No More Strangers (Ephesians 2:19)

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by Kelly Ann

In an effort to bring the young single adults in California together, on August 8th and 9th, there was a statewide conference centered at the temples around the state (Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno, Los Angeles, Redlands, Newport Beach, and San Diego).  The conference included a general session, various doctrinal workshops, a service project, speed dating, and a dance on Saturday as well as a church service and fireside on Sunday.   The area authority seventy embraced technology with a website (http://www.californiaysa.org), a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, and the use of local listserves to promote the activity.  Focused on the temple, there were a number of pre-conference goals in terms of temple attendance and reaching out to less active and non-members.  The theme being Ephesians 2:19, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foriegners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

If you read the comments on the various sites, the organizers and attendees consider the event a huge success.  The seven sites had a total of approximately 11,000 attendees.  Both the pre-conference goals to do temple ordinances and visit less-actives were surpassed (apparently 75,000 ordinances, and more than 7500 visits).  However, as one of those “less-active” members who got sweet-talked into signing up, I am bothered by the summary of numbers.  I’d rather survey whether or not people considered it a faith promoting experience and enjoyed themselves.  (And of course in a year, how many YSAs met and got married, because that is always a product of single conferences ;-p …)

Given the setting, it is not surprising that my feathers were ruffled a couple times though.  The biggest thing being a talk given by Elder Lawrence of the Area Seventy in Sacrament meeting.  He bulleted six ways to become closer to God.  They included 1) ordinances, 2) obeying the commandments with exactness, 3) constant self-improvement, 4) knowing the doctrines of the church, 5) making the church a priority, and 6) living as the Savior did.  His examples included someone who quit drinking Pepsi and a couple who decided not to watch any PG-13 movies.  I kept waiting for a mention of faith for a mention of believing in the Savior (not just mimicking his actions) but it wasn’t there.  A friend told me I shouldn’t be so shocked by a “works” talk but it bothered me.  Especially when you combine it with the ultimate summary of numbers which seems to focus on accomplishment rather than purpose.

I admire the work that went into the conference and I expected I’d be ruffled at some point but I figured it was worth going to such an unique event.  It is just that I am left thinking that there is more to becoming “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” and becoming closer to God than works.  Quite frankly, I need to regain my faith to return to full activity.  I can do the motions but if I don’t believe what good does it do me?   To give some credit, faith was referenced in other settings, but I think overall the conference, with it’s goals and topics, was overall weighted towards works.

In truth, despite everything, I enjoyed myself.  It was amazing to be one of nearly 2000 YSAs at the Oakland Interstake Center next to the Temple.  Seeing all the young YSA’s some of whom I babysat made me feel old but seeing their dedication and enthusiasm was heartwarming.  Singing hymns in a couple settings with so many people in my age bracket (even if I am now at the cusp at 30) was a powerful experience.  Remembering all my BYU and mission experiences reminded me about things I liked about the church.  I wasn’t able to attend the whole event due to a work party, and frankly was way churched out by the end of what I did, but I am glad I went even if it stemmed comments from friends that I am “not doing a very good job at being inactive.”

In terms of discussion here, I’d be interested to know if anyone else attended one of the seven conference locations and what their perceptions were?  Also, what do people think about the seventies efforts to reach young adults?  And even though I didn’t really tackle the faith vs. works debate, what do people think in regards?  What message does a focus on works send young adults?  On the tail of G’s post, do you think that faith is just assumed a lot in the Mormon settings?  And finally, if you have lost your faith, what has brought you back or kept you away?  How do you feel that we can really be “no more strangers?”

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20 Responses

  1. Petra says:

    Plus, I gave a really good talk, right? 🙂

    My take (which we’ve already talked about): such events are fine, for the type of person they’re aimed at, but I certainly don’t feel like one should be guilted into them to the extent that we were–“the prophet wants you to go to this,” etc. Elder Lawrence’s talk had a fine overall point but all of his examples were trivial to the point of being offensive (I only *wish* my spiritual problems could be solved by giving up Pepsi!), I don’t think they should have made people pay for it (hi, we’re going to guilt you into doing this, and also it will cost you $30), and I just always feel like these events are vaguely patronizing and not treating YSAs like real adults. Plus, I heard from friends that most of the workshops had interesting topics but didn’t do those topics justice, and in the end weren’t really any above the instructional level of seminary: “what is a covenant, class?”

