KENNEWICK, Wash. — Foremost on Bishop Tom Blodgett's mind these days is how to bless the lives of newly baptized members of the Kennewick 14th Ward, Kennewick Washington East Stake. So far this year, there have been 17 baptisms within the ward boundaries — four adult males, six children, including two deacons, and seven women — and a 100 percent retention rate.
Bishop Blodgett has taken President Gordon B. Hinckley's counsel about the new Church member: "Unless there are friendly hands and welcome hearts to greet him and lead him along the way, he may drop by the side." (From satellite broadcast, "Feed the Lambs, Feed the Sheep," Feb. 21, 1999.)
Under the bishop's leadership, the ward tries to follow the admonition of President Hinckley concerning the needs of new converts — "to have a friend, to be given an assignment, and be nourished by the good word of God."
"We begin our fellowshipping before members are baptized," said Kerry Dickman, high priests group leader. Home teachers are assigned to the serious investigators to help assist them in their transition to full Church activity.
Baptisms in the ward are a major event. Terry Melchin, Relief Society president, said: "Baptisms are the greatest retention tool we have. As the bishop encourages all auxiliary leaders to go, they are joined by investigators, newly baptized members and many others. Viewing baptisms reminds us all of the covenants we also made and helps new converts, especially."
Much care is given to be sure that new converts are known by the members and their needs are met. In every ward council meeting, discussing the needs of the new members takes top priority. "We want each new member to know how much we love and appreciate them for what they add to our ward," Bishop Blodgett said.
There is no question who the new members of the ward are. For example, a new Hispanic convert of less than a year was given a calling immediately after his baptism to be a door greeter in sacrament meeting. "Everyone knows him, and he knows everyone," said Brother Dickman. "We have several high priests who can speak Spanish, so he feels right at home here."
Another convert, who was baptized Dec. 30, knew right away that the Church was true when the missionaries came knocking at her door. The second time she visited Church, she wrote a letter to the bishop about her feelings concerning the gospel. Bishop Blodgett asked her to go to the podium and read her letter as part of testimony meeting. The ward quickly became acquainted with her.
Six months after she joined, she was called to be a stake missionary. Since her calling, she has taught five people who have joined the Church.
Recently during one sacrament meeting, all the new priesthood members prepared, blessed and passed the sacrament together. They were beginning to understand the significance of their priesthood ordination.
The ward has an activity called "linger longer." For 15 minutes after Church services, the ward will often meet in the cultural hall for special mingling with the new members who have name tags on. Strengthening and supporting new members in Relief Society is especially important. The sharing of "missionary moments" has provided such opportunities. At first, only the Relief Society presidency shared. Now, however, many women, including the new members, are sharing with each other.
Relief Society leaders recently hosted a panel discussion with the new members, inviting them to share their feelings and concerns with the rest of the women. Sister Melchin said, "This sharing has brought the sisters so much closer together and has helped the new converts feel more a part of the love and concern we have for each Relief Society member."
Even the youth of the ward are involved in retention. An upcoming temple trip for baptisms for the dead will include new adult convert members.