Zelophehad’s Daughters

My Calling to Welcome Others

Posted by Vada

It was the first Sunday I attended my new college branch. I wasn’t even officially a member of the branch yet — I had driven Seraphine down to school a week before I got to move into the dorms. But the branch president asked to speak with me after church, and I was happy to. I was excited to be moving forward in life, and my first ward/branch away from my family was a big step. I very much wanted to fit in, be comfortable, make friends, and everything else.

The branch president was a wonderful man (still is, actually — I just saw him again about a month ago), and we had a wonderful “welcome to the ward/getting to know you” type conversation. Then, at the end of it, he blew me away with a comment something like this, “There are going to be lots of new people moving into the branch, and I want you to make help them feel welcome.” I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember the distinct impression that it was a calling, even if not an official, set-apart one.

I was flabbergasted. After all, I wasn’t even a member of the branch yet. I barely knew anyone, and I wasn’t at all comfortable. On top of that, I am not an outgoing person. At all. Especially when I’m out of my comfort zone, which I definitely was in a new ward in a new city at a new school. But I’d never turned down a calling in my life (even an unofficial one), and so even though I wasn’t officially asked to accept this calling, I still felt like I had, and that it was now my responsibility to welcome others who were new to the branch.

As I thought about it, I decided it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, these others who I was supposed to welcome would be just as new as I was. They would be feeling just as out of place, and they would probably know even fewer people than me (after all, my sister was in the branch, and I knew a few more people by virtue of their being friends with her). And I was always grateful when someone said hi to me and made me feel welcome, wasn’t I? It didn’t matter if they’d been there a day or a year, I was just happy that they’d talked to me. It wasn’t as if these people were going to look down on me for saying hello and maybe sitting by them in church. (Yes, my thought process really went along these lines.)

Looking back, I have to say how grateful I am for an inspired branch president. I took my “calling” seriously, and I strove to make others feel welcome in our branch. I have never been more richly blessed. There were three other freshman girls that year, and they remain good friends of mine to this day. One is my best friend, and we still talk on the phone every few weeks. She lived not far from the university, and often went back to her family ward, so I don’t know if we ever would have become friends if I hadn’t spent quite a bit of time going out of my way trying to make her feel welcome and get to know her better. I certainly would be very much the poorer for having missed out.

Besides becoming good friends with the other girls my age, I think I knew just about everyone who attended that branch in the 4 years that I was there, and I have stayed friends with many of them. I have never been more involved in a ward, never felt more connected to my fellow saints, and never felt happier at church than I did there. I still look back at those years with great nostalgia, and can’t imagine a ward that is much better than that one was.

I have been thinking about this lately because we have recently moved (for the 8th time in the past 5 years), and yet again I’m trying to get to know people at church and develop new friendships. One family had us and another new family over for dinner today, and I felt very welcomed.

Yet I realized that if I really want to become involved in my new ward family, I need to not just wait around for others to welcome me. If I want to be a part of this ward, the best way to do it is to reach out and welcome them. Who cares if they’ve been in the ward 2 weeks or 20 years? When was the last time you were put off by someone saying hello and trying to get to know you better? There have been times when I’ve been in wards for a couple of years and still not felt like I was at all a part of the ward, or like I knew anybody there. I would have been grateful for someone to welcome me, even if they’d only been in the ward a couple of weeks. Maybe we would have had a really rewarding friendship. Maybe there are others out there wanting to be friends, who are too shy or uncomfortable to welcome others. The only way to receive the blessings of their friendship is to reach out to them, even if we feel more comfortable in the position of welcomee than we do as the welcomer.

8 Responses to “My Calling to Welcome Others”

  1. 1.

    Vada, thanks for this post. I have been in my ward for just about 2 years and I still feel like I am on the outside. The same thoughts you wrote about are always what I think (I always try to convince myself: no one will think I’m annoying if I just want to be friends– right?). I like how you said, “I would have been grateful for someone to welcome me, even if they’d only been in the ward a couple of weeks. Maybe we would have had a really rewarding friendship.”

