Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Great Re-WARD

A Great Re-WARD

WARD???  The vernacular of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) can be a little strange sometimes.  No, we are not sick in a hospital or eating gumbo in a parish in Louisiana – we are a congregation of members of the LDS Church in Cedar Hills Utah, formally known as Cedar Hills 10th Ward.  Maybe a strange name but definitely an inspired setup!

One of the beauties of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the way wards/congregations are organized and how they function.  There are about 29,000 of these wards around the world.  One unique thing is that we do not choose which ward we attend nor do we choose who or where we serve.  Ward boundaries are geographic – we are assigned a ward, a building, and a time to meet based on where we live – but these boundaries may be fluid and change over time as new wards are created or as population shifts.

Once a ward is established, a regional Church leader (Stake President) under Divine inspiration and with approval from Church headquarters calls from within the ward, a Bishop to lead that ward for a period of time.  This calling like all other callings in the ward is a lay, non-paid calling.  The Bishop then calls two counselors and together by inspiration they call other leaders in the ward. Those leaders call counselors, teachers, and others to help in their ministries.  Most of the men and young men are assigned different families of the ward to care for and to watch over in what we call Home Teaching.  The women as well are assigned as visiting teachers to care for other women in the ward.  By the time a Ward is organized and functioning, almost all of the members have significant responsibilities to carry out the work of the ward and to serve other members.

So to summarize – we don’t choose what ward we attend, we don’t choose what Bishop will lead us, we don’t choose the time we attend Church or the building we meet in, and we don’t choose the calling or responsibility we are given in the ward.  Sound counterproductive?  Well, the miracle is that it works miraculously!

I have had the privilege of serving as Bishop of our Cedar Hills 10th Ward for about two years now and I am so grateful for the wonderful people in the ward that make things work.  I have two great counselors and a secretary and clerk that are wise, faithful and inspired in their service.  I love the leadership of the ward and what they are doing with their organizations – the children (Primary), the youth (Young Women & Young Men), the Sunday School, the adults (Relief Society and Priesthood Leaders) and those in charge of other aspects like missionary work and temple work.  I so appreciate everyone in the ward that so willingly accepts a calling to serve and then adjusts his/her life to make that service an integral part of their life – whether it be serving as a Cub Scout Leader, a nursery leader, a teacher, an advisor, a building cleaner, a secretary or any one of dozens of other callings.  I see the love developed between those that are serving and those that are served and I know it is the Lord’s work!

Additionally I see our ward coming together to welcome new babies as they are born and to eulogize those of our congregation who pass away.  I see love and concern, fasting and prayers for those who are sick, or unemployed, or lonely, or facing tough family situations.  Generous funds are donated to help those who are struggling within the ward.  I love seeing the efforts made to share the gospel, to do Family History work, to attend and/or work at our beautiful temple.

Thank you all who are members of this good ward.  I love you and appreciate you.  We are not perfect and there is more work to do, but I know that working together we can accomplish what the Lord expects of us.  I look forward to serving side-by-side with you as long as we are together as a ward.  I feel I have had my re-WARD just working with you!!

Bishop Bruce Curtis

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Conversion story: John Bynum

I was 24 years old and standing in the backyard of an older man I had just met about 7 days prior when he said to me, "John, I challenge you to take the discussions."  At that time I had absolutely no idea what the discussions were.  I had never known a Mormon, nor did I know what the gospel was according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I grew up in Texas going to The Church of Christ fairly regularly until my parents divorced when I was 10.  After that I didn't go regularly again until I started living with my dad when I was 14.  Then, once I went off to college, I stopped going completely.  I did have basic religious beliefs and did pray sometimes, but at that point I did not know if I would ever be a member of any particular church again.  Fortunately for me, I met this man and his wonderful family and they were faithful enough to share what has turned out to bring lots of happiness to my life.

The entire process started not long after I finished my second year of teaching and coaching high school in East Texas.  I thought that was the career I wanted to pursue in my life, but after two years of not having much money even though I enjoyed what I was doing, I decided to move to Houston and see what other opportunities were out there.  I interviewed for a job in marketing and met a young man who was the son of the man I referred to earlier.  We started working together and within about two months I had met his whole family.  There was so much happiness, peace, and love between him and his wife, his parents, his three sisters and their husbands, and all of their children.  They were all so accepting and friendly to me and to each other.  There was a spirit about them that was intriguing unlike anything I had ever felt, and when I was challenged to take the discussions, I said yes because I could feel it was the right thing for me to do.  Then, after I asked and he explained to me that the discussions take place with missionaries who teach the gospel during a number of different meetings, he promised me that I would not be obligated to continue if I ever felt like I wanted to stop, nor would I have to become a member of their church if I felt like I didn't want to.  We would all still be friends regardless.

I am so grateful that I said yes.  The discussions were all about feeling the spirit, learning, and then deciding what was true as it was made clear to me by the spirit.  The missionaries taught the gospel according to the Bible and the Book of Mormon and we discussed many religious topics.  I could tell they truly believed what they were teaching.  Never once did any of them tell me what to believe, speak negatively about the beliefs or practices of other religions, or avoid questions I asked.  Once I started to realize that the Book of Mormon is true and that the teachings were correct, I had to decide if I wanted to make the changes in my life that would be necessary for me to live in accordance with the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I had been using tobacco for many years, enjoyed gambling fairly often on sports, and preferred to spend my Sundays relaxing and watching sports rather than going to church and participating in religious activities.  Fortunately I didn't let those things stop me from getting on a more righteous path because I could not ignore what I had come to know was true.

Since my baptism, life has not always been easy.  I've made some bad decisions that have led to troubled times and/or losses.  As has been said many times, the school of hard knocks can be very costly (and not just financially).  Now that I've lived more righteously for several years, life is so much better for me and my family.  I have a wonderful wife and three fantastic kids with lots of love between us.  All of our lives are better because of our active membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I know Heavenly Father knows me and that this gospel is true.  Even in difficult times (our 15 year old son is currently battling cancer), we feel so blessed and can see Heavenly Father's love and guidance in our lives.  It's amazing how wonderful life can be if we just make good choices, rely on the Atonement, live with gratitude and love, and show our faith with our actions.  I'm so thankful for finding so much more, or really for what found me, when really all I was looking for was a new career.