So, young single adults … have you ever been in a ward you didn’t like? The chemistry was off? Didn’t connect with your quorum? Not enough hotties? Too few mingles?
Well, what did you do about it?
If your answer is, “I served others, fulfilled my calling, loved the congregation and tried harder,” then kudos. Good work.
If your answer is, “I up and left,” then you’re a ward hopper and we need to talk.
The costs of jumping ship
It may seem like a small thing to go to a fresh ward each Sunday — after all, you’re still going to church. But Charles Schwab, who was recently released from his position as a young single adult ward bishop in Salt Lake City, says that if everyone gave each ward in their area a trial run, the church couldn’t function, and lives couldn’t be blessed.
“What would happen if everybody had to be in the ‘top’ ward?” Schwab asked. “Then what happens to all the other wards?”
The fact is that members can’t fully participate in the edifying experience that is church membership if they don’t regularly attend the ward to which they’re assigned, he said, and they can’t serve others or be served.
“If I don’t have their church membership, then they don’t get a calling. So they miss out on the whole sanctifying experience,” said Schwab, who teaches institute at the University of Utah. “They can’t pay their tithing to me. … They can’t come in for an interview. They can’t go through the repentance process. I can’t give them a temple recommend.”
Jeff Lee, a bishop of a YSA ward in Lynnwood, Wash., says ward boundaries are important, and venturing too far outside of them can sometimes make serving others difficult. The boundaries of his ward cover more than 20 miles, and so if someone from outside that area insists on attending, that person’s home teachers or visiting teachers then have to travel 30 or 40 minutes to fulfill their responsibilities.
“If you’re outside of those boundaries … it’s a hardship,” he said.
Not just about socializing
The biggest reason young adults give for ward hopping is “meeting new people,” Bishop Schwab said. While socializing is certainly a big component of young adult wards, they’re designed for worship first and foremost. That’s why going from place to place for the sake of meeting others or getting phone numbers isn’t advisable.
Jared Mickelsen, 27, said he attended a friend’s ward for months after he made a career move to Salt Lake City because he didn’t know anyone in his designated ward. Because he had a built-in friend, however, he never got out of his comfort zone to make new acquaintances while he was hopping.
It wasn’t until he went back to his own ward, got a calling as ward clerk and went to all his meetings that he began to make new friends. And now, the ward doesn’t seem quite as “weird” as when he first scoped it out.
“I enjoy the ward very much so,” he said.
When he was starting out on his own, Mickelsen said it was tempting to be a “sacrament meetinger” and skip out on priesthood meeting and Sunday School. He said he felt it was a choice between “sitting by yourself for three hours or sitting by yourself for an hour and a half.” But his calling made him accountable and introduced him to new people.
There were times when Bishop Schwab would notice an unfamiliar person enter the chapel during sacrament meeting and look around the entire meeting, not listening to the messages, but rather scoping out everyone in the ward. Afterward, he or one of his counselors would ask the visitor if he or she planned on moving in. When the answer was a predictable ‘I’m not sure,’ Bishop Schwab would ask him or her to leave, which was always followed by defensiveness.
“If they’re mad at you for enforcing the rules, you know where their heart is,” he said.
Randy Blades, a BYU graduate, said he’s been known to go from ward to ward in hopes of meeting a girl to date. Now three months into a deployment to Iraq, where there are no church services in his battalion, Blades said he misses the supportive environment found in the church, even in the wards you’re not sold on.
“I miss having a ward. It’s a support system. It gives you the motivation to do the right,” he said.
Bishop Lee said that people who judge the quality of a prospective ward based on the looks of its members are missing the wonderful opportunities found only in young adult wards.
“When you really get in and make an effort,” he said, “there can be such a spiritual … closeness and development of testimony.”
It’s all in the approach
Bishop Schwab said that young adults are a unique group, and consequently there will be rare exceptions where it makes sense for someone to attend a ward outside their boundaries, but those rare exceptions should be handled on a case-by-case basis under the direction of the bishop.
“If you think you have a valid enough reason to not be in the ward in your area, then talk to the ecclesiastical leaders of both wards,” he said, “and let them counsel you, and listen to their counsel.”
It’s the serial hopping that’s a problem, not the person from outside the boundaries who, under the direction of the bishop, attends and contributes. Bishop Schwab said the hallmark characteristic of a ward hopper is selfishness and an attitude of “what can you give me?”
“They’re looking for the perfect ward,” he said. “And when they hit a ward that they really, really fancy, they stay for a while, but what I’ve noticed is a lot of them never came in to participate or to contribute. They didn’t come in to serve. … They just came in to take.”
They want to be entertained, fed, visited and taught, but don’t care to put forth any of their own effort, and oftentimes they don’t even attend all of their meetings.
“You need to look at the intentions of your heart and not the excuses you come up with to justify yourself,” he said.