I used to joke that if you sit at a table in the Wilkinson Center food court long enough, you can watch the whole church pass by.
Recently, though, I've realized that sitting there waiting for the church to come to me would be selfish and unproductive. No, our job is to move around and circulate as widely as we can.
That way, no matter where you live, the whole church will either come to you, or you'll visit them.
Six degrees of separation? I don't think so.
In fact, I wonder if we need more than four degrees of separation to account for every member of the church connecting with every other.
For instance, this past weekend we went to sacrament meeting at the San Diego 8th Ward.
We chose this ward because we were staying at a hotel near the airport, and that was the nearest ward that (a) spoke English and (b) began sacrament meeting at 11 a.m.
(Yes, I am indeed that lazy. But in my defense, I had been attending Comic-Con, with back-to-back meetings and dinners and panels and signings until late on Saturday night.)
We got there just as they started singing the opening hymn. My voice was so worn out from shouting to be heard in crowded restaurants and on the convention floor that I not only wasn't a tenor, I wasn't even a bass. I had about five notes that I could sort of hit.
For me, it's an existential question: If I can't sing the tenor part in sacrament meeting, was I really there?
It was a wonderful meeting. The man conducting the meeting was personal and witty without being irreverent we liked him so much we immediately felt at home.
The two speakers were a young couple who gave good gospel-centered talks, bringing enough of their personal lives into their sermons that the topics felt immediate and real, not theoretical.
The wife talked about their experience with their third child, who was diagnosed before birth with a genetic condition that led to inevitable death children with this affliction were either stillborn or died within hours.
Since my wife and I have had the experience of losing a child within hours of her birth, we understood the dread they must have felt. But their heartfelt prayers were answered, at least to a degree. Two years later, that boy is still alive and apparently healthy, though now they are concerned about a different genetic condition that might threaten his physical well-being.
Naturally, her talk was emotional but she never faltered in delivering the talk she had planned to give.
It fell to the husband to introduce their family. It seems they had lived in the San Diego 8th Ward years before, when they were first married. Since then, they had moved every couple of years and now had come full circle. "And we're not even in the military," he said.
We liked these young people. If they had just moved into our ward in Greensboro, N.C., we would have invited them over for dinner to get to know them better. We felt truly at home there.
At the end of the meeting, to our surprise, up walked Jack and Peggy Jenkins, stalwart souls from Greensboro, whom we had known as dear friends for 26 years. What in the world were they doing in this particular ward on the very Sunday we showed up?
It turns out that they were visiting Jack's brother and sister-in-law whom I also recognized, because they had visited Jack and Peggy in Greensboro and even attended some of the plays we've put on there.
Presumably, everyone in that ward knew the Jenkinses, and the Jenkinses knew us so before we ever even showed up there, we were already separated by only two degrees from an entire ward where we thought we would be strangers.
Our dear friends Imo and Livina Eshiet were converted to the gospel in Nigeria. They have been very active in the church there, and I'll bet that by knowing somebody who knows somebody else, they are connected to every member of the church in west Africa. Which means I am only one degree farther away from Saints in countries where I will probably never go.
Add to that the people I knew on my mission in Brazil, and the people we met at church in Antibes during the summer we spent in the south of France; and then the people from foreign countries who have visited in Greensboro or who have relatives there; and all the people who know the people that my brothers and cousins and in-laws and friends met on their missions in Korea and Japan, Germany and Russia and truly exotic places like Arkansas and Provo and I think we all know somebody who knows somebody who knows everybody in the church.
Wherever we go, we are "no more strangers, but fellow-citizens." But the connection is deeper than mere chains of acquaintanceship. We have passed through the same rituals; we attend similar sacrament meetings; we tell the same stories; we obey the same commandments; we serve the same Savior.
We happened to be in Salt Lake City on the day of the 24th of July parade this year, and we saw President Monson riding in the parade, wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses. (Even with the sign announcing who he was, it took our daughter a few moments to realize that the cool-looking guy in the back seat was, in fact, the president of the church!)
A lot of Saints hear the stories of the pioneers and think, "My family joined the church long after those pioneer days. We're from different stock."
No you're not. When you join the church, you become part of the ongoing story of the Restoration. You adopt those pioneers as your forebears as surely as those who are genetically descended from them. No matter at what point we are grafted onto the tree, we all drink from the same root, and raise our branches to the same sky, the same sunlight.
We all know somebody who knows somebody who knew somebody who knew the Prophet Joseph Smith.In a world of 6 billion people, the church is so small. We are all only a few degrees of separation away from someone who has seen the face of God.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.