All of the units in our stake (they call it a “ring” here in Belgium) have been reorganized. We’re going from 14 small units to 8 larger units. For us, this means that two more small branches are joining our branch in Gent. We’ll be big enough to be a ward!
We meet on the first floor of a large building called the Elysium. For the month of April, our meeting place is getting refurbished with new flooring and so forth, so we won’t meet there again until May 7. And that should be an interesting Sunday. It will be the first meeting in the renovated space and our first meeting with the members from Brugge and Kortrijk.
But more importantly, as of May 7th, everyone is released from their callings, except the ward clerk. We’ll have a new bishopric and every other job will need to be reassigned.
I have been serving as second counselor in the Young Women’s auxiliary. But the other members of the presidency have already been given new stake callings, and I doubt I’ll have a new job as we’ll only be here for a few more months. (That is the only thing saving me from the anxiety about what I’ll be asked to do next, which I always feel when I’m released from a calling.)
In any case, it’s gotten me thinking about the different callings I have been given over the years. To that end, I present to you Rachel’s Church Callings, an incomplete list:
- Relief Society Teacher (BYU single student ward. First year that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals were used.)
- Relief Society Pianist (BYU married student ward. This is a calling that I am not well qualified for, and it was especially painful given that I didn’t have a piano to practice on and there were so many other women who could easily play much better than I could.)
- Family History Consultant? (I think my husband I were both called to this as some point in our early married years, but the memory is fuzzy.)
- Relief Society Teacher (San Diego, while we were at UCSD for my husband’s graduate program.)
- Primary Music Lady (Not the actual chorister at first. More of an assistant chorister. That made it difficult because I had to do the job the way someone else wanted it to be done and not try my own ideas. I also got to lead the nursery singing time, which I loved. Nursery Singing Lady is the best calling ever. Eventually the main chorister moved, and I had more autonomy. The entire six years we were in San Diego, my husband was the primary pianist, his dream calling, so while I was in Primary we got to spend all of our Sundays together. It also meant that our son got to go to Nursery at 14 months because that was easier for the Primary Presidency that trying to juggle him during singing time.)
- Enrichment Activity Specialist (I worked with the RS counselor to plan and execute RS enrichment activities. This was a period of transition away from Homemaking, but we still did many of these educational types of things because we had so many young married sisters who were interested in learning about baking, cooking, sewing and gardening. It was at this time that I developed the philosophy that you put on the best, most useful activity you can, with as few frills as possible. A successful activity is one that is good for those who showed up, but there is no need to guilt anyone for not coming to an optional meeting.)
- Primary Counselor (We had three counselors in this ward because the primary and nurseries were so big. I was called to be over the nurseries, but I was never good at keeping track of all of the littles. But our secretary, who was awesome, knew everyone. At this time, I learned a lot about running efficient presidency meetings.)
- Junior Primary Teacher (This was in our branch on Long Island, New York. I taught all of the junior primary, from ages 3-8. It was a small class, usually about 7 kids. Some had pretty impressive attention and behavioral challenges. Some were very bright, and some hadn’t learned to read yet. Two were my own kids. I learned that a good structure gives the kids time to talk and tell me about their week or anything they found important. Everyone gets a turn. No interruptions, so each kid can speak their piece, and it turns out when everyone believes they will be heard, they are willing to listen to each other. I also always brought carrot sticks or apple slices for them to munch while I told the stories from the lesson. Never candy. And we always did art projects, so their hands could be busy and they could stay engaged. And sometimes we would do jumping jacks and yoga.)
- Relief Society Counselor (Because our branch was about half Spanish speaking, we had to translate all announcements and handouts into Spanish as well as English. It’s good to have someone good-naturedly laugh at my mistakes and still understand and work with me. I also learned a lot about helping people with food orders, serving sisters without legal documentation, moving and mourning.)
- Primary President (This was shocking. We had just moved to Provo, and had assumed, that after years of being super necessary in our little branch that we would be extraneous in Utah. Not so. The poor bishop had to talk to me for almost an hour before I got over the shock and disbelief enough to consider accepting. After I had been in for about a year, my husband got called to be a counselor in the bishopric, and that made for some pretty stressful [and one very hilarious] Sundays. Here I got to use what I’d learned serving in previous presidencies. I loved all of the children, and felt heavily the burden of responsibility I had to them and to the teachers serving under me. The real burden of leadership is the responsibility for seeing that things are done without the ability to do all of those things yourself. You must delegate and trust others to help, and sometimes they fail you. I would so much rather someone decline a calling than accept it and do a half baked job. Especially when it involves children who need love and consistency. I also came to love the ward clerks and was constantly scouring the new member information for potential primary teachers and cub scout leaders.)
- Relief Society Secretary (I got released from Primary just before our ward boundaries were redrawn, so this calling was the first in my new Provo ward. I endeavored to be efficient and competent, attributes I value in secretary. I also came to realize how much clerical work volunteers provide the church. A lot of these number things should just be someone’s paid job. Useful and necessary perhaps, but not very spiritually uplifting, at least for me.)
- [Scout Processor] (With the ward change, my husband got called to be the Scoutmaster, and by default, I became the scout processor. I served on the scout committee (something I had learned about because being primary president also meant being cub scout committee chair), helped run Boards of Review, recorded advancements and bought awards at the scout office.)
- Young Women’s Personal Progress Adviser (We had about as many leaders as young women in our ward, but this was still a nice calling. I got to work with the young women in the same way that I had been working with the young men through scouts and the board of review interviews.)
- Scout Committee Member (I finally got called to do what I had been doing for almost 4 years shortly before the Wood Badge training. My husband was reluctant to go, but I thought it would be fun and informative. He agreed to go with me. Then they realized I didn’t actually have a scout related calling, so voilà.)
- Young Women’s Counselor (This brings us to the here and now in Belgium. We have five young women in our branch from three families. One of them is my daughter. It’s been a delight to get to know these girls, and I’m thankful that they all speak English and are happy to help me with my very limited Dutch. I’ll miss this work.)
Outside of these official church callings, I feel that I have been called to teach and to work as an advocate for environmental stewardship issues in an LDS context. I find it interesting that many of the skills that I have deliberately developed have never been tapped for service in the church. It saddens me a little. But I am also grateful for the chance to serve in capacities that I would never have chosen for myself because each one of those assignments stretched me and gave me new skills and perspectives.
Thinking back over your service in the church, what callings have stood out to you? Which calling taught you the most? Which was most unexpected? Do you also feel anxious when you get released because you don’t know what’s coming next? (I think of it as rolling dice, or, to be more biblical, casting lots. Either way, it stresses me out.) And please tell me what your ideal calling would be.