Becoming a Ward Family

Acceptance and love are nurtured in the basic units of the Church. Read about how three wards put the gospel into action.

Is it possible to be an only child and still have brothers and sisters? The answer is a definite yes—when you belong to a ward family.

Our knowledge of the premortal existence is a great blessing for the Church. We’ve all been related for a long, long time as spirit children of our Heavenly Father. That kinship is undeniable and perceived within our souls. Even after coming to earth we have two common ancestors—Adam and Eve—with more recent ties to Abraham and the inherited blessings promised to him.

Gospel principles and the basic organization of the Church are the same in every city and throughout every land. Members who visit a sacrament meeting while traveling out of town often claim to feel “at home” while sitting next to strangers. Fellowship permeates from member to member no matter where we are. Why? Because we know we are literally brothers and sisters and the same spirit can be felt no matter where members attend Church meetings.

Easing Loneliness

While I was bishop several years ago, an elderly woman in our ward, Sister Wanda White, was diagnosed with cancer. Later that year, as her condition grew worse, she was confined to a hospital bed in the middle of her living room. Thanks to medication and priesthood blessings, her pain was bearable, but her days seemed terribly long. She had only one relative and an occasional nurse to give her assistance. Our ward council discussed her plight of loneliness and laid out an ambitious plan for ward members to help.

The priests quorum volunteered to take the sacrament to her home each Sunday afternoon, along with a spiritual thought. The other priesthood quorums, Relief Society sisters, and Young Women classes took turns seeing her at various hours throughout the rest of the week, along with watchful home teachers and visiting teachers. As a result, she had someone call on her at least once a day for the last four months of her life.

I knew something special was happening when the deacons reported after their first visit that she was a cool lady and had made them laugh. The Mia Maid class president asked if the girls had to wait until their next turn before they could go see her again. Of course, the answer was to go back as often as they could be helpful to her. Suddenly youth who had barely noticed this elderly sister a month before were sharing inspirational stories of their experiences in her home and were including her in their prayers.

Sister White told us repeatedly that we were earthly angels, a wonderful blessing in easing her burden of long, lonely days. The whole ward grew spiritually from giving her loving service. We came to understand more fully Christ’s compassion for the sick and downhearted.

Through our humble efforts in reaching out for a common goal that year, we had truly become a ward family. Those feelings still exist to this day, though many members have come and gone. New families and individuals are welcomed with open arms. They feel acceptance and love and then readily pass it on.

A Safe Harbor

A strong ward family is easy to recognize. The members are warm and friendly, testimonies are borne with conviction, charity abounds, activities are well attended, and dedicated home teachers rarely miss a visit. The chapel is not just a place of worship; it is a safe harbor from worldly cares, a place of belonging, of friendship and compassion. It’s a place where people who are different can come together to be as one.

Christ commanded us to love one another. Simply showing up for church at the appointed time doesn’t suffice. Love of others is not a gift bestowed upon us without effort—it is something we learn a little at a time through consecration and sacrifice.

No matter what our circumstances might be, we all have an inherent duty to reach out to fellow members and include them in our circle, making each ward and branch a family. That is why we call each other brothers and sisters. After all, there is no such thing as an only child in the kingdom of God.

More Than a Social Organization

“This Church … is far more than a social organization where we gather together to enjoy one another’s company. … It is the kingdom of God in the earth. It behooves us to act in a manner befitting membership in that kingdom.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, “An Ensign to the Nations, a Light to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 84.

For more on this topic, see Virginia H. Pearce, “Ward and Branch Families: Part of Heavenly Father’s Plan for Us,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 79.

Helps for Home Evening

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.

  1. 1.

    Draw a circle. Ask family members to name as many ward members as they can and write these names inside the circle. Using a ward list, if one is available, note some of the members who were not included. Refer to the conclusion of the article and discuss how the family can reach out and enlarge their ward family circle.

  2. 2.

    Read the article’s opening question and ask family members to respond. Relate a story from the article to illustrate how a ward is a large family. Invite individuals to share experiences they have had as members of a ward family.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh; embroidery by Cheryl Brower

Sharing Words of Comfort

My husband and I had been happily anticipating the arrival of our fifth child. But during what I thought would be a routine sonogram in the middle of the pregnancy, the doctor told me that the baby had an untreatable genetic defect and would soon die. I was then faced with the task of comforting my other children while attempting to maintain our normal routine. Two days later while I was at home, an unbearable sadness pressed down on my heart. I recognized I was greatly blessed to have four healthy children, but an overwhelming sense that things had not gone the way I wanted occupied my every thought.

While in this state of mind I received a call from Sister Kathy Cunningham, our ward’s newly called compassionate service leader. She said she wanted to come by to visit. When she arrived, I poured out my sorrow and frustration. As we talked, a change started to come over my heart. The problem was still there, but the sadness became manageable. Things seemed to fall into perspective, and I was again aware of how many blessings I had in my life. Her sharing my pain touched me deeply, and my burdens became lighter.

Support continued from the ward as other sisters shared words of comfort and brought dinners for our family. This led me to feel a part of a loving community, and I had a greater sense of connection with the ward. Over time and through the encouragement offered, I gained a sense that the loss of our baby was part of Heavenly Father’s plan. It appeared to be an opportunity for growth for me, my family, and many ward members.

Kimberly Hirschi, San Diego 12th Ward, San Diego California North Stake

A Sign of Friendship

I am deaf and the only member of the Church in my family. After my mission, I worried about returning to my hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia. I wondered if I would be able to find a place to worship where I could communicate with my brothers and sisters in the gospel.

I wrote to my stake president and within a few weeks received a reply telling me that a woman named Sharon Hara in the Kamloops Second Ward knew sign language. I wrote to her, and she seemed anxious to help me.

Soon after my arrival, Sister Hara began sign language classes in her home so other people could communicate with me. The class eventually became so well attended that we moved it to the ward meetinghouse. Then we had two separate classes, one for adults and one for children. Later, teaching a sign language class became part of my calling, and we extended the class to the whole community, not just the ward.

I enjoyed teaching the one-hour weekly classes and did so for almost five years. Several of the class members became proficient enough to serve as interpreters in Sunday School and Relief Society when Sister Hara wasn’t available due to other callings, so all of us involved with the class gained from the experience.

Teaching sign language was a challenge for me at times, and learning it, I’m sure, was a challenge for others. But being able to communicate with each other is a blessing that has helped us become good friends in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Melinda Riddle, Maple Ridge Ward, Abbotsford British Columbia Stake

David Brown is a member of the Meridian 13th Ward, Meridian Idaho East Stake.