Soon after I was made a ward clerk 20 years ago this month, I walked into the clerk’s office to find a xerox copy of an article posted there. The article was the text of a letter, sent by one of my predecessors, to the Church’s membership department, and had somehow found its way to Sunstone. It was titled “A Religion of Clerks.”
The author, Randal Quarles, has since served as Undersecretary of the Treasury.
I love his letter not only for its humor and its New York connection, but also for what it demonstrates about how the clerk calling has changed over the years. No longer are records mailed on paper, they are shifted around in the Church’s computers, associated with first this ward or branch, and then with that ward or branch, according to where someone lives, what language the member speaks at home, whether the member is single or married and even what calling the member has.
Some 10 years after I first saw this letter, I was again a clerk — this time at the stake level — and the Internet was already widely used. Fascinated with email discussion groups (aka email lists), I started running several, and got the idea that clerks might want to share tips and ideas of how to get their work done. The LDSClerks email group became the longest running of the lists I started (it is still working today), with more than 1,000 participants who subscribe to the list either through its home version, or through versions on Yahoogroups or on Googlegroups. The group also sponsors the LDSClerks Wiki, a guide to the nitty gritty of how to get the Clerk’s work done.
In the past year or so, coinciding, I believe, with the service of Church CIO Joel Dehlin, we’ve finally seen substantial action from the Church online regarding clerical duties and other technical issues. The Church launched a discussion forum, LDS Tech, and we’ve even seen some Church employees do more than lurk on LDSClerk and on the LDSClerk Wiki.
In the past it seemed like there was some hesitancy among Church employees to use the Internet in a very involved way. The Church’s websites were carefully prepared, reviewed and correlated with the Church’s program. And local units were first told not to sponsor there own websites, and then told to use the Church’s “local unit website” for their web presence. That policy even caused confusion for some members, who even sometimes believed it meant that no member should have their own Church-related website. [In contrast, the Church has recently begged members to create their own Church-related websites.] The past attitude seemed to imply that everything should be created centrally, and Church employees gave the impression of disinterest in anything ‘not created here.’
I’ve found the situation recently quite hopeful. The LDS Tech folks even established a new award, the LDS Tech Awards, which recognizes independent contributions that further the work of the Church. The 2008 LDS Tech Award was given to a home and visiting teaching statistics-gathering tool, Return and Report.
I’m not sure where this leaves LDSClerks. I think we will continue as long as clerks show an interest (although some list members believe that the LDS Tech forum will eventually make the LDS Clerks list obsolete). The list recently passed 20,000 email messages sent, and will reach its 10th anniversary in November. Assessing these past 10 years, I think the list has been incredibly successful. And I have quite a bit of sentiment for it.
I’m glad that the Church is now more open in this area, even if it eventually means that LDS Clerks isn’t needed any more.
But my hope is that both services can find a way to co-exist.