For Mormons, nothing highlights the delicate balance between community support and self-reliance more than a move. August, as any highway driver recognizes, ushers in U-Haul season. Families move to new towns. Students pack and leave for college. Young marrieds head to graduate school or first jobs. There are a million details to attend to: packing, cleaning, loading, child-care, meals, and much more. What's a Mormon to do?
Relief Society presidents and Elders' Quorum presidents are the leaders of the women's and men's organizations most often called on for service in such cases. In the best-case scenarios, moves in or out are coordinated quickly with a clipboard sign-up and a few phone calls. With needs accurately assessed, casseroles show up, children are tended, boxes get toted, and, as the pioneer song goes, all is well. These experiences warm the heart and teach the benefits of service in action. At these disruptive junctures, it is an enormous boon to be part of the community of saints that has mobilized transport and hot meals since well before the wagons headed west.
Some components are common to all positive church-assisted moves. First, there is clear communication about the family's real needs. "Use common sense," one bishop advises. "We need to help in sensible and appropriate ways. Don't just snap into Mormon Meal Mode and show up with a tuna casserole if they only need four able bodies to lug furniture Saturday morning."
Adding common courtesy to common sense makes for a good move, too. Elders' Quorums are best at lifting and moving; they should not be expected to sort and pack. Brother D. rolls his eyes recalling how one family smiled as the weary men carried the last box up the stairs to the new apartment. "Oh, good," the family said, "now we can sort through everything and decide what to get rid of."
Relief Societies typically provide meals, child care, and willing hands for all sorts of messy jobs. That does not, however, make them synonymous with Dial-a-Maid. One departing family whose apartment was being passed along to another LDS family failed to clean the home out before they left. With a wave and a smile the couple suggested to the new owner, "Just call the Relief Society. They can come and clean it up for you."
Plenty of advance notice smoothes things, as does a firm commitment to a starting and finishing time. The more preparation and networking a family can do, the better.
"Sometimes," he continues, "if you take into account the time spent hunting for boxes, the hassle, the inevitable damage, and the burden on ward members, it might be cheaper to hire professional movers."
Bridging between the options of ward movers or professional movers, one resourceful family called the bishop of the ward they were soon to move into. "Are there any young men in the ward interested in earning $10 an hour to help unload our truck in two weeks?" they asked. This was significantly cheaper than hiring professionals and did not tax the membership. The bishop was happy; the family was happy; the young men were happy.
"When families move into a new ward--especially single-parent families, the elderly, or singles--it is very important to help with compassion and sensitivity," says one church leader. "These people may not know a soul and will need a lot of kindness and support right then."
Some areas have developed policies around moving issues. Years ago in Boston, the stake had "Project 48," which allowed student families moving into the area to be housed with church members for 48 hours while they hunted for apartments in the extremely competitive housing market. If they hadn't found permanent housing in that time, they needed to find temporary lodging elsewhere.
One Chicago Elders' Quorum specifically outlawed moving food storage. However saintly it may be to follow prophetic guidance and have a year's supply of food for family preparedness, the lift-and-tote corps of that ward was not allowed to risk hernias to haul 50-pound buckets of whole wheat and tubs of Tang. "Eat it up, sell it, or give it away," declares a veteran mover. "Think ahead and start using things up long before the move."
In another ward, the bishop never moves families who have received cash allowances from employers to cover moving expenses. "Use the money and pay professionals. Don't pocket the money and then call the ward for freebies," says the beleaguered bishop.
By and large, ward moves are testaments to resourcefulness, community support, and beehive industry. Sure, there are occasional stings, but the group effort of sweat and selfless service makes the results sweet. Please share your stories to buoy, amuse, and inspire us all.