How Do You Find Meaningful Connections at Church?
Guest Post by James McMurray
First of all, a quick thanks to Jessawhy for encouraging me to expand on a question I posed to her several weeks ago and for offering to post it. I admire the level of thoughtfulness on The Exponent and can only hope these ideas and questions are at all worthwhile (and hopefully not some tired retread of previous posts here or somewhere else). With that said…
During my mission, I had the choice experience of teaching two daughters of a woman who had been estranged from the church for a number of years but decided to bring the gospel back into her life. As I grew closer to this incredible woman, she shared with me the tragic details of her disaffection. Her husband had committed some serious sins (ok, crimes), and when she went to seek guidance and comfort from her bishop, he basically said, “Oh, I’ve already talked about it with your husband, everything has been dealt with. You may go now.” Lives were shattered. Families destroyed. Hope was lost.
Needless to say, I have been terrified to serve as a bishop ever since. A tremendous opportunity to serve? Yes. A tremendous potential to foul up people’s lives despite good intentions? Absolutely. Regardless of my calling, I feel it is important to connect with my fellow ward members, especially those I home teach. While I often do a bad job of befriending others without any extra help, I’ve become aware of an additional complication from lurking on the bloggernacle for awhile now.
There are obviously many people who have very honest gospel-related questions and/or concerns that may not be consistent with labels like “active” or “faithful.” I believe the bloggernacle provides a valuable outlet in this regard. However, in “real life,” many with these issues either outwardly conform, lay low, or simply stay away – but in all three cases, I am usually not in a position to connect with such people.
In part, I wonder if this is because I have all the outward appearances of being a “mainstream” member (i.e. white shirt nearly every week, scriptures in tow, or whatever). Perhaps another major reason may be that I am a married man and am not in a natural position to reach out to many within the social context of my ward. I would almost certainly never have had the opportunity to connect with this woman on my mission had it not been for the small plastic nametag I was wearing.
So while I would enjoy connecting with those in my ward that might have genuine desires to discuss challenging topics (or less challenging topics more earnestly), I wonder if my outward appearance might cause some to pass me over as a good candidate for such conversation. For example, as much as I appreciate them, I am not often inclined to bring my home teachers into my life beyond a fairly superficial level. Why would anyone else feel so inclined with me?
There are a few obvious answers: “You just have to get to know someone well before that can happen,” “Don’t dress like a wanna-be stake president,” “You’re not responsible for EVERYONE in your ward,” and of course “That sort of relationship isn’t appropriate.” With that last one, I recognize there are some obvious pitfalls, but do we really just leave it at that? For all I know, there could be readers of this (or other) blog(s) from my ward, but I’d never know it. If so, what a tragedy!
So, my questions to you are: How can we overcome the obstacles that prevent us from engaging in more meaningful conversations with those around us? In some ways, I realize it’s as simple as saying “Just start the conversation,” but I believe there’s more to consider based on the spiritual, cultural, gender and norms in our wards.