An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Church callings’

Called to Serve

George and I served as ward missionaries in Cedar City about five years ago. We were assigned to visit an apartment complex with a transient population each week to check if new arrivals were members and to invite non-members to church. We were not expected to teach—our bishop was no fool.

We called ourselves the ward locaters. It was probably the only ward calling we would have accepted at that time and we enjoyed it. We met nice people, told themwhere to find their own churches, and provided other community information. One day we met a couple of unmarried 18-year-olds. They froze when we asked if they were Church members–probably wondering if their parents had tracked them down. We tactfully left without suggesting having their Church records sent.

The only down side to this calling was attending ward missionary meetings where everyone was pressured to find somebody— anybody—for the fulltime missionaries to teach. The idea that nonmember neighbors might be perfectly happy without being Mormons was beyond the ken of devout committee members.

One family was continually mentioned—an inactive single dad with a teenage son. The unbaptized  boy was about 14, a good student, involved with sports and school activities. He had friends outside the Church. But every month, our committee lamented the fact that this boy was not a Boy Scout attending Mormon services and preparing for a mission. How could we help this father see the need his happy, well-adjusted son had to be part of our group?

We finally asked for a release from our calling because we couldn’t handle the committee meetings. The members were nice people, but their focus on finding investigators to teach seemed self-serving—a way to magnify their ward standing rather than to benefit others.

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Failure Not Allowed

Many, possibly most, American Mormons espouse market-value economics. Freedom of choice. If an idea or business isn’t up to snuff, the market will sift it out. Some even extend that view to social programs. A person who doesn’t earn enough money to feed, clothe, and shelter self and family should do without.

Paradoxically, in church callings Mormons not only lack freedom of choice—no one volunteers for a calling and no one is supposed to resign—but no one is allowed to fail in a calling. In Protestant religions, anyone who wants can start a church or apply for a vacant position in an established church. A self-appointed minister who fails to attract a crowd will soon be looking for other employment. Same for a hired minister who doesn’t satisfy.

In Mormon Church structure, members are assigned to a specific ward based on where they live. Mormons stuck with a bishop they dislike must suffer, preferably in silence, until his term expires—usually five years—or pack up and move. Same thing with church classes. When more than one Sunday School class is offered, members are assigned to attend a specific class in order not to create an imbalance and hurt the feelings of the teacher who attracts smaller numbers.

Certainly the Mormon system of church organization has benefits—the church generally functions smoothly with most quietly accepting direction from above. And after all, no one wants to be perceived as a failure. Still, I’ve had callings where I wouldn’t have minded in the least if one or more of the class members had felt free to attend another class

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