"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 8, 2014
A Good Ward
by Marian Stoddard

What makes a good ward?

There are lots of ready answers to that question. A congregation that is quick to notice and greet a new person, a stranger. I can still tell you the first person who introduced herself to me when we walked into our new building for the first time. It’s important to feel welcomed.

You might hope for a ward with a high activity rate and good home teaching percentages. You might be glad of a solid group of families and stable numbers, where your group (sisters, teenagers, kids, priesthood) is numerous, so that you (or your children) can find friends who share the standards of the Church.

If you only checked up on statistics, you might shy away from our ward. It’s had its rough spots and hard times over the years, and the activity rates aren’t what we’d wish compared to the number of people on the records. Also, there’s a lot of turnover, which makes reaching out and drawing people back in more of a challenge.

But you can have all the numbers you ever asked for, and it wouldn’t be enough without true warmth and support. A good ward is one where love and faith are deep and genuine, and not only faith but faithfulness. Where there are Saints who come and serve and reach out time after time after time, who focus not on the discouragements but on the promise and realization of miracles in individual lives.

Our Father knows and saves us, though there are untold billions of us, one by one. He always has, and it’s the only way He works.

A good ward is a place where it’s safe to give an honest answer to the question, “How are you doing?” It’s easy to think that no one really cares to know, or that other members will think less of you if they know the things that you struggle with (that you’re so sure they all sail right through).

True charity includes empathy and hope. To be able to say, “I’m having a really rough time right now,” and share a burden can make so much difference if you are heard with love and help. It’s a place where we can all offer our real lives, and not try to hide them behind our appearances.

A good ward is also a place where it’s safe to acknowledge where you’ve been. One of our temple students said one Sunday, “If my friends from a year or two ago could see me now, they’d be amazed. They wouldn’t believe it.”

“They wouldn’t believe that you’re a Mormon now?”

“Well, that too, but no — I meant they wouldn’t believe that I’m even still alive. I was a meth addict, and I was rushed to the hospital twice, because I’d O.D’d,. It’s amazing that I survived.”

Oh. Okay; we didn’t know that. We knew he’d done drugs before he found the gospel, but we didn’t know the particulars. And it didn’t matter, because his testimony is real and his efforts to live his new convictions and participate in the Church are steadfast.

Marvin J. Ashton, an apostle, used to say that it didn’t matter how far you were from the gates of heaven, but only which direction you were going.

We gain so much if we are able or willing to reveal ourselves and find acceptance. It’s a comfort to know, on a day that we’re barely holding it together, that some other person we admire has felt exactly the same way at times.

Alma described the covenant of baptism to his followers out in the wilderness:

…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life —

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:8-11)

To bear one another’s burdens, offer comfort, to have hearts knit together in love, along with standing up in witness — those are the marks of discipleship. Jesus called upon his followers to love each other as fully as he had loved them. And the promise is that as we do that, we will have his Spirit poured out “more abundantly” upon us. That brings as its fruit an increase in love, patience, peace, and joy.

We are promised a “blessed cycle” to supplant the negative “vicious cycles” our human failings sometimes lead us into, where we despair and increasingly withdraw. Over and over, he assures us that he can heal all things.

As the work of salvation is hastening in this last day, the light of our love and faith will be an ever-increasing contrast to the deepening darkness and evil of the world. Many good souls have been misled and detoured into the wrong paths; as they are drawn out of that world to the light and power of truth they will come to us with bruises and past experiences that we may not be used to seeing.

As my bishop remarks, we’re in the redemption and reclamation business. Prodigal sons and daughters, who didn’t know their inheritance, are finding it now and embracing it.

We have been immersed in miracles in these past several months, in the transformation of those who have opened their whole hearts to the light of God, who rejoice in knowing the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I’m sure our story is being repeated, many, many times, throughout the Church. They are being gathered in to us in increasing numbers.

A good ward, whatever its challenges may be, is a place where the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ shines in the lives of its members, where love, our first and second commandment, is deep and real. It is a place where service and leadership are truly directed by the Spirit. It is a place of strength and healing for us all.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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