When I was growing up, our family did not live near any of our relatives. I had grandparents in another part of the state, but my closest-in-age cousins lived on the other side of the country. My parents loved getting together with family, but the number of cross-country trips we could take was limited. And since my parents are both very social, we often spent holidays and vacations with other families in our ward who also didn’t have relatives nearby.
Today I cherish those families. Many of them are like second parents to me. They were my girls’ camp leaders, my seminary teachers, my Young Women advisers, my bishop. I babysat many of their kids who are now grown. My sisters dated their sons. They wrote us letters on our missions. They hosted my wedding reception in their backyard. They have even been present as each of my siblings and I were sealed to our respective spouses in the temple.
I now live less than an hour from all four of my siblings and their families, and some are as close as a 10-minute drive. We get together often for family dinners, we go to community pools together, we babysit each other’s children, and we can go to the temple together. I cherish the opportunity to live so close to many family members and for my son to know his cousins so well.
But in the back of my mind, I think about how much I love those families in our ward that we were close to when I was young. So I try to go out of my way to make sure my family spends time with our ward family as well. I believe that the diversity of thought and background that comes from a ward family can lead to some incredible, and dare I say life-altering blessings. Here are four such blessings I have found that can come when we pursue relationships with our ward family.
1. Opportunities to serve in new ways
Often, serving someone starts with noticing them.
President Linda K. Burton told the story of a stake Relief Society president who helped collect quilts for people in need during the 1990s. “She and her daughter drove a truck filled with those quilts from London to Kosovo. On her journey home she received an unmistakable spiritual impression that sank deep into her heart. The impression was this: ‘What you have done is a very good thing. Now go home, walk across the street, and serve your neighbor!’”
We all understand the beautiful and powerful impact service can have on our lives. It can boost our self-esteem, it can build communities, it can heal broken hearts, and it is truly the Lord’s work. But if we are not spending any time with our fellow ward members, we are not giving ourselves an opportunity to honestly see our neighbors or know their needs. Ward activities provide a perfect opportunity for getting to know your ward family, but you can also get more personal with game nights, play dates for younger kids, friendly athletic activities like pick-up basketball or pickleball, afternoons at a local museum or splash pad, and impromptu dinner invitations. Think about your family’s interests and invite others to join you.
As we more closely and thoughtfully participate in our ward, our eyes might open enough to see a talent that a neighbor could offer to the ward. Or we might notice that they may be experiencing a trial that we can help them get through by drawing on our own shared experiences. And as we take time to notice and serve those around us, we may just find that our lives are blessed even more than the individuals we are serving as we find more peace, perspective, and positivity in our own lives.
2. Opportunities to learn from others’ personal experiences
Children who grow up in the same household often share similar life experiences. But when they socialize and worship on Sunday with those outside of their immediate family, they can learn from the personal experiences of others.
There is so much to be said for friendships based on proximity. A 2022 National Institute of Health study found that elementary school children most often become friends with classmates they sit next to. When little else would have brought you together naturally, being in the same physical space can bring the most diverse and unlikely groups of people together.
Adults, like children, also benefit from hearing other perspectives at church. As ward members share stories in Sunday school or add personal anecdotes to their sacrament meeting talks, it can further cement our understanding or give us new insights into a familiar concept. It’s the same reason so many of the Savior’s teachings involved parables and so many general conference speakers share stories from their lives—these examples give us a chance to learn valuable lessons and better understand important gospel principles through a new lens, all while leading to new friendships we might have missed out on otherwise.
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3. Opportunities to improve our own families
There are many ways engaging with other families in our wards can improve our own family.
For example, as a relatively new parent, I have learned many eye-opening parenting strategies by watching how other members of my ward engage with, interact with, and even discipline their children. Much of our understanding and expectation of how to parent comes from the way we were raised, so there can be huge value in observing the behaviors and habits of a wide variety of families.
Being a part of a ward family also provides families, including children, with service opportunities within the ward, and families who serve together grow closer to one another. Families can learn to work hard together when they clean the meetinghouse, participate in ward service projects, or minister to other ward members.
In April 2011, President Henry B. Eyring said, “Draw your family into the work with you so that they can learn to care for each other as they care for others. Your sons and daughters who work with you to serve others in need will be more likely to help each other when they are in need.”
4. Opportunities to be loved by your community
Even if you have family that lives close by, there are likely members of your ward who don’t. And being a part of a ward family gives everyone in the congregation an opportunity to love and create bonds of friendship. When you are in need of help, there is an obvious advantage to reaching out to nearby family members. But there is also value in reaching out to your fellow ward members and neighbors.
In his April 2018 general conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared a story about a man named Brett immediately calling his home teacher as his wife Kristin suddenly fell unresponsive one evening. This dedicated home teacher was at their home in just a few minutes, helping with the family’s five young children, driving Brett to the hospital behind the ambulance carrying his wife, and ultimately holding Brett as he sobbed when his wife passed away just 40 minutes later. When the home teacher told Elder Holland about the experience, he said, “The irony in all of this is that Brett has been our family’s home teacher for longer than I have been theirs. Over that time, he has visited us more as a friend than by assignment. He has been a great example, the epitome of what an active and involved priesthood bearer should be. My wife, our boys—we don’t see him as one obligated to bring us a message at the end of each month; we think of him as a friend who lives just down the street and around the corner, who would do anything in this world to bless us. I am glad I could repay just a little bit of the debt I owe him.”
This heartbreaking and inspiring example perfectly demonstrates how a minister—and by extension, a ward family—should act. Elder Holland elaborated on the importance of ministers and said, “In spite of what we all feel are our limitations and inadequacies—and we all have challenges—nevertheless, may we labor side by side with the Lord of the vineyard, giving the God and Father of us all a helping hand with His staggering task of answering prayers, providing comfort, drying tears, and strengthening feeble knees. If we will do that, we will be more like the true disciples of Christ we are meant to be.”
During the most difficult trial of my adult life, all of my relatives lived over an hour away. Most of them lived out of state. So when my husband was called to the bishopric, it gave us the extra push we needed to get to know our neighbors and reminded me of a truth I’d grown up with: that ward families can become your family. Of course, we had all our relatives praying on our behalf, but the immediate, tangible acts of service rendered by our ward members—the meals, the texts, the invitations for a girls’ night out, the walks around the neighborhood, the front porch chats—blessed us in ways I will treasure forever. Those families truly mourned with us, comforted us when we desperately needed comfort, and stood as a testament that God loved our little family. My husband and I came to lean on and deeply appreciate the support of that ward family in a way that will connect us to those friends for the rest of our lives.
I love the family I am related to. I am so grateful for those relationships. Like my parents, I love being with people, and when it comes to friendships, I say, “The more, the merrier!” I also sincerely appreciate the diversity of thought, the unique life experiences, the opportunities to serve, and the wisdom gained when I spend quality time with members of my ward family.