A Marvelous Work and a Cacophony

Last week’s sacrament meeting was unique. While on the surface it was just the annual Primary Sacrament Meeting program, the room was packed and the overflow took up most of the cultural hall. But the best part was the congregational hymns, a joyful cacophany that mangled the hymns, making them hard to understand, but communicating clearly the spirit.

Here in New York City our stake has two Spanish-speaking wards, including one that shares the building with us. Last year our two wards began sharing primary and youth programs. Our Sunday schedules overlap so that those classes can meet together.

On the whole, as far as I can tell from being outside the primary and youth programs (I do have children in the programs), the idea seems to work, although I suppose for someone unfamiliar with our situation, and without much information about what immigrant communities are like.

You might think that the best thing for any ward is to let it stand on its own, staffing its own programs and training its own people. For our sister Spanish-speaking ward, that has been tried. The reason I think that this works is a simple observation about the immigrant community: Their children either don’t speak or don’t want to speak Spanish.

Like most immigrant groups that have entered the U.S. over the years, the children (depending on age) usually learn English quickly (if imperfectly) and often avoid speaking their parent’s language in an effort to be “real” Americans and to fit in with U.S. culture.

In the case of our sister ward, the ward, and many families in it, were split along linguistic lines, with parents preferring to speak Spanish because of their heritage, or because they aren’t comfortable in English, and the children refusing to speak Spanish to be more American or because they aren’t as comfortable in Spanish.

For a ward, the situation can cause difficult staffing problems. Its hard to staff a primary or youth program when the children need teachers who speak English, and the reason their parents are in the ward is that they don’t speak English. Most Spanish-speakers fluent enough in English want to attend English-speaking wards (at least in our stake), leaving no one to teach the English-speaking children in the Spanish-language wards.

Its a difficult problem, and I’ll bet that other Spanish-language wards face it also. I’d love to hear about what other wards and stakes face because of these problems.

But regardless of what others are doing, I think this solution works fairly well, at least for the situation we face here.

6 comments for “A Marvelous Work and a Cacophony

  1. That is interesting. We have a Korean ward in our stake and I know they combine the youth programs and probably the primaries too so the kids can get English instruction. Out here there is a whole Spanish stake right alongside us.

  2. In my stake, there is an American Sign Language branch that has a combined primary with an English speaking ward. I don’t know if the youth programs are combined, though.

  3. A few years ago the Stake president in the area where I lived saw the solution to this problem as disbanding the Spanish speaking ward and sending everyone to an English speaking ward. Almost immediately a Spanish Sunday school class popped up.

    More recently in the Stake where I now live the Asian Ward was disbanded while the Spanish Ward has gained strength. Spanish speakers who want to go to English wards are free to do so. The choice is theirs.

  4. Ellis (3): Interesting. As you note, its is a solution, but as you note, doing that simply shifts problems. Instead of having to figure out how to deal with English-speaking primary and youth, you now have to figure out how to deal with Spanish-speaking adults in the English-speaking wards. IMO, coordinating that much interpretation of English meetings into Spanish would be almost impossible for our ward, and would likely result in lower involvement of many Spanish-speaking Saints.

    I think you have a problem to work on no matter which way you go.

    I’m afraid there aren’t any easy solutions to this issue.

  5. We have a Chinese branch attached to our ward, and if it weren’t for their kids in the Primary, there wouldn’t be enough kids to fill out the classes. When we combined for our Primary program, we had welcomes and announcements in English and Mandarin and then the rest of the program in English (translated via headphones for all the adoring grandmas and grandpas [and others] who couldn’t understand the English-speaking children).

    The stake next door has a Spanish branch/ward (it keeps changing) that does the same thing with a different English ward.

    Leadership of both language units tends to be comprised of a mixture of native- and non-native speakers drawn from within each stake’s boundaries.

  6. What you describe happens a lot. It sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. In Mesa they did this and it was a problem because the English speaking ward didn’t successfully integrate with the Latino culture.

    This is interesting because I’ve heard a lot of English speaking members say that people who come here tot he US are not interested in learning English. But in my experience, which is similar to what is stated above, the children are 100% interested in learning English.

    Isn’t there some precedence for this in early church history. Were there Welsh speaking wards in Utah, at one point? I think I heard of a Welsh choir. They probably had similar issues with children not speaking Welsh.

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