Whether you’re brand new to a ward or you’ve lived in the same ward for 30 years, there are always new ways to take initiative and make a difference. While it may feel natural to ease into a ward gradually, the Lord is hastening his work, and we should as well.
(In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a “ward” refers to a congregation, and is assigned by geographic boundaries or demographic criteria.)
Life is full of surprises! A few months ago, my husband and I decided to switch from a college-student ward to a family ward. Just as we were starting to no longer feel like “the new people” in this family ward, bam! The ward boundaries changed and we found ourselves in a different ward again.
Being the new person in a ward has started to feel like a normal routine for me. In the past 8 years, I’ve lived in 7 different wards, plus 7 more if you count my mission. With each ward, I’ve gained more ideas for how to jump in and immediately start making a difference—rather than waiting for others to reach out to me first or waiting till I receive a calling. My ideas are listed at the end of this post.
After reading my list, you might think to yourself, “If I do these things, I’ll stand out, and then I’ll probably receive a calling.” You may be right. (For example, one of the things on the list is to ask whether the ward has a Facebook page, and after I did that in our new ward, I was soon called to be the Relief Society social media specialist.) Since receiving—or not receiving—a calling shouldn’t be the goal, I like to remind myself that being a member of the Church, and of the house of Israel, is a calling in and of itself, and the list gives ideas for how to step up to that calling.
Joseph, the son of Israel, is one of the best examples of how to jump into new wards (see Genesis 37-45). Without warning, Joseph was expelled from his home ward, then compelled to serve in Potiphar’s ward, then thrust into the prison ward, then asked to serve in Pharaoh’s ward, and then eventually had the opportunity to merge Pharaoh’s ward with his home ward.
As I ponder Joseph’s example, I’m struck by the fact that I and many Church members belong to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. Therefore, Joseph has left a personal legacy for us to live up to.
When Joseph made the big jump from being in prison to being Pharaoh’s second in command, we could say that came about as a result of Joseph’s faithfulness with his ministering assignments: And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with [the butler and baker], and he served them: and they continued a season in ward . . . . And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked . . . saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? (Genesis 40:4, 6, 7)
Joseph shows us that magnifying even the most seemingly insignificant responsibilities can make all the difference. In my last ward, my calling was to the ward emergency preparedness committee, which may not seem that important. But hey, that was the calling Pharaoh gave to Joseph, and look what Joseph did with it!
The callings or responsibilities that Joseph received were merely the permission to build upon the efforts that he was already putting forth to serve. D&C 6:4 reads, “Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.” As I interpret this verse, first we put forth our best efforts to serve, and then we are called, not the other way around. A bishop does not give us a calling; rather, he receives inspiration on how to direct or channel our already-existing calling to gather Israel, a calling which we received once we endeavored to serve.
As I proceed to present my list of ideas for how to jump into a new ward, or how to better serve in a ward regardless of how long you’ve been there, keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a checklist but rather a brainstorming list to pick and choose from, depending on your circumstances. I have yet to do everything on this list myself, and I’m continually adding to it as I learn.
- If you know in advance that you’re moving wards, contact the ward clerk and expedite the transfer of your membership records so you can have access to the ward directory and receive ward announcements. (Using the meetinghouse locator on lds.org, you should at least be able to find the number for your future bishop, and from there he can direct you to the ward clerk.)
- Once your records are moved, double check that your contact info appears correctly on the ward directory online. (Last time ours was missing an apartment number.) Update your profile photo.
- Send a simple text to the bishop and other auxiliary leaders (Relief Society president or Elder’s quorum president) to say hi and let them know you’re excited to be there and you’re willing to serve.
- Look up the compassionate service leader and let her know if you’re willing to bring a meal to someone on occasion, or if you’re able to give rides to people or run errands for those who can’t leave their home.
- Let leaders know what your own needs and struggles are. Bring blessings to others by allowing them to serve you.
- Look up the ward music chair and let them know what your music abilities are (like if you’re willing to participate in musical numbers).
- Volunteer other talents to the appropriate leaders or committees. For example, if you like to sew, tell the Relief Society you could make burp cloths for all the new moms.
- Find out how the ward coordinates the building cleaning schedule and then volunteer or show up to help clean.
- Contact the ward mission leader and ask how you can help the missionaries with whom they’re teaching, or if you can bring meals to the missionaries.
- Sometimes a Relief Society newsletter will include a list of who has birthdays that month. Send a happy birthday text to those people. If you like creating home-made birthday cards, offer to do that for the Relief Society.
- Find out who from the ward is serving a mission, and then write them a letter. A letter could be as simple as a few appropriate jokes or printed memes. Missionaries love to receive mail. You could also ask the missionary’s family what kind of letters would best benefit the missionary.
- Most people dread giving talks in church, so for a bishopric member, asking people to give talks in church can be awkward and stressful. If you happen to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind speaking in church, bishoprics love it if you mention that to them.
- Whenever someone gives a talk or teaches a lesson in church, make note of their name, make note of something you liked about their message, and then when church is over look up their number on the ward directory and send them a thank-you text.
- Find out if there’s a ward or Relief Society Facebook page and request to join it. (Some wards also use Instagram or the Church’s new Gospel Living app.) Occasionally post relevant and uplifting messages or resources.
- Find a reason to meet with the bishop, like renewing your temple recommend.
- Invite someone in the ward to do family home evening with you (maybe over zoom).
