Kristine Stringham: Church: A Distinctive, Effective Family Culture

ward cultureLast month, I attended the funeral of a childhood friend’s mother. I arrived early and quietly observed as the chapel started to fill. I was soon overcome with feelings of gratitude as I looked with my middle-aged eyes at the people, now seniors, who had been the adults in the home ward in which I grew up.

As I waited for the funeral to start, I pondered. Do I fully appreciate how blessed my life was to have these people as my mentors? How much have I been shaped by these good people? I looked around the chapel and saw so many who had influenced me – my Laurel teacher who spoke so lovingly of her husband in the lessons she taught, the home teacher who brought our family a cheeseball and crackers each Christmas, friends’ parents who drove us to church dances on Saturday nights, a mom who would giggle with us as we told her the ups and downs of our teenage crushes, the man who drove my siblings and me up to the hospital to see our new baby brother for the first time, the older sister who had lost three children in a car accident and shared her testimony of eternal families with us, two bishops who opened their homes for firesides, a seminary teacher who raved about the very average cake my friends and I made for him, and the bishopric counselor who annually took the youth in his city bus to go Christmas carolling. Thinking of these memories filled my heart. This was one of the most poignant moments of my life. My heart was full.

Maggie Gallagher in her recent article, “Rome’s Extraordinary Ecumenical Event”, made the following observation as she shared her thoughts about President Eyring’s remarks made at the Vatican,

“The Mormons are the one major American faith tradition (with the possible exception of the modern Orthodox Jews), who are successfully combining living in the ‘real world’ with creating a distinctive, effective family culture. And they have built this extraordinary achievement, President Eyring was trying to remind us, not primarily on the head but on the human heart.”

“A distinctive, effective family culture” – I realized that this is what my ward was giving to me as I was growing up. As my parents raised my siblings and me, we were surrounded by this culture while navigating the ‘real world’.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are sometimes apologetic about the cultural aspects of our faith. I wonder, though, if at times we over-apologize. We aren’t claiming to be a part of a perfect culture free of idiosyncratic habits. Rather, we are expressing profound gratitude for a divinely inspired culture, shaped by living prophets, that strengthens and blesses families. As we navigate the complexities peculiar to our day, the prophet and apostles help us to apply divine principles in the context in which we’re living. In a recent post, J. Max Wilson described it this way,

“Something can be cultural, and also inspired of God. God is often the cultivator of cultures; He frequently invites us to arrange our lives, customs, mannerisms, etc, in ways that prioritize what He prioritizes, but doesn’t always dictate precisely how.”

The people I saw at the funeral last month aren’t perfect, and I knew that even as a child and youth. But they are faithful and dedicated and are each a part of the ‘distinctive, effective family culture’ that has surrounded me throughout my life. My desire is to be one of those adults in my current ward – someone who will help preserve this culture by following the Lord and his prophets.

LDS church cultureKristine Stringham is the wife of a good man and the mother of five daughters and one son. She obtained her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Calgary. She was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta where she continues to reside.