Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth: ward boundary changes

I live in a small town in Colorado with one relatively small chapel. Until this Sunday, the chapel housed two wards, one family ward and one young single adult ward. In the last 15 years, Sacrament meetings in the family ward have grown from about 100 people to about 300 people as new subdivisions have grown like mushrooms in the fields around town.

Our primary has more than 100 kids, and we have more than 30 young men. We knew it was only a matter of time until the ward would change because there are hundreds of other new homes being built in our ward boundaries.

So two Sundays ago a counselor to the bishop announced that the stake would make changes in ward boundaries. The counselor made a joke, “let the speculation begin,” and that is what happened. Every time one ward member talked to another, the question was asked, “what will happen to our ward? Will we ever see our friends again?” Many people literally wept at the idea that their friends would be shipped off to other buildings and they would lose the attachments built up over so many years.

Many readers who live in Utah and Idaho may go through boundary changes all the time, but for those of us who had lived with roughly the same ward boundaries for several decades, the alterations seemed potentially traumatizing.

So on Sunday afternoon the stake presidency presented the new boundaries, and basically our ward is being split in two with some additional people added from two other neighboring wards. Both of the wards will meet in our small chapel, along with the single adults ward. I am not sure how three bishoprics and ward clerks will share three small offices, but I guess they will make it work.

We got a new bishop, a very kind man who just moved into the area. On Sunday night he was introduced to us and we sustained him, and we began to socialize with our new ward members. The stake president joked that we would be known as the “party ward,” and, yes, we were all happy and in a socializing mood. We were very glad we would continue to meet in the same chapel because the other chapels we might have been moved to are pretty far away.

Our new bishop has a huge task in front of him choosing counselors and other leadership from a bunch of people he does not know. I know the Lord is leading this work because there is no other way that the bishop could create ward leadership without His help.

My 14-year-old son was upset that he would be losing so many friends to the other ward, but seminary will continue to meet at the same time for both wards, and he will see his friends in high school. So, overall, things will work out OK. I kept on telling my kids, “change brings opportunity,” (which is one of my mantras), and I may have finally convinced them after a few hours of hearing me trying to mouth reassuring words.

Most people who were worried appear to be at peace with the change now. We have a chance to make new friends and magnify new callings. When you think about it, our church is quite unique in that we insist that people attend certain wards based on geography, but it helps create order where there could be chaos. And the week of drama and speculation were, in retrospect, kind of fun.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

10 thoughts on “Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth: ward boundary changes

  1. In my lifelong church experience I only once ever witnessed a ward split and that was I was a kid in the late 1970s (showing my age here). The Fort Collins First Ward split into two and I recall that there was a lot of sadness at the ward’s final gathering/activity. My mom even led the ward in singing “Red River Valley” with an alteration in the chorus:
    Come and sit by my side if you love me,
    Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
    But remember the Fort Collins First Ward
    And the members who loved you so true.

    Growth is a wonderful problem to have, and it’s true that change brings opportunities and blessings. Although we moved to the East coast shortly after the split, the Church has continued to flourish in Fort Collins, culminating in the dedication of a temple there in October 2016, nearly five years ago.

  2. In some ways it is much like moving, only you don’t really move. Also, people do “move” with you while others “move” in who you might not know. Sooner than you think the new ward will feel familiar, as if there never was a change. Good luck, as the Church is still true, even in a new ward.

  3. Our ward split in 2013 after a 40 year break. People were really upset. In our area we tend to get hung up on the “tradition of our fathers” .. meaning it’s very hard for people to change here. But when the SP announced the changes he said we have to split to grow. Grow in the sense that people couldn’t hide in plain sight anymore. There were more opportunites to grow. All of those things have

  4. Oh the challenges of growth. Be grateful you have them! I’ve always felt that we become a wee bit too tribal with our unit boundaries. One of my favorite callings was counselor in a Stake RS presidency. As we visited all the units I made friends with the sisters and found that stake activities were more fun knowing someone from every unit. I think we don’t socialize enough to make and keep ties of friendship with saints from other units. I’ve long wondered why there aren’t more joint ward activities, especially in places of large populations of members.
    And what is “pretty far away”? We drive 40 minutes to church each Sunday and for any weekday meeting. The Stake center is 2 hours away. (When we lived in Midvale, UT, the chapel was 2 blocks away and we walked!) Just this week I was asked to direct the music at the Stake RS Women’s Conference, and the Stake RS President apologized for it being so far away. I replied, “Stop saying that. I made a covenant in the temple to sacrifice all I have for the building up of the kingdom and I consider driving so far part of the sacrifice I have to make. I don’t think of it as a hardship, but a blessing to be with a large group of like-minded sisters.”
    Boundary changes are a great opportunity to make new friends while keeping old ones; experience new enthusiasm and break out of apathetic routines. Count your blessings that membership is growing in your area. Our branch has been static for years. (Which is pretty typical for rural areas.)

  5. I understand what you’re saying Rozy. Our stake is huge geographically. It goes from Santa Fe to the Colorado border and then is about 150 miles across from east to west. Most of the membership is in 2 centers, but even then, we don’t do much with the other wards. People think driving across the county to “the other ward” is so hard … but really it’s just 20 mins. If you were in a big city, you wouldn’t think twice about driving across town to a dance lesson or something like that.

  6. Two and a half years ago, our ward boundaries changed because a new ward was added to the stake, and at the same time the stake was split. So lots of people got shuffled.

    I had been part of a ward for ten years. At first, the change was jarring. But we got used to it, and it’s been a great blessing to us. Sometimes, it is good to be forced out of your comfort zone. And, these boundary changes and new units must be approved by the First Presidency. Let that sink in a bit. Even something as simple as a ward boundary change has to go up through the process, and ultimately the three men who serve in the high quorum have to approve it before it happens. That means that it is taken very seriously before the trigger is pulled.

  7. Overall, I think wards are being made smaller in terms of active members, and stakes are being organized/reorganized to have fewer wards.

    Both of those things position wards and stakes for future growth.

    I don’t know the numbers, but I think a lot of people in North America are withdrawing from participation/activity in the church, but I also think current and future hard times are going to reactivate many long-term inactives, and bring in many converts.

    I hear that referrals via social-media ads really picked up during the pandemic. The institution of online real-time/live missionary lessons prior to the pandemic was genius and inspired! You may not see many investigators at church (yet), but the missionaries are teaching many online.

  8. “I don’t know the numbers, but I think a lot of people in North America are withdrawing from participation/activity in the church, but I also think current and future hard times are going to reactivate many long-term inactives, and bring in many converts.”

    Book, we have had several important reactivations, including large families who hadn’t gone to church for several years, in our ward in the last year or so. It has been awesome. The key has been ministering, either from the brothers, the sisters or the bishopric.

  9. This always makes me chuckle!

    We’ve moved around a fair amount (including being in the Ward immediately south of Geoff in CO), and have experienced both growth and contraction. Twice I’ve been called to organize a new ward (after being a newcomer – I can relate to the new Bishop). I’ve seen such incredible miracles as people grow in the gospel.

    Then the comments about being quite a distance. One branch we lived in (now a ward, with even larger boundaries) was in west central Oklahoma. 110 miles east to west, 50 to 75 miles north to south (depending on how the rivers and roads went). We were only 20 miles from the meetinghouse – we were among those who were considered close. Our Stake now always laments how large its boundaries are, and what hardships that presents, but it is smaller than the old branch – distance is relative, and commitment is increased proportionately.

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