Boundaries

Posted by Zenaida

“I’m ready to move out just so we can change wards.”

Have you ever said that? I think I have. I’ve had friends who have. It’s interesting that in the church we meet according the where we live. That often means a somewhat diverse group of people that may have no other reason to meet each other outside of the religious gathering. This sometimes means interacting with people that we may be uncomfortable with.  This can mean a mix of very diverse ideologies.  One particular example is of a friend who did not change her name when she married.  This is simply unthinkable in her ward.  Her legal name does not appear in any ward directories, and she is always addressed as Sister [Jones], even though her name is Sister [Smith].  It’s good for us to encounter people who don’t think the same way we do.  It may sometimes be painful, but we need to be stretched sometimes or to just be shown a different vantage point from the same old window.

But, I think it can also be a trap.  When you’re in a ward with people who have been standing at the same window for generations, it can be very difficult to introduce new views.  I sometimes wonder if I had been in a different ward if I would be in a different place in my life.  By random choice of the apartments I have lived in, I have chosen a social group with which I am bound until I move again.

This brings up the phenomenon of ward-hopping.  Singles often visit different wards looking for a better social/dating scene than the one their own offers, leaving them drifting from ward to ward without ever establishing a presence, without a calling, or if they have one, it’s probably part-time and flexible.  I’ve been told in the past on more than one occasion that I should attend the ward I live in.  I’ve only ever done that once, and then it was to stay with the ward I liked, not to ward hop.  I can’t imagine myself ever doing that as a married person.  It seems impractical and “just not done.”  I wonder if I would attend the local ward just as I might investigate the local schools, though.

I have the impression that other Christian groups are more self selecting, and more fluid in their membership. I don’t know whether that’s correct or not, but it seems to fit. If you don’t like the church you are currently attending, whether for theological or social reasons, you are free to find another to attend despite your geographic location.

I do like the idea of rubbing shoulders with those whom I might normally avoid.  I’m only human, and it seems like their should be a safe space to interact with a generation who thinks it’s appropriate to thank my husband for my contributions, the neighbor who doesn’t know how to pay next month’s rent or put a meal on her table, the visiting teacher who has never known want in her life, and the woman in the next row who voted the same way I did.

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20 Responses

  1. Ken Kendall says:

    I don’t know about all other Christian groups but I do know that for Four Square and most non-denominational Christians, you are correct. We go where we feel comfortable rather than where we live. But we are cautioned regularly that we are not going to church to beg entertained and that it is not all about what we feel. We are there to fellowship and learn about God.

    My wife and I attend a Four Square church we have been going to for about a year or so. We started there after hearing the pastor and falling in love with the way he spoke and taught. Soon after, he left. We still don’t have a new head pastor but my wife and I have stayed and are committed for the long haul.

    I don’t know if that helps but I read this blog regularly after finding a great post by mraynes. She had reviewed my blog http://whatsheneedsfromyou.wordpress.com and I really enjoyed her comments and feedback. I just want to try and give the same to you.

    Thank you all so much.

  2. Noah says:

    I was the ward mission leader for a while in my YSA ward, and so I saw things from a different perspective when it came to “ward-hopping”. The practice generated somewhat of a feedback loop where the most popular kids would ward-hop, and so others would invariably follow. Since the ward was left with slim pickin’s, there was no way to attract and retain newcomers. It was a bit of a headache. However, I’m glad LDS generally stop once they marry, because the practice can undermine the integrity of any church. Instead of preaching the word of God, the pastor, etc., is left trying to keep and add churchgoers to his pews–which may involve being a flatterer and soothsayer (especially when a preacher’s job is often to warn). I write for a blog that has a number of YSA bloggers. It would be interesting to know what they think about ward-hopping.

  3. Kiri Close says:

    wow! totally where i am right now (and ready to move because my branch sucks!)

  4. Vada says:

    I’ve been told in the past on more than one occasion that I should attend the ward I live in. I’ve only ever done that once, and then it was to stay with the ward I liked, not to ward hop. I can’t imagine myself ever doing that as a married person. It seems impractical and “just not done.”

    It might be that it’s really late here, but I’m confused by this part. Are you saying you’ve only been a regular attendee at your geographical congregation once in your life? And that you can’t imagine ever doing it? That doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of your post…. (As I said, it’s really late, so sorry if I’m misreading you.)

