Shortly after I moved to Baltimore for graduate school, my elders’ quorum gathered for softball one morning. The small son of one elder was hit by a softball, and immediately three doctors converged to examine him. (He was fine.) From there I moved to Los Angeles. LA is a big city with a diverse economy, but it was noticeable that a small elders’ quorum included an actor, a screenwriter, and a film editor. Next was Detroit. In our part of the western suburbs, the standard greeting for new move-ins was â€œSo, you work for Ford?â€, posed half as question, half as probable statement of fact. Jonathan Stapley of Splendid Sun and By Common Consent, a food chemist, used to live in Battle Creek. How many guesses as to his previous employer?
My wife is from Los Alamos, a town of 18,000 in the mountains of northcentral New Mexico. It was created by the federal government during the second World War as a place to develop nuclear weapons, and the lab’s 8,000 employees and 3,000 contractors continue stewardship of those weapons and other scientific tasks in the national interest. Demographics mark it an anomalous island. In the area surrounding Los Alamos are settlements going back 400 years where families can be found occupying multiple houses on a road where their great-grandparents lived. Many workers native to the area provide support services at the lab, but the more specialized positions draw in people from around the nation and abroad. Among the many things this affects is the Church. In Los Alamos are two robust wards that provide most of the leadership of their stake. The rest of the stake has three wards and five small branches serving over 200,000 people.
People don’t move across the country to take a job they could have found where they were. Consequently, the newcomers presence is more tied to the major institutions of a community than it is for those who are already there. For example, when I arrived in Baltimore, both of the bishop’s counselors were there because that’s where Johns Hopkins University is. When the studies of one and those of the other’s wife were complete, they moved away. When I was done, I left. This influx can be the source of vitality and also a degree of instability. Those who have uprooted from home communities to find what they need elsewhere have even less connection to hold them to their new homes. Even people who stay in a place two or three decades and raise their children there retire and return at last to Idaho. Their children, following the rootlessness of their parents, will have already gone someplace else.