"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
February 04, 2015
Being Released
by Marian Stoddard

If you are serving in any calling in the Church, someday you will be released. Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. Perhaps it’s a relief, depending on the circumstances, but maybe it’s wrenching because your heart is fully involved and you don’t think you’re done.

But one thing is for sure, it’s inevitable, that the day will come that someone will sit you down and tell you that you’re being released, with the possible exception of whatever calling you hold at the moment you die — and then you’re still released.

Last Sunday I was released from teaching our stake Relief Society gospel study class. We still think of it as “Institute” because that’s how it was referred to for years, until the new Institute director pointed out that we weren’t actually part of CES (the Church Educational System). We use the Church Institute materials and manuals for students and teachers, but no, we’re not under the same institutional umbrella.

So we’re trying to remember and adjust.

When I started attending this scripture class about nine years ago, I didn’t know many of the women who were there. The program had begun with the other stake in Tacoma, though ours was later invited. It could have been fit into my schedule and I thought that I should probably go; but I was too exhausted to think about it seriously, so I put it off.

Then a reorganization at a stake conference took a piece of our stake away, and placed its remaining wards into the neighboring stake that had been divided off almost twenty years earlier. There were people we knew from before who were still around, and there were a lot of people we had never met who had moved here during the intervening years.

(Pity the members of the stake presidency, for a moment, whose stake suddenly went from eight units to thirteen.)

This Relief Society Institute class was moved from the south end of town to the Institute building on the property of the stake center, and right next door to the YMCA where my water exercise program was. It hit me with a jolt that I had to go, but it slipped my mind the first two or three weeks.

They were studying the Doctrine and Covenants, which I absolutely love. I read the Doctrine and Covenants deliberately, from beginning to end, for the first time as a college freshman because I realized that I was familiar with bits and pieces that we quote all the time, but I had never read all of it. It was an important experience for me. So I determined to go.

I found, coming back to an intensive scripture study experience, that I was starving for it. I had not been reading my scriptures consistently. I almost never missed a week, especially after being asked to be the class president, which made me learn everyone’s names. I was asked to sub for the teacher once when she was going to be out of town; the lesson was one of two on section 76.

The teacher’s lesson would be on the vision of celestial glory, and mine the week before would be on everything else: the ringing testimony of “last of all, that we give of him — that he lives!”, the vision of Satan and the sons of perdition, and the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms.

That’s a lot to cover, and I worked hard on it for more than two weeks, and thought, “How does she do this every week?” It was humbling and glorious as my prayers for the Spirit’s help were answered. If I had been able to choose any calling I wanted, this would have been it. If we got to place orders, this would have been mine.

At the end of January six years ago I was called to be a second, alternating teacher for the class; the sister who had been the teacher when I started to attend was now the stake Relief Society president.

Then, two months later, the other new teacher had to move out of the area on short notice. I was then the sole instructor, as we finished the Book of Mormon that year, did three semesters of the New Testament, one on the Pearl of Great Price, three on the Doctrine and Covenants, and then almost four on the Old Testament.

In November we started a course called “Doctrines of the Gospel,” which takes gospel topics and brings together portions from all the standard works of scripture plus the living prophets. It seemed to be the culmination of everything we had done so far, and I was excited.

I loved the class. I loved teaching the class. I loved learning so many things, and bringing in resources, that I had never known in such depth and detail before.

I leaned upon the promises given to me in the blessing that set me apart. First off, I was blessed with the health and strength I needed. This was not simply a throw-away line, because I have old injuries and sustained new ones during these years.

The first summer break after I was called, I was in an auto accident, then went to be what help I could to one of our daughters who was having her first baby. I came back just a couple of days before class started, in rocky condition.

The new stake Relief Society presidency had put out a push for the class, with the result that there were forty-two women there that first day in September and a teacher who couldn’t stand up. I felt bad that those in back probably had trouble seeing very well, but I had no alternative to sitting behind a table up front.

They fixed a raised chair, a bar stool type, to the right height for me the next week and I have continued to use it for at least part of each class as my body tired. It’s a 75-minute class, which is a long time for me to stay on my feet.

One student expressed admiration for the time I put in on preparation, how did I manage, and I replied that it was because this was the only thing I did. She thought I was joking, but I wasn’t totally. I wasn’t well enough to run around and do a lot of things, but I could study and I could teach. That mattered a lot, and the greater promises of that setting-apart brought pure gifts from the Spirit.

The people who come to this class are there because they want to be. No one is gently shooing them out of the foyer; they come by choice and they come prepared. Some of them come because they serve in Primary and miss the Sunday lessons, and all of them want to deepen their understanding. For the last two years, the invitation was opened up to all adults so we have added a few men to the class as well.

When the stake leadership was considering ending the class last August, I was distressed. I was glad they decided it should continue, and in the fall we finished the Old Testament and began the new course. (That was another reason that I assumed I was all set where I was.)

Then the calling came to be a ward Relief Society counselor. I didn’t know what the bishop could want when the phone call came, asking me to come in. I only knew that there was an immediate, small lift of joy as I hung up, even as I thought that I already had both a ward and a stake calling. I had to rely on that touch of the Spirit, when the bishop asked me to serve, and accept.

It was apparent to me that I could not continue to teach temple class in the ward. We hadn’t yet started a new group, so that wasn’t a disruption. I was released, and then the question of the stake class had to be determined. My stake counselor and I talked about maybe having a second teacher to trade off with me, which is how I had started out so long ago, while we saw how it went. I assured her that I was prepared to teach the scheduled December lessons, and they could find someone to start in January.

When they were still working on it in January, I assured her that it would be silly to get a substitute when I was right there, and I continued to teach. I had the sense that I would not continue through the year, and I mourned for it a little.

Six years is a long time. I met with the stake Relief Society president, who told me that the decision was to find a replacement, not a team teacher, and I had to agree that this would be best. My stewardship had changed.

I realized that I was still immersed in my weekly lesson, and had to consciously stop and think about whether I was forgetting anything I was assigned to do for the ward. I needed to give full devotion to my new calling, and the time it would require. I knew that this was not some arbitrary decision to tear me away, but it was the Lord’s call. I had completed what he called me to do, and He had called me somewhere else. It was time.

So I am back where I started, as a member of the class. I don’t have to wear a skirt on Wednesday, I can come in my sneakers and corduroys. I can go with my husband to a bargain movie on Tuesday with a clear conscience, because I’m not taking away lesson preparation time.

I don’t have the key to the Institute building anymore and I can’t get you in if the secretary isn’t there, and I won’t be emailing any supplemental homework.

This week I came and sat at the back row of tables with a friend. After class was over, I was still the last person out, to the amusement of the secretary in the office. I was talking to a sister who was going to check on someone for us. I was stayed in my departure for Relief Society business, not from talking about the lesson.

New teachers have been called for temple class — the first couple we taught and went to the temple with nine years ago. My husband is still called for this last group, to train and transition, and then he too will be released. I wanted to clap my hands in delight when that sustaining came over the pulpit. It was perfect.

It took almost eight weeks, but a new teacher has been called to teach the stake Relief Society class. Who was it? The person from my own ward who was released as education counselor. We have now traded places. You have to smile as the Lord arranges things. She’ll be great, and the blessings will amaze her.

I am grateful for them too.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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