gave me rides to ward parties and campouts; sometimes they invited my nonmember friends so I would feel more comfortable. Because of my seeming indifference, I’m sure at times he felt his efforts were fruitless. His influence, however, and that of his wife, was slowly making a difference in my life.
“By the time I was a senior in high school, Brother Burgess had moved out of our ward, but he continued to make contact with me whenever he could. In fact, years later we still write letters on occasion. I know that his dedication went well beyond his calling as a home teacher. He and his wife were true friends and a big reason I remained active.”
Sue McNamara of Pittsburg, California, says: “Many friends made a huge impact on my fledgling faith. A dear member family who had converted from the same religion I had 20 years earlier invited me to their home for dinner. We shared stories about the challenges we faced after baptism. After a lovely meal, we sat and talked about the gospel. I was impressed that long-standing members actually did this. But I was even more impressed when I asked a specific question and they actually turned to a well-used Book of Mormon to find the answer.”
Audrey Lusk of Midlothian, Virginia, says: “Because my mother did not agree with my decision to be baptized, a couple of weeks after I joined the Church she decided it was best if I moved out. That very night I had planned to go to Reed and Allene Whitesides’ home for a new-member discussion. I had quickly grown close to this wonderful couple in the month since the missionaries introduced me to them. When I arrived, Sister Whiteside opened the door and found me on her doorstep in tears. I explained that I had no place to live. She said, ‘That’s not true. You’ll live here with us.’ I felt unbelievable support and friendship from the Whitesides and from my new ward family.”
Brenda G. Washington of Honea Path, South Carolina, says: “An experience I had attending Relief Society meeting shortly after I joined the Church almost brought my membership to a devastating end. I remember the excellent teacher and how much I enjoyed the lesson. I remember looking around the room and feeling a part of something wonderful. I couldn’t wait for the lesson to end; there were so many sisters I wanted to meet. These were the Latter-day Saints I wanted to be with—to be like.
“But when the lesson ended, I stood, waiting for someone to say hello. I smiled broadly. My spirit soared joyously, having been touched by the lesson. I wanted to connect with these sisters, but they left me standing as if I were invisible. I felt tears coming, and I ran from the room, trying to avoid the attention that might be drawn by my crying. It was a relief to reach my car, where the tears came.
“‘I’ll never go back. I’ll never go back,’ was the repeated statement I made to my husband once I got home. It was then that I gained a testimony of the still, small voice. The thought came into my mind that I should go back, that these sisters just needed to get to know me. As simple as this thought was then, it is the reason I’m in the Church today.”
“During my first year of membership,” says Robert T. Becker Jr. of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, “a week did not go by that I was not in contact with a member of the ward on a day other than Sunday. There were so many ways to stay involved. I was called on to take some boys on an outing; to assist with Young Men and Young Women activities, quorum service projects, and beet hoeing at the regional welfare farm; and to participate in athletic and other activities.
“It was wonderful to be so involved, but it was not the involvement alone that was so valuable—it was the example that the members set during all the activities that helped strengthen my testimony.”
Marsha Buck of Bloomfield, New Mexico, says: “The turning point in our lives occurred just a month after our baptism when we moved from our small military branch in Texas to Tennessee. It would have been easy for us to stay home from church that first Sunday. Nobody knew we were there. Tired from moving and still with no place to live, we nevertheless decided to go to church. We both knew the gospel was true, so we went to church. And because we did, we continue to go to church 25 years later.”
“Church culture, language, and expectations can be confusing to the new member,” says Michelle Duker of Ottumwa, Iowa. “I remember when my husband and I were baptized, we had a difficult time understanding everything all at once. Members need to explain things to new converts. Remember, we were not born knowing where tithing envelopes are, what fasting means, how to keep the Sabbath holy, how to hold a family home evening, or what resources are available to help us.
“After our first visit to church, we suggested to the neighbor member who rode with us that we all go out for lunch after the meetings. Instead of reacting with horror and making us feel ashamed, he quietly said he would rather go on home. Later, he and the missionaries taught us the principle of honoring the Sabbath day.”
“I received a Church calling—and for me it was a blessing that it was a teaching calling,”says Wren Petersen of Brandon, Florida. “I taught a youth Sunday School class and came to understand that the teacher really does learn more than the students. I had to read the scriptures. I had to study the manual. I had to be prepared. Through this preparation, I learned much about the gospel beyond what I had learned with the missionaries. I also had opportunities to feel the Spirit of the Lord and to bear my testimony. I appreciated the opportunity to serve, and I grew through the blessings I received.”
