Thursday, 10 April 2014

Launceston changes bring new opportunities

On Sunday, 6 April a special sacrament meeting was held in Launceston for members of both Launceston wards, presided over by President Walters and President Buckley of the stake presidency. 233 members and friends gathered to hear the business that was to be conducted. After announcing the new boundaries and the establishment of the Esk and Tamar Wards and their new leaders, President Walters gave the following counsel:
Brothers and sisters, assigning boundaries to congregations is a unique characteristic of the Lord's Church, and has its foundation in the scriptures. In almost all of the standard works, there are examples of the Lord's people being organised into groups under the leadership of teachers, priests and in modern times, bishops, who are the presiding high priests and shepherds of their wards. These ward groupings enable us as members of the Church to give full expression to our covenants by providing an organised way in which to carry out the scriptural charge found in Moroni 6:4, which reads:

And their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

The First Presidency has directed that all members of the Church attend and serve in the ward to which they are assigned in order to receive all of the blessings that the Church and gospel have to offer, including the eternally significant blessings of the temple.

Let me emphasise that although a change in boundaries does mean a change in those we will worship and serve with from week to week, cherished friendships and associations should not be limited to ward boundaries. I have encouraged the bishops to bring both wards together from time to time, but I also encourage you to maintain friendships with those who are not in your assigned ward. After all, we are all brothers and sisters in the gospel, or as Paul describes it, "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
The spirit was strong as members raised their hands to sustain their new leaders, and stood to see the members of their new ward families. Following are some accounts by members who were in attendance at this historic meeting.

Sister Gillian Shaw, formerly of the Launceston West Ward and now a member of the Esk Ward recalled:
There was an air of excitement as the car park filled rapidly way before the 8.55 ‘rush time’!  Lots of nods, smiles and hugs to friends we hadn’t seen for a while. The chapel filled quickly, then the lounge, then the partitions were opened into the hall!  The large attendance should put us on track for three wards in Launceston in the near future!
Pres Walters, with large beaming smile, announced the creation of Esk and Tamar Wards to replace the Launceston East and West Wards. The news not unexpected, the important questions of ‘which ward am I in?’ ’who is my bishop?’ and ‘who else is in my ward’ were soon revealed as the boundaries (formed geographically by the intersection of the South Esk, North Esk and Tamar rivers) was projected onto the wall. The promise of ‘take home’ maps was welcome news. 
Once everyone had time to identify which ward they now belonged to, we took turns in standing to affirm our new identity. What a moment - to look around and see how many others also ‘belonged’ to the new units.
What a pleasure to sustain our new bishopric. How wonderful to hear their testimonies and those of their sweet wives who quietly shoulder additional responsibilities at home so their husband can devote greater time to their calling.
Change can be exciting but also quite daunting, especially for those who had never witnessed such an event.  I am sure we can all work together in supporting our recent converts in getting to know their new leaders, home and visiting teachers, and in settling into their new callings when they receive them.  Follow-up phone calls and visits have been already been made and, in the main, the Launceston members are excited by the potential growth the creation of two new wards will generate.
The timing was perfect for sisters, young women and older primary girls who were able to start networking over a delicious supper following a wonderful broadcast of the historic General Women’s Meeting!
Brother Martin Hamilton, formerly of the Launceston West Ward and now a member of the Esk Ward, related:
In early 2003, I was in a congregation of Saints in Hobart, enjoying a stake conference where a new Stake President was called. During that meeting, the Area President stood and spoke to us, making a promise under the influence of the Spirit that if the number of Saints in Tasmania were to double, the Lord would bless us with our very own temple in Tasmania. This prophetic promise, and the feeling of peace and joy at those words, has remained with me since that day.

The announcement was made in a special sacrament meeting on the 6th of April 2014 that the new Tamar and Esk wards would replace the Launceston East and West wards respectively. As I looked at the map outlining the changes, I felt the stirrings of the spirit confirming that this was the will of the Lord, in bringing to pass the promised blessings made 11 years ago. This feeling grew as I listened to President Walters' comments, outlining the stake’s goal to qualify for consideration for a temple in Tasmania by 2020.

For some, these changes would be something never before experienced. I have been fortunate enough to participate in the realignment or creation of new wards at least 8 times in my life, so these changes did not come as much of a surprise. I was very interested to see how and what changes would be made, and how the wards would be delineated. From a purely logistical view, the changes make good sense. The new boundaries are placed in such a way that when the time comes that each ward has grown sufficiently, two new wards could be made from each, bringing the potential for anywhere up to 4 wards in the greater Launceston area. The vision of the stake presidency is one of growth, and these new ward boundaries match perfectly with that vision.

