Today in sacrament meeting, Bishop called our attention to the fact that we could consider it a historic time. I hadn’t thought of it as such – I arrived in the chapel thinking it was just another Sunday, albeit old friends would be returning from Provo. Today was the last Sunday in which the Hartford, Connecticut mission existed.
Hartford was one of the missions that has been realigned and combined with the Boston, Massachusetts mission as the Church works towards creating more effective missions and better alignment of our resources. Five new missions have been created world-wide, and scores of others have been combined or realigned just as Hartford has. In addition, 127 new mission presidents have been called to begin their 3 year callings (for more information, go here).
Most of the meeting and throughout the early afternoon, I was caught up in thinking about the Hartford mission and stake. New England is a unique region in the history of the Church – many of the early Saints hailed from the north-eastern United States. New England generally isn’t an outwardly religious region as, say, the south or midwest. New Englanders are known for their cool demeanor that is sometimes viewed as indifference or disdain and rarely talk about religious beliefs. I think that’s why New England is sometimes viewed part of the “front lines” of the mission field – it’s a hard field to harvest.
Despite it all, Hartford has always had something special as a mission (though if you ask anyone, they’ll tell you their mission is the best!) and as a stake. I think because it is so small compared to a lot of missions: 9 missions and 1 Spanish-speaking branch. I think it goes beyond that as well. Over the years, we’ve had some absolutely amazing missionaries, elders and sister missionaries alike.
I’ve remembered them clearly for various reasons – for the way the sisters did their laundry at our house on p-day and lingered over lunch, how we had eight missionaries over for Christmas eve one year, the elders who dropped by with a little stuffed bluebird for me when I had surgery, the barbeques down by the lake and the huge suppers gathered around the kitchen table. They were all such great examples to me growing up, and all of them were people who I really respected and learned from.
It’s hard to think that Hartford mission doesn’t really exist any more, that there won’t be any more priest/laurel firesides at the mission home with President Pehrson and his wife and the handful of missionaries. They were intimate and powerful – a bunch of young men and young women listening and sharing strong testimonies and stories of faith. The bunch of us crammed into the Pehrson’s living room, sitting shoulder to shoulder amongst the elders and sister missionaries, bishops and leaders soaking up that sweet Spirit.
Some of my fondest memories were of all the Cromwell ward’s priests and laurels piling into Bishop Puida’s van and driving up to Hartford to the mission home for a long-awaited few hours of rejuvenating spirit. They were always unlike the firesides held at the stake – there was something different about that warmth and openness. Maybe it was because we were all seated so close in the living room, or because of the photos lining the walls and the hearth crackling in the winter. Sister Pehrson always treated us to cookies or brownies afterwards, circling through the groups of young people with plates of sweets and kind words.
I’d related to friends at SVU the intimacy and love of those firesides and had been met with surprise. You had firesides at the mission home? they’d ask. Yes, and they are some of the fondest fireside memories I have.
It’s a special thing that Hartford has – those special bonds with the missionaries and the mission presidents. Perhaps it’s because our boundaries were so small. Some areas out west are the size of the entire state of Connecticut, and Hartford covered barely half the state. When you visit other wards, you see the missionaries you’ve had in your ward a few transfers ago and you can always spot a familiar face among the missionaries and you generally recognize the names. They become so much a part of the wards, it feels strange when they’re transferred.
Take Elder Lemon today. Cromwell was his first area, and he’s been here for nine months. Sacrament was a little crazy because there were only three young men to bless and pass it today. I had been reading the words to the sacrament hymn, so was a little startled when I heard Brother Bell blessing the sacrament. I glanced up to see several of the brethren and the missionaries joining the young men in passing the sacrament. Elder Lemon in particular passed it with a huge smile on his face, as if he were reveling in being able to do this simple and powerful act of service.
After the sacrament, as Bishop (who was conducting this month – I love when Bishop conducts) dismissed everyone to sit with their families he called out to Elder Lemon, saying, “Before you get too far, get up here and bear your testimony please.” Elder Lemon is being transferred tomorrow as part of a plan to promote combine the Hartford and Boston missions: one missionary from each companionship in Massachusetts will be sent to Connecticut, and vice versa.
As he spoke I couldn’t help but think of how ingrained some of these missionaries become in the wards. They’re there with a smile and a firm handshake, an amazing example of love and service. They respond to the call of the Lord by serving within the wards and branches, going beyond bringing new people into the ward. They’re just amazing.
I guess what really caught me was the realization of how important these missionaries are to me. The sacrifices they make to do the Lord’s work because they love Him. They work tirelessly and diligently to serve and are just amazing, amazing examples of the love in action. Everything they do is a way of expressing that love.
It’s really hard to know that a dynamic that has worked so well is going to change. It will come down to knowing that it’s in the Lord’s hands, and that this is what He knows is best for us, but it’s a little hard to accept. It’s one of those situations where you know that will be what’s best, but to reconcile yourself to it, to accept that its right is the hard thing. I keep reminding myself that we’re not losing our missionaries – we’re helping them with the harvest.
It gets to the point where you think of the hymn known for being a song for the missionaries and you simply have to say, “They’ll go where you want them to go, dear Lord.”