Monday, September 21, 2015
Our new mission president sent us an email with several questions regarding what we are doing, what's our schedule, what's worked and not worked and how we are feeling about our service. This was our letter back to him:
First we want to thank you for the sweet spirit you and Sister Stevens have brought to the England London Mission. We already love you. It will be a joy to get to work with you both.
When we arrived we were assigned to be the Senior Couple over the Britannia YSA Ward. Our responsibility is to watch over, feed, counsel, teach, support the Stake and Mission and especially love the YSA of the Hyde Park Stake. It's been a joy, a calling we feel especially blessed to have been called to.
Our typical week begins on Sunday. We attend all Ward Councils where we review and work from our Google Doc list of EVERY member of Britannia and what efforts have been done in reactivation and reach out. We teach Marriage Prep Classes, Sister Phillips directs Ward and Stake Choir and we sometimes substitute teach Sunday School. Elder Phillips is using his priesthood weekly in the giving of blessings, confirmations and baptisms. Elder Phillips teaches a 12-week course on Self-Reliance Classes from 10-12:00. It's a day we make ourselves available for whatever the YSA or Bishop needs.
On Monday and Tuesday we used those days to prepare to teach our Institute Class held Tuesday night. Monday evening we have FHE. We are not in charge but support FHE and are available to the kids that are needing help. Elder Phillips does life coaching the hour before FHE starts with those that request it. Sister Phillips attends Relief Society Presidency and Board Meetings held before FHE and lend support where it is needed.
During the school year on Tuesday we have a Stake Institute Class at our flat. Class actually starts at 7:30 but we have kids arriving at 6:50 onward. They stay until whatever time they decide to go home. (Thank goodness the tube closes at 12:00!) We started out with 8 in attendance. Our class has now grown to between 40-50 YSA every week. It's been a very special night, full of the spirit and because it's at our flat, the YSA have the experience of being in a home. It's been very very sweet.
During the summer months Tuesday night is "Seek for Supper". We invite groups of 4 (usually our less-actives or new members of the ward with their Home or Visiting Teacher) to come have a barbecue with us. We've had success in reaching out and reactivating. With such a small group we can have a more personal connection and really get to understand their needs and concerns. It has been a way of reaching youth that we haven't been able to reach any other way.
Wednesday is our Costco Run and beginning food preparation for Thursday.
Thursday is food preparation for Stake Institute Night. During the school semesters we have around 110 kids (that includes the missionaries and investigators that come in for dinner). During the summer our numbers are between 60-70 kids and missionaries. We've had to fight for this night with the stake last year when they were going to scale it back to snacks. What we had come to recognize is that Thursday night is much more than eating and going to class. It's a chance for the youth to "GATHER". Some of these kids have never had a family that sat down and ate together. For some this meal is the only home made meal in the week. There's been great power in gathering, not just for our YSA, but for the missionaries who bring in investigators. Can you imagine the impact on the investigator walking in and seeing 100 young adults sitting down together eating and having fun. It's powerful. Even though it's lots of work for us, the benefits far outweigh the work load.
Elder Phillips also teaches Missionary Prep Class on Thursdays. What's been most exciting is the number of Chinese converts that are attending as they prepare to go serve a mission
Our weekends are taken up with Stake Dances which Britannia is usually in charge of putting on, us supporting special events our YSA are involved in, personal coaching, ward and stake temple days, teaching a one-day Temple Prep class as needed and doing our quarterly Stake and Ward YSA Rep Breakfast and Training Meeting. We also support Break the Fast on the first Sunday of the month and all Stake YSA Firesides.
We try to teach with the missionaries every chance we get (especially Elder Phillips) and have just made the decision to have newly baptized YSA over right before or after their baptism to get to know them and build a relationship so they are not lost upon entering the ward. Our ward council has taken on the responsibility to see new members are given a calling and a temple recommend within days of their baptism. It has really helped. Also the 90-day program of the missionaries continuing to teach them after baptism has made a huge difference in retention!
We work directly with President Stephenson, who is the Stake Presidency member over the YSA. The Hyde Park Stake relies heavily on the Britannia Ward for support in activities within the Stake. Last year we were responsible for putting on a 3-day Chinese Convention, the first one ever attempted in London. It was a wonderful success. This coming October Britannia is in charge of an 8 Stake 1-day YSA Symposium that will include classes, lunch and dinner, and end with a multi-stake dance.
President the first day we arrived on our mission we received 3 pieces of advice that we've utilized on our mission. The first two came from President Jordan. He counselled us "Don't have favorites" and "As a senior couple you can be as busy as you choose." The third piece of advice came from the outgoing CES Director, Julian Jones, who counselled "Serve the ones in front of you."
From the very first we've tried to open our arms to everyone. There are those that seek us out and want to serve us. We love and appreciate their kindness to us. But we have always tried to look for those that are in the background and scoop them up, as well. I would say our best contribution has been the love we know ALL the YSA feel from us. And when you love them so much they can't help but love you back!
We've chosen to be busy. There are some days that aren't filled but we are grateful for some recovery time. This calling is physically draining, but it's much more emotionally draining. There are so many needs. Julian was right. You don't have to look past those standing in front of you for someone who has tremendous needs. These YSA are getting bombarded on every side from a wicked world. Most come from broken or non-existent homes. The majority have never seen a marriage that works. Few have family emotional or financial support. Sometimes our hearts break at the difficulty of their lives. They desperately need guidance, love and example. We try to always be there to give it.
Not only were we called to serve the YSA found in Britannia but all the YSA within Hyde Park Stake Boundaries. The majority of active YSA opt to attend Britannia. That leaves the majority of inactive YSA on the rolls of the other wards in the Stake. We recognized that they were falling through the cracks because of the other pressing needs of the Bishop and his council. In the first 6 months of our mission we came up with and presented a program to the Stake for going after those less-active. To do it we needed Bishops to call Ward YSA Reps with the Stake Reps called from Britannia. Our push was each Bishop and his ward council would come up with just 5 names of less-active YSA and make them a priority and focus. The YSA Rep would take responsibility for coordinating and getting the reach out to happen. That would include themselves, ward auxiliaries, home and visiting teachers, and the full time missionaries. We have had quarterly training, follow up calling and accountability but have not had the kind of success in reactivation we had hoped for. We've had a hard time getting some of the Reps bought in and committed. There is also a constant turnover in reps needing to be called. The Reps face ward councils that are overwhelmed with other pressing needs. It's been frustrating.
We can report that in Britannia our stake rep has our reach out program up and running. We've gotten all our auxiliaries, missionaries and the Bishopric committed and working off our master Google Doc that lists every member of our ward, how they are doing and coordinates what actions have been taken on their behalf. It's also helped to clean up our rolls, which is a constant concern. We will have one more Stake Training before we leave and hopefully get better cooperation and commitment. This works!
Our numbers have increased in every area. Britannia leads the stake in baptisms (as it should!). Our Tuesday Institute Class rose from 8 to 45. When we first arrived the Thursday dinners were 65. We now feed up to 110. Our Sacrament meeting attendance has risen significantly. There is a true feeling of unity and closeness that blesses all who attend Britannia. It has taken the whole team of Britannia to make this happen.
In summary I'll convey what was said to us by President Phillips. He explained to us that he had been involved in Britannia for the past 17 years, first as a member, then part of a Bishopric, now as the Stake President. He said in those 17 years he'd witnessed 2 eras that he called the "Golden Years". Then he exclaim, "This is the third!" How blessed we are to be a part of it!!!
Hope this has answered your questions.
Elder and Sister Phillips