Changing Boundaries

Today congregations throughout Northern Virginia were told their boundaries would be changing effective 11/27/2016. Each congregation was only provided information for their own ward. It isn’t yet clear to members how the overarching shifts affect the five existing stakes reportedly altered in this large change, although we are given to understand that each of the dozens of congregations will be changing boundaries.

Change is upsetting. I am surprised to see how much sorrow today’s announcement is evoking. In the case of my ward, all who were in the ward previously will still be in the same stake. The new ward that absorbs the neighborhoods that were previously to our east will even meet in the same building (starting at 1100 to our 0900). So we’ll still even see each other in the halls and at Stake activities.

This caused me to reflect on Nauvoo in 1841-1842, a time when I believe Joseph Smith became aware of gross iniquities among the early Saints. I have struggled to explain to myself and others why these terrible iniquities were not openly corrected, why charity was the initial response to the seductions and promiscuity.

But today, I am newly reminded of how dear our status quo is. We fight being torn from our loved family and friends, even when it is for an ostensibly rational and good purpose, such as maintaining wards at a manageable ~450 members and stakes at a manageable ~6 wards. Yet there were tears and a few angry texts in response to today’s announcement.

How much more would Joseph have wished to keep the status quo if he believed it would be possible for people to repent with no one the wiser? Repentant seducers could be spared humiliation. Repentant women could be spared scorn. Those children engendered by the seductions could be given honorable parentage. Other children could grow to maturity without ever needing to know the terrible deeds committed by their parents and siblings.

If only Joseph’s attempt to keep the status quo hadn’t so completely obfuscated our understanding of Nauvoo events, a misunderstanding of which still has the power to wound. But today I completely understand why Joseph acted as he did, to preserve the good names of many, though they had erred.

In the meantime, the Northern Virginia Saints will adapt to their new boundaries. Old friends will remain cherished and new friends will be made. The heartache will fade as time passes (and necessary exemptions are secured in a few cases). In time we will have a new status quo. Our hearts will again be knit with those we worship with on a weekly basis. And we will know that all this change and drama was simply because the Church in our area is growing, and when we grow, we must occasionally realign borders.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

17 thoughts on “Changing Boundaries

  1. Reminds me of when David O. McKay died, and Joseph Fielding Smith assumed the mantle of prophet.
    I heard of members openly suggesting that they would leave the church because what Elder Smith was known to teach was strict adherence to the laws and commandments.
    I (even as a youth) wondered at these people’s short-sightedness . (where else could we go, Lord, for thou hast the truth)

  2. I see the smaller stakes and smaller temple districts as preparation for something big happening. My guess is that some big social change will drive a huge growth spurt in membership, both in terms of converts and re-activation.

    The church is still announcing about 3 new temples per year.

    It may also have something to do with the Baby-boom generation retiring.

    Another tie-in may be this: A side-benefit of all the migration out of countries where the gospel is not permitted, or where it is rare and isolated, is that of the thousands or millions of those migrants, many will now have the chance to be exposed to the restored gospel. It reminds me of the parable of the nobleman who hosted a feast, and because many of his respectable friends wouldn’t attend, he invited the riff-raff to partake.

    For every recent immigrant who embraces the gospel in the US, a connection or in-road is made to their home country, and the door cracks open, ever so slightly.

    Meg, may I suggest you and Mr Meg buy some copies of the Arabic BoM to keep at home and in your cars?

  3. Well, Meg and Mr. Meg have attended the open house at the local mosque and we have a copy of the Quran at home.

    Living near the Nation’s Capital, as we do, I have numerous colleagues who are Muslim, and of course our local neighborhood includes those of the Muslim faith, as well as pretty much every other faith (or unfaith) practiced by the human race.

  4. In fast-growing Utah County, we just experienced our fourth Ward split in four years (we’ve lived in the same house during this time.) They are building a new Stake center just down the road so odds are out Stake will spit soon too. Even though these splits have been a regular occurrence, I’m surprised to see how much heartache happens. Still, it’s nice to attend a Ward with about 300 people each Sunday instead of 700. Much more personal. 🙂

  5. @ GSO,

    It’s unlikely the change of administration will have a big impact on the number of Mormons in the DC area, based on past experience. Even if there had been a bump with past Republican administrations (doubtful), the Mormon disdain for Trump (e.g., Romney decrying Trump, Mormons diluting Trump’s margin of victory in Utah so significantly) suggest that Trump would be less likely to favor Mormons for the few positions where he can make political appointments.

    Besides, Mormons are the one group it’s safe to despise. Didn’t you know that?

  6. I’m pretty sure every ward in the five affected stakes was altered.

    We were only provided information about the disposition of individuals in our existing ward, but saw the map for our future stake, which showed the alteration in stake boundaries.

    As an adjacent stake had 13 wards prior to the change, I’m pretty sure there are now two stakes in effectively the footprint where that stake stood. It’s unclear to me if another stake was formed from the rearrangement of the other four stakes involved.

  7. Yes, it is hard when wards divide. Ours did about 3 years ago, but we had so many we could not fit in the chapel, the cultural hall, and the font room. While sad to see many in the ward go into a new ward, we knew it was necessary and had had months to prepare even though we didn’t know the exact timing or other details. Our stake, Fredericksburg divided in August.

