It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . . Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities
In 2009 the full-time missionaries were pulled from our large ward and sent to a small ward, recently split, in a neighboring stake. This “other ward” has four sets of missionaries. Our ward could be described as a typical transplanted Utah/Arizona/Idaho ward with a few true southerners. Pious yet worldly, are the words to describe most of us. The news we no longer had full-time missionaries, was not well received by the members of our ward. After all, our ward is upwardly mobile middle class, and we are accustomed to achieving success. In all aspects of mormondom, we consider ourselves to be well above average. Our proselytizing failures are a blight on our wealth= righteousness checklist. In contrast, the ward our missionaries were re-assigned to, can best be described as predominantly native Tennessee country folks plus single/married university students; with a few professionals such as a country doctor, a small town lawyer, and a handful of college professors. This other ward is definitely not suburban upwardly mobile middle class. Humble and genuine would be the words to describe this other ward.
Our ward is extremely well organized. Leadership boasts of nearly 100% home and visiting teaching every month. Every eight weeks or so, an entire sacrament meeting is devoted to the topic missionary work. The Deacons line up during the sacrament in the expected uniform of nice slacks or suits, and wearing white shirts accessorized with plain or subtle ties. Aaronic Priesthood hair is cut missionary style. The Melchizedek Priesthood brethren are mostly attired in suits with white shirts and boring ties. Despite our perfection in the area of mormon fashion we are still edgy and cool, as evidenced by a few of the men who have facial hair; in fact our Bishop sports a nifty mustache. The women are perfectly coifed and dressed in the latest fashion. Most of the sisters dress modestly and we never wear slacks to church on Sunday. We have a thriving primary and youth program. Because we are near to Nashville, our Sacrament solos/choir/general assembly’s hymn singing would rival the angelic hosts of heaven. We consider ourselves to be friendly and we officially welcome visitors to our meetings. We have members who are of color. Our stake has a Spanish Ward. Despite our obvious perfections; we rarely ever have a convert baptism, and when we do, unless the convert is a spouse of a member, they usually do not stay active (even some of the convert spouses have trouble with full activity), except for some decidedly mentally unbalanced individuals. So it stands to reason, why questions of how could it be possible this other ward’s missionary efforts could be better than ours?
Our family has a connection to the “other” ward. My oldest son Tex attends the university situated in the other ward’s boundaries. We attended his ward last week to hear him give a talk in Sacrament meeting. After settling my children in their classes, I quickly found my seat in Relief Society. A sister missionary greeted me with a big smile. I detected slight disappointment that I was not an investigator. These lucky missionaries were accustomed to new investigators coming nearly every week.
For the women in Relief Society, Sunday dress could be described as casual. Some of the women came dressed in slacks. Six clip boards were passed instead of one. A friendship basket loaded with cinnamon gum, was given to a sister. The reason for the gum was this sister was struggling to overcome her addiction to nicotine. When she announced she had been without a cigarette for several weeks; heartfelt applause filled the room. Next, I attended Sunday School. I smelled cigarette smoke on the folks sitting next to me. The Gospel Doctrine lesson stayed on topic, but Tex reported his young single adult class talked about reincarnation.
I felt welcomed by the members, even if I was not formally introduced in either meeting. Several ward members sought me out and genuinely welcomed us. Most did not know my son, but this is not a negative for me, as we are genetically the Sephardic Diaspora. Our ancestors have spent centuries perfecting the art of blending in with our surroundings. Flash and Hong Mei enjoyed the small primary. Jie Jie and Piano Man enjoyed their small youth classes. Sacrament meeting was held last and I was eager to get a glimpse of the bishop. The Bishop’s missionary success has elevated him to the status of rock-god in the Bishop world. I was disappointed to note, he did not conduct, was not glowing with charisma wafting back thru the chapel; but instead was a regular bald guy in his early fifties. Perhaps, dear Reader, you thought I was expecting Pierce Brosnan?? Well, yeah??!!
During the Sacrament, I noticed the few Aaronic Priesthood holders dressed in the traditional slacks, white shirts, and ties. However, one young man was dressed in jeans and a sweater. I noticed several young men had hair longer than Piano Man’s hair, which is considered to be a scandal in our ward. The musical ability of the members was average. The talks were just plain old nice; of course, Tex’s discourse was spectacular, but then again, I am his mama. The topic was Family Gospel Study, except for Tex who was accidentally given the topic of following God’s commandments.
Since returning from his mission, and attending his university family ward, Tex has taught the first discussion many times on his own, to very diverse audiences. He has also passed out three Books of Mormon, and participated several times in teaching the second discussion with the ward missionaries. People, Tex has taught, are attending his ward. He was not this successful on his mission!! I do not believe these occurrences are because of some random coincidences, or Tex’s amazing missionary skills; rather God is placing these opportunities in his path. Why him? Why not us?
At this time, Tex has not been asked to do a calling or home-teaching assignment, and he has not been assigned a home-teacher. He reports that home-teaching stats are never mentioned in Priesthood. As far as missionary work, it is never mentioned except as “isn’t it nice the Holy Spirit has led these wonderful people to us to be our dear friends”. Tex tells me the investigators are not flash in the pan, but are nurtured and genuinely befriended by the ward members. To his knowledge, none of the investigators or members are seriously unbalanced.
So this brings is to the how and why of this discussion. I believe God is leading His children to find and be nourished in the Gospel in this little country ward in the Appalachian Mountains; whereas our ward, situated in the prosperity of the suburbs is (without move-ins and births) dying on the vine. So dear reader, why is this so? Please do tell, inquiring minds want to know.