“A View to the Top,” Ensign, Sept. 1992, 22
The Orem Utah Timpview Stake affords a breathtaking view of its namesake, majestic Mount Timpanogos. But even more inspiring is the panorama of members ministering to the less active, reaching out in Christlike concern to lift hearts heavenward and change lives.
When one of his counselors invited him on a home teaching visit to a less-active brother, Bishop Mark Allred of the Timpview Second Ward was pleased with the opportunity and, later, with the result. The visit was tender. “The timing was providential,” he recalls. “We’d gone with no other intention than to let him know we cared.” In turn, the less-active brother expressed his love for them. He also bore his testimony and responded favorably when invited to church.
After he’d been attending church awhile, the brother obtained a temple recommend and surprised and delighted his wife, already a recommend holder, by taking her on a date to the temple on their wedding anniversary. He now serves in a ward leadership position.
“There’s a thrust of enthusiasm with him that’s spilled over into his whole family, even though they’d been going to church,” his bishop says, adding that these parents are thrilled with their son’s decision to serve a mission.
The same spirit infects the ward as well. The theme of a recent ward conference under the present bishopric had a ward-family focus: “Love one another.” “The general idea of our message is ‘Hey, we’re family—come and be with us,’” the bishop says. That focus unifies ward members and sets the tone for fellowshipping. Members of the bishopric give direction as needed, “but the real work is done by friends and neighbors who catch the vision and go about activation quietly,” he adds.
Other wards in the stake share that vision of family concern and service. “It’s important to assign home and visiting teachers,” says former Timpview Sixth Ward bishop Wayne Lott, “but reactivation is best accomplished by interested friends and neighbors.” And sensitivity to the speed at which the less active will move comfortably is equally important, he cautions.
One example is John Flagg. Though active in the Church as a youth, he drifted away from his gospel roots as he became involved in sports and, later, a successful career in Denver, Colorado. His fast-paced life-style began to wind down about fifteen years later. “I was burning out,” he says, until a friend he’d met in college, Phil Call, convinced him to move back to Utah.
That was the turning point. John lived with the Call family, and he began attending church with them. “Our children adored him,” Phil recalls. “They called him ‘Uncle John.’” John was integrated in many family activities and appreciated never being “pressured or preached to.” He did, however, enjoy family talk that grew into philosophical discussions—“a subtle way for the Calls to bear testimony,” he says, chuckling.
Again, sports captured John’s interest, but this time they built bridges to Church activity. He played Church basketball and fostered his fiancée’s son’s interest in football. Soon John was married, and the boy’s coach, Jim Hawkes, was teaching a Temple Preparation class to the Flaggs. John’s interest in becoming temple worthy resulted in part from stake leaders’ visits to his home during ward conferences. Stake president Lane Ward was prompted in a follow-up interview with John to express love for him and offer to help him receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and take his wife to the temple. With encouragement from all sides, John took his family to the temple, where they were sealed.
Today he’s “an absolute fireball, an inspiration to the youth in the ward and others,” his bishop says.
The stake’s family-mindedness pervades the single-adult ward as well. The ward’s atmosphere is irresistibly warm and friendly.
“There’s a wonderful spirit in our meetings—anyone who comes, stays.” A young, divorced man learned firsthand the truth of Bishop Bruce Hobbs’s words. Feeling out of place among the never-marrieds, he’d sit in the back of the chapel for sacrament meetings and leave without speaking to anyone. That pattern changed when, upon leaving a fireside, he was approached by an elder who persuaded him to stay.
The brother stayed long enough to enjoy refreshments, meet and mingle with those he was introduced to, and feel accepted. He began attending church regularly. He later received a calling in the ward and had his temple recommend renewed.
Another example is a shy, sensitive sister who began attending church again when her visiting teacher offered to accompany her to every meeting. Feeling the ward’s inviting spirit, “she continues to blossom,” an observer says. “She’s less dependent and more a part of the Relief Society.”
Given renewed, Churchwide emphasis in recent years, the concept of priesthood leaders personally ministering to members has evolved from a challenging goal to standard practice in the Timpview stake.
The chief challenge for stake leaders was one of perception. So many less-active members had already been invited to church with no result that it was easy to assume they would not appreciate further efforts to bless their lives.
But that concern has faded in the Timpview stake, for there are recent, motivating examples of people returning to Church activity when they were asked.
In one ward, a less-active brother surprised priesthood leaders who asked him why he had not been attending church: “Because nobody asked me! They asked my wife, but not me.” Although he has not yet received the Melchizedek Priesthood, “he’s making big strides,” his bishop says.
The bishop favors a low-key, personal, and spiritually sensitive approach to fellowshipping less-active members. Without asking the Lord for help, our efforts will backfire, he says. He elaborates: “Inviting by the Spirit is vital. We can do all the right things like inviting them to activities and making them feel welcome and comfortable. But if it’s done without the confirmation of the Spirit, we’re not going to be successful.”
An Aaronic Priesthood leader in that ward impresses that message upon the youth by telling how he, as a young priest, would invite a less-active member of his quorum to church every Sunday for months. The boy would always decline the invitation, and the other boy would get discouraged. But one Sunday the less-active boy answered the door ready to go to church in suit and tie. All it took was consistent, sincere asking.
Bishop Craig Forsyth of the Timpview Fifth Ward learned that lesson well many years ago. Reluctant to invite his neighbors to church, he was surprised when his wife took the initiative to refer the missionaries to the family and they were later baptized. The father of that family is now serving as a bishop.
“Someone’s got to get the process started,” Bishop Forsyth says, and whether it’s missionary or activation work, it probably won’t be the less-active member or the nonmember who makes the first move. “It’s hard for a person to be offended by an inspired priesthood leader who visits and says, ‘I miss you.’ He or she may not be in church next Sunday, but the interest is appreciated.”