    I am realizing over and over that the only way for that to happen is if I am the one to reach out and make friends with someone else. I guess we are all just waiting for someone to be friends with us. It is hard to put yourself out there– but I always appreciate it when people do.

    Anyway, you have really motivated me. Thank you!

  2. 2.

    Vada,

    That sounds like a great calling, and you are probably just the right one to fill it.

    A few months ago, a man in my ward told me that he thought I was a real “people person”, and I almost laughed in his face. It has taken years of effort for me to be able to walk up to a stranger at church, smile, and say hello.

    One of the ongoing conflicts in our marriage is where to sit in church. My wife likes forth row, middle. I like back row, side. We accommodate one another’s aberrations by alternating where we sit. It is a revealing experience to sit near the door and see the new people, or the ones who haven’t been around for a while, take a few cautious steps into the chapel. They stand there for a minute, looking for a place to sit, and it is so much fun to scoot over and make room for them to sit by us.

  3. 3.

    My 14yo daughter had the experience of attending a branch in Alabama over Mother’s Day weekend this year. She said that it seemed the entire congregation went out of their way to greet her, smile, hug, ask where she was from, how long she was staying, where she was staying . . . and when they found out she played the piano they put her right to work in YW. She was so delighted with the whole experience that she has told everyone about it and vowed to be a Welcome Person in our own ward. While it has its drawbacks (the two YM that moved in recently follow her around like puppydogs), she has found a new purpose for herself that has positive repercussions all around.

  4. 4.

    I live in a sprawltastic ward that with new McMansion construction (I live in the poorfolks subdivision ne-t to the McMansions) has split three times in the last si- years and these days we welcome at least three new families every week and add a row or two in the back. And the thought of trying to meet and greet these people e-hausts me. I’ve been horrible about getting to know people, it’s really something I need to work on.

  5. 5.

    Vada, thanks for this post. My wife and I have recently been talking about what it will be like to move out of our current ward that we love so much. It took us a while to get to know people when we moved into this ward, so we were trying to think about how we could speed up the process in our next ward. I really like this point:

    If I want to be a part of this ward, the best way to do it is to reach out and welcome them. Who cares if they’ve been in the ward 2 weeks or 20 years? When was the last time you were put off by someone saying hello and trying to get to know you better?

    I’ll have to keep this in mind.

  6. 6.

    One of the best unofficial callings I have ever had was being in charge of the branch (then ward) photo directory. It gave me the excuse/motivation to talk to every person/family in the ward. I also got into the habit of keeping an eye out for unfamiliar faces each week so I could get their picture and info (I also loved having everyone’s phone number without having to wait for the next year’s updated directory!). Man, I loved that “calling”.

    In our ward now, it has been easy to get to know the other new and semi-new families, but the task has been harder with the “old-timers”. They seem less invested in the welcoming process. It’s good to remember that welcoming can run both ways.

  7. 7.

    I was actually called to be a greeter in one of the largest singles wards in the US (my bishop said it was actually the largest). It was one of the most emotionally draining callings I have ever had! I seriously started crying before I left for church more than once because I was so intimidated doing it-I get really nervous in large groups.

    There were so many people to try to get to know. So many names I was trying to remember. Literally hundreds of people to get to know and at least 100+ visitors every week. At first I really struggled in thinking I was given a “made-up” calling (and was really annoyed with my bishop) until one of my closest friends asked who introduced themselves to me first when I started attending. It was him. I then realized what an important calling is to help others feel welcomed and known at church-to have someone who knows who you are and recognizes when you are gone.

    It is so easy to get stuck in a rut with the normal people you know. It takes a great deal of effort to reach outside ourselves and comfort to help others feel welcome and loved.

  8. 8.

    Vada,

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your post. It reminds me of the time I was called to teach Elders Quorum and I made the resolution to learn names quickly. I think this effort made a big difference–both to me and to others. For some time, I have been more hesitant to get out of my shell and really try to make others feel comfortable (or even recognized) and, as you suggest, I have been slower to feel at home in any of my subsequent wards.

    Thanks.

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