    Of course, I only attended sacrament meeting (and only because I was speaking) and one workshop the day before, so I’m probably not in a great position to judge.

  2. esodhiambo says:

    Works is much easier to do communally; faith is really individual. I think that is why we emphasize work: we can plan it, invite you, do it, quantify it, etc. Faith is much more nebulous. We can plan an activity that we HOPE will be faith-promoting for you, but people are so different, what is faith-promoting for one puts another to sleep and turns another off completely. I think we kind of have to take charge of our own faith.

  3. Kelly Ann says:

    Petra, Your talk was the highlight of the conference for me. In addition to the music, that is what keeps the Sacrament meeting a positive experience for me. I have always felt slightly patronized as a YSA. That’s part of what built up my angst last summer. I don’t even think the 18 year olds should be treated that way. Guilt has discussed here previously is never a good motivator. Although having paid for registration (supposedly for the cost of food and supplies) is what made me go the day of …

    Esodhiambo, I do believe we have to take charge of our own faith. I agree that some works are a great communal experience (one of the points of Petra’s Sacrament talk) but I think we need to try to put words to the importance of faith and belief in our system. Part of it were the trivial examples, but I just believe that true discipleship must accompany both and that as a community, Mormons need to express the messiness of their faith (and not just on blogs) in addition to their standard works.

  4. G says:

    this conference sounds fascinating! thanks for the report.

    I too would love to know just how many ysa married as a result of the conference (speed dating to the rescue!)

    there’s more I would like to say about the state of YSA’s in the church, particularly the ‘older’ set (older being so very relative) but will need some time to clarify my own feelings.

    (meanwhile, I’m curious to see what others say)

  5. Ann says:

    I wasn’t able to attend the whole event…and frankly was way churched out by the end of what I did…

    This, exactly, describes my experience attending Sunstone a couple of years ago. It was fun, I met some wonderful people in Real Life that I only knew online, but by the end of day two, I was completely Mormoned Out.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the conference, but I’m also glad you didn’t run faster than you had strength!

  6. Kelly Ann says:

    G, yes, speed dating is something else … I could comment quite a bit in regards. i have had a couple good experiences (the best being when I was in charge of a gender-neutral “speed friendshipping” ice-breaker activity) but have generally been unimpressed …

    I agree that there can be a lot said for the state of single’s in the church. However, I too don’t know where to begin. I hope others will make comments.

    And yes, Ann, I finally learned not to run faster than I have strength. This often puts me in an odd spot (am I in or out) but has been essential for me to process my issues with culture and doctrine. The great thing is that all of my leaders in the church have been understanding in regards. They want me to be comfortable being around even if I don’t believe certain things.

  7. D'Arcy says:

    I was with some of my active-in-the-church friends this weekend and we were reminiscing our days in the singles ward. Specifically a Bishop who’s soul worry was about getting everyone married off. An idea from the RS president (my friend) was that on the weeks that the women have enrichment meeting, could we please cancel the weekly joint activity (so the sisters wouldn’t be asked to give up two nights of their time and so they might actually choose enrichment instead of the male/female activity.)

    The bishop responded, “But what will the men do?”

    This story probably doesn’t seem to relate, but I do think the focus on getting singles married and the extreme pressure surrounding that one mission in life makes going to these things really really difficult for me. I have been to SEVERAL conferences (all in Florida, Georgia, and New York) and they were so awkward about forcing us to try to find a mate that we really didn’t focus too much on making our lives count in other ways. I wish the focus on being “single” could somehow shift. It makes me uncomfortable and makes me feel, always, that my life lacks something.

    As a response to another question, I started trying to do the motions of activity in the church again and it breaks my heart that I continually just sit there and think about how much I just don’t believe in what they are saying to me. I’d sometimes really like to go back to that sweet LDS girl full of faith and works that I was. But like you said, what good does it do to participate in something you just don’t believe in anymore?

