"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
August 2, 2012
by Orson Scott Card

If there’s a calling in the Church that is pure service, it’s the nursery.

The adults who work there begin the gospel teaching of the 18-month-old children — but let’s not pretend that they’re not also babysitters, freeing up the parents of these toddlers so they can serve in other callings during the second and third hour of our church meetings.

The only people in the ward who know you haven’t gone inactive — or died — are the parents of the toddlers.

They know you, because they spend the first few months helping their child get used to nursery — looking for the first opportunity to sneak out without their child going berserk with terror at being left alone with these strange adults and scary bigger kids.

The children themselves won’t remember you, because most people have few or no memories from the time before they turned three — precisely the time when they leave the nursery.

So even though you get to know these children very well, and usually come to love them as you guide them through the early stages of socialization with other children and teach them how to behave in a classroom at church, there will be no special relationship with them as they get older.

You’ll know them, watching them grow through Primary, Young Men and Young Women; you’ll watch them go off on missions, head out for college. You’ll remember who they were when they were one and two years old, how their personalities were already visible. But they won’t remember that they ever knew you.

Statements like, “I used to take you to your parents whenever you pooped in your diapers,” will not go over well when they’re in their teens. Nor will they be delighted to learn that they were famous for bashing other kids over the head with plastic building blocks.

Truly, Nursery is a calling that is not carried out to be “seen of men.” In the end, you’ll find that hardly anybody knew you even had the calling.

But that doesn’t mean that the calling doesn’t have its rewards. Even if they don’t thank you when they get older, you get to see these children as they learn how to be human.

When they’re not responding to the impulse of the moment — fear, anger, hunger, sleepiness — they act out what they have seen their parents do.

So in our ward’s nursery a few weeks ago, little Gabriela Zeller decided to take the baby dolls on a car ride. It wasn’t enough to line them up as if in a car — Gabriela insisted that a nursery teacher go through the motions of buckling the children into their car seats, because she knew that the car wasn’t going anywhere till everybody was securely belted in.

When Joshua Lowe put “food” in the toy microwave, he knew that it went beyond closing the door. He had to push buttons, though he had no idea why. That was just what Mommy and Daddy did, so he would do it, too.

Then there was the little boy who tenderly covered the baby dolls and then kissed each doll good-night. It was what his father did. How could he do otherwise?

Mattea Galiotti noticed that the door on a plastic dollhouse in the nursery was broken. She brought the door to the nursery teacher — but she also brought a plastic toy hammer. She knew that when you needed to fix something, you had to have a tool.

In the play of these little children, their family’s patterns are being acted out. They won’t remember these toddler games when they’re older, but the patterns they learned from their parents are already deeply imprinted in their minds and hearts.

The boys will no doubt leave the dolls behind — but when they’re grown up and married and have children of their own, they won’t feel right until they’ve tucked their children in and kissed them good-night.

They’ll soon learn which buttons to push to microwave the popcorn or heat up leftovers.

They’ll know that it’s the parents’ job to have tools and know how to use them, so they can fix things when they break.

The girls will get taller and wear much cooler clothes that they picked out themselves. But when they start riding in cars without their parents, they’ll still fasten their seatbelts because those who love them taught them to be safe.

They’re already practicing.

Meanwhile, their nursery leaders are also teaching them patterns. How to sit quietly for minutes at a time, to hear stories, to sing songs. Gradually, they’ll learn to rein in their emotions and not act on the negative ones; gradually, they’ll learn to get along with each other well enough to move on into Sunbeam class.

So who are these nursery teachers? In our ward, there’s Sister Harward. She and her husband were serving as nursery leaders together, when he was called up and began a tour of duty in a combat zone. Since he’s been gone, she has continued in the calling they fulfilled together.

But you can’t take care of the nursery alone. After a succession of substitutes and temps, the bishopric realized that the kind of people that the ward needed to have in the nursery — reliable, patient, wise, kind — were not going to be sitting around with a Nursery-Ready label on them.

They were going to be doing a calling already, and doing it well; they were going to be the kind of people the bishopric and other ward leaders were already relying on, and didn’t want to see released from their current callings.

They needed the kind of people who were prominent enough in the ward that the message would be clear: Serving in the nursery is a calling that is given to our best people, not to people who “won’t be missed.”

Independently, each of the bishop’s counselors proposed to the bishop that his wife be called for a one-year tour of duty in the nursery. They weren’t stupid — they had already talked to their wives and knew that they were willing.

When the ward clerk got wind of what was being talked about, he said, “My wife has said many times that nursery was a calling she’d love to have. Why not include her, too?”

These are three women of great faith and talent, whose good works are already known to all. They have joined Sister Harward, who presides over this faculty, and now the pattern is that on any given Sunday, one of them will have the week off — so she can attend Relief Society and Sunday School.

When it comes time to replace them, there is no chance that the newly called ward member will think, resentfully, “Is nursery the best thing you could find for me to do?”

On the contrary, they’ll know that they’re taking the places of the best and the brightest, because that’s what our little children need, that’s what they deserve, and that’s what they’ll have.

The children will not remember how these nursery teachers loved and cared for them. The parents may not really understand — after all, their job was to sneak out of nursery at the first opportunity.

But the Savior knows who is looking after the little children. “Behold your little ones,” he said (3 Ne 17:23). “Suffer little children to come unto me ... for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16).

And he said, “Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me” (D&C 42:38). “And thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (2 Ne 13:4, 6, 18; Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).

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About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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