An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Fence-straddling Hazards

At 8 a.m. I answered our old phone with no caller ID. A male voice said, “Is this the birthday girl?” Not that many men call to wish me a happy birthday—or for any other reason— so I assumed it was my brother.

“I thought you were going to be at Breitenbush,” I answered. It was early—I hadn’t even opened my gift from Dooby.

“Breitenbush?” the voice asked.  Then a pause, “This is President Terry.”

I forgot that our stake president calls everyone in the stake on their birthday. Not recognizing the stake president’s voice is only mildly embarrassing. But I never recognize the poor man by sight even though we’ve lived in this stake for over three years. Not remembering the stake president is understandable considering that I never attend stake conference and only rarely show up at sacrament meeting. It would not be a problem if George and I didn’t attend the annual high priest socials.

The stake president and his wife always attend and he makes it a point to circle the room, shaking everyone’s hand. You’d think after three years I would realize that the stranger thrusting his hand into mine is my spiritual leader, but my memory for faces—always dim—is fading fast. I never figure out who I’m talking to until the good president shakes the hand of the next person and I hear him called, “President.”

Hand shaking and personal birthday greetings probably work well for active members who actually know who their stake president is. For me, it’s only embarrassing. I can hardly expect the stake pres to wear a name tag when he visits our ward—and I draw the line at attending stake conference. Probably the best solution is to give up high priest socials. The wedgies from being a fence-straddling Mormon can be mighty uncomfortable.

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