Sister Michelle Duker adds: “My husband and I served together briefly as Sunbeam teachers. This did not scare us too much, but not long after our baptism, we moved to a new ward. Our new bishop called me to be a counselor in the Primary presidency. I was eight months pregnant with my first child, new in the Church, and felt I didn’t know anything. I was overwhelmed and almost turned down the calling. My bishop patiently counseled me to think about it and to visit with the Primary president. She lovingly told me she knew I was meant to have the calling. She said she knew I could do it and that she and her other counselor would help me learn everything I needed to know. Then they did just that. The other Primary teachers helped too. Soon I felt like I knew a little about what I was doing. How grateful I am for the patient help I received as I learned my duties.”
Thomas A. Simpson of Waycross, Georgia, says: “I joined the Church while attending college, and about three months after my baptism my friends who had helped me so much either returned to school after summer vacation, became engaged, or left to serve missions. I felt alone and was at the point of returning to my old ways and my old friends. Then I received a calling from my bishop to serve with the young men. Serving with these fine young men was what helped me strengthen my testimony. My calling saved my spiritual life.”
“One of my greatest aids in building a stronger testimony was the Gospel Principles class,” says John A. Pedroza of Murrieta, California. “I remember some new members only attended sacrament meeting. I loved to stay for all three meetings to learn more about the gospel. I made it a point to read the Sunday School lesson ahead of time. Reading the scriptures in the lesson before class helped me know what I needed to ask the teacher. I loved the simplicity and clarity of the lessons in Gospel Principles.”
Caroline M. Clegg of Orem, Utah, says: “I was baptized in Dublin, Ireland, when I was 18 years old. Not long after my baptism, I was encouraged to attend institute classes, which were held one evening each week. I made many friends through these interactions, and the classes served to strengthen my testimony and increase my gospel knowledge.”
Diana Gunnarson of Charlottesville, Virginia, says: “Even before my baptism, the first time I walked into the meetinghouse I was overcome with a feeling of warmth and belonging. The members chased me down halls to introduce themselves to me and ask how they could help me. Everyone was so kind and friendly; it was easy to feel busy and involved and guided.
“After my baptism, it seemed harder to cope. I was suddenly aware of all I needed to learn to ‘catch up’ with the others in the ward. The missionaries weren’t guiding me every step of the way anymore, and I was frankly overwhelmed with all I seemed to need to know. The members of the ward were understanding and helpful in reminding me of the oft-quoted passage ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ and helped me learn to be patient with myself. After I read the Book of Mormon completely, I understood many of the talks given in church much better. Reading this inspired book all the way through also greatly strengthened my testimony.”
“A significant milestone in my spiritual progression was my first temple experience,” says Jerry Engelson of Boston, Massachusetts. “After an eight-hour drive to the Washington (D.C.) Temple, we immediately proceeded to the baptismal font, where I was baptized for my grandfather, two relatives of sisters in the ward, and 20 ancestors of a member in another ward. The sacred work of the temple made an indelible impression on me.
“I also grew closer to many brothers and sisters in the stake. Much time was spent on the bus and around the temple grounds in heartfelt, spiritual discussions. This was another example of the continuing fellowship afforded me by fellow members. Almost immediately after the trip, I began to look forward to returning for my endowment. Last May I accomplished that goal and, in the process, made new friends while fortifying my commitment as a Latter-day Saint.”
Phil D. Reinoehl of Mesa, Arizona, says: “It wasn’t long after my baptism that I was invited to attend the ward’s family history class, and as a result I was able to submit four generations of my ancestors to the temple. It was a moving experience to go to the temple and be baptized and confirmed in their behalf.
“I also attended the ward’s series of temple preparation classes, and in August 1997, 28 of my ward brothers and sisters came to be with me when I received my endowment. I was overwhelmed by their great love and support.”
Perhaps this is the best way to help keep new members in the Church—overwhelm them with love and support. As President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “Every one of us has an obligation to fellowship those [converts], to put our arms around them, to bring them into the Church in full activity. It is not enough just to go to church on Sundays. We must reach out each day. I wish with all my heart that … every man, woman, and child who was baptized would remain faithful and active. And that can happen if all of you make up your minds to reach out and help the new convert. … That is a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only as we reach out to help others are we truly Latter-day Saints” (meeting, San José, Costa Rica, 20 Jan. 1997).
This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:
What can you do in the coming weeks to help fellowship a new member in your ward or branch?
What are some things you can do to help another remain active after baptism?