New Ward; Same House

When our young family moved from Texas to Southern Florida for Grad School several years ago, we did not have much time to scout out a place to live.  In fact, my husband spent one weekend—alone—securing a condo we could afford in a safe area.  The neighborhood was great, but our ward had a few challenges. 

Our first Sunday at church, the bishop asked, “how long have you been baptized?” 
“Since we were eight years old.”
“Oh, wow!  This ward is REALLY going to put you to work!!!”

He wasn’t kidding.  Soon, my husband was called to be Elder’s Quorum President, with only one counselor, while in school plus spending around 60 hours per week at the hospital, working for free.  I was called to serve as Young Women President, which meant we were both expected to be at early meetings before church, along with our rambunctious, two-year-old son. 

With the wide variety of cultural backgrounds and languages in our area, we soon adopted the nickname “Northern South America” to describe our new location.  It reminded my husband of his mission in Ecuador, and I even got to brush up on my Spanish! Sundays were often challenging, and much time was spent on fundamentals: teaching basic things like how pray, bear testimonies, bless and pass the sacrament, teach lessons, pay tithing, attend church, etc.  However, through the challenges, our own testimonies were stretched, and we became truly connected for the first time to our ward family.  It felt as if we were making a difference in bringing people to Christ. 

After graduation, we made our way back to Texas.  When it was time to buy a house, we checked out neighborhoods, school districts, and—you guessed it---ward boundaries.   Even though I truly believe that the gospel is the same everywhere, I’ve seen how the dynamics of different church families can vary.  We found what we considered to be a perfect ward, but had to move unexpectedly two years later.  Again, we “ward shopped” to locate a congregation that seemed to be a perfect fit. 

Three years later, just when we felt like one of the “regulars,” it all changed.  We weren’t moving to our new dream home, but our area had a boundary realignment.  Our neighborhood was shifted into a new ward.  It hurt, stretching out of our ward comfort zone, especially when the move hadn’t been our decision. It was if we were picking up and starting again, without the new house.  I wasn’t happy, at first, and there was some murmuring on my part. 

“We hardly know anyone!”
“No one knows our needs!” (I’m fighting Stage IV cancer, which has a whole set of challenges along with it.)
“We basically have to start over, but we had no say in it.”

I then thought back on our time in Florida.  I remembered when a local Spanish stake had been dissolved, placing a number of “new” members in our ward boundaries.  Many of them were angry, choosing to quit attending church at all.  At the time, I felt annoyed and thought to myself, “Why would they not come to church?  What’s the big deal? We even have translators and Spanish classes just for them!  I don’t get it; the church is the same wherever you go!”

And here I was, years later, having to eat my words.  So much more goes into church than just lessons and hymns.  Change is difficult, although often necessary.  I could see at that point what wasn’t so obvious before, realizing that the heartache of an adjustment like that sometimes affects many aspects of life, not just three hours of Sunday.  Part of me wanted to just stay home on Sundays. 

But, we went. 

That first Sunday of the big change, I put on a bright blue wig and a smile, choosing to stand out and not hide in the shadows.  It was different, but also much the same. We meet in the same church building, learn the same lessons, and literally sing from the same hymnals. True, it’s taking time to make friends and meet new families, and I still feel like a visitor who can’t remember the majority of names in the room much of the time.  Thankfully, there was no packing of boxes or moving trucks, and we are right in the same house.  We have plenty of opportunities to spend time with old friends, but I have had the chance to reach out to others, those we might not have otherwise had a reason to get to know. 

My Florida self unfairly judged the hardships other church members felt because of an unexpected change.  Back then, I was just an observer; I didn’t have to experience the big change myself.  I’ve learned that the phrase I’ve always heard: “the church is the same wherever you go,” isn’t entirely accurate.  People and cultures can vary from place to place, and that can affect activities and traditions in certain areas.  However, the gospel is the same wherever you go.  And, we’re all just trying to live the gospel and be a little more like Christ each day.

How thankful I am that the gospel of Christ doesn’t change, no matter what ward boundaries my family calls home.

Melodee Cooper is a Texan by birth, an Aggie by choice, the wife of a fellow Aggie because “he loves her more,” and a mother of three boys by a combination of time, modern science, and divine intervention. She has taught both 5th and 6th grade math and science, and is now able to be a stay-at-home mom, an amateur decorator, a crafter, a blogger, and a holiday enthusiast. She is battling Stage 4 cancer while remaining optimistic and grateful for the blessings in her life.

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