Wright Words: Maryland ward becomes model for 'hastening the work'

Published: Tuesday, April 1 2014 12:10 p.m. MDT

Sister Lexi Schofield of St. George is serving in the Maryland Baltimore Mission.

Judi Schofield

On June 23, 2013, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were treated to a historic Worldwide Leadership Broadcast on "Hastening the Work of Salvation."

Among other things, the meeting unveiled how full-time missionaries would soon be invited to use technology, including social media, to share the gospel and interact with members, less-active members and investigators. Members were also counseled to better understand their roles in this great work, and as the meeting marched on, it was clear this wasn’t some flashy new program or trendy, short-term initiative.

It's a way of life.

It's who we are.

Just hours before that memorable meeting, Anderson Gonçalves, originally of Sao Paulo, Brazil, had been called as bishop of the Chesapeake Ward in the Baltimore Maryland Stake. Bishop Gonçalves was paying attention, and, just a few months later, others would be paying attention to him.

I first heard about the Chesapeake Ward from Mark L. Richards, the energetic president of the Maryland Baltimore Mission. On a call about an unrelated issue, he swiftly changed the subject and asked if I'd heard about the remarkable things unfolding in Chesapeake. "This idea of hastening the work,” he said, “that new bishop over there just gets it."

Over the ensuing months, my curiosity about this ward grew almost as fast as the buzz, and a series of interviews revealed how the missionaries, auxiliary leaders and members are all recognizing and embracing their divine role in this new era. They’ve accepted that every player in the Lord's grand production has an important part to play, and the stage is big enough for everyone.

Their shoulder-to-shoulder success is stunning.

Within six months of Bishop Gonçalves being called, the number of members attending sacrament meeting at least once a quarter increased from 227 to 319, and those attending every week jumped by 64. The ward has had 11 converts baptized, and all of them are active with a calling and with their sights set on the temple.

Those unified efforts truly put the "haste" in "hasten."

After his call and the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast, Bishop Gonçalves immediately sought to identify and know each member of his ward. Most importantly, using his full-time missionaries and ward council, he verified precisely who lived in the ward, who didn’t and what their needs were.

Michael and Lyda Larsen, a senior couple from Astoria, Ore., serving in the ward, described Bishop Gonçalves’ drive: “He absolutely insists on knowing each person on the list. He wants to know who they are and if they really live where the records indicate. And if not, he actively pursues getting their records to the right place.”

But he doesn’t simply delegate and wait for the answers. “He practices what he preaches,” Sister Larsen said. “He’s always out visiting in homes, seeing what’s going on. Members observe that, they respect that, and in turn we all want to follow him and do our part.”

The surge of missionaries spurred by the October 2012 minimum age requirement change has certainly helped. In addition to the Larsens, the ward is blessed with two sets of full-time elders and a companionship of sisters. Sister Lexi Schofield, a full-time missionary from St. George, leapt at the opportunity to share her perspective on why the ward has become a model of hastening the work.

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