Part of A Happier Ward Series – (ward health)
Joy and Celebration
I hope you don’t mind; I borrowed this first bit from a recent ‘Come, Follow Me‘ reading assignment.
In the Old Testament, spiritual occasions are often marked with happiness and a cause to celebrate with each other. They had lots of festivals and parties.
Nehemiah and Ezra ensured joy and celebration, even on a holy day.
The Hebrew Bible – Nehemiah 8:8-12
8 And they read from the book, from the Book of God’s Teaching, expounding and giving reasons, and they explained what was read.
9 And Nehemaiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and the Levites, explaining to the people, said to all the people, “Today is holy for you to the Lord your God. Do not mourn and do not weep,” for they were weeping when they heard the words of the Teaching.
10 Then he said unto them, “Go, eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has none prepared [sounds like ministering], for the day is holy to our Master, and do not be sad, for the rejoicing of the Lord is your strength.”
11 And the Levites were silencing the people, saying, “Hush, for today is holy. Do not be sad.”
12 And all the people went to eat and to drink and to send portions and to make a great joyous celebration, for they had understood the things that had been made known to them.
Then the Jews brought back the lost festival of the booths and celebrated some more.
Time to Celebrate
Never have our people needed gatherings, feasts, and regular traditions that unite us –more. Especially after so much isolation!
Ward activities infuse:
- mutual understanding
- self-identity as one who belongs to a group of Saints
Zion is defined as becoming one heart and one mind – feasts, traditions, and gatherings help us with that process.
By chance, have you noticed how often Christ includes food at His gatherings? It was quite a bit. He even hosted a BBQ on the beach for His apostles after His death (John 21:1-14). Jesus used food as a foundational way of connecting with people or sometimes to help His teaching. If you consciously note Christ’s frequent use of food throughout the scriptures – you will be comfortable with food at Church. This includes:
- ward activities
- service projects
- ward functions of all kinds
- Sunday School classes
- Linger Longers (potluck after Sunday meetings)
- Relief Society! (See my note below.)
Food is an effective tool by divine design – use it with your eye single to God’s glory.
I regularly set up the round tables (8 chairs each) and rotated who served light food at Relief Society on Sunday. That might sound far out – but Relief Society used to be like that…more of an actual club-like society. The atmosphere worked wonders. Sisters were more relaxed and engaged with the others at their table and during the lesson. It livened up the whole room! It also helped Relief Society have a more credible, substantial feel as a cohesive, influential group of women who belonged to each other. Relief Society should be an important event with a glorious purpose – rather than just another Sunday School class by a different name.
Relief Society has been watered down over the decades, is it time for your ward to restore its intended capacity and influence? But that’s a different topic…
Food at Church is:
- appreciated service
- communicates love and care
- creates inclusion
- helps fellowship
- provides variety
- improves gladness
- stirs motivation
I recently talked with some dear friends who lamented that they no longer have Linger Longers after Church every Sunday. I asked why it stopped, and they said, “Because it’s working on the Sabbath.”
I guess our missionaries are big sinners, right? Because Sunday is their busiest, most prolonged hard-working day!
While I jest: I hope most of us know the “work” rule is about gainful employment or daily home chores – and definitely not meant to discourage building the Lord’s Kingdom or serving people.
Certainly, the service, time, and meetings we donate to the Lord’s Kingdom can be A LOT of work – however, they keep the Sabbath day quite holy. They do not interfere with the Lord’s version of “family first” either. (Please see “The Sneaky, False God of Family First” for insightful quotes from Elder Oaks and Sister Beck)
Two Short Notes
1) Work and the Sabbath – Serving food to others on the Sabbath is not work if donated explicitly as a service or a way to strengthen the ward family on Sunday. You take food to those you minister, right?
The critical question: Is this done with an eye single to God’s glory?
eye single to God’s glory: to forward His purposes, such as building up the Kingdom or giving service to God’s family
2) Inclusion: A much wider circle of people can be pulled in for activities and should be. Primarily involve those who might be on the outer edge for some reason. It helps them feel like they can contribute and belong when asked to help with food, planning, serving, or even a well-organized and socialized kitchen clean-up.
Brothers and Sisters…don’t be afraid to be creative, dynamic, or inspired way outside of the box. Sometimes traditions, “rules,” and attitudes about food and gatherings at Church have been around so long–that no one questions them, and they become adopted false doctrine.
Once, one of my counselors insisted that Linger Longers couldn’t include BBQ food. Because it felt too party-like, and it was working on the Sabbath to start the BBQ (our ward building had one). I asked her if it was more work than using a stove or cooking over a fire like 2/3 of the rest of the world?
Since not using the BBQ affected no one in our group, and it wasn’t a hill to die on – I honored her wishes. However, if some inactive members were excited about contributing freshly grilled food – I would have held that line.
If her cultural belief resonates with yours, please reread the two scripture references, John 21:1-14 and Nehemiah 8:8-12, and see if you’re positive about that point still?
Hopefully, we follow Christ’s example – use food and gather together with others naturally, comfortably, and whenever inspired to do so.
The Importance of a Wide Circle
Even though the ward was not big, my husband Joel could routinely get upwards of 250 people at a ward activity simply by intentionally including those who didn’t have a significant calling or presence. He scoured the corners and ensured everyone within the ward boundaries was personally invited and/or encouraged to participate in the operations. Because of his personality, he made kitchen prep and clean-up fun. Those who helped in the kitchen felt like they were at the center of everything.
Joel said, “I make an effort to involve people. Sometimes we forget what ward activities are for. It’s not just to put another date on the calendar. The purpose is to get people connected and to get them involved. I’ve been to ward activities that are organized so that no one is mingling with anyone else.”
Once, a brother returned to Church simply because Joel asked him to be a judge at a chili cook-off contest. He had such a good time!
Another time, he invited sisters to set up and decorate one round table each for a ward Christmas party, with their favorite holiday dish settings from home. Every table had its own original art and theme. You could hardly stand up and walk around in that cultural hall; it was so crowded with people. It looked amazing too. Imagine all the conversations that were sparked from the table decorations alone.
One More Substantial Thing
Ward leaders should have a 100% ward activity attendance ethic. When you’re called as a leader in a presidency, bishopric, etc. – you have been called on a mission to lead and model fellowship. Your handshakes, validations, and small talk significantly impact the rest of the ward.
Do you want to upgrade your ward and see more people on Sunday? Be at the activities and work the room. If you don’t attend – why should anyone else? You automatically downgrade the importance of ward activities to others when you skip them. Act like they are the best things on earth, and those activities will become the best things on earth.
5 Short Takeaways
1) Have activities in all their varieties soon – and often. 2) Include Sundays. 3) Rediscover the usefulness of food. 4) Ask those who don’t get asked…to do the fun, central stuff. 5) If you’re a ward leader – make it your mission to be at ward functions and have 10 greetings/handshakes/conversations with those you don’t usually rub shoulders with (if for no other reason than to fellowship and model Christ).
P.S. Christ was big on food and always worked the room.
Bless you, for considering these topics! Sharing time and thought space makes a difference in this challenging world.