But we don’t need to rely solely on logic to see this is the right decision. As President Walters spoke, each person in that room surely felt of his love for the Lord, his love of the work, and his love for each of us. This decision, along with the details, were carefully prayed about and received through revelation. Of this there is no doubt. The Lord wishes to enlarge the borders of His stake here, and this is just the beginning of a great and marvelous work among us in the Launceston area of the Devonport Stake of Zion.

While I will miss the presence of friends and loved ones in my meetings due to these changes, I am excited to have the opportunity to enhance other friendships and associations with those who I don’t know very well yet. I am also comforted by the knowledge that my friends are in the place the Lord needs them to be. We will still be sharing the same building, we will still have the opportunity to meet with one another and share in the fellowship and joy of gospel association. We are still part of the same family, a family that has grown from a small handful 50 years ago to a vibrant community of Saints who love their God, and will yet do much good in this land. So, “let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” (D&C 123:17) and find joy in serving the Lord in our new borders.
Sister Lisa Wheeler, formerly of the Launceston East Ward and now a member of the Tamar Ward, reflected on her feelings about the changes in boundaries and bishops:
I suppose when you farewell your Bishop of the last 6 years that you would expect it to evoke some emotion in you but I wasn’t expecting too much, hey, I didn’t even take a tissue.

We were anticipating this historic occasion. There had been talk about ward boundary changes in Launceston for 12 months or more. We knew it had been submitted to the Area Presidency and that it was just a matter of time but with the change in Stake Presidency I think we had all put it on the backburner and forgotten about it for now.

So when we got a phone call on Saturday afternoon to say come to a combined ward Sacrament meeting on Sunday morning, we were excited and confident of the outcome. Even then I still didn’t contemplate how I might feel saying goodbye to my Bishop.

Corey Bailey was my best friend’s husband. He was only 4 months older than me. He was there sometimes when I visited with Kylie and had his own peculiar idiosyncrasies and was just my ‘friend’s husband’. When he was called as Bishop it took me nearly 3 months to begin calling him Bishop. It felt weird and I wondered if I would ever be able to view him as ‘My Bishop’.

Somewhere along the line that changed, I didn’t even really notice it. Perhaps it was when I was called to serve on the Ward Council and my respect for him grew out of working as a team and realising his dedication and devotion to the Lord. Perhaps it was watching him struggle with the load of being Bishop and the pain he felt as he loved and served his ward. It was definitely there the last 4 years while I was in leadership and observed his tireless commitment to the Lord and his flock. I’ve heard it said that a Bishop is a shepherd and the ward members are his sheep and tend his flock with constant love, he most certainly did.

Sunday we arrived at church with anticipation bubbling in our nerves and I sat back in my seat eager to see the outcome with 230 other members. I looked up and noticed the red swollen eyes of my Bishop as he sat on the stand and watched him struggle to compose himself before the meeting even started and as I felt the emotion surge in me, I realised then that this historic occasion would have more meaning to me that I first thought. I had grown to love my Bishop and I felt the pain for him as I realised how hard it must be to just walk away from your flock and the ones you have been supporting and praying so hard for all these years. All those people who have kept you awake at night and shed tears of grief and pain but also joy with. Can a father just walk away from his children? Today this father was handing his ward family over to another and hoping and trusting in the Lord that they make the transition unscathed.

Finally it was time for President Walters to conduct the business. He announced the establishment of the Esk & Tamar Wards to replace the Launceston West and East Wards. We were shown a map on the projector screen so we could see our new boundaries. I was in Tamar Ward, cool I thought, I even love the new names.

Many leaders from both wards were released from their callings and Bishop Horsman was announced as Bishop of Esk Ward with his counsellor Carlos Furlan and the other to come. Then Tamar Ward were given their new Bishop, Bishop Joe Rogers and his counsellors, Michael Reeve and Jason Barnes.

The joy I felt as I heard those words was immense. If anyone could take over the steering of this ship and supersede the captain, it would be Joe. Joe who had been the Shepherd’s apprentice for the previous 4 years, who also had his own peculiar idiosyncrasies which would enable him to put his own personal stamp on the work as he was directed by the Lord. I already loved Joe, this I thought, would be an easy transition for me.

After we heard testimonies and talks from our new leadership, our Stake Relief Society President and our Stake President the meeting closed. I went looking for my old Bishop and I stood in line behind my fellow ward members, as it came my turn, he hugged me and thanked me for my support  and I knew words wouldn’t suffice as I told him, it had been my pleasure.

I turned around and there was my new Bishop and as I gave him a big cheery grin in anticipation of more of the same, I realised I had learnt a valuable lesson over these past few years: when you love to serve the Lord, you learn to love the Lord’s servants. And for the first time ever I am older than my Bishop, now that will take some getting used to!