Of course, activation is not always so easy. The best-laid plans sometimes fail. No matter, says Bishop Allred. “We don’t promise success—just a positive experience to all who fellowship the less active.” President Ward agrees: “The visits are inspiring and always appreciated,” the blessings flowing both ways.
Today “we’re all less inclined to go different directions and be stuck in meetings,” he says. “There’s not much program focus—it’s getting beyond the program, seeing what it’s trying to accomplish. We build on fundamentals of the gospel.” In a nutshell, activation is “subtle, quiet, Christlike performances of love,” he says, echoing other leaders in the stake.
In the Timpview stake, that focus has transcended the “program” and motivated members to help their less-active neighbors naturally.
Even though the predominantly LDS community is close-knit, “there are always those who need strengthening,” says Bishop Forsyth. “And there’s always a need for us to make efforts, just as Jesus left the ninety and nine to find the one. If the seed is there, it can be nourished.”
That nourishment doesn’t come only from the stake presidency and ward bishoprics. Elders quorums and Relief Societies, as well as scores of other willing members, share the ministry—and the blessings.
Once a month, the stake and ward Relief Society presidencies and visiting teachers pair off to visit prayerfully selected less-active sisters. Stake Relief Society president Nancy Anderson has seen that process lead to effective follow-up visits by stake and ward leaders and home and visiting teachers. “Visiting teaching,” she says, “is a powerful tool in blessing sisters’ lives.”
One hearing-impaired sister felt uneasy in Church meetings until her visiting teaching companion and another sister offered to sit by her and write the proceedings of each meeting for her. They went the extra mile by preparing beforehand a playscript and program especially for her so that she’d feel comfortable at a visiting teaching seminar.
Another sister, who had declined visits by ward members for years, finally allowed a persistent visiting teacher into her home. A death in her family two weeks later led her to ask her visiting teacher to help arrange the funeral. Today the grateful sister is responsive to further efforts by members to build bonds of trust and friendship with her.
Ed Shields remembers fondly his friendship with Kent Bascom, his home teacher in the Timpview First Ward. Though his wife and children encouraged him on “the comeback trail,” he gives a portion of the credit to Kent and others who were patient with him.
“If we were ready for something spiritual,” Ed recalls, “he taught us; but if we weren’t, Kent and I had no coat-and-tie relationship—and we got along famously.”
Other factors entered the equation, too. Ed and Ora’s son Tom was called to serve a mission. “A special spirit entered our home when Tom [and later Tony] was set apart for his mission,” Ora Shields recalls. “It was something we’d never experienced at home.” That occasion brought tears to Ed’s eyes, and though he still wasn’t planning to return to Church activity, a turning point lay just ahead.
Ora’s parents startled her one day by saying, “Your children are not yours,” alluding to the fact that the family had not been sealed in the temple. Kent, returned from a trip to Hawaii, gave Ora a picture of the Hawaii Temple, which she placed on the mantel as a family goal. Then came a big surprise. Ed’s brother, activated in Las Vegas during the construction of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple, took his family to the temple to be sealed.
“I almost fell out of my chair when he went through the temple,” Ed says, still amazed. Soon after Tony returned from his mission, Ed and Ora prepared to go to the temple. Then the ward was divided, but that didn’t stop the Shields family from reaching their goal. And it didn’t stop the flow of support coming from their friends in both their new and old wards.
Ed and Ora have since moved to another state, but they continue to keep in touch with their friends and family in Orem.
When a concerned home teacher from another state alerted Bishop Forsyth about a less-active family moving into his ward, he was able to pick up the ball and, in time, see the family integrated in the ward as well as sealed in the temple.
The bishop of another ward also makes it a point to visit people who move into his ward. Realizing that “they could be at a crossroad in their lives,” he is eager to help them find stability. “I’ll tell them, ‘What’s behind you is behind you. Here’s a fresh start—a new area, new ward, and new friends. It’s a perfect chance to return to church. We’d love to have you.’”
A family that moved into the Timpview Fourth Ward appreciated receiving a Christmas card from the bishopric. Their new bishop delivered it and welcomed them to the neighborhood as well as invited them to church.
“Our neighbors really inspired us with the way they raised their families,” the father reflects. “We wanted to be like them. They were very friendly and didn’t pressure us to go to church.” The family felt good about their decision to return to church and were received warmly their first Sunday back. The father was delighted with a call to team teach a Primary class with his wife. “I had to learn all the things I hadn’t learned as a kid,” he says. The family is now on a temple track—the parents are enrolled in a Gospel Essentials class that will be followed by a Temple Preparation class.
Experiences like these have helped nurture networks of Christian concern and service in the Timpview stake. Small but meaningful acts of kindness combine behind the scenes into a chemistry of activation success. “Everybody plays a part,” says a home teacher instrumental in activating a family and seeing them sealed in the temple, “but it is the Lord who deserves the credit. He knows how to pull all the right strings.”
Members of the Timpview stake know the joys of serving those who are less active—joys so great that the Lord invites not just stake and ward leaders but all members to take part:
“Whether we go as home teachers or visiting teachers, whether we serve as auxiliary leaders or teachers, or priesthood leaders at whatever level, we have received a divine injunction from God, through a living prophet, to become personal shepherds and ministers.” (Elder John R. Lasater, Ensign, May 1988, p. 75.)
Heeding that charge, the Timpview stake continues to demonstrate that activation can be a self-renewing cycle: the spark of testimony rekindling in each round as members reach out to one another—active or not, leaders or not—and, strengthened, help others attain a view to the top.