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The secret to good activities
By Orson Scott Card November 27 2008

We speak of immortality as if it were always a good thing. But not everything we create needs to last forever.

When I direct plays in the stake or ward, the participants usually have so much fun and bond so closely that, as we near the performance dates, some cast members will start saying, "Oh, if only this could last forever!" "Oh, it makes me so sad that this is going to end!"

But I know something they don't know -- if rehearsals and performances went on too long, they'd get sick of them.

The intensity simply cannot be maintained. After a while, you'd just stop caring as much.

The only reason you look back so fondly on a wonderful experience in theatre is that it's over. If it weren't over, you couldn't look back on it, fondly or any other way!

Some things we make -- like marriages and children -- are meant to go on and on, because they keep having new meaning and the experience keeps changing.

Even our ward and stake callings keep on going -- only the person who holds the calling changes. That's one of the reasons it's hard for some people to let go of their callings -- because it can be so devastating, after having poured your soul into a calling for months or years, to leave that job and then watch someone else doing it!

At least when I'm through directing a play, the whole play is done with. Nobody else continues after me, changing all the blocking and the interpretation of the lines and maybe tossing out the whole second act to write a new one.

Endings put a frame around the experience, so you can understand what you have done.

Which brings me to the Relief Society program of Enrichment. The wardwide meetings (once called "Homemaking") were scaled back to four a year, with a couple more put on by the stake.

In addition to the formal meetings, the sisters in each ward are supposed to take part in "Enrichment Activities." Church policy says that these events are "less structured" and "bring together sisters who have common needs, interests, or circumstances."

Some sisters might band together in what amounts to a support group that goes on and on -- and that's fine.

The trouble in many wards, though, is that they'll start up book groups, exercise groups, scrapbooking groups, playgroups for moms with small children, and after a few meetings, people drift away, until they fizzle out completely.

Some Relief Society presidencies find this discouraging. They think the groups have all "failed."

You have to change perspective. If you drive three days to get to grandma's house, has the trip "failed" because on the fourth day you're no longer driving? Of course not! You stopped driving because you got there.

Enrichment Activities need to start with a destination in mind. Then, when you get there, that group disbands. Friendships that formed during the project might continue; the sisters all know each other better; they've learned new skills. Now they can all move on to the next activity and the next group.

While she was still stake Relief Society president, my wife got to see what worked and what didn't work. Here's what she wrote about it in a discussion at Nauvoo.com:

"What I've seen work best are small group activities that have between one and four sessions and then are over. Sometimes those sessions have been held three weeks in a row, sometimes they met once a month, sometimes every other week, depending on the group and the goal."

What kinds of E.A.s worked best?

A three-week cooking class on "easy" gourmet cooking techniques. It was held at a sister's home, not the meetinghouse kitchen, and it was excellent and popular.

A four-session class for beginning knitters. The instructor had one project in mind; she taught the basics, helped them complete the task, and then it was over.

(Some sisters asked to go on, and she led a second project with that group. But nobody thought the group had "failed" because some of the sisters did not stay with it. They had completed the four-session course.)

A three-session home storage course -- one on storage techniques, one on using a variety of grains, one on successful breadmaking.

More than one E.A. has focused on Family Home Evening activities. One was about planning your FHEs for the year -- the instructor brought tons of resources and planning sheets. Another was on making visual aids for a particular lesson on the Plan of Salvation (that took two sessions.)

A two-session activity on making a "quiet book" that taught gospel principles using the sisters' own family photos.

A three-session intro to Art History. My wife taught this one. She had a dozen sisters attend, and "we had a terrific time. What I loved noticing most was this course got sisters together who were not particularly friends before. But all of a sudden they realized they had an interest in common and became better friends."

A two-session course on dog training. All the dogs and their owners spent a couple of hours in the church parking lot on two Saturday mornings, learning techniques from a sister in the ward -- and enjoying their pets together.

A one-session course on CPR -- everyone who attended got certified.

A one-session course on hair-braiding.

A two-session course on learning to conduct the hymns.

Then there was the stakewide "Project Linus" service project. The stake Relief Society presidency didn't set goals or quotas or make assignments. The wards were invited to participate in any way they chose.

Some just announced it in their ward and handed out patterns. Others had small group activities on teaching crocheting or quilting or no-sew blanket techniques.

But each sister had the goal of producing one blanket for the project -- and then they were officially finished. Some didn't stop with one, and of course the stake gratefully collected and passed along the additional blankets. But it was not a burden, assignment, or duty for anyone.

At the next stake Enrichment Activity, the many blankets were displayed all over the cultural hall. The sisters got to see how much they had accomplished together. Since the activity was over, they could look back on with joy.

But successful E.A.s don't just happen. As my wife learned, "One of the keys is making sure that the person in charge of the group is very committed -- but it's a short term assignment, so they can pour some effort into it and know it will be over with.

"The person in charge needs to be sure she doesn't just take a sign-up list given to her by the RS presidency and figure those people will actually show up." The sign-up list is just the starting point -- phone calls, invitations, reminders all help to make the activity succeed.

And since my wife is the one who actually drew this list together (for that post on Nauvoo.com), I'll let her have the last word:

"Groups that are not expected to go on forever have a much better chance of success. New skills are taught, new friends are made, and we go on to something else. It's been fun to see new friendships and connections made inside the wards when sisters discover other sisters who care about the same thing."

Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card

 
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