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    D’Arcy, thankfully the focus of this conference was not getting married (although RS & priesthood had chastity and pornography talks respectively). However, it is an underlying tenant whether spoken or not.

    The independently run conferences always seem to milk this principle. There was a “mid-singles” (27-45) conference I went to a couple years ago that took pride in announcing the number of marriages from the year before. And while their effort was to reduce the older single age spread, undoubtedly the 45 year olds would flirt with me at 27. I really felt like they were just interested in my uterus (i.e. my ability to have kids). Since then, I have generally avoided conferences.

    Yes, I would like to be married but I am happy being single. I am fine as long as people treat me like an adult.

  9. Kelly Ann says:

    And finally, D’Arcy, I don’t thing I will ever be that sweet faithful LDS girl again. But I don’t want to be.

    In thinking about stepping back, I think about stepping forward. In a sunday school lesson a couple weeks ago, there was a discussion about how if you deviate from the path, not only do you step back but you don’t progress forward, so you are two steps behind so to speak. I raised my hand and started my comment, in a new ward no less, with “I disagree …” (although I did use a hypothetical person,”if one was to” rather than myself in something like the following)

    ‘I may have deviated from the standard course but I feel that not only have I just stepped to the side (not backwards), I have moved forward and that if I return to full activity it will be stepping forward not just to the side. Yes, I won’t be in the same place I might have been but I have progressed nonetheless.’

    I don’t want the naive faith I had before. I want a blossomed hol(e)y transformation. I want to incorporate what I have learned into who I will become whether in or outside the church.

    What good does it do me to participate in something I believe at the moment or ever again? It does me a lot of good. To interact with people of such faith, to hear their stories, to read their doubts on blogs such as these, to become comfortable in expressing mine in public settings, to recognize that I don’t need to be perfect or have perfect faith …

    I don’t know how good I’ll be about more actively participating in church (although it helps I can attend a family ward with a number of friends and blog personalities that accept me as who I am now). But I just take one day at a time and am trying not to run faster than I have strength.

  10. Angie says:

    Whew! This post asked a lot of questions! 🙂

    two thoughts (one short and one long):

    I think the success of activities and conferences are at least in part dependant on the personality of the individual. Social extroverts will probably enjoy this setting more than introverts. What do you think?

    And now for the long thought – coincidentally, I have been thinking a lot lately about faith and works. I let my mind wander one day, and I started thinking about the Cain and Abel story. What if this story is an allegory for faith and works? Cain offered God the fruits of his labors, and Abel offered a lamb. When Cain’s gift was rejected, he was angry, perhaps signifying that he had given his gift with an expectation of acceptance or reward. He was angered by God’s chastening, not humbled. Abel’s gift was accepted, meaning that we are acceptable to God because of the Lamb – not because of anything we do.

    I hope that explanation was clear. I actually had a lot of fun looking at a scripture story from a new angle. I wonder what other scripture stories have layers like that?

  11. ThomasB says:

    Speaking as a leader that was in attendance I really appreciate the posts and the personal insight. Petra your talk was a highlight for me. You remind me of my very bright and lovely wife. But I digress.

    I do think Elder Lawrences talk was quite thoughtful actually and I believe it was a partial answer to Bro. Young’s talk the day previous. I thought interesting of him to bring up the contrast of the BYU football player who opted out of the NFL because it would conflict with his testimony of the sabbath. Bro. Young’s take was obviously quite different and I think it is safe to say that neither approach was wrong. I will also say that if coca cola was ok with President Mackay then it is ok with me or at least that is my current justification and I will run with that.

    The larger point that Elder Lawrence made of course is that as we grow spiritually we are able to find greater spiritual refuge in obeying the sabbath, wow, law of tithing, and other commandments with exactness. As we do these small things our lives will become more rich and we will become more in tune. Has it happened in my life. Yes. I hope to get to the point were the sabbath is a much more spiritual day for me. I hope to eliminate the small worldly things that are limiting my sabbath experience. Is that a lofty goal. No. Is it extremely worthwhile? Absolutely.

    What impressed me about the conference was the magnitude of it. I was at times overwhelmed by it and that was cool.

