Strengthening Our Ward Communities
Recently I spent the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the image of Peter Breugel’s painting, “Harvest” has stuck in my mind ever since. The first thing in the picture to catch my attention was the brilliantly golden wheat field that rolled across the canvas. The warm colors brought a crisp fall day to life and the small homes in the background showed a tranquil village. The group of harvesters sitting together in the foreground adds to the mood of serenity as they take a break from their work to have lunch. The harvesters have been working hard, and by the looks of the large field, it is evident that their chore is far from finished. There is something beautiful about the way these people are accomplishing the task together, their joint effort is for the common good, they are working for their community.
Peter Breugel lived during the 16th century and painted scenes of peasant life in the Netherlands. He depicts people hunting, feasting, playing and struggling together. Seldom, if ever, does he paint people by themselves; instead he shows people living and interacting with each other in a community. Breugel’s peasants find security, support, and a sense of belonging, not through isolations, but through relating to each other. All of God’s children desire the same luxuries. Realizing that they can be attained through our relationships with others makes it worth exploring important pieces of creating community.
One important thing to learn is how to relate to and understand one another. Much of Jesus Christ’s ministry focused on treating others with love, compassion, and understanding. In 1 John 4:20-21 we read: “If a many say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment we have from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” Christ’s phrase “as I have loved you, love one another” also sends a clear message that we have a responsibility to care for each other. In order to do this effectively, we must first understand one another. Understanding others comes through spending time with them; listening to their stories, encouraging their dreams, or calming their fears.
If thoughtful relationships are the backdrop for strong communities, I’d like to explore the sense of community found within LDS wards. The task of a ward is to build up the kingdom, and to spiritually strengthen each of its members. One thing that initially binds members of a ward together is a common belief in Jesus Christ. If members act according to His teachings and relate to one another with kindness and respect, then a spirit of unity within the group will follow. A true sense of community comes when we start with personal commitment to Christ’s teachings and gospel principles, and then we act on them in our dealings with others. Getting to know and appreciate each other is one way to be devoted to Christ.
Church is a place for people to worship, study, and serve together but we shouldn’t forget that we are social beings. We have to feel comfortable if we want to continue coming to church. We need to care about each other as individuals because each of us wants to feel valued, accepted, and noticed when we walk through chapel doors on Sunday. Forming a strong ward community is a combination of putting forth the effort to make others feel welcome, and participating in activities designed to build unity.
I’ve felt a great sense of community attending the Washington DC temple with ward members and dancing with them at ward parties, building sandcastles with them on Cape Cod or going with a group of them to serve people at a soup kitchen. We accomplished more than fun times by attending these activities. Being involved with other members of the ward gives us opportunities to understand each other by learning about what we need, what we struggle with, and what we rejoice over. I’ll never forget a ten-hour drive from Boston to the Washington DC temple with a group of ward members I didn’t know very well. We were riding in a large van and a woman named Suzette was sitting next to me in the front seat. She and I didn’t know each other at the beginning of the trip, but before reaching the Connecticut border, it was clear that we were going to be the best of friends. As we listened to each other jabber about our life stories, a life-long friendship was born. And so was our love for road trips! Since that marathon drive to the capital, Suzette and I have discussed everything under the sun on road trips to Newport, Nantucket, New Hampshire, and New York City.
The more time we spend getting to know each other, the more it becomes clear that the Lord places certain people in our lives at the right time for our own good. I feel that it is no mere coincidence that the time I have spent cooking gourmet recipes with my friend Erin, running along the Charles Rive with my friend Heidi, or dining in the North End with my friend Kristy has strengthened my testimony. Each time I get together with friends my eyes are opened to new perspectives and ideas, often allowing me to reach a deeper level of understanding or faith. My spirituality has grown immensely through association with wonderful women. We can learn so much about people, life, and ourselves if we push beyond what might seem socially easy and establish new friendships.
It takes a certain amount of personal initiative to become part of the ward community and I realize that not everyone feels comfortable doing it. It is those of you who are comfortable that need to act on this. Perhaps a simple invitation, a warm greeting or reassuring smile will help.
My message can be condensed into this one thought: If we truly want to become more Christlike, we will take the time to build friendships with each other and love one another. We have a perfect example in Jesus Christ of someone who befriended and loved everyone. His teachings can bring unity to all aspects of our lives. Our abilities to respect others will naturally transcend beyond members of the Church out into our broader human community.
It pleases me to know that my Savior is the Prince of Peace. He brings peace and happiness to my life when I choose to follow Him. Acting on His counsel to treat my brothers and sisters with respect, care, and kindness is something that I believe will secure a sense of community in my life. If we strive to build up His kingdom and dedicate ourselves to strengthening its members through sincere friendship, then we will all be blessed with peace.