- Find out (perhaps through Facebook) who in the ward has common interests, then start a small informal group for sharing those interests. For example, if you like running, see if one or two people would want to go running with you.
- Initiate a recipe exchange.
- If you’re learning another language, find out who in the ward speaks that language and see if they’d be willing to practice it with you in conversation.
- Review in advance what the Sunday School lesson topic is for the next Sunday so you can be prepared to comment and participate.
- Pray for the bishop and ward leaders by name.
- If your ward has an emergency prep committee, ask them about what the ward emergency plan is and then familiarize yourself with it. Consider what skills or equipment you have to offer the ward in an emergency. Consider helping ward members with food storage or other aspects of preparedness (like if you have a canning machine).
- Many wards give new members a questionnaire to fill out when they join the ward, or they have some kind of “new member meeting.” If for some reason you’re never given a questionnaire, ask if there is one and, if there isn’t, ask what facts the ward leaders would like to know about you.
- Introduce yourself to your immediate neighbors. (For social distancing, leave a note on the door.) Let them know you’re happy to babysit their houseplant, or whatever.
- Let the Relief Society or elder’s quorum presidencies know you’re excited to receive a ministering assignment. If it takes a while to receive an assignment, minister to your closest neighbors.
- If it takes a while for your ministers to reach out to you, don’t be shy about reaching out to them first. Make it easy for them to minister to you by letting them know exactly what would be helpful to you. For example, I tell my ministers I’d love feedback on my blog posts.
- Ask not what your bishop can do for you but what you can do for your bishop.
- Ask your leaders if there are certain people in the ward, particularly the elderly, who are lonely and could use a visit or a phone call.
- When even newer members join the ward and have their names read in sacrament meeting, make a note of them and be one of the first to welcome them. Maybe even invite them to dinner. Fellowshipping the new people is one of the best ways to make friends, because then you’re not trying to enter any pre-existing cliques.
- Ask around and find out who in the ward is in your same stage of life or has kids the same age as yours. Consider arranging playdates or starting a new-mom support group.
- Attend and support any ward activities. Find out who is organizing the activity and offer to help. Remind those you minister to about the activity.
- If you’re in a position to babysit, offer to babysit so parents can attend the temple.
- Find out if anyone would like to carpool to church.
- During non-pandemic times, consider joining ward choir. Even if you don’t sing. (Maybe you can turn pages for the pianist or something.) Great way to make friends!
- Arrive early and help set up chairs or sanitize. For men, let the sacrament coordinator know if you can help.
- If you have design skills, offer to design flyers. If you have craft skills, offer to help decorate for events.
- If the ward has a family history consultant, consult with them.
- If you have extra yard space that other members don’t have, offer to let people grow their garden produce in your lot.
- Bear your testimony in sacrament meeting. Remember to mention your name.
- Be observant and look for people who deserve some thanks, like whoever edits the sacrament meeting programs or the ward newsletters.
- Pick up trash or pull weeds around the church building. Maybe invite others to join you.
- Take time to learn people’s names.
Comment below if you have additional ideas.
2 Comments Add yours
Wow! This is a great list, Audrey! I guess the bottom line is to get involved. What you’re really talking about is the Law of the Harvest. We must sow seeds before we can reap the harvest. I have noticed that when I reach out to a person, he or she becomes a friend for the future. And those friends surely reciprocate. When I have friends in a ward, I feel loved and connected. When I sit home and wait for others to come to me, I feel bitter and isolated. It really is a matter of acting first.
My favorite way to connect is to print out a ward list and then jot down facts about people as I meet them. I keep the list in my church bag each week. If someone participates in a church meeting, I jot down a few facts about their life. I make sure to talk to them afterward and thank them for their talk/lesson/musical number/etc. I introduce myself and mention something I liked about their presentation. Then I work hard to memorize their name. If I can’t remember their name next time I see them, I can review my notes in the ward list.
Another thing that works well is to pick one person or family sitting near me at church and introduce myself. I ask a few questions about the family and jot it down on my ward list. I usually set a goal to talk to at least one new person/couple/family each week. Before long, I can call many people by name. The key is to remember names and to continue to connect with the people I meet. If I show that I am interested in them, they will be interested in me. Before long, I have a group of ward friends that will only continue to grow!
That list was amazing! And knowing you Audrey, you have done practically everything on that list at one time or another as you have moved into so many wards during the past eight years. You are a bishop’s dream move in! I hope readers will remember what you said about this being a brainstorming list, not a list of everything each member of the church is expected to do. Your article is a great resource to get ideas about becoming more involved in a ward, either as a new move in, or old timer. Each of us has our own interests and with just a little bit of stretching outside our comfort zone, we have opportunities all around us to serve, get to know people better, make friends, and live more enriching lives.
Laura listed some great ideas that have worked well for her. She is great at taking notes, which often come in handy when I ask her “now who is that person?” When we moved into our current ward eight years ago, the two things that we did that helped us assimilate were: One – we jumped into ward choir, which was a lot of fun, and two – as new people moved in, we tried to pay them a home visit within the first few weeks. In recent years, especially since the COVID 19 restrictions, we have slacked off in meeting new people, and can do better.
I think some of the best and easiest things to do at church on a weekly basis is to smile and say hi to people (smiling works better when there are no masks) and, as you and Laura said, thank people either in person, or by phone, text, or email. We all like to feel loved and appreciated. Thanks Audrey for your thoughtful post!