The President’s Ward

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by Heather@Women in the Scriptures

Not long ago I read an article in The Washington Post entitled “D.C. Third Ward Mormons Welcome Romney, even though most are democrats.” The post made me smile because for the last several months, ever since Mitt Romney announced his candidacy, I have been thinking about this ward … a lot.

About six years ago, when Mitt Romney was making his first attempt for the presidential nomination, I was in Washington D.C. with a school group. In our group was a girl whose father was serving as a chief of staff to one of President Bush’s cabinet members and when Sunday rolled around we left their apartment, which was close to Capitol Hill, and made our way to the LDS chapel where her parents attended. It was a cold day and as we walked towards the church I became a bit alarmed as the streets got progressively less affluent and increasingly more “rough.” I was certain that these weren’t neighborhoods I would usually wander around by myself. I was glad my friend knew where we were going. I was a bit relieved when we finally reached the church door step.

The church was not a traditional LDS church building (though they will soon be getting a new building) and I will never forget the welcome I received when I walked through that church door. A big African man, with the most contagious smile I’d ever seen, grabbed my hand with both of his and said in a booming voice, “Welcome sister to the true Church of Jesus Christ, we are so happy to have you here today!”  His sincere greeting melted my heart and as I proceeded down the hall, which was lined on both sides by at least four sets of missionaries who all shook my hand, I was stunned. I can easily say that I have never felt so welcome, so quickly, in any other congregation I have ever attended.

After this welcome I  stumbled into the chapel with the other kids in my group and sat down, feeling welcome but a bit out of place. Our faith is unique in the fact that members don’t get to choose which congregation that they attend, something we may sometimes forget in considering unique situations. With ward assignments given by geographical area and members not (usually) allowed to consistently attend a ward outside of their assigned one, we grow accustomed to our local groups. I have lived in several areas where this rule has resulted in significant economic, social, and ethnic diversity. Yet as I sat on that Washington D.C. Third Ward pew and glanced around me I  marveled at the incredible diversity of the ward.

Next to me were my friend’s parents (white and obviously well off), behind me were several young mothers with their little children (black and obviously very poor), the bishopric on the stand was composed of three men with three different skin colors, and in front of the sacrament table there was the most unusual mix of deacons I had ever seen in my life: white and black, Asian and Latino, poor and wealthy, privileged and impoverished, young and old. As the reporter said in The Washington Post article,

The ward is known in the area for its unusual demographics and high-energy warmth. Up to half of the congregation is nonwhite, including a large, Spanish-speaking population and converts from French-speaking Africa … its roughly 200 congregants are drawn largely from Northeast Washington and have included deported immigrants, a teen shot dead in gang violence, refugees from African wars, and youths who depend on the church for meals, tutoring for class and support to pay for Boy Scout camp.

That day as I sat in that chapel, surrounded by such an incredible mix of people, I remember thinking, “Wow, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination he might become president … and this would be his ward.”

And with that thought came a warm rush of the spirit that nearly brought me to tears, not because I really feel any great love or support for Mitt Romney but because I not only felt, but saw before my eyes what the apostle Peter understood:

Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.

I realized at that moment one of the most beautiful truths that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ offers: that all men and women have equal status and privilege in the eyes of God. He doesn’t care if you are a prostitute, a drug dealer, a refugee, a senator, or even the President of the United States; your worth in His eyes is the same.

I can’t help but feel that is the message that the reporter from The Washington Post missed. That the real story here isn’t the fact that lots of the members of the ward are Democrats, but that if Mitt Romney did get elected he would be worshiping among people from every imaginable walk of life. And that, most importantly, in the eyes of God, the President of the United States (arguably the most powerful person in the world) would have no greater privilege or importance to Him than the poor, struggling single mother sitting on the back row.

… And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God…

And, regardless of who wins the election this November, that is a beautiful lesson.

Just as an end note, please don’t take this post as an endorsement for Mitt Romney, or an invitation to focus on him in the comments. The point of the post was what we can learn from this wonderful ward.

  • What has the diversity of your past wards taught you?

About Heather@Women in the Scriptures

I am a scripture loving, baby snuggling, chicken raising, modern dancing, garden growing, home birthing, doula working, fast swimming, muffin loving, Mormon wife, mother, sister, and daughter.

6 Responses to The President’s Ward

  1. leslie says:

    I think that would be a perfect ward for the President of the US of A to attend, as he would then see each week the diversity of our own nation, and could remain the humble man that he is.

  2. Our ward in Manhattan had similar diversity. It always felt like Zion to me.

  3. Paul says:

    There is something wonderful about inner-city wards. We’ve lived in a few around the world. While our present suburban ward does have some diversity, it’s nothing like the inner-city wards I’ve known.

    I remember visiting another ward in the DC area years ago; the counselor conducting the meeting spoke English, French and Spanish in the course of the meeting. I was impressed by his language skill and by the need for him to use it to address specific members of the congregation.

    We have a branch in our stake in the Detroit area that holds two sacrament meetings simulaneously — one in Spanish and one in English. The speakers swap meetings during the rest hymn. (This is the latest of a number of solutions they’ve tried to allow members to worship in their own tongue.)

    When we lived in Venezuela, we were the outlier family because we did not speak Spanish when we arrived. Our fellow saints rallied around us to help us feel more comfortable (though we still had to learn Spanish or rely on missionary translations). Similarly in Japan, we were one of a few English speaking families. There the ward took yet another approach with simulaneous translation in sacrament meeting and side-by-side translation in other meetings. I believe our experience on the edge of understanding helped to make me more sensitive to the needs of others who may not as easily fit in to our meetings.

  4. My husband and I lived in Jordan for summer and they did simultaneous translation from Arabic to English and English to Arabic. All the hymns though were in Arabic and I loved it. It is wonderful when you get those feelings of being unified brother and sisters in the gospel!

  5. jendoop says:

    In our inner city, mostly Spanish speaking, branch we traded off weeks. One week it would be in English and the next in Spanish. That way we all had a turn to wrestle with the headsets. When I had a grabby baby there were weeks I didn’t get much out of the Spanish meetings. The Spirit was so strong in those meetings, I haven’t felt it as strongly in a testimony meeting since we moved. I wonder if it has something to do with the level of patience, understanding and love that goes into being a part of a multi-cultural/multi-economic unit. It really does require you to put yourself aside and serve.

    There are still phrases from those Spanish meetings that I adore: “Jesus vive!” And when they would confirm someone after baptism: “Recibir el Espíritu Santo.”

  6. MSKeller says:

    This is very similar to the ward that my son would be attending in Texas (if he and his wife attended). I went, and was thrilled with the diversity, the wonderful feeling, the candid and passionate talks and life-story sharing in that amazing ward. In my own world currently, we are pretty much homogeneous. There is beauty in that as well, but I adored attending elsewhere.

    When we attended a random ward in Florida, it was half in some other language I couldn’t identify, but by the members I’d guess either Hmong or Philippino perhaps? The people were welcoming, humble and very kind.

    Still, as I say all of that, I can not pause without saying how incredibly amazing my own homogeneous ward is. You don’t have to be poor to be humble. You don’t have to be something other than white skinned to be warm and welcoming. You don’t have to be diverse to be full of the spirit. Sometimes in lauding diversity (and I do as well), we dim the light that people who aren’t currently in a particularly diverse situation can shine.

    It is the soul that shines, not your monetary circumstance, your physical location, your physical attributes or your language or heritage or economic resources.

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