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Oh, no, the ward is splitting
By Orson Scott Card August 21, 2008

So at the end of sacrament meeting last Sunday, the bishop says, "Next week, our ward and the Colfax Ward will be meeting together. Sacrament meeting will begin at one o'clock p.m. That will be our only meeting, so don't prepare lessons for quorum and auxiliary meetings."

And at that moment, everyone knows: They're going to carve a new ward out of Colfax and our own Greensboro Summit.

Everyone knew the division had to come sometime. Colfax has had sacrament meetings so packed that if you arrived late there was truly nowhere to sit. And our ward, Summit, has been spilling through the overflow and into the cultural hall for a couple of years now.

Ward division. It's the cruelest time. Friendships get split up. People are forced to leave callings and home teaching families, classes and quorums they love. It can be a time of genuine loss.

Why? It's one of the bizarre facts of life in Mormon villages that without ever moving away from your home, you can be tossed from one village to another and have your whole life disrupted. You go to sacrament meeting one day and come home as a citizen of a different town.

Even if you aren't in the new village created out of two old ones, you're bereft of friends and associates. There are injuries and, yes, broken hearts.

Which is absurd, isn't it? Your house is no farther from your friends' houses. Everyone still has the same phone number.

But because Mormon life is so time-consuming, it takes extraordinary effort to maintain friendships with people who are no longer there every Sunday taking part in the same meetings with you. If you're doing your calling, if you're truly a citizen of your current village, there's not much time for any but a precious few of your friends from previous villages.

You know this -- especially you who live in the Mormon Corridor (Utah, Arizona, Idaho), where wards are often no larger than a few blocks. Unless you have kids the same age who play together, you can live across the street from people and have no idea who they are, because the ward boundary runs right down your street.

When they draw up new boundaries, the leaders try to find lines that make geographical sense -- major highways, railroad tracks, rivers. If the line looks gerrymandered, wandering about to include this house and not that one, people will begin to think that there was favoritism. They're less likely to accept the division.

But in choosing the new boundaries, the leaders also have to take notice of individuals. For one thing, all three wards have to contain enough Melchizedek priesthood holders with the right talents and testimony -- and enough free time -- to serve as bishoprics and quorum leaders.

There has to be enough of a talent pool in all three units to sustain plausible presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and Primary.

This is one reason why ward divisions can also be both exhilarating and scary. Now that everyone lives in a smaller village, people are suddenly being tapped for responsibilities they have never been asked to carry out before.

Of course, as much as possible, people in the old wards will be left in place -- the goal of the bishops will be to adapt with as little disruption as possible. In the new ward, though, there is no automatic carryover.

If you had already been a Primary teacher, and you are called to teach in Primary again, you might rejoice -- "I must have been doing a good job!" -- or you can mourn -- "I guess a Primary teacher is all I'll ever be."

This latter attitude of disappointment comes from the mistaken impression that leadership callings are more important than those of teaching or clerking. But this is not true.

The principal business of the LDS ward is teaching. Teaching is the food of our villages; it's what we eat. We come together on Sundays and other days to break the bread of knowledge, wisdom, and testimony, and share all we have with each other in a great feast.

That gift of teacher to student is what most of our meetings are mostly about. Almost everything else is in support of that great work.

Yet it is also true that a ward cannot thrive without a Bishop and Relief Society president who can keep their fingers on the pulse of the ward; they must have good counselors if they are to have a hope of doing their jobs well.

There has to be a presidency of the Young Men and the Young Women who have the time and the love to get to know all their charges and do what they can to hold on to the youth during that crucial age. And so on, through the quorums, the Primary, the music and clerical and caretaker work of the Church.

No calling is higher than another, not in God's eyes. But some are certainly more demanding of time than "Sunday callings." Preparing a lesson takes time -- but it's time of your own choosing. The leaders have to be on call at many other times.

That's why, when they're dividing wards, they have to make sure that the new villages contain plenty of potential leaders. The list does not consist of the strongest testimonies or the most personable or best-liked.

It consists of the people whose family and working lives will allow them the time to do the jobs, and whose past behavior shows that they can be counted on to do whatever it takes to get the job done as assigned. They also take into account the needs and talents of the individuals they consider.

When the bishops start creating -- or rebuilding -- the ward organizations, there are many reasons why you might end up with one calling, and not another.

If you constantly require a substitute, if you fail to show up without giving any notice, if you do only a half-hearted or ill-prepared job of the callings you've had before, how can you be trusted with a calling that requires that you be there every time, fully prepared?

Even if you've been absolutely dependable, though, that doesn't mean you're going to be tapped for a leadership calling. Nor is it an insult if you don't get one.

If you're a wonderful Primary teacher, it's a wise bishop who does all he can to find somebody else to do the leadership so you can stay in that class where the children thrive.

Ward leaders are not the "best" people; they are merely the best people for the callings they have at the time they have them. And you are the best person for the calling you have -- as long as you strive to make it so.

Here is the great secret that I have learned in my 57 years of life in the villages of Mormondom -- there is no calling in which you cannot earn the love and honor of those whom you serve, or serve with.

There is no calling that will get you to heaven faster than another.

There are no members so extraordinary that they can't be replaced with others who will do their old callings well enough -- or better.

Our villages are re-created every day, every week, by people who selflessly serve, not to be seen of men, but to make sure that whatever task they've been assigned gets done well, and to help others succeed in their callings, too.

If you really believe you were passed over, then don't grumble or gripe or go inactive. That just proves that those who did not choose you for the "lofty" calling you desired were absolutely correct.

Instead, work harder to be a fellow-citizen of the Saints. Show up for everything you can. Come early to help set up; stay late to help clean up. Do your callings faithfully, obediently, and independently.

Keep your attention on the people you serve; love them, rather than loving yourself as the "noble" person serving them.

The reward of this new pattern of behavior is not that you'll finally get the lofty callings you were once disappointed not to get.

The reward is that you'll realize that it was a bit idiotic to want them, when you have plenty of opportunities to serve the ward just as valuably in the calling that you have.

Meanwhile, what I'm most anxious about is the schedule of the three wards that are going to share our stake center. I covet the afternoon schedule -- it will let me sleep late on Sunday morning. But I know that all the young parents are praying for the earliest possible schedule, when their kids are not yet hungry or cranky.

There are so many of them, and they have so much faith. I have only my laziness to recommend me. I'm doomed.

Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card

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