Yesterday, I saw a good friend who is also inactive. After a lengthy talk we agreed to support each other at church the next day as it would be her first time visiting church in a long time as well. It was Branch Conference and much of the Stake Leadership was present. There was a joint RS/Priesthood section, after Sunday School, when the Stake President asked us all to put our chairs in a circle. I was surprised and quite happy to see something sort of 'unorthodox' to occur. A circle feels more unifying. Then the President asked everyone what challenges they face as a branch and/or individuals; what tries our faith. Nobody said anything for a bit and he allowed the silence. Then someone said, "As young women's president I think we need more young men". Others stated traveling as a barrier (many travel 45 and 60 minutes to church). Many feel that b/c the branch is so small they are spreading themselves thin fulfilling sometimes two and three callings. The president asked questions and gave lots of time to discuss these issues.
Then my friend said that she isn't sure if she should say this but what tries her faith is mental illness. I was so proud that she said something that is amazingly brave, especially after she has been away from church for awhile. The Stake President was sensitive, kind, and knowledgeable about the issue. He asked if people who have a mental illness should repent. He didn't get a response so he asked it again. One person said no. He confirmed that. He related having a mental illness to losing a limb. What do you do when you lose a limb, or have diabetes, or muscular dystrophy? Mental illness, while we cannot see it as a physical disbility, is like losing a limb. We manage the best way we can. Mental illness is not a result of not following commandments. He said repenting, studying the scriptures and going to church does not take mental illness away just like it doesn't take diabetes or muscular dystrophy away. Then he spent the next fifteen minutes on the topic and I felt shocked and emotional at the amount of attention to the issue, as well as how he fascilitated an open discussion. I can't believe how open he was. He and I had a good conversation afterwards, as well. I didn't share much about myself during our visit but I got an even greater sense of his openness. And all the Stake Presidency remembered my name! Another shock.
After church the branch had potluck and one of the members got me a stake directory, a book on mormon art, and the book on teachings of the prophets for RS. I didn't want to offend so I didn't say anything and I left the books there. It's enough that I am showing up but I can't start getting bogged down with 'stuff' at this point. I just want to quietly take it all in.
My husband is happy that I came home from church feeling happy. I really appreciate that the Stake President's approach of unifying each other, asking questions, and sharing. I felt that he was speaking to us as people who the church belongs to...us as 'little' people and leaders alike. The content of these discussions could have been discussed in a meeting behind closed doors but he included everyone as having a sense of ownership who feel invested in this church. Even though I haven't been to church in awhile I feel validated being that this leader is interested in what we have to say regarding the running of the church at a local level. I'm glad for that today.