If there’s one thing I regret about my wedding day, it’s that my dad didn’t get to walk me down an aisle or see me get married. We chose to not have a ring ceremony. While it was probably for the best because of how busy our day was, I still look back and wish we would have squeezed it in so my daddy could walk me down an aisle my large extended family could feel more included. Instead, my dad walked me into the lobby of the Los Angeles temple and hugged me as I walked into the temple and he walked out.
After the ceremony we walked out the temple doors to greet our family and friends. My eyes darted around the crowd for my dad. I rushed past outstretched arms of other family members and into the open arms of my dad. He was the first person I wanted to see after coming out of the temple. I wanted him to feel of my love for him and how conflicted I felt going into the biggest day of my life without him to witness the promises I made to my husband.
He was stoic and supportive. He was how a dad should be when his daughter gets married —happy. And yet, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness because he couldn’t go in there with me.
Growing Up “Differently”
While growing up I learned what it meant to be a partially active family. My mom was a convert and my dad had stopped attending church regularly when he was a teenager. He was baptized and confirmed a member when he was eight. But for multiple reasons and circumstances he stopped attending church.
What has always surprised me is his constant and unwavering faith. He is someone who exhibits Christlike behavior in all he does. He cares for the sick, he is the first to arrive to help someone in the ward move and the last to leave, he prays regularly, and loves deeply.
What does it mean to fellowship?
I often feel like inactive members are treated as people to be “fixed”. Figure out what’s caused them to stop coming and fix them. In my experience inactive members do not need to be fixed but fellowshipped. What does that mean exactly? The word fellowshipped is used often in the church, but can sometimes be misinterpreted as “fixing” a person. However, synonyms for fellowship are “companionship” and “friendship”, no strings attached, just pure friendship.
I’ve heard many times that those “inactive members” just need to stop being selfish, to stop being set in their ways, or to choose not to be offended. I’ll admit I’ve even had those same thoughts at certain points in my life. The Spirit has humbled me as I remember we all have the precious gift of agency. I also take immense comfort knowing that all that walk this earth chose to be here, and we all knew that choosing to be here may mean that we had different paths and different ways of returning to our Heavenly Father. I have great faith that one day we will all be reunited in the same faith and understanding that we had in the pre-mortal existence.
From My Experience
In my own household, I have seen missionaries and brethren from the church truly fellowship my family. I have also seen those that have not done so in a spirit of fellowshipping, but in a desire to merely force my dad into returning to the church. Without fail, those that have truly taken the time to build a relationship with my dad out of pure love, without expectation, have always been welcomed into our home. I can’t say the same for the latter.
These sincere individuals have created lifelong friendships with my dad and my family because they visit and home teach faithfully and genuinely. They serve our family with no expectations of my dad returning to church, but just with the desire to befriend us and to love him. They were patient, loving, and took the opportunity to bring the Spirit into our home each month.
A Change of Heart
Over the years I have watched my sweet dad’s heart continue to soften and change in his opinions and thoughts towards the church. He has always had a strong faith, but with the fellowshipping of genuine members I have watched his heart change. He has accepted callings, been supportive of his son serving a mission, supported his wife to go through the temple, and remained positive and happy as his children were sealed to their spouses in temples while he waited outside. All of which were not easy, but I firmly believe he was able to do those things with great faith and positivity because he has family and friends that support and love him regardless of how he practices his faith.
How can you have sincere relationships with less active, inactive, and those not members of our faith?
Actually take the time to visit, connect, and take interest in the lives of those you interact with. Be sincere in your interactions. Interact with the purpose of creating a friendship, not a missionary moment.
Live by example
Don’t feel like you have to hide the thing you hold most dear to you: the gospel. Your faith is a part of you; let it come up naturally in a conversation. If it leads to a deeper faith conversation, great! If not, take comfort in knowing that just your example brings the Spirit where you go.
Respect their agency
Just as you would expect them to respect your agency. Don’t be forceful about your beliefs, or about your opinions about them not attending church.
Check your motives.
If you feel inclined to invite them to a church activity, do so because you want them to share in the good you feel. Not just to hope they will magically have a change of heart. If they say no, your relationship will not be damaged. You have not failed; continue to lead by example, and to love them unconditionally.
Treat all that you see as children of God.
In the hymn “I Am a Child of God” a verse says, “I am a child of God/And so my needs are great”. All of God’s children’s needs are great; take opportunities to fulfill those needs in kindness and sincere love regardless of their membership status in the church.