The Transient Ward
Lately I’ve been thinking about two categories of people in our ward: (1) Long-term members who lay down roots (mostly old-timers who have lived in this city for most, if not all, of their lives, but also a few individuals and families who plan to live here 5+ years), and (2) Short-term transplants, mostly from the West, who will only stay for a year or two. Looking at our ward as a whole, long-termers comprise about 1/3 of the active members, and short-termers comprise the remaining 2/3… The short-termers contribute to the ward in many important ways. Many bring with them knowledge and experience with respect to church leadership, programs, and doctrine. They often give generously of their time, and financial resources, to assist ward members in need.
The issue with short-termers is just that—they’re here for the short run, transients, likely to leave once they reach the “2-year or 2-kid limit.” Then they move back West to be nearer to family, or to other locations to pursue better educational, employment, or housing opportunities. Although my husband and I have chosen to stay in the ward (for now), I completely understand what motivates many members to leave.
My concern is not so much with the fact that these members are leaving, but the way in which some approach their short-term stay in our ward. When there is no expectation of permanence, building a stable church community is not necessarily a priority. Why invest your sweat and tears into a primary or YW/YM program that you know your children will never attend? Why go to the effort to repair a rocky relationship with a ward member if you know you’ll be moving within the next few months? Why attend those extra stake meetings if you’re barely even getting to know the people in your own ward?
Occasionally, the short-termers and long-termers hit heads. We’ve noticed that the two groups approach ward problems in distinct manners: short-termers often look for the dramatic fix-it-all-this-week solutions, and long-termers tend to propose incremental and low-key measures. At times there have also been undercurrents of resentment toward the short-termers. In their excitement to move on to the next stage of their lives, some short-termers are overly critical of the city/lifestyle that the long-termers have chosen to embrace (no one likes people talking about their neighborhood as “ghetto,” “worldly,” or “wicked”). Also, some of the long-termers are tired of making friends who just leave, and of throwing yet another going-away party for a family they barely know. When do the long-termers get a party thrown for them, where everyone can tell them how much they appreciate all they’ve done for the ward?
A few months ago, my husband and I were invited to a fireside in a neighboring stake where Elder Tingey of the Seventy spoke. This neighboring stake is also comprised of many transient members, and Elder Tingey directly addressed part of his remarks to these individuals. He invited the short-termers to (paraphrasing) “unpack their bags mentally” and to “lay down spiritual, if not physical, roots within the church community.” He didn’t attempt to pressure anyone to stay if they didn’t want to, but he chastised the short-term members for having one foot in their current ward, and one foot in their future/past wards. He then invited the transient members to contribute to their wards and stake in the same manner that they would if they had just purchased a home in a suburb and were planning on living there the rest of their lives.
Since that night, my husband and I have been pondering over Elder Tingey’s words. We haven’t come up with many answers. I’d be interested to hear about the experiences others have had in transient wards.
How do you mentally unpack your bags in a ward you only plan to stay in for a short time?
How do you motivate others to plant spiritual roots that they may never see grow tall enough to bear fruit?