2009 “State of the Ward” address

Since I’ve been bishop, it has been tradition (as I’m sure it is in many wards) that I speak on the first Sunday (other than Fast Sunday), and talk about how the previous year was and what we need to work on for the coming year. I did that on Sunday. For those who are interested, here is my talk:

As is usually the case, I’m here at the beginning of the year to talk about our progress and where we are headed. First, let me remind you of why I do this each year. Last year I told you about my fancy pedometer. It keeps track of steps, calories burned, distance walked, and more. The pedometer itself stores the data for over a month. I can also connect it to my computer and save the data forever. I’m sort of obsessed with it. As long as I have something with pockets, I’m carrying it. If I forget it on a given day, I’m disappointed, almost devastated. Just yesterday as I was walking into work I reached down and patted my pocket to feel for it and it wasn’t there. My heart skipped a beat but then realized it was indeed there, but my pocket hand gotten twisted out of position.

You may wonder if my obsession has paid off. In 2008 I took over 3.7 million steps. This averages to over 10,000 steps a day. The software also tells me that I walked about 3,000 km. How do I feel? Well, I feel pretty good, both physically and mentally. Physically, I’m keeping active and enjoying the benefits of that. Mentally, I feel good that I set a goal and kept it. The pedometer has helped me measure my progress. If during the day I see that I might fall short, I can decide what action to take in order to get to where I want to be.

Wouldn’t it be great to have some sort of device like that, that would tell us where we’re at spiritually? I guess the closest thing we have is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, there is no electronic read out or data storage. It is only by staying diligent and feeling the promptings of the Spirit that we can know how things are going. Today, I guess I will be the pedometer of the ward. I’ll tell you how far we’ve gone and then we’ll know what we have left to do.

In 2008, we had 2 main goals. The first was to have 18 member referrals for the missionaries. When we share the gospel, we do it so others can share in the joy of having the truth in their lives. Our joy comes from the fellowship with the saints, not in reaching an arbitrary number. As we “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places”[1], we become more like the Saviour, and get a glimpse of His joy.

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me![2]

We had a goal of 18 member referrals and we ended up with 13. I’m sure there are dozens; probably hundreds more people who are more familiar with and friendly towards the Church because of your example. These 13 people, however, are special. Because of a members love, they met with the missionaries and were taught something. All 3 of our convert baptisms last year were because of members sharing the gospel. Kristen knew the Elliott’s. Sally knew Marlene. Janelle knew Alex. I’m sure the joy that those members have from bringing a friend into the Church is great. I would like to feel that, and I’m sure you do, too. Even though we didn’t reach our goal of 18 last year, as a Ward Council we feel that the ward could and should do better. We have set a goal to have 20 member referrals in 2009. I’d ask that you pray about this individually and as a family. Pray to know what you can do. Pray for the courage to speak about the Church. Look for opportunities. A couple of months ago Lisa spoke with a neighbour about babysitting the kids while we went to the temple. All Lisa told the person was that we had to go to Brampton for something. I reminded her that we need to just share what we are doing. We have nothing to hide. Lisa is certainly not the only one who has done this. I’m not saying to do anything terribly different, other than to just be yourself. The apostle Paul said it well:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth[3]

Our second goal was to have regular sacrament meeting attendance of 150. This is an easier goal to work on because we have so many chances. In 2007, we had an average attendance of 131. As we improved, the last 4 months of that year we averaged 143. In 2008, we increased our attendance by 10. We averaged 141 people. Again, as we improved through the year, the last 4 months we averaged 150. No matter how you look at it, we have more people coming out. Every quarter was higher. There were 42 weeks where we could compare attendance year over year, and 32 of them were higher. For the entire year, we had 400 more people who attended a sacrament meeting. Let me just remind you of what that all means. This means that there are more people being strengthened. There are more people partaking of the sacrament and renewing their covenant to follow the Saviour. As members are strengthened, more people are available for callings. Members are more likely to go to the temple. They are more likely to do their home and visiting teaching. We truly are being edified together. Doesn’t it just feel better when there are more people here?! Our worshiping feels more complete. We feel more like we are part of something important. It just feels good! In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, it is explained what is happening here:

Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.[4]

We may have much work to do before we reach that perfect day, but as we make progress, we can see and feel that light getting brighter.

