Our ward here in New York City is undergoing quite a lot of transition at the moment, and I once again feel alienated from those who have left and those who are arriving.
Due to the economy, members are leaving because of job loss and job changes and others are arriving for the same reasons. This is in addition to the normal turnover we experience–those who have finished school are gone (the new crop will arrive only in September), interns are arriving for the summer, and a few have moved in or out or other reasons.
Those leaving for economic reasons are the most difficult, I think. They include those I have known for many years, those I most consider my friends; those with whom I have the strongest relationships.
The others don’t concern me as much. I don’t know them.They are here for so little time that it doesn’t seem worth the effort. After being here for nearly 20 years, many of those who have been in the same ward with me seem like they almost were never here.
For their part, the students often have a similar attitude. They come with the idea that their stay here is temporary–which leads them to not participate much.
Of course, like in too many things, all this just exposes my own hypocrisy. When I went to BYU years ago, I was not interested in the community at all. I maintained my residency in Maryland and kept my Maryland driver’s license and voter registration for as long as possible. Afer all, I reasoned, I was only going to be there for a while, so why make the changes?
Even after I switched to Utah residency and a Utah driver’s license (I never did vote in the state), my life was still more oriented towards BYU campus (yep, the campus was my world in a very real sense) than to life outside of campus, and my interactions with most things off campus weren’t all that successful (I never felt like I could connect very well with people off campus). Even my Church life wasn’t very good–the worst being the off-campus family ward in Provo that my wife and I attended for over a year without receiving a calling.
I think there is a bit of a lesson in this. I was certainly wrong at BYU to think that I could remain apart from Utah while living there, just like the students that come here to New York City are wrong to think that they can live in New York City and not be a part of that city. But I also think that I am wrong to ignore the students that come here for short periods, just like that ward in Provo was wrong to ignore my wife and I.
In a larger sense, I can’t help but connect this with what my mother told me as a youth. Noting that we are often told that we should live “in the world, but not be of the world,” she suggested that we, Mormons, often have the emphasis in the wrong place, emphasizing “not being of the world” over “living in the world.”
To me, the lesson is that we do need to “live in the world” just like we need to live and participate in the place where we happen to be, even if it is only temporary.