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

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

With palpable enthusiasm, Sister Schofield easily described what she sees as three keys to the ward’s success. “First, it’s fellowship. Members are inviting less-active (members) on their own without being pressured. Second, our ward leadership, especially the bishopric, never settles. Bishop reminds us all the time we’ve done great things, but now is not the time to stop. There is much more work to do. Finally, it’s working here because we’re unified. Missionaries and members have open, daily communication. They treat us like equals in the work.”

Her mission president certainly agrees. “The special ingredient in Chesapeake is the absolute unity of the full-time missionaries and the ward members, particularly in the ward council,” President Richards said. He added that their shared goals of real growth and true conversion, with a balanced focus on reactivation, convert baptisms and retention, all contribute to their success.

Baltimore Stake President Craig Halsey, one of the many who agreed the Chesapeake story needed to be shouted from the virtual rooftops, also had three reasons for the ward’s resurgence. “Obedience. Love. Vision,” he said. “It’s that simple. It is an unbeatable trifecta, and it’s infectious.”

When asked to elaborate, President Halsey explained our universal tendency to "chase rabbits" and new gimmicks as we hunt success. “Bishop Gonçalves has truly stuck to the building blocks. He is focused on the pearl and on the rescue.”

President Halsey was also eager to praise Bishop Gonçalves’ predecessor, Jason Fox. “Make no mistake, the groundwork was done by Bishop Fox, and all the foundational principles were in place for this new bishop to hit the ground running.”

Chesapeake ward mission leader Michael Eusebio also weighed in, describing a unique "rescue" held one Sunday in January. Members gathered in the chapel after church and watched President Gordon B. Hinckley address seminary students in a video from 1981. In the clip, President Hinckley shares the poignant, heroic rescue by three 18-year-old young men of many pioneers on the freezing Platte River in 1856.

“Then the bishop invited the whole ward to rescue our lost brothers and sisters,” Eusebio said. “We were amazed by the response.” They were assigned into companionships and two-by-two immediately left to visit a few families each and to invite them back to church. Every duo then returned and reported.

“Now, if that's not ‘hastening’ the work, I don't know what is,” Eusebio added. ”The members did a magnificent job!”

Every individual interviewed mentioned that activity as an important factor in the ward’s success. But Bishop Gonçalves made clear the special day wasn’t a one-time effort. They will repeat the process two or three times annually.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Gonçalves is humble about the ward’s success during his first nine months as bishop. When discussing the impressive numbers, Bishop Gonçalves was quick to interrupt. “Records represent real people. I don’t like to see numbers; I like to see names.”

In fact, Bishop Gonçalves and his ward clerk don’t take attendance during sacrament meeting simply by counting heads; they look for faces. By the end of church, they have a list of everyone missing. Most Sundays, the missionaries and a representative from each auxiliary are asked to attend a very brief "stand-up meeting" in the bishop’s office immediately after the meetings. Bishop Gonçalves hands each person a piece of paper with several names of missing members.

Each missing sheep is contacted, many right on the spot, and by the end of the day, concerned friends have delivered a very special message. “We missed you today. Are you all right? Do you need anything?” Once again, leaders return and report to the bishop.

“These friends who are missing,” Bishop Gonçalves said, “many times they feel they are forgotten. Inside, they have a testimony that might be dormant, and they just need someone to care. They need us to put some time in, to show love.”

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