    To the original poster please continue to work your way back. I love your comment about observing those you used to babysit. There is a chasm in the YSA program in regards to age and the program needs individuals like you to help bridge that. You have no idea how much you are needed. You are thoughtful, you have insight and you have answers that some of them are seeking about the gospel that they never got at seminary, young women’s or priesthood. Come back and share.

    I must say my favorite part of the conference was priesthood. We had Sister Shumway (who should be teaching the priesthood on a worldwide basis if you ask me), the Bishop of the Santa Rosa YSA ward and a member of the Concord Stake Presidency. They spoke frankly about serious matters and pulled no punches. It was refreshing.

    It was a good conference but we can improve and I hope and pray we all meet again soon! Thanks again for your input please share it with your leaders.

  12. Kelly Ann says:

    ThomasB, thank you for your extensive comments. The magnitude of the conference was overwhelming, not only in the ISC, but to think it happened in so many locations at once. I’ll agree that Elder Lawrence was doing his best to deliver a thoughtful talk. I’ll agree with Angie that a success of an event like this does depend on the personality of the individual and not just socially.

    I guess I was just looking for something else in regards to becoming closer to God (a quest I have been on). I missed the Steve Young fireside due to my work party but have heard others express that they felt some of his comments were in response. That takes nerve even if both are right. Someone in the family ward I attended today made a comment (in response to a teaching for our times lesson on enhancing temple worship) about how checklists, even if they seem mundane, can enhance the spiritual. Several comments regarding Elder Scott’s recommendation about not to wear watches in the temple bothered me in the same vein as Elder Lawrence’s list. However, I think I got the point that if you brush worldly things aside you can open windows. I did like Elder Lawrence’s emphasis that they were individual decisions and could increase one’s spirituality. I just wanted a seventh all encompassing point to be about faith.

    As Angie shared (thanks for the analogy), I am trying to focus on faith in Christ to return. I’ve read a lot of stuff online about differences in Christian denominations, specifically about why many don’t consider Mormons the same type of Christian, and I see their arguments. We focus a lot on works and even paperwork … If “we are saved by faith after all we can do,” we have to do things but we also have to have faith.

    And I’ll fully admit that I am a bit harder on the California Area Presidency given they are general authorities. I hold them responsible for the church’s involvement in Prop8. I still have quite bitter feelings in regards to the intersection of religion and politics that made me snap and that colors my perception of well everything.

    Thank you though for your encouragement. Although there is a chasm and I am no longer immerged in the YSA realm (except for instances like these and a few other activities I crash to see friends), I have been amazed at how much I can learn from the 18 year olds. I just need balance in all things.

  13. laurenlou says:

    my feelings about this conference were also mixed. i attended in l.a. but missed the saturday morning workshops and half of the speed dating due to a very fun and long friday night 🙂

    the highlight for me was our sacrament meeting. i’m not sure who the woman who spoke was, but i appreciated her candor and tone so much. she approached us like fellow adults and “fellowcitizens” and actually apologized immediately after making a joke disparaging the guys for their lackluster attempts at dating.

    one of the saturday afternoon workshop speakers rapidly pushed every single one of my buttons (prop 8, abortion, birth control, gender roles, polygamy, mtn meadows–i almost wanted to raise my hand during the q&a and bring up racism, just so we could make sure no stone was left unturned) and touted her own personal decisions as if they should be ours as well. i appreciated the message she was trying to convey, but her tone was exactly opposite of the sacrament meeting speaker’s.

    i admit that i could have better prepared myself spiritually for the conference, but overall i left a little disappointed. i felt like the theme “no more strangers” could have been better applied by reaching out to those who feel on the fringes, or by promoting unity even among differing opinions and experiences. instead, i felt the theme was simply a label they could slap on as a reason to get us all together.

  14. Jalina says:

    I really guess it depends on where you were involved in YSA. I was told time and again (Cali., MT, TX, Mass., VT) that the most important thing I could do as a YSA was to care for my spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and economic health and that marriage would come when it came. I think it also has to do with individual interpretation.

