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Splitsville: It hurts at church
By Orson Scott Card December 2, 2010

So you open the local newspaper one morning and there's the banner headline:

City Has Been Split In Half

It seems the city has grown so much that in the judgement of the state government and county authorities, it has become unmanageable. So they secretly chose a dividing line and now you're a citizen of a newly formed city.

You still live in the same neighborhood; you haven't moved. But from now on, your address will have a different city name. You have a new mayor and city council.

Still, that's not such a huge difference, is it? It's not as if you can't still keep all your old friends who have been assigned to the other city. You still shop in the same places. You don't exactly live or die by the decisions of the local government.

And yet, as time goes on, you find yourself feeling an allegiance to the new city, while what used to be the other half starts feeling rather foreign to you. You know people who live there, but you're not a citizen of that city any more. Their decisions don't affect you -- it's your new city government that decides about garbage pickup schedules, local speed limits, street repairs, parking meters, and zoning laws.

This is my town, and that other is not, you think, and you're right.

Except, of course, that in a democracy, it's pretty rare for a city to get divided or created without the people who live there getting a voice in the matter.

The Church is not a democracy. Everyone knows that wards get divided so that they stay within a certain range of numbers of households, members, and priesthood holders, and stakes divide so that there is a reasonable number of units for stake leaders to visit and train, and of members to bring together for conferences.

It's done secretly for the excellent reason that there is no boundary you can draw that will thrill everybody. If you try to divide a unit openly, there'll be people pushing for certain boundaries, and when their pleas are not heeded, they can end up anywhere from disgruntled to inactive.

You just do it, announce it, and then let people adjust accordingly. If they really hate the new boundaries they can move or, in rare cases and with good reasons, get permission to attend a different ward.

Our stake conference was the week before Thanksgiving. Our stake presidency had a superb record of never leaking anything. The only hint we had that something was coming was that a new ward had been created in a nearby town, taking a few families from our ward, and then the new ward and the older units in that town were all added to our stake.

Suddenly we had fourteen units. That's getting toward critical mass. It seemed obvious that the stake was going to be divided at the coming conference.

The trouble was, there was no rational boundary we could imagine that didn't split the city of Greensboro. Five units included some portion of the city, and they were right in the center.

When the actual division was announced, all our speculation went out the window, because three more wards were added in the process -- one from a Charlotte stake, and two from the Winston-Salem Stake.

But we were right about one thing: Greensboro was split between the stakes.

My wife had lent a set of autumn-colored tablecloths to a sister in another ward for use in a stake activity. She needed to get the tablecloths back because somebody else needed to borrow them.

So she did what she always does -- she signed on to LDS.org and looked up the phone number.

Only the Church's software was too efficient. It was only a couple of days after the stake division went into effect, and already we had been cut off from access to the contact information of anyone who had been assigned to the other stake.

It was as if the Church's computers expected that all ties between Church members within our city had disappeared in the instant that the stake was split.

It's like lending a book to a friend, and then he moves away without returning it!

It would have been nice if newly divided stakes could have been given a grace period -- say a year or even six months -- in which members of both stakes could have some access to each other's contact information.

Fortunately, my wife still had that sister's email address, and just as fortunately her email was answered within a few hours, so we got the tablecloths back in time.

When you're part of the same stake, you can count on bumping into friends and acquaintances from other wards. They'll be chaperoning at a stake dance, attending stake priesthood or training meeting.

For the plays that we put on at our stake center -- one of the old kind, with a stage built in -- we've been borrowing platforms from newer buildings in our city in order to expand the stage space to accommodate large casts. Members of the wards we borrowed from were likely to be in the plays; it was a shared operation.

Now those wards have been picked up and moved into another stake. They might as well be on the moon. It would be completely weird to borrow platforms from them, since their members won't be taking part in any of our plays in the future. And we'll miss them! (Not just the platforms -- the performers, too.)

The core of Greensboro Stake had been together for nearly sixty years. There's history here, ties of the heart and mind that can't be severed in a moment.

We just lost the Colfax Ward, whose meetinghouse sits on land so long held by the Church that an LDS cemetery is built there. We also used to hold outdoor stake dances at the pavilion on that land. Now it is part of the new High Point Stake; we will be strangers if we visit there.

It used to be the most African-American members in our stake were part of the old Greensboro Second Ward (now Greensboro Lakefield). During the years before and after 1978, they relied on each other, sustained each other against many kinds of adversity.

It was hard enough for many of those families to get used to the ward divisions that split them between the Summit and Lakefield wards. Now the stake division runs along that boundary. Following the normal patterns of Mormon life, they'll never see each other!

It's as if friends had died, and you weren't even told about the funeral! Or as if they moved away, so you'll never bump into them at the grocery store.

There are times, however, when establishing new boundaries may also serve to help erase old boundaries; when unities of accomplishment are formed as unities of protection are set aside.

We're the only church that does this terrible, wonderful thing to ourselves. It keeps our bones from getting too old, our jointures too arthritic. Every congregation is young; the Church is busy remaking itself all the time.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

 
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