With all that being said, our goal for 2009 is to have 155 people regularly attending sacrament meeting. There are basically two things you can do to help us reach this goal. The first is to get here yourself. Be here early. Come in to the chapel and quietly prepare for the sacrament. The other thing you can do is to be a caring member. Look around you and determine who is missing. Are the people you home or visit teach here? Are the people that you serve in your calling here? If not, reach out to them. Let them know that we love them and miss them.

You know, I worry that you will get sick of me giving this same sort of message over and over. You might tune me out. I’m sorry, but I can’t stop. This is what I feel in my heart we need to do. The struggles of life can be eased as we forget ourselves and serve others. As I said a couple of weeks ago, Christ lived so that we may live. We, too, should then live so that others can live. People need us, and we need to be there for them.

In addition to our 2 main goals, we also have a few areas of focus this year. The first is reverence. Kelly Rigby gave a great talk recently about reverence. When we speak of reverence, the obvious part of that is the volume level here in the chapel. We need to be quiet so we can hear and feel the promptings of the Spirit. If we are rushing in at 9:29, it will be hard to be settled and ready for the meeting. But reverence is about more than just volume level and promptness. It is about respect; respect for the Lord, respect for the building, respect for those around us, and respect for those who are speaking.

We’ve talked as a Ward Council about how we can improve this respect or reverence. This is difficult as it needs to come from inside each of us. We can’t force anything on people, but we have a few ideas to try to help.

  • We recognize that as leaders, we need to set an example. The bishopric will try to be in their seats early. The quorum and auxiliary leaders will try to do the same.
  • We are going to try to have a few more activities. That way members have more opportunities to socialize, which can help alleviate the rush before meetings.
  • We want all of us to understand what it means to worship. This will be taught, learned, and emphasized in talks, lessons, and other ways.
  • Be prepared when you come to Church. Tanya just spoke about this. If you are a teacher, have your lesson prepared ahead of time. If you attend a class, do the class reading during the week. Have things ready for your children, so they can be settled.
  • Lastly, try not to be distracted by things around us. At the last General Conference, Elder Oaks reminded us that:

“Sacrament meeting is not a time for reading books or magazines… it is not a time for whispered conversations on cell phones or for texting persons at other locations. When we partake of the sacrament, we make a sacred covenant that we will always remember the Savior. How sad to see persons obviously violating that covenant in the very meeting where they are making it.”[5]

As we all work together, we can improve the reverence of, in and for our meetings. This is turn will allow the Spirit to be here in greater abundance.

Another area that we want to emphasize is temple attendance. Caroline Bonfield has just spoken on this. Shortly after Howard W. Hunter became President of the Church, he invited us all to “establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership.” He then counseled us as follows:

Truly, the Lord desires that His people be a temple-motivated people. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.[6]

It the temple is supposed to be a symbol of our membership, what does our temple attendance say about us. Going to the temple is a very personal experience. Only you know how you feel about the temple and when you should go. However, I will say this: almost all of us should go more than we currently do. From the time that Lisa and I got married, we have tried to go to the temple monthly, but in almost 12 years of marriage, we’ve haven’t been able to do this. Unfortunately, there are always reasons not to go. Hopefully the reasons to go are stronger.

I recently read a description of a person’s recent trip to the temple.

I went to the temple Wednesday. Oh boy did I need it. I sat in the temple after the session and cried…

Why? I have no idea.

Was it because I had lost my recommend and hadn’t been in a couple of months?… Too much chaos? Not hydrated enough? Who knows.

All I know is this. I entered a temple at a slight run. I walked out of the temple hesitatingly, once again surprised at the calm and quiet inside my head. I walked out not remembering the exact words the Spirit used to answer my tears, but remembering the feeling that came with them.

And when the words to describe how I was feeling were so clear in the temple, and so murky once I left, I knew I needed to go back. And soon.[7]

I like the way that was phrased. I can’t always describe how I feel when I’m at the temple, but I certainly have experienced that “calm and quiet inside my head”. I look forward to each trip. Eustace and Patricia Saul were recently assigned to help coordinate the Ward Temple Night. They have been calling around inviting people to attend. In December, we had our largest turnout for a non-youth trip in years. We live quite close to a temple. President Hunter mentioned that proximity is an issue for some people, but it shouldn’t be for us. Enjoy the temple. Attend the temple and receive the blessings that come from the service that is done there.