    The Mount Vernon Stake had 13 wards prior to the change, but now apparently has 12 with the newly formed Lincolnia Ward (based on the old Alexandria 2nd Ward with boundaries redrawn) going into the Annandale Stake. I also know that the Annandale Stake–which had ward boundaries redrawn–also lost 1-2 wards to the west. In two weeks the YSA Wards are being combined into a YSA stake and thus Mount Vernon will lose two more wards to that stake.

    It appears a new stake has been formed with wards coming from the Centreville, Oakton, Ashburn, and Annandale stakes, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

    The 7 stakes covered by the Washington DC South Mission had 70 wards and a Chinese branch. They had more than 33,000 members in 2010. I knew it was just a matter of time before more stakes were formed.

    Readjusting ward and stake boundaries simultaneously must have been hard. I am anxiously awaiting news of the final result.

  8. The Algonkian and Sterling Park wards left Ashburn Stake for Oakton Stake.
    The Fair Oaks and likely Franklin wards are leaving Oakton Stake for Centreville Stake.
    What wards is Annandale Stake losing?

  9. Annandale didn’t actually lose any wards, though a big chunk of Wakefield and a huge chunk of Fairfax got moved to the stake(s) to the west. Looking at the maps showing where individual members live, it looks like more than 50% of Fairfax land mass and about 50% of the membership got shifted out of stake. And that’s hard, because we love each other and hang together at the stake level in ways that I think are more important to our souls than might be the case in places where members are either more dispersed or more extended-family focused than in Northern Virginia.

    Luckily, there are things like Mormon Choir of Washington and temple attendance to let us run into each other, even if we are in different stakes now.

  10. As tough as it is to separate from fellow members that we have become attached to and that we love, the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to push ourselves to branch out and at times be in uncomfortable places, like getting to know new people and evangelize outside our old spheres of comfort.
    As a missionary in Chile I saw a lot of people join the Church through the warm wave of fellowship that they felt while being taught, and I think too often many were converted to people in the faith more than to the Lord. Of course, Christ is found in its membership but it takes a lot of will and faith and testimony to stick in the pews despite changes in those around us, losses through moves, deaths, transfers, and expansion.
    I pray that many more missionary opportunities come to you personally and collectively as Zion grows in Fairfax County and reflected in world growth for all Latter-day Saints, living and dead.
    Carry on, as the hymn urges us. And thanks for staying true to your covenants and ordinances. It is a forever goal to grow closer to Jesus through the promises we make to Him– and He wants us to experience some stretching towards those who do not know of His goodness.
    Press on.

  11. Hi Eduardo,

    Much as I realize how dear my friends now in other wards and stakes are, the difficulty of knowing they’ll now be in different congregations is relatively minor in a day with cells phones and Facebook.

    But even that small heartache informs me of how the past tried Joseph and my ancestors. And that window of understanding is what I was trying to express.

  12. I was involved (as stake membership clerk) in a boundary change in April 2010 (though I’d started working on it almost two years earlier) that reshuffled four wards and a branch into six wards. There was some wailing and gnashing of teeth over that (almost no existing lines were retained), but it left each ward much more compact than it had been.

    More recently, it was decided to reshuffle five of those six wards a little bit – the catalyst was a large ward in another stake giving our stake a school district. (I was not consulted on this at all, my calling or geography degree notwithstanding.) The boundaries make much less sense looking at the map, but things are much more balanced. The challenge for my ward will be really taking in the 100 or so members that have been moved into our boundaries that live nowhere near the ward’s core areas.

    In April 2012, our stake was divided. I still miss the associations with those who are now in the other stake (as part of my calling, I work with all the bishops and ward clerks) but I do not miss the travel. (It was 100 miles each way to the farthest ward’s meetinghouse.)

  13. I love to see boundary splits and realignments! It usually means growth, although in out moves around the country, we have experienced situations where boundaries were redrawn to delete a ward – much more painful than growth! In my experience, one incredible and wonderful (in the classic definition) result has always been that one or more previously inactive family becomes active again. They find they are now needed. Large wards concern me. They tend to be more prone to cliques, and often there aren’t enough callings to go around – although there may be certain families of influence where multiple callings are held, when others have none. So, I am so very pleased to see the growth! Congratulations!

  14. There was a comment that some owner of M* deleted from moderation which questioned why the Church requires members attend their assigned congregation unless explicitly given a waiver by SLC.

    Their are two basic responses to anything the Church does. The deleted comment represented the human response, which is to rejoice or whine the based on how something affects us personally.

    The second response it to search for how the Church’s position furthers God’s work. Whether or not one understands immediately, the faith-filled soul concedes the possibility that the Church is in some important way guided by God. And that faith-filled soul does what is requested.

    Now in the case of geographic boundaries, a function of such an approach is having a finite field of labor. It isn’t a popularity contest. And those within the boundary of the congregation, whether believers or not, are the purview of that congregation. One phenomenon that occurs with changed boundaries is souls who have wandered from the fold are often sought out, as the new congregation seeks to know its own. Where the prior congregation may have felt over populated, the new congregation will seek out those who might be willing to come share in fellowship, partly to make sure there are enough hands to help.

    Of interest, organizations of 500 or less are found to be highly effective. More than that and things become dysfunctional in underutilizing talent. Less than that, and the organization may lack sufficient personnel resources to thrive.

    So a geographic basis for determining congregational affiliation produces many benefits for the body of the Church as a whole.

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