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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The importance of fellowship

I want to preface this blog entry by saying that I share these thoughts and feelings in all humility. I guess I am really writing them down so as to serve as a reminder for me personally of how I must actively strive to be a better and more effective disciple of Christ with my Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters as well as those who are not of my faith- particularly when I see a new face at church on Sundays who is in need of fellowship.

My family and I attended our new ward for the second time this past Sunday. To say I left disheartened would probably be an understatement. Only 2 people came up to us to welcome us to the ward or to even say hello. The previous Sunday in attendance, it was pretty much the same. In fact, I found myself trying my darnedest to strike up a conversation with several sisters in both my time in the nursery as I sat with Noah and then again before Relief Society began and sadly, the response was at best....lukewarm. I thought to myself as I was sitting in Relief Society (by myself I might add) that thank goodness I am older, wiser and strongly grounded in the gospel or otherwise, I have to admit-I don't think I would ever want to come back.

I am reminded of a talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard entitled, "The Hand of Fellowship" where a member of the Quorum of the Seventy described a similar incident when he attended a new ward-- and I quote:

“I entered there as a stranger and tried every way that I knew to strike up a conversation, or to say hello, or to be kind, or to be greeted, or to be known. Everyone ignored me; nobody would speak to me—no one!

“Finally, a man recognized me. He said, ‘Oh, Elder Harris.’ The bishop turned around and said, ‘What did you say?’ The brother said, ‘This is Elder Harris of the First Quorum of the Seventy.’

“Well, things changed. It wasn’t long before I was asked to sit on the stand; they wondered if I wouldn’t like to bear my testimony. After the meeting, many people shook my hand. As I left, I thought, ‘What a tragedy! A gray-haired man who was unknown walks into a meeting. Nobody recognizes him, nobody says hello, nobody is kind. Then, because of his Church position, everybody changes and wants to be friendly. ”

A second experience I am pondering today is one my own mother shared with me yesterday. I had never heard this story. She shared it with me during my phone conversation with her as I was sharing my frustration over my "not-so-pleasant" experience at church on Sunday.

My mother is a convert. She joined the church after being introduced to the gospel by my father when she was in college. Her conversion story really had little to do with her impending marriage to my dad...she has shared with me that in fact, she had been searching for quite some time for what she hoped was the true church. She had so many unanswered questions prior to hearing the Gospel and it all seemed to just make complete sense to her when she was introduced to the doctrine of our faith. When she was baptized, her family really had no qualms with her joining the church. In fact, she said they had never heard of the Mormon church prior to her baptism.

Mother shared with me that not too long after she joined the church, she invited her mother and younger brother to attend one Sunday. They had never attended a Mormon church. She said that while my grandmother and uncle were there that Sunday, not one member came up to welcome them, introduce themselves or just simply say hello. Following the meetings, mother said that my grandmother told her on the drive home that it was the most unfriendly church she had ever attended and she would never go back.

Naturally, my heart just broke when I heard this story. What a missed opportunity for those members of that ward that day to welcome my grandmother and uncle and plant a seed for their conversion some day. I wonder what would have happened if a few of the members that day had taken the time to warmly welcome my grandmother and uncle....would they have continued attending? would they have taken the missionary discussions? better yet---would they have joined the church? The ripple effect that a small act of kindness and fellowship could have led to---we will never know. My grandmother passed away a few years ago and my uncle is now an active member of another church.

My experiences these past two Sundays in my new ward have been lessons I believe my loving Heavenly Father allowed me to experience and learn from. Too often I let my shyness or fear of leaving my own personal comfort zone restrain me from reaching out to visitors and new members who attend on Sundays. Let me also say here that I am sure my experience in my new ward will be wonderful. I have no doubt that I will meet and serve with some amazing and humble members- so I in no way hold any negative feelings toward any of them. I look forward to getting to know each of them.

The gem I have decided I must take from this experience is a reminder that I, Jennifer, cannot and will not allow fear or shyness to impede my efforts to be a better disciple of Christ.

Jesus gave us a new commandment and said it would identify his disciples:

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” - John 13:34-35

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