Natalie Brown: Here’s an easy, cheap, meaningful way for LDS adults to gather simply as friends

Yes, we’re brothers and sisters, but we yearn to be friends, too.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) South Korean Latter-day Saints greet then-Relief Society President Linda K. Burton in 2014.

I was unsurprised when I heard that many Latter-day Saint young people in my area wanted more, rather than fewer, opportunities to gather.

The story we usually tell is that we are already overscheduled and overextended. The transactional social relationships such schedules bring, however, often come at the cost of deeper, more intimate friendships.

For many of us, our scant extra time and resources go toward our immediate and extended families. We are missing space in which to enjoy, chat with, and nurture our neighbors and ward members. The shift to the two-hour Sunday block has further eroded many of the informal opportunities we had to simply connect with our friends (often in the hallways).

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Members chat in a foyer at church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does an exemplary job of supplying opportunities for teenagers and young adults to fellowship with one another. I have been struck in my years as a mother, however, by how few opportunities older adults (parents in particular) have to find friendship at church. Formal women’s Relief Society activities are rare; activities for men nearly nonexistent. And, frankly, many lack the time, energy and money to prepare an elaborate event, stage a roadshow, or find child care so that they can attend.

Youth nights can be adult nights, too

Still, there is much at stake in fellowshipping and nurturing adult members, especially parents of young kids. Early parenting years can be isolating, expensive and exhausting, and yet we offer little support to these grown-ups. Moreover, parents are the ones who usually decide whether to bring their children to church. When a mother who feels unsupported and lonely leaves the faith, her children likely follow. The easiest way to grow the church is to retain the members we already have.

As I recently sat in the car waiting to pick up my child from a church activity, it struck me that there is an obvious way to create informal opportunities for adults to socialize: Provide them with a comfortable space to hang out at the same time as weekly youth activities.

Many adults already go to church on youth activity nights. I usually nod to other parents as we wait in our cars or in the cold foyer, all of us pining for something more. It is a simple next step to provide a lounge with couches, free food, board games, and a space for younger kids to play while adults visit. Weekly youth nights could become ward nights that draw all members.

Food for thought ... and for adults

My list of potential church changes usually includes more challenging ideas such as providing free preschools. This one, though, would be easy. Set up one night a week so that members can meet up informally. Ideally, it would entail only repurposing some space in meetinghouses and boosting the budget to pay for snacks.

As every college student knows, free food is essential. Potlucks might be a Latter-day Saint tradition, but they are also barriers to participation. Exhausted adults do not have time for extra cooking. Sometimes, the service and frugality that characterize our worship are virtues. Other times, though, we need to recognize that members are tired. So, let’s serve up Costco cake and pizza once a week rather than ask people to cook.

Who, you might ask, will clean these buildings if we put them to more use? Well, as I noted, adults are exhausted. Many families need extra income. Let’s bring back the paid janitors while we’re at it.

(Courtesy) Natalie Brown, Salt Lake Tribune guest columnist.

Natalie Brown is a writer, scholar, lawyer, mother and Latter-day Saint based in Boulder, Colo. She is writing in her personal capacity. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the church or her employer.

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