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January 23, 2013
Tune My Heart
Keys and Church Callings
by Marian Stoddard

We had a good bishop in Seattle who used to give young marrieds' firesides.  On one occasion, the topic was church callings.

He said to us, "Don't ever come to me and ask to be released.  You may in fact need to be released, but if you trust me to receive the inspiration that you should be called, then please trust me to have the inspiration to know when you should be released."

He explained that he did not mean that we shouldn't come to him when we were having problems.  On the contrary, that was exactly what he wanted us to do.  But there's a difference, he explained, between coming to meet with him about our difficulties, and walking into his office with an already-formed assumption.

If your circumstances have changed, he said, come and talk to him.  If your challenges are getting the better of you, come and talk to him.  Then when he has a chance to listen, question, and get a good picture of what is going on, then trust the keys of his calling to know how to answer.  Sometimes, he said, that answer is that you do need to be released.  Sometimes that answer is counsel for how you can meet those challenges or adjust to fit those circumstances.  Either way, he promised, you will receive the Lord's answer and it will be for the best, but if you walk into the bishop's office with your mind made up you may not hear the Lord's voice.

It can be a challenge to be told you are meant to continue in a calling which you feel has become impossible.  It can be a challenge to accept a release when your heart is deeply invested, and you hope to find a different answer.  But he was teaching correct principles:  you have to trust in the keys of the one who holds them.

In one stewardship in my life so far, I had the keys of selecting or proposing those who should serve.  I was the Primary president, and while the bishopric had the final responsibility and actually extended those callings, I was the one with the responsibility of pondering, praying, and submitting those recommendations, though I would have input from my counselors.  Then I would be answered, after the bishopric had a chance to discuss and pray, with a yes or no, then (if yes) the calling would be extended and the person being called would have to accept.

I was called to this position on the last Sunday that the ward was meeting out of our building because of lengthy repairs, and with stake conference the next Sunday I had two weeks to get ready.  In our borrowed building, our schedule had been curtailed.  Primary had been meeting for an hour only--we had sacrament meeting and then third hour--and there had been no classes, just singing and sharing time.  I had been serving in the Young Women.  There were three Primary teachers, and one of them came to me and said that she could not continue because of family problems.  One initially said that he could stay, though his wife was very ill, but called me later and said that, upon reflection, he didn't feel he could continue.  (Three days later he had a massive stroke, so whatever his desires, it wasn't possible.) I think one was moving.  The only other persons in Primary at that point were the presidency who had just been released.

It was quite a challenge to begin a regular schedule, settle down the children, and be ready to go.  First, of course, there had to be teachers!  One of my counselors ended up in a classroom, and the other one was legally blind--you couldn't just hand her a manual and point her into a room to go cover an absence. 

I prayed and thought and prayed some more, met with my counselors, and submitted names which received priority consideration, and we had three teachers plus my first counselor that initial week, and we were ready to go.  We didn't have a very big Primary.  We had one Sunbeam (4-year-old), and two Stars (one 5, one 6-year-old), for example.  Developmentally, that is not ideal--there is such difference between 4 and 6 -- but they were all in one class, and that was the class my first counselor was teaching.  I had no better alternative.

We were sparse, but we had very good people in place. This was February.  Then it all changed again in May when the ward boundaries were realigned to bring in more families, and the Primary doubled.  It brought in a new bishop, too.  I still had only three teachers, and now I had to have my counselor out of that fill-in situation.  That class with one 4, one 5, one 6-year-old?  Now there were eight new kids in that room.  As you can imagine, the first week was chaos.  All I had to do was bring the bishop's counselor up to that room, point, and say, Help! (I was not acquainted with him before that day, but he was a lovely man, and later ended up becoming the next bishop.)

This was a very different situation in one other respect -- I did not know most of the new people.  I knew some because we had been here long enough that others had been divided off from our ward once upon a time and were now “back.”  But most of the families with children were new to me, and the bishop gave me a new roster of members and said, pray and submit names to me.

If I had any doubts that I needed to rely on the Lord in my stewardship, they were fled now.  And a funny thing happened -- my three younger children all got the chickenpox -- at the same time.  The older ones had done this one at a time, a few years earlier.  I was housebound due to sick children. 

I was inclined to be a little stir-crazy, but there was space in my schedule and thoughts to run down names and prayers and pursue the feelings that came.  It was a very instructive experience to consider, ask, feel and then seek to clarify the Spirit's response. I had some very strong answers.   I didn't have final say, of course -- the bishopric had to consider and pray and decide.  But we got staffed with the right people who served with faith and heart.

I can testify that inspiration guides the daily work of the Church.  Human beings aren't perfect, and their implementation of the Lord's perfect plan is not always flawless, but it smooths out over time with prayer and charity.  Trust the keys as our Seattle bishop counseled, pray for those who lead, and be patient with the bumps in the road.  We all have the same calling to love and serve and make a meaningful difference, whatever our present position may be.

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