Last Sunday I picked up a free book from our ward’s library. It’s a shared library, of course, between ours and the 10th, 5th, 8th and I believe 1st ward. The book was a fancy gold leaf edition of The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter. The kind that makes you cringe a little because a book with such humble teachings seems misplaced in such gaudy packaging. Nevertheless, it will look great on our bookshelf, which is clearly what the book was actually designed for in the first place.
I took the book for two reasons: I am curious what the teachings of Howard W. Hunter actually are (since I’ve almost never heard anything said by him quoted in church. Probably because he was only President of the church for less than a year) and I wanted a keepsake from the Rose Park Second Ward.
You see, Brittany and I have just moved to a new place in Sugar House. It’s quite the contrast to our experience in Rose Park, for many reasons, but mainly because we aren’t afraid to go for a walk at night.
But this blog post isn’t about what I didn’t like about Rose Park. It’s about what I know I will miss. Our ward there was so good to us. Everything that a ward should be, and more. Our congregation was diverse, in lifestyle as well as ethnicity. We were welcomed in with open arms, given callings that made us feel like we were an integral part of the ward family, and most of all, we felt that on Sunday people were glad to see us.
When I told my Sunday School class (youth, age 14-18) that Brittany and I had found a new place outside the ward boundaries, they actually seemed upset, which was a surprise to me. I’ve only held the calling for a few months, and they never seemed to be paying attention most of the time anyways.
On our last Sunday, I walked into the room where Brittany taught gospel doctrine and saw her hugging the sweet old ladies that took care of me before Brittany got here from Virginia. Every Sunday they asked me when my wife was going to get into town. They sat by me, whispered comments to me during the lesson, and even hugged me now and again.
There were two Joe’s in our ward. One dressed like a Hell’s Angel and struggled to read during Elder’s quorum. I remember during one lesson on the Word of Wisdom the teacher asked “what would you say to someone who told you they didn’t see any harm in drugs like marijuana, and they used them responsibly, so what’s the harm?” He mumbled under his breath. “I’d say, good for you.” I sat by this Joe during Priesthood opening exercises almost every Sunday. From what I recall, he never missed a Sunday.
The second Joe is a plump and jolly chef from southern California. He has a goatee sans mustache, and I heard him say “damn” in Elder’s quorum once when he got a question wrong during a game of “Get to know the quorum Jeopardy.” He helped us move a love seat in his truck one evening. And by helped us, I really mean he did it all by himself. I bothered him during dinner hour to see if he could help us get the thing from a sister in our ward who was giving it away for free. He showed up at our apartment complex 15 minutes later with the seat in already in the back of his truck. “She lives right around the corner from my house,” he said.
Joe also co-taught Sunday school with Brittany. I got to sit in on one of his lessons, the one about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. He briefly mentioned Joseph Smith’s relationship to Freemasonry, which lead to a pretty hearty discussion by some of the senior citizens in the class about Joseph using Freemasonry as tool to give structure and order to his revelations. One such sister, who must be in her late 70’s to early 80’s, also commented two weeks prior in her testimony that we all have such a great opportunity to study the gospel in an academic sense, deepening our faith and our intellect at the same time. There are so many great conferences, such as Fair and Sunstone, she said, that allow us to explore our faith as well as our doubts, that it would be unfortunate for us not to take advantage of them.
Brother Blake — the first counselor in the bishopric — and I once bonded over our love for the teachings of Hugh B. Brown. He once taught a lesson in priesthood about unconditional love and the duties of the quorum to look out for one another. It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had in a priesthood meeting. He loves literature and he loves the gospel. A solid combination for great lessons.
Our experience in the Rose Park Second Ward came at just the right time, too. It seems like more and more, members of the church are having a hard time getting along. I can hardly get on facebook (or twitter for that matter) without seeing someone posting something that I would consider to be unnecessarily judgmental. As Mormons, we certainly love to call those who disagree with us to repentance, which is rather unfortunate.
Being in the Rose Park ward helped me feel less of a need to judge others. Probably because I never felt judged there. People were just happy that I was trying, that I was there. I couldn’t help but feel the same way.
Our home teacher, Brother Otterstrom, was another great example to me. Not only did he go out of his way to help me move our couch out of our apartment (there were some pretty killer stairs) but he was always willing to share his true thoughts and feelings during Elder’s Quorum. I remember during one lesson when the teacher said, “i’m sure all of us have doubts now and again,” brother Otterstrom corrected him. “I have doubts all the time,” he said.
He said it so matter-of-factly that it didn’t come across as contentious. The comment cut through the prideful air that sometimes accompanies priesthood lessons. Everyone was too busy nodding their heads in agreement to consider casting stones at him. Right before we left, he was called to be the second counselor in the Elder’s Quorum.
This past week, as we’ve been moving, for some reason I’ve been seeing a lot more talk on the internet of “good” and “bad” Mormons. You see, we get very offended when people suggest we are all alike, but also tend to get all hot and bothered when one of us is different, which is of course, not only a waste of time but of spiritual energy.
Every time I see a pithy blog post aimed at cutting down those with questions, or a facebook thread that not only dismisses the opinions of others, but chastises them for even having them, I think of Rose Park. I think of how much more effective, and spiritually gratifying it was, to be around people who accept you on your own terms. A concept that for me defines The Savior’s earthly ministry.
May God bless the Rose Park Second Ward. If for nothing else, because they let us in and cared for us the best they could for the short time we were there.