No More Strangers (Ephesians 2:19)
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?”