The term "ward" in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is used to describe a congregation. Wards are usually made up of between 300-350 members (if there are too few members for a ward, the congregation is known as a "branch") all of whom live within a certain geographic area. Wards are based on where you live, and unlike many other religions, members are discouraged from choosing the ward they like best and are encouraged to attend the ward whose boundaries they live within.
Each ward is set up to work in pretty much the same way. There is a bishop and his two counselors (who comprise the bishopric) that preside over the ward. The bishopric is then responsible for organizing and asking people to fill the various roles (known as callings) needed in the organizations within the ward, such as Relief Society, Young Men, Primary, and Sunday School. The entire ward meets together on Sundays for a three hour block. In most cases the block starts with Sacrament meeting followed by Sunday School, then the various groups, divided by age and gender, have classes. This schedule is not always followed, especially in areas where there is a large population of members such as on Church university campuses (see BYU or CES. Here time and a lack of building space may make it necessary to switch the order so that the largest number of wards have access to the building.
When a ward becomes too large, it is usually divided. Leaders of the Church try to keep wards within the 300-350 member range because it allows most of the members of the ward to have a calling. This system allows every member to feel needed within their ward and helps increase participation in the various activities. The limited number also allows the bishop and other leaders to get to know members and their needs on an individual basis.
Wards are encouraged to create an atmosphere where its members can get to know each other and learn to serve and love one another. Many people refer to their ward as a ward family and this is the ideal. The ward is there to help build each person up within the Church. The members are to care for each other’s spiritual, emotional, and temporal needs. Virginia H. Pearce, who served in the Young Women’s General Presidency, stated in a conference talk,
- Learning in groups is so important that Heavenly Father planned for us to be born into a group—the most basic, most hallowed, and most powerful group on earth: the family.... Wards are not designed to replace the family unit, but to support the family and its righteous teachings. A ward is another place where there is enough commitment and energy to form a sort of “safety net” family for each of us when our families cannot or do not provide all of the teaching and growing experiences we need to return to Heavenly Father (“Ward and Branch Families: Part of Heavenly Father’s Plan for Us,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 79).
Ward families can provide many needful things to their members including:
- A sense of belonging
- Listening ears
- A place of refuge
- Opportunities to contribute of our time and talents
- A place to learn and study the gospel of Jesus Christ
Lastly, Elder Robert D. Hales gave the following counsel about serving within ward families:
- We are all members of a ward family in the community of Saints, where we may all contribute with our individual gifts and talents. It would be good for all of us to follow the example of our Savior when, while suffering on the cross, he was concerned that his mother be cared for and that his tormentors be forgiven. We, too, should focus our concern on caring for the needs of others. Reaching out and helping somebody who is in need can dispel feelings of loneliness and imperfection—and replace them with feelings of hope, love, and encouragement (“Belonging to a Ward Family,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 15).
Because of different circumstances, some members of the Church attend wards and branches more suited to their needs.
Singles Wards: Most prominent among these are singles wards. As the name implies, these wards are designed for members who are single. There are YSA (Young Single Adult) wards for 18-30 year olds and Single Adult wards for those who are 30-45. Those who are widowed or divorced (must be finalized) are also welcome to attend. A variation of the singles ward is the student ward. These can be found in abundance around the Church's campuses such as Brigham Young University or Brigham Young University-Idaho.
Unlike traditional family wards, single and student wards do not have all the auxiliaries. Primary, Nursery, Young Men/Young Women do not exist. Nor is there typically a High Priest's quorum since the male members are either priests or elders. Singles wards may also have callings not found in family wards. For instance, leaders may be called to oversee ward Family Home Evenings.
Members of a singles ward fill all of the positions within that ward with the exception of the bishopric. Local men who are older and more experienced are called to preside over singles wards. In these cases, bishops take on even more the role of "father of the ward."
Language Wards: In areas where members may speak a number of native languages, specific wards for specific languages may be set. This can help since members feel they can be more a part of the ward when they are comfortable with the language.
Special Needs Wards: The Church tries to make sure all its members can participate in worship services. Where possible wards and branches are set up for those who are blind or deaf. Currently there are 25 wards and branches for those who are deaf around the world
For More Information
Visit Lightplanet.com's article about LDS Wards