The third and last area we want to focus on is Family Home Evening. Jeff Bonfield recently spoke about this and Mike discussed it in a combined lesson. The world is getting more and more hectic, and in many ways, more and more evil. People are working long hours, sometimes at multiple jobs. Families are split many ways in trying to meet the demands of jobs, school, sports, and other activities. At the same time, the Adversary is making great progress in weakening society’s values. Now, more than ever, parents need to gather their children around them and teach them, protect them, and love them. Having weekly Family Home Evening is not easy. Just as there are obstacles to temple attendance, there are often obstacles to Family Home Evening. Don’t let those jobs, sports, or other activities get in the way. If this week you just can’t get everyone together, don’t cancel it. Have Family Home Evening with as many as you can. It’s worth it. One of the highlights of my week is at the very beginning of our Family Home Evening. If Andrew or Matthew is conducting, they usually start off by saying, “Welcome to Family Home Evening”. Lisa and I usually respond with, “Thank you. It’s nice to be here.” (I don’t remember when or why this started, but we do this almost every time). For whatever reason, when we say that, their eyes will light up and they smile from ear to ear. I think at that moment they feel like they are a part of our family, and an important part at that!

Whether you have a family of your own, or you meet together with friends, hold Family Home Evening. Sometimes there are struggles with knowing what to do or teach. We are planning an activity that will demonstrate the sorts of things that can be done, and will allow us to share ideas. I’m sure it will benefit us all.

Those are the goals and areas of focus that we have for 2009:

  • The members will have 20 people ready for the missionaries to teach
  • Our Ward Sacrament Meeting attendance will regularly be 155 or greater
  • We will focus on reverence, temple attendance, and Family Home Evening.

I assure you that a great amount of time and prayer have gone into these. I feel comfortable that this is the Lord’s will for our ward at this time. I hope that you will support me in working towards this.

Lastly, I wanted to share with you the theme of the stake this year. You will recall that last year President Homer wanted to focus on the change of heart as taught by Alma[8]. This year, President Homer would like to focus on the words of Alma as his follows were with him in the waters of Mormon:

And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.[9]

What a beautiful phrase “hearts knit together in unity and love”. As a result of our common faith, our lives are indeed woven together. What happens to one of us, does affect all of us, whether great or small. The question is, do the threads that bind us exist because of the contention between us, or because of the love between us? I don’t think I’m being naïve when I say that we do not have a contention problem. Generally, we are at peace with one another. However, living without contention is different than living in unity. We can always be more unified.

It always amazes me the love and praise that the members have for whomever is the President of the Church. He is, for all intents and purposes, a stranger to us. But through the Spirit, and from following his counsel, we very quickly know that he is the man who the Lord has chosen to lead the Church. Likewise, the support for a stake president and bishop are often very strong. Unfortunately, the further “down the line” (so to speak) we go, the support wavers. In considering the things I’ve discussed today, I invite you to more fully sustain the leaders of the ward. I testify to you that the bishopric felt the confirming power of the Spirit in calling these men and women. Fulfill the home and visiting teaching assignments they give you. Help in other ways. Speak well of them. Build them up and you’ll be amazed at the good they can do. Pray for them, just as you pray for the prophet, a stake president, or a bishop. As we support one another, we will be stitched tighter together. We will trust each other more. We will respond faster to the needs of one another. We will be happier.

I thank you all for the support that you give to me. It truly is an honour to serve you. I pray that the Lord will strengthen me so that I can continue to serve you as long as He sees fit. I know that this Church is true. I know that Christ lives and leads this Church. That is why we do what we do. I know that as we work together to grow the ward[10], our own lives will be improved; our own families will be strengthened, and our lives will indeed get brighter as we head towards that perfect day. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Mosiah 18:9

[2] D&C 18:10, 15-16

[3] Rom. 1: 16

[4] D&C 50:22-23

[5] Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 17-20

[6] Howard W. Hunter, “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct 1994, 2

[7] http://segullah.org/small-epiphanies/dirt/ – accessed 20090110 11:39 am

[8] Alma 5

[9] Mosiah 18:21

[10] Gordon B. Hinckley “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 106

Published by Graham

Former YM President, EQ President, Bishop, and Stake Institute Teacher. Now back to being the YM President. Happily married to Lisa, with 3 beautiful children.

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