The first Sunday of the year is always one of my very favorite church meetings. Because it's the first Sunday of the month, it's testimony meeting, which is always a special treat, but it's even better on the first Sunday in January, when dear friends in the ward* have contemplated and reflected on the previous year and their hopes for a new one.
Today, before testimony meeting began, the Stake President* announced to us that because the Oregon City area is growing, our four wards will be divided next week into five wards. What an exciting announcement! Because LDS wards are served by a lay ministry, and our bishops still hold down full-time jobs, the size of a ward is limited to 400-600 members; when the wards get bigger than that, it's usually time to divide!
I've lived in the same house for 30 years, and this will be my fifth ward. Each change has brought the thrill of witnessing growth in the Church in my own community, accompanied by the sadness of losing weekly association with dear brothers and sisters. It's not that anyone moves; we certainly could still see one another, but life gets busy, and it often transpires that we run into each other only a few times a year after the ward divides. And even when we do see one another, it's not the same; we don't share the weekly association of worship, feeling the Spirit in a particular talk, humorous happenings with the little ones, prayers offered for a ward member with struggles, ward activities and lessons and service projects and potluck suppers.
Instead, there will be the sometimes-uncomfortable experience of getting to know new people, learning a new calling,* getting used to a new ward identity.
Oh my - this all sounds so negative! I really don't mean to dwell on the "cons." There are lots of "pros," too. With every ward change, I have gained precious new friends, experienced growth in different callings, been excited to be part of MY new ward. I'm sure that will happen this time, too. I don't have to worry that the preaching will be different in my new ward; the Church uses a standard worldwide curriculum, so the lessons in one ward are the same as the lessons in another. I am thankful to live in a time with a living Prophet and revelation that guides the leaders of the Church, and I am excited to see what next week brings!
*LDS congregations are called "wards."
*Wards are organized into stakes; the local ecclesiastical leader of the stake is called the stake president.
*Since the whole organization is lay ministry, everyone pitches in. We refer to our church assignments as "callings."