"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
March 12, 2015
My Former Ward Members Won't Talk to Me
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

I am a relatively new member of the Church. Three years ago, I moved from an English-speaking ward to an almost 100% Spanish-speaking ward. I don't understand any Spanish, but I did meet a few friends who spoke English. However, I struggled for three years to understand anything during sacrament meeting and Relief Society.

I recently decided to attend an English-speaking ward. I felt this was the best thing for me to do, and I am happy there. But the few friends I had in my old ward don't speak to me anymore. I feel awful about the way they are treating me because I never did anything to deserve it.

Please help me know what to do.

Answer:

Let me paraphrase: You don’t speak Spanish, but your friends who do are upset with you for leaving a Spanish-speaking ward and attending an English-speaking ward.

When you put it that way, your friends are being jerks.

Friends are, of course, expected to make concessions for each other. A person might see a movie or eat at a restaurant that is not his favorite in order to accommodate a friend. A person might inconvenience himself or alter his plans in order to help a friend.

But some accommodations and inconveniences are beyond the scope of friendship, and attending a ward in a foreign language every week is well beyond the limits of what a person is expected to do for a friend.

Further, friends are supposed to see each other in a sympathetic light and give each other the benefit of the doubt. In your situation, instead of being offended, your friends should have felt sympathy for you and acknowledged that attending an English-speaking ward was in your best interests.

You don’t speak Spanish, for heaven’s sake. How are you supposed to learn anything at church if all of the meetings are in Spanish? No matter how sad they were to see you go, your friends should have tempered their feelings of loss by thinking of your best interests. And they should have reassured you that their friendship would continue no matter what ward you attended.

Instead, they did the opposite. I gather from your question that they did not just stop calling you — that, although regrettable, is fairly common when someone moves to a different ward. Moving to a different ward is a lot like moving to a new city; friendships tend to wane when you don’t have the ward in common anymore.

But if your friends are deliberately refusing to talk to you as a punishment for changing wards, they are being jerks.

I suggest four responses to their behavior.

One, have a good cry. These so-called friends have betrayed your trust and wounded your heart. There is no shame in crying about it. As long as you cry in private. And as long as you don’t wallow for more than a week or so. A good cry is helpful. Wallowing is not.

Two, decide that no matter the provocation, you will behave well. If your former friends want to behave disgracefully, that is their decision. You will not participate in their stupidity either by retaliating or by begging them to reconsider. You will not gossip or tell tales or do anything else that, upon reflection, would make you ashamed of your behavior.

Interestingly, it will be easier to forgive these so-called friends if you refuse to be part of their petty circus. Forgiveness is a religious duty and an emotional boon. And behaving spitefully or angrily towards them will only make it harder for you.

Three, remove yourself from their path. You are under no obligation to let anyone treat you badly. If these people have abused you, you are perfectly justified if you do not contact or reach out to them again. If they imply rude things about you on social media, or if you feel bad every time you see their posts, you should unfriend or stop following them. If they snub you when you greet them in public, you don’t have to say “hello” anymore. (Although, if you can bear it, it might be fun to do anyway.)

Four, move forward. You have mourned for your lost friendship, but nothing you can do will bring it back unless your so-called friends decide they treated you bad and are sorry. Even then, you will have to decide if you want to reestablish your acquaintance with them. If they are the kind of people who shun a friend, you are better off with new friends.

Finally, you are in a new ward now, making new friends and participating in a way that probably was not possible in your old ward. To help you on your way, I have six suggestions.

First, find the ward clerk and ask him to transfer your records into the ward. He will need your name and birth date; he will also ask for your contact information for the ward directory.

This is an important step because unless your records are in the ward, you will not appear on the ward list. No one will be able to contact you, assign you a visiting teacher or give you a calling. Instead, everyone will wonder if you are actually in the ward. So make sure that your records are transferred as quickly as possible.

Second, meet with your bishop. You will do this by contacting the executive secretary (whose name will probably be in the sacrament meeting program) and asking to meet with the bishop as soon as possible.

In this appointment, tell your new bishop about your history: when you joined the Church, your experience in your previous ward and any relevant personal information. Express that you are excited to participate in the ward and would like to have a calling. If you have any other personal concerns or goals that require the bishop’s attention, let him know.

Third, ask to be a visiting teacher and to have visiting teachers assigned to you. I suggest you have a conversation with the Relief Society president similar to the one you had with the bishop, in which you explain your situation and your desire to participate.

Tell her when you are available to visit teach — daytime, evening, weekends — and where you live. If you are deathly allergic to cats or have some other restricting condition, you should mention that, too.

Fourth, introduce yourself. It is tempting to sit alone in a new ward and wait for people to introduce themselves to you. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing if the person next to you is also new. So turn to that person and say, “Hello. My name is Marigold Culpepper. I’m new in this ward.”

The person will say, “Nice to meet you. I’m Sarah Castleman.” Then, you will make small talk until the meeting starts: where you live, what you do, “I like to read,” “I like to read, too,” and things like that. You should ask if the ward has a social media group, a book group, a walking group, or any other open-invitation groups that get together for information or recreation.

When the person conducting Sunday School or Relief Society asks if anyone is new or visiting, raise your hand. Say something like, “I’m Marigold Culpepper. I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for five years, but I’m new to this ward.” If you do not like to call attention to yourself, don’t worry. Your introduction will only take about five seconds. You may feel uncomfortable for those five seconds, but it must be done.

Fifth, attend everything. All three hours on Sunday, weekday Relief Society meetings, ward activities, special musical events, firesides and service projects. You cannot complain that no one knows you if you do not attend ward events.

You should also volunteer for things. Even if you’ve never done it before, sign up for things: substitute in Primary, feed the missionaries, take meals to families with new babies and visit shut in sisters. There is no better way to show that you want to be part of the ward than volunteering to help and then following through.

Sixth, be patient. Sometimes you meet your new best friend on the first day in a new ward, but sometimes that person is a Primary teacher and you don’t meet her for a month. Callings, visiting teaching routes and home teachers can also take a while to set up.

Remember that although the ward leadership wants to help and include you, they are also trying to help and include everyone else in the ward.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and sheíll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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