I had a frustrating experience during Ward Council (a meeting for “leaders” in the ward) last week (I mean, I probably have frustrating experiences during Ward Council close to every time I attend given my opinionated nature, the topics of discussion, and my take on things compared to most other people present). We were talking about using ward activities to invite and develop friendships with members of the ward that might not be attending on Sunday, which was a worthwhile and productive discussion. However, it shifted to a conversation about how we could help people that attend all their meetings on Sunday, but never come to activities during the week get to those activities (a conversation that we’ve had many times). This carried the assertion that there’s something lacking in those members’ belief/commitment/testimony/activity when they do not attend ward activities, regardless of Church attendance.
As someone who rarely goes to ward activities (I used to, but those days are largely past), yet feels like they have a pretty strong (if unorthodox) belief in Mormonism, this conversation strikes a nerve. As it’s come up before I’ve tried to gently steer away from the idea, but it keeps coming up and last week I couldn’t hold it in, so I responded (probably bordering on ranting). I said something about people being busy, about the importance of Church attendance rather than activities, about introverts not loving those sorts of environments, about having friendships and unity with other people or with the ward in different ways, and finally ended with a statement close to, “You can still love Jesus even if you never go to a ward activity.”
There was some discussion and response to my thoughts, including my Bishop talking about how in his home growing up they simply attended every ward activity without question. That was just a part of being a member of the Church for them. This was an enlightening comment and the conversation shifted after that to a lecture/chastisement of sorts that we should go to activities for other people that we can help or reach out to there and not for our own enjoyment (which is a valid consideration).
Anyway, I left that conversation dissatisfied. And thoughtful. What are the requirements of “activity” in the Church? Not in an official sense because I know that more or less, but for me personally, what do I need to do to consider myself active? Why do I choose those things and not others? Should I consider adding things and perhaps taking some away? This is a highly personal list and not what I use as a benchmark for judging the activity of others (something I find difficult to do and problematic given the personal and individual nature of belief). It’s probably worth more discussion (perhaps next week) of why Mormons are so concerned with “activity” with practice in some sense, rather than belief (besides when those beliefs lead to wrong or dangerous or blasphemous practices, of course). However, there’s not quite time for that today. So, my personal requirements of activity:
- Church attendance. I go to Church every week (like I’ve missed 2 Sundays in the past 15 years or so). A pretty standard and straightforward measure of activity. Am I always uplifted and inspired by what I hear at Church? No. Am I frequently bored or irritated? Yeah. Can I find something insightful and valuable from my Church attendance? Whenever I’ve been in the right frame of mind, yes, I’ve been able to do so. There’s something grounding for me about going to Church—perhaps it helps remind me of the communal aspect of Mormonism that I love in theory and use to support some of my more progressive ideas, but struggle appreciating in practice, or it could have something to do with the ritual of the sacrament reminding me of the real, practical implications of my beliefs. Whatever it is, I feel better for going and engaging and striving to be an active member of the congregation. I know that this is not true for everyone and believe that some people are best served by limited Church attendance for some time, but for me, going to Church is what I do.
- Blogging. There could be other ways of getting this satisfaction or engagement, but for me blogging provides some spiritual nourishment that I think is necessary to my wellbeing. For now, I don’t think I’d be as active as I could be if I stopped blogging. Obviously it does something for me or I would have stopped doing it long ago and I think it also helps me feel like I’m engaging with a community (not necessarily my ward here, but real people still).
- Fulfill my calling. I feel obligated to fulfill my calling (whatever it may be) in the best way I know how. Currently, as Ward Mission Leader, that entails Ward Council every week, other meetings scattered around, holding regular Sweet Soul Saving activities, working with the Elder’s Quorum and Relief Society to lift, encourage, and inspire various members of the ward, and any number of other things that I may be asked to do. Do I enjoy the meetings I have to attend? Absolutely not. Could I find reasons not to go? Sure, but I feel like I have an obligation to God and members of my ward to go and share my thoughts. I believe that callings can be inspired, but I’ve been in enough meetings where callings are discussed and issued to other factors are frequently involved. Yet, I’m a firm believer in God using any and all willing people to further His/Her/Their work wherever they are found, regardless of how they came to be there.
- Personal spiritual habits. Blogging could have been a subset of this, but I feel like it’s different enough and not typically thought of as a personal spiritual habit that it deserved its own mention (also, then I had 5 things and no one wants a list of 4, that’s just funny-looking). Scripture reading, prayer, and writing in my journal all fall in this category. I engage in those activities on my own terms, but I think they are absolutely a part of my Church activity and that I feel better spiritually when I’m doing them more whole-heartedly.
- Temple. This is a tricky one. For me, holding a temple recommend is definitely a part of being active. I want to be better about actually attending the temple, but I struggle with it (for a myriad of reasons). I think monthly attendance is about the ideal for me. It provides some time to be outside myself and engaging in other ritualistic aspects of Mormonism. Yet, I also just haven’t been able to quite find the most productive and spiritually uplifting way to approach the temple and I can’t decide if that’s because there isn’t one (for me) or because I’ve just been doing the wrong things.
So there you have it. The standards I hold myself to for being active. Absolutely nothing about attending ward activities (shocking, I know).