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April 23, 2015
The Real Issue
Outsiders in a New Ward
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Editor's note: This column was originally published on June 27, 2013


A year ago we bought a 15-year-old home in a mostly LDS neighborhood that also makes up most of our ward. All of the homes were built around the same time, and the majority of our fellow ward members have lived here for all 15 years.

Over the years they have developed strong social ties, which have spilled over into the ward and are reflected in the organizations, patterns, and social norms of the ward family.

As "outsiders," how can we relate to this unfamiliar and closed social atmosphere?


I recommend full participation in your new community. Full! If you really want to relate to and understand your new neighbors and ward members — and find the ones who will become your friends — you need to get to know them, work alongside them.

It’s not a bad thing that your neighbors’ social ties permeate the ward — a ward is, after all, a giant church neighborhood. We relate to each other and rely on each other as if we were physical neighbors. We work together, worship together, and support each other. And as we do these things, we develop ties and relationships that exist both in an out of actual church meetings. Therefore, you should expect a ward to reflect the relationships of the people in it.

What you need to do is find a way to join in and be part of the ward and neighborhood. I acknowledge that this is easier to achieve in some wards than in others. But it can be done.

You will never be one of the “original” neighbors, and it will be decades before you are “long time” ward members. You will never become related to people who are not your relatives, nor will you have grown up with people you did not grow up with. Even if you live there for decades, you may always be the new people.

But you can be the fun, interesting new people that everyone is delighted to know. (Well, almost everyone. You cannot hope for universal popularity.)

Here are ten concrete suggestions for becoming a real part of your new community.

First: Join the ward choir. Show up to every practice and performance for three years. Make that five years. This is the most sure-fire way I can think of to endear yourselves to a new ward.

Second: Always attend ward activities, especially Relief Society activities. Then stay after to clean up and put away chairs.

Third: Sign up to substitute in Primary, chaperone Cub Scout Day Camp, feed the missionaries, take meals to the sick, and go on the Pioneer Trek. Volunteer to work in the Nursery and accompany the choir.

Fourth: Make sure your kids are at every activity. Volunteer to drive other people’s children to activities.

Fifth: Do your Visiting Teaching every month. Ask for difficult people. Or a lot of people. Call and report to your supervisor without being asked.

Sixth: Accept all church callings and assignments and be reliable. But before you change the way anything is done, ask this question: “Why is it done this way?” There is probably a reason, and you need to know it before you mess with it.

Seventh: Invite people to your home or to go out with you. If you don’t click, invite someone else. Be especially friendly to new families.

Eighth: Don’t criticize or judge your fellow ward members as a way of compensating for your feelings of isolation. They will feel it if you look down on them, their ward, their town, their state, and their ways.

Instead of enumerating all the ways you are different from them, focus on what you have in common.

Ninth: Accept invitations, even if they don’t sound totally thrilling. Join that book club, go walking with the ladies, give Zumba a try. Maybe if you go, you will meet some other good sport looking for friendship who doesn’t really like book clubs/walking groups/Zumba!

Tenth: Look outside of your personal demographic for friends and connections. You may have a lot in common with people older or younger than you.

Finally, be patient. It might take several years for you to find your place in your new community. But don’t think of yourselves as outsiders — no good can come from defining yourselves that way. Instead, focus on what you can give and not on what you can get, and your experience will be more satisfying.

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