Not too long ago, I lived near my parents, but in a very different world.  While our wards technically bordered each other, they were worlds apart.

Mine was actually a branch in a rural town that drew membership from three counties.  There were several extended families with multiple generations attending, so many people dropped all surnames and called everyone by their given names.  The entire time I lived there, I found out about new connections these families had to each other and others in the area.  Much of the branch had not spent significant time in other areas, so there were sometimes deviations from standard Church practice, but most of these were harmless; very few members of the leadership had completed college or served missions, which perhaps contributed to those deviations.  Although we were far-flung, it was a very warm and familial group.  Many of us held numerous callings, and most  Sundays our attendance hovered around 50.

My parents’ ward was big and somewhat cold.  There were plenty of nice people in it, but there was no intimacy, no one cared whether you were there or you were not.  They knew other people would move in to replace anyone who left.  The youth program was robust, they had four Seminary teachers.  It is the kind of suburban ward people move out of the city to raise their family in.

Both of these wards dealt with similar situations at the same time.  In one ward, an inactive sister was convicted of a crime and placed in a penitentiary several hours drive away.  Although no one in the ward had actually known this woman, someone decided to fix that.  They organized sisters to visit at least once a week and sent care packages.  The sister had a son and someone from the ward drove him out to visit her on Saturdays.  Every week.  All of this attention touched the sister and she expressed a desire to become active again once she had served her time.

In the other ward, a well-known man was accused of a crime and jailed in the local prison, within walking distance from his house.  He did not have bail money, and after repeated trial re-scheduling, probably spent about two years in jail.  This jail was about 3 miles from the chapel and at a central location in the ward.  Yet no one visited this brother.  I assume that the bishop did on occasion, but that is merely an assumption that he must have.  The prisoner’s wife and family received some attention, but the man did not have any visits.  After his release, he was back in church the following Sunday, but how must he have felt, returning to a church family that had not been very familial to him?

Can you match the wards with their prodigal members?  I am ashamed to say that the ward that showed much greater love, that went to great lengths to serve a woman far removed from them in so many ways was my parents': that cold soul-less suburban ward.  My own dear little branch, so warm and quick with a hug, turned our collective backs on our poor wayfaring man of grief.  Even me.  Of course, I justified my own behavior by saying it would not be appropriate for me to go visit someone else’s husband, and I encouraged my husband to visit, but the fact is, I did nothing to lessen his burden.

I found the difference between the response of the two wards to be quite striking.  I hope I can maintain the shame enough so that the next time I am in a position to be a better sister, I will be.