    I was once in a Q&A with Elder Scott in MT where the inevitable eternal bachelor complained about thinking he’d never marry. Elder Scott told him to not worry, to just take care of himself and those he was charged with caring for and that marriage would come if he wanted to seek after it (I knew this guy, and he certainly needed the advice to take care of himself). Anyway, my roommate came out of the meeting complaining about the pressure to get married, and I came out happy about the advice to take care of myself. I really think we take away from YSA half of what we take into it.

  15. chelseaw says:

    I didn’t attend the conference, but I have had many experiences similar to yours where I was completely uninspired by talks given at Stake Conferences, Area Conferences, etc. As a believer in the MBTI, I have come to realize that I am an NP in an SJ church.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

    I find inspiration in the larger perspective, in the theology of our faith, and in the possibilities of what could be, and I’m completely bored and discouraged by constant harping on about rules and duties. Since the vast majority of general authorities (and a good portion of local leaders, I’ve found) are SJ’s, they are inspired (and think everyone will be likewise inspired) by the details of conformity, sticking to the checklists of the gospel. I’ve come to accept this as one of the quirks of the church, and generally just tune out those types of talks.

  16. Alisa says:

    chelseaw, I also totally get the MBTI way of understanding differences in the Church, and that’s helped me give people who are wired differently than I am a little more slack. I am a stron N and a mix of P/J, but I totally feel like teaching faith, meditation, and peace is more meaningful than teaching Franklin-Covey type approaches to spirituality. For me, the process is more valuable than the end result, the questions just as valid as the answers.

    As I fully participate at Church, I have learned to suplement my faith with other practices, like meditation, that appeal more to my personality type. It’s helped me allow others to be who they are, without taking it so personally myself.

  17. Angie says:

    That is so interesting about looking at church experiences through the perspective of the Myers-Briggs. What you both said makes a lot of sense.

  18. Zenaida says:

    I thought about going, but just haven’t been up to doing anything Mormony lately. The flyer I was given had several references to being registered to vote and having a voice, and I got turned off (among other reasons for not going). I would have been interested to attend the Steve Young fireside. I find it interesting that another perspective was presented. I have a question, though: Is he a priesthood authority or just a celebrity?
    And, what’s this about a woman teaching a Priesthood lesson? That’s intriguing.

    The idea of checklists and pulling ourselves away from the world reminds me of my time at BYU. While I was there, I pushed myself harder than I have in my life to let go of those worldly things, like Pepsi, PG-13 movies, etc., and I feel like I lost connection with _people_. I felt more isolated and more self-righteous than connected and righteous. I didn’t feel that it brought me closer to God so much as distanced me from other people. I’m willing to admit that it’s possible I wasn’t doing it properly or with the right intentions, but at the time, I truly felt that my intent was pure and I just wanted to do my best and “take care of myself.”

    One of the main reasons I did not attend this event was that I didn’t want to be talked at and feel like the only way to be acceptable and be “no more strangers” is to conform.

  19. Kelly Ann says:

    Zenaida, I completely understand. “Of all the things to come to, you came to this?” I was asked. The voting thing turned me off as well. I didn’t see the need for the mix of politics and religion. However, I felt like YSAs were being encouraged to engage in the church community as well as the extended, and that I could appreciate. I went mostly because of who asked me and how they asked me. Sometimes it is difficult to say no.

    I agree with your point regarding checklists. I hate loosing my identity by striving to do and believe so many things I am not. I am currently compromising but it takes a lot of energy to be around zealous Mormons. I got asked tonight if I was becoming a super- active Mormon again? Oh it is not that simple. I hate labels of any type. I hate the idea that I need to conform.

    I like the comments regarding the personality tests. When a bishop recommended me to shelve my doubts, I was reminded hat he was a do-er and I was a think-er. For me, I realized that I can’t just pretend the problems aren’t there. So I try to do both. I try to look at the way the person saying something (maybe offensive to me) is thinking and how I think and respond in regard. Like Laurenlou, I just really wish that those on the fringes like myself felt reached out to. That the other side is trying to understand us while we understand them.

  1. December 30, 2009

    […] more a stranger, I find myself on higher […]

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