Melissa Holden lives with her husband and five children in New York City. She gave the following talk on October 22, 2006 at the dedication of the new Upper East Side Manhattan chapel (on 87th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues).

Good evening Brothers and Sisters!

When I accepted the call to speak to you this evening, I pleaded with Heavenly Father to help me know what needed to be said, what we as members dedicating our beautiful new building needed to hear. The witness I received was this: The church has made great strides. We have been blessed with this new building, and with that, the Lord has increased his expectations. For as it says in Luke 12:48:

“to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

In other words, we need to take it up a notch.

Mark and I met at Brigham Young University. We married after graduation and a few weeks later moved to New York, right into the Manhattan 2nd ward. That was almost 18 years ago. Please don’t do the math.

I was first introduced to some of the challenges and the resulting temperament of this ward during my first visit from my visiting teachers. The two sisters, young single professionals, came into my apartment and after a few minutes began asking me the standard NY question “Why are you here?” (No one comes here without a reason) I explained that Mark was working with an investmant bank. “Is he an analyst?” Yes. “Great, so you’re one of those who’ll be gone in 2 years.” They proceeded to lament to each other for 20 minutes – in front of me – how awful this was that all these young couples come into the city and only stay for 2 years or so and don’t wholeheartedly commit to the ward.

Well, they were wrong about me! And they have since moved.

That is one of the challenges of the church here in NYC.

While we’re fortunate to have a few native New Yorkers in our midst, I see 3 general groups of members here today: those who have been here long enough to remember the meetings with President Stone at the Daines’ home, discussing the vision of an Upper East Side chapel (in other words, the old-timers). There are those who have moved here for an indefinite period of time and are waiting to see what the future holds, and there are those who are here for two years or so and are going to leave us.

It may seem that I’m addressing the old-timers, but my comments are meant for all of you.

Over the years, I have been guilty of cynicism, saying things like “I didn’t think they’d last as long as they did” or “Here for a year? That’s one for the records.”

At times I’ve resented the emotional investment I have made in friendships, just to have the family move. I’ve experienced the disappointment of sitting in Relief Society every September not recognizing half the sisters. I’ve felt the frustration of sacrament meetings where not only could you not get a seat on the cushioned benches, but you couldn’t recognize anyone except the bishopric.

Satan would love to capitalize on these feelings I and others have had over the years; he probably sat smug thinking he could thwart the growth of the Lord’s church, cause a few to go inactive, prevent people from moving into the city by giving the church a bad rap. I am sure that Satan would gain a sense of accomplishment from any of these results.

But the Lord always outmaneuvers the adversary. The church is still here, and continues to grow! But with people continuing to come & go, how does the Lord do it? He simply sends more people to come.

You could look at the transient nature of our wards as a handicap, an excuse not to reach out to those who come and go, a reason to be lazy in our Christ-like endeavors. Or you could welcome it as a blessing to come into contact with some of the Lords remarkable servants – I like the image of a giant revolving door; a revolving door with NYC on one side, and the rest of the world on the other (and yes, I lived in NY too long). Our brothers and sisters in the gospel come through that door when they move into our wards – we can choose to be there on the other side ready to great them or miss that opportunity.

About 6 months ago we went as a family to the Brooklyn Diner to celebrate our daughters having performed at a piano recital. While seated at the table, the waiter asked us if we’d seen the actor Halle Berry seated at a table as we entered the restaurant and that she had just left. Well one of my daughters, I won’t say which one, almost had a heart attack, at the thought of having missed her. She talked about it for the remainder of the dinner and it practically ruined her whole night!

Now I realize that not all of the members who come to our wards are celebrities, but imagine if we felt that fervor and excitement at the possibility of who might come through our revolving door!

Some will arrive strong and confident.

Some will need to be caught as they come flying through; some will come with lessons ready to be taught. As one who came through that door 18 years ago and as one who now stands on the other side, I want to share with you a few spiritual memories and lessons learned from those who’ve gone in and out of that door.

I learned from Astrid that intelligence and questioning is not to be feared. Alisa & Johno showed me spiritual maturity had nothing to do with your age. Kai & Dan taught me that Nursery is not babysitting, but the seedbed of spirituality, and should be embraced enthusiastically. I learned from Jane to persevere in following the Lord’s plan without losing faith in His promised blessings. Jim and Jennifer taught me how to grieve and still trust in the Lord’s atonement. Jason proved home teaching could be effective by bringing the spirit into our home when my family and I truly needed it. From Deborah I learned that we needn’t be ashamed of our struggles, that they don’t make us weak, and by sharing them we strengthen others and ourselves.

I have been so blessed by just these few mentioned people that have come and gone. They have seen me through several significant challenges in my own life. I learned from them. But did I teach them? What did they find when they came through that door? And did they leave here strengthened because of we had to offer?

When President Faust visited our Stake in the year 2000, he encouraged us to think about pursuing our professions long term in NY; it was time, he said, to see an LDS NY congressman, or judge. So far I’ve risen to the ranks of Chairperson of the Lost and Found for the Parents’ Association.

He challenged us to make NY our home and to put down roots. We should not view NY as a springboard from which we jump to other places. The underlying message was for us to take responsibility for the church here.

As one who comes and goes, or feels at the mercy of the comers and goers, it is so easy not to become spiritually vested, it is so easy to rely on the testimonies and efforts of the leaders. And it is so easy to isolate yourself. Because you’re only here for a little while, right? We have been saying that we “might move” for over ten years now.

To my fellow Manhattan ward members, the time to stop thinking like that is now. We need to start living in this ward as if it’s the ward we’ll live in for the rest of our lives. With this new building we have been given a tremendous opportunity. As ward members and as individuals, we need to determine what our brothers and sisters will find as they come through the revolving door of the Manhattan Wards. It is up to us. The Lord has given us the tools, and will bless us in our righteous endeavors. What kind of ward will we be?

What should await those saints on our side of that revolving door is a spiritual nurturing ground. Rich, spiritual soil; soil in which seedlings can be planted temporarily and grow strong until they’re ready to be in the garden; soil in which plants can grow until they’re ready to be transplanted to a new pot; soil in which trees can grow, be pruned and extend their roots. We can do this. The Lord has confidence in us! We can be that ward where saints can build a foundation of faith and testimony.

Brothers and Sisters, we have come so far! Let us not lose the momentum. We need to strive to be in tune with our members, new and old. We need to be temple worthy, member missionaries, ready to serve and be served. We need to keep our covenants, exercise charity, and be optimistic!

It has been said that, “It isn’t enough to put your best foot forward; you have to follow through with your other foot, too.”

It’s time to “own” this ward, brothers and sisters. It is my testimony that this is what the Lord wants of us. Let us rise to the Lord’s expectations. Let this building be a reminder of our responsibility to the Lord. May we continue to go forth in the building up of His kingdom.

This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.