    Also, while I’m occasionally jealous of those who choose congregations based on similarity of viewpoints, etc, I think overall I’m grateful for some of the randomness of being assigned wards. I think the exposure to differing opinions is good for all of us.

    I do generally try to attend the wards where I’m looking at buying/renting a house while I’m househunting. It hasn’t ever affected my decision too much, though. Our last househunting trip we went to two wards we were looking at houses in. I think I actually preferred the second, just because it was a lot more diverse. We ended up in the first ward, which is in a part of town that’s been expanding a lot in recent years, so consists mostly of people who are either older and have lived there forever or who are young couples very new to the area. Everyone’s been great, though, and I’ve found more diversity in viewpoints, economics, family situations, etc, than I would have thought at first impression.

  5. esodhiambo says:

    I think geographically-bound congregations are one of the great strengths of our religion. Absolutely, I know no other Christian groups who are so bound. People attend because they like the congregation, set up, or preacher–I think this very dangerously turns worship of God into a cult of personality and respect commenter #1 for not following their favorite preacher or leaving that congregation.

    Frankly speaking, when people “ward hop” they really mess with the program of a lay church. Can we give you a calling and count on you, or are you just going to flit on to the next ward that has cuter boys?

    I suspect that married couples don’t do this in large part because they are not at church primarily to socialize, but more to serve or offer stability to their children that cannot occur when “ward hopping.”

    Without question, I have been “forced” to create meaningful relationships with all manner of people I would NEVER have picked out as friends had we not attended the same ward. I think ward-hopping is selfish (generally speaking–there are a few good reasons to attend a ward outside your own).

  6. aerin says:

    I can see where some geographic boundaries could be good. But I also feel they should not be strict boundaries. This is my perspective as a non-believer.

    I know of people who have gone through very emotional, difficult divorces and who are still in the same ward. In many cases, it might make sense to allow the divorced couple to attend different congregations – so they could both get more out of the service (as opposed to focusing on their ex).

    I think being able to choose one’s congregation also makes taking an inventory possible. When a congregation dwindles significantly, it’s up to the group/pastor to take an inventory to figure out what they could be doing differently/better to serve the members they have.

  7. Emily U says:

    Zenaida, you are quite right that no other Christian group is as geography-bound as the Mormons. Even the term “ward” denotes geography.

    I recognize benefits to having our congregations being geographically determined, but I feel for people who don’t like their wards and feel stuck. In my ward, there are three families I’m aware of who don’t live in the ward boundaries, but come to our ward anyway. I’m glad our bishop is OK with this because it’s so much more important for them to be coming to church than to be coming to the right ward.

  8. esodhiambo says:

    aerin–I think divorce is one of the circumstances that is without controversy–I do not know of any case wherein people have had to attend the same ward. I do, however, know a few families who have chosen to attend the same ward (and some have gotten permission to do so when one is technically “out” of boundaries), which also makes since if that is what everyone in the family is comfortable with.

    In such cases, the displaced member becomes a PERMANENT member of the ward, not a transient ward-hopper. It makes a big difference. The ward-hoppers are, essentially, people to be served rather than people who serve.

    The set-up you suggest basically makes wards more of a popularity contest and quite cliqueish. My friend moved across town, and my family will follow them to their new ward; all the liberal members congregate in one ward; everyone wants to be in the “rich” ward, etc. Not a good situation, in my opinoin.

  9. Craig says:

    I find the church’s requirement that people stick to strict geographical boundaries to be just one way more way it tries to control people and remove just a little more of their personal freedom. People should be free to chose their own associations, and that should include their church congregation.

  10. esodhiambo says:

    Craig–just because people decide to “live by the rules” does not mean their freedom is restrained. That is like arguing that LDS members who pay tithing are being robbed of their money or members who obey the word of wisdom are doing so because of mind control. Tithing, the WoW, and attending the ward you belong to are all choices we are all free to make and not make.

  11. Madam Curie says:

    Interesting responses so far, they have made me think carefully about the value of a geographically defined congregation. That said, my comment is going to be coming from a totally different perspective.

    First, I wanted to point out that in Roman Catholicism, where you are “supposed” to attend is also determined geographically by the “parish” you live in. That said, there generally isn’t too much hullaballo if you decide to attend a different parish. Many people do so, often because of ethnic differences between parishes. For instance, there are Italian parishes, Irish parishes, Polish parishes, etc. These aren’t really differences in language, but differences in culture. Many people often find themselves more comfortable in a parish that matches their cultural upbringing.

