When I was eleven years old, I moved from Mesa, AZ to Sudbury, MA. That was approximately 2500 miles, which can feel like moving to a foreign country (or planet) when you’re a middle-school kid. My new classmates had different slang, different music, different food, different pronunciations and even different words for common things. I was one of only a few Latter-day Saints in my entire school, so it was my first time ever being a “minority.”
At that time, our LDS ward boundaries covered a lot of land in the suburbs of Boston. It might have taken us an hour or two to drive across the entire ward. In Mesa, my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived just 5 minutes away, but they were in an entirely different ward. I could easily walk to our Mesa church building (or my aunt’s house for that matter). In Massachusetts, it took us 30-40 minutes (depending on who was driving), crossing through several towns, to get to our church building every Sunday and to activities during the week. My first best friend from that ward lived even further away than the church building. But that didn’t stop us from having regular sleepovers, going to the beach together, gathering for holiday meals with our families, or talking on the phone. My memories of that ward are full of joy, love, unity, and wonderful role models. It was an awesome place to spend my adolescence. I had friends who lived in towns all across the ward and stake, and I’m still friends with many of them.
Since leaving Massachusetts for college, I have moved eight times and been in nine different wards in various parts of Utah and Arizona. For the past month, my family has been preparing to move again. Although we will only be 20 minutes away, we will be leaving our ward and our stake boundaries.
All of this has me thinking a lot about these boundaries. It’s completely understandable why these boundaries exist. We need a way to keep each ward organized and manageable. We need to limit the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of ward leaders. We need to ensure that church meetings will have space for those who attend. I totally get why we have ward boundaries, and I support the concept.
What I don’t support is the notion that ward boundaries are barriers–that friendships can’t cross ward/stake boundary lines. The fellowshipping and community aspects of church are (or can be) fantastic. Being a part of various ward communities has enabled me to form friendships and acquaintances with people I might not otherwise have connected with. We are assigned callings and teachers and companions who may or may not have similar ages, interests, and personalities. I am grateful for all of these experiences.
But… some of my closest friends are people I met outside of my ward community, and I sometimes wonder if that is the very reason why we have stayed close to each other. Our friendships happened because of shared interests or “kindred spirit” connections. When we share a deep connection with people, distance doesn’t matter… boundaries or barriers fade away.
Letting go of people has always been hard for me. Once someone gets close to me, I generally want to keep them close. But sometimes people we love will fade from our lives. Sometimes this happens because of conflict, but often it is just a natural result of the passing of time. My heart aches when someone I adore seems to no longer want or need me in her life. Perhaps this is why I balk at the notion of ward
boundaries barriers. I don’t want people to consider me “somebody that they used to know” just because I have moved twenty minutes away.
For a year (in my 20’s) I lived next door to my sister, but we actually didn’t spend a whole lot of time together. I’m closer to her now, after a decade of living a full state apart, than I ever was when we lived next door to each other. Friendship doesn’t have to mean hanging out together every day or week. Friendship doesn’t have to mean talking to each other even once a month. Some of my favorite people on the planet are people I rarely see or talk to, but on those rare occasions when I do see them, it’s as if no time has passed. They will always be special to me, no matter where they live or how long it has been since we have talked.
I kind of feel like this whole ward-boundary issue is a non-issue, or should be. To anyone outside of the church in UT, ID, and AZ, the notion that a friendship couldn’t survive a move 20-minutes away is utterly ridiculous. Perhaps it should fall under the Mormon equivalent of #firstworldproblems.
Church friend moves fifteen minutes away. Never see her again. #utahmormonproblems
Obviously this isn’t always the way things happen. But sometimes it does, and it makes me sad. I would have been thrilled to have my church friends only fifteen minutes away when I was a teenager!
Have ward boundaries been “barriers” to friendship in your experience? Do you have friends who live across town or much further away? How have you been able to stay close?