Yesterday I attended my first, full three-hour block of church at the Oxford "ward" (Mormon-speak for parish-like congregation). I had attended before - last week briefly because I got the time wrong (the meetinghouse locator function of www.lds.org said it started at 11:50, but that is when Sacrament Meeting starts, not the more Sunday-school like meetings which start at 10:00 a.m.), and a year and a half ago when I visited the area - but this was the first time I attended in full as a soon-to-be member of this church unit.
I was pleased. As I noticed from my visit a year and a half ago, it is a strong ward, with multi-generational full-member families who are its pillars, fresh-perspectived new converts, and Oxford and Brookes University students. Several reached out to me and introduced themselves. In true Mormon fashion, I was asked to help the lay-run ward (as all church units are) in its many activities: I gave an opening prayer in Sunday School and was asked to do a vocal solo in "Relief Society" (the organization for women in the church--incidentally, the largest women's organization in the world) next week.
One of the biggest reasons I am looking forward to attending church here is its lay leader, or bishop, Bishop Dick. Oxford-educated, detail-oriented, and compassionate, this busy scientist is very attentive to the needs, large and small, private and public, of his congregation. I remember distinctly the combined Relief Society and Priesthood (one of the three hourly blocks each Sunday is given to the various auxillaries, Relief Society mentioned above, Priesthood quorums (see post from a few days ago on robes and Priesthood to see the various levels), and youth and children's groups) meeting in which he taught during my visit a year and a half ago. Three of the sections of his power-pointed lesson were on practical problems of the congregation--reimbursing members for petro (what the rest of the world calls gas) when given rides, simplifying church meetings during the week, etc. But the final section was deeply doctrinal, on the Atonement. I remember being moved by the presentation such to want to understand my Savior better. Then a couple of months ago while I was visiting Oxford from Cambridge, I reached out and wanted to meet with him while in town. He took three hours out of his evening for me, a complete stranger, to talk about Oxford, the Church in Oxford, and my own personal struggles and challenges in getting here. I was deeply touched by a man who so carefully serves for so little reward. I believe it is men like him that make this little ward such a warm, welcoming place, and, from what I've heard, the strongest unit in the stake (area unit which comprises many congregational units, much like a diocese), which has been called the strongest stake in England.