    Regarding ward boundaries. My husband and I lived for a time in a very large, urban ward that was highly non-English speaking and full of new converts. At any given time, my DH and I each had 3-5 callings a piece (for instance, I was in the RS presidency, taught Sunday School, and was on the activities committee all at once). The reason for this was because there was a very limited group of individuals in the ward who could understand English and who knew enough about the system to serve properly.

    I had a mental breakdown while in that ward. My PhD thesis was approaching imminently, my mom was dying, and my husband’s callings kept him away from me for 40+ hours a week in addition to his work. I needed his support desperately, and was denied it by virtue of our callings and the minimum work required for them.

    During this process, I was very poorly received by my bishop, who kept telling me I needed to be more supportive of my husband, focus on service rather than on myself, recognize the patriarchal order of things, etc. All of these meetings with the bishop ended with me in tears and telling my husband I needed to attend a different ward for a while. Because my DH was very uncomfortable with the idea of my attending a different ward, I instead went inactive for several months until we moved. Yes, we literally bought a house to get away from that ward. We now hold 1 demanding calling a piece and have set better boundaries with our ward leaders so that this never happens again.

    I know of a second instance where all teh Vietnamese converts in a ward went inactive because the stake decided that they would no longer hold meetings in Vietnamese. The leadership was entirely American, but all of the new converts and especially youth were from Vietnam, and they comprised maybe 60-70% of the ward. Because they could not understand what was going on in Sacrament meeting and other classes, most of these individuals stopped attending. The response from the stake was something along the lines of, “Well, if they had a real testimony, they would have felt the Spirit regardless of language barriers.”

    I think there is a value to having geographically defined ward boundaries, but I also think there needs to be compassion for those who, for whatever reason, feel the need to attend elsewhere for a while. I find that it is better to attend church somewhere than not at all. My comments don’t mean to imply that I think the security guys ward hopping for hot girls are doing the right thing. I just mean that there are circumstances where a ward may not fit an individual, and that it is better for their spiritual progression to go elsewhere. Church leaders need to be loving and understanding of such circumstances.

  12. Craig says:

    @esodhiambo Actually that is in fact what I believe. There is no transparency in the church’s financials which is very suspicious, and the fact that the church requires monetary donations to essentially get into heaven is disturbing beyond belief. The current interpretation of the WoW is a ridiculous requirement that was adopted much later in the church after cultural influence of the temperance movement which is NOT based on science. Coffee and tea especially are very healthy drinks.

    When the rules are arbitrary and based on blind “obedience” rather than reason and logic I find it to be inherently oppressive and wrong. Just like the rules against women having equality with men, or the homophobia in the church. Same principle.

  13. esodhiambo says:

    Craig–again, you have the freedom (remember, that is what you were objecting to) to feel that way about tithing, the WoW, and the Church. Others have the freedom to believe differently. You hold on to “reason” and “logic” which have justified all sorts of crazy beliefs and ideas over history, and I’ll hold on to faith. You may think that makes me stupid, submissive, and delusional–since I know I am none of those things, it doesn’t really bother me. But don’t make the leap to say that I lack freedom.

    btw, I wonder why you read and comment here. I really do have great tolerance for all sorts of people and opinions, but you seem entirely hostile to the thing that brings people together on this site: Mormonism. The Church not for you, clearly, and that is cool, but why criticize something that is obviously important to many people around here?

    Sorry–I really hate those “go away” kind of messages, but I am becoming less and less interested in reading here because I fear what I read will be antagonistic, and I read blogs for fun. Maybe I should go away.

  14. Ziff says:

    Interesting post, Zenaida; you raise lots of good issues.

    I wonder if the density of Mormons doesn’t predict at least some factors related to ward composition, ward hopping, etc. If there are lots of Mormons in a place, then a geographically defined ward can be quite homogeneous, as it might draw from only a single neighborhood. Many or most people in the ward will be in the neighborhood because of similarity on other characteristics–age, income, number of children, even. On the other hand, when there is a low density of Mormons, then wards draw from larger geographic areas, and they’re generally much more heterogeneous, with members of different ages, marital status, numbers of children, incomes, etc. As to which is better, I can definitely see the value in theory of a heterogeneous ward that several of you all have mentioned. Sad to say, at least for me, in practice, the people I get to know are usually those who are in similar circumstances.

    Oh, and I would at least guess (I haven’t done it) that ward hopping would be more difficult as wards draw from larger geographic areas. Geographically larger wards should mean that, on average, you have to travel farther to ward hop than geographically smaller wards. But I’m not familiar with how much area wards cover in much of the US (and certainly not outside)–maybe there are lots of places where it’s not that difficult to find several wards within easy driving distance?

    Also, I agree with the suggestion (by aerin and ESO) that a divorcing couple should be allowed to attend different wards. Yikes! Attending church shouldn’t (ideally) be that uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it go the other way, where a divorcing couple was told, in effect, that if they didn’t like attending the same ward, it was just tough. I would hope leaders could be a little more understanding, like those you mentioned, Emily U, who are allowing a few families from outside the boundaries attend, rather than those you dealt with, Madam Curie, who pushed/allowed you to be inactive rather than go to the “wrong” ward. But I also think that ESO makes good points about the “pick your ward” approach really messing with how the Church runs. I don’t know how this might be encouraged or enforced, but it seems like there’s some value in allowing a small number of people (rather than zero) to attend wards different than the ones they’re assigned to by geography, but that it would be good to keep it from coming to dominate the ward. I don’t know–issue wards exception points that allow them to draw extra members from surrounding areas, but once those are used up, they’re done? Just thinking out loud…

  15. Craig says:

    “You hold on to “reason” and “logic” which have justified all sorts of crazy beliefs and ideas over history, and I’ll hold on to faith.”

    Yeah, because faith never is used to justify crazy destructive things.

    Come off it.

  16. Craig says:

    While I’m not a member of the church anymore, I am culturally Mormon, I grew up in it, I live a stone’s throw from the HQ, and my life is significantly affected by Mormons, their beliefs, practises, and doctrines.

    I express my beliefs here because I’m interested in hearing others’, and because I think it is important for people to hear more than just what they themselves believe reinforced all the time. It is important, I think, for people to be exposed to different, contradictory ideas.

    It is my belief that there are fundamental problems in Mormonism, not least of which is Mormonism’s very rigid gender roles which fuel it’s sexism and homophobia. I think many here also see that and wish to change it.

  17. Zenaida says:

    Ken, it’s good to see you hear. I hope you’ll hang around.

    Noah, You mention that the “popular” people ward hop so others follow. That’s an interesting thought. I am curious as to what happens to those popular folk once they do settle down. If esodhiambo is correct about them being “essentially, people to be served rather than people who serve,” do they find it difficult to settle into a ward where they must be the servers?

    Vada, Sorry about that! That was definitely a typo. I have only attended a ward that was not in my geographical boundary once.

    Madam Curie, I am sorry to hear that ward was turned out to be such a stressful place for you. I am interested to know what your response was to the bishop’s insistence of accepting the patriarchal order was, if you don’t mind sharing.
    Also, I think that’s probably a different post on integrating different cultures into the existing structure (any takers?).
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

    esodhiambo and Craig, I really appreciate your comments. I hope you will both stay because like Craig I also believe it is important to hear others’ viewpoints and perhaps gain insight into our own as long as we can maintain civil discourse.

  18. Madam Curie says:

    Zenaida, I have to admit that at the time I did not have a very good answer for my bishop. I was still at a place in my religious journey that I thought everything the bishop said must be inspired, so I thought he was telling me what God wanted me to hear. I basically tried harder to support my DH. It didn’t work, and I just fell deeper into despair and frustration. Eventually my DH, sainted man that he is, replied with something along the lines of “The way you define patriarchal order isn’t how patriarchal order operates in our family” and “Although my wife needs to support me, I also have to support her.”

    My DH was way ahead of me in the feminist game in the church. I’ve since caught up 🙂

  19. Caroline says:

    esodhiambo,
    Please don’t go away. I enjoy your comments.

    Craig, we’d love to have you comment as well, but I’d encourage you to review our comment policy. Please be sensitive to the fact that you are in a forum that caters to people who embrace the Church’s teachings to varying degrees, and who often value the community we find there. We run a pretty broad spectrum here. Please do speak from personal experience and try to keep your